Sunday, April 03, 2005

Wounded Healers (Easter 2A sermon)

A sermon preached by The Rev. Jason A. Fout
on Sunday, April 3, 2005, Easter 2A
at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, St. Joseph, MI

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

I recently ran across a story in the newspaper about Dan Brown, the author of the wildly popular book The DaVinci Code. It seems he was catching a flight from Boston to a book-signing event somewhere. Standing in line at the security checkpoint in the airport, it slowly dawned on him: he had left his driver’s license at home in New Hampshire! He had no way of identifying himself. It would be impossible for him to go back and get it and still get to his appointment on time. He stood there dazed and slightly panicked, glancing around the terminal for any glimmer of hope as the line moved ever onward.

At that moment, his eyes lit on the person behind him in line who, it so happened, was reading The DaVinci Code. He asked if he could borrow it. When he came to the front of the line, he held up the dust jacket picture for the security guard. After some scrutiny, Mr. Brown was waved through and caught his plane after returning his neighbor’s book, with a grateful autograph.*

As I read this the other day, I found myself wondering how any of us might identify ourselves, absent the conventional means such as driver’s license or student ID. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that you or I aren’t able to write a runaway bestseller and get a hardcover copy into the hands of most every man, woman, or child with a few hours to kill on an airplane: what about us would most serve to identify who we are?

Continue reading Wounded Healers

Surely something like this question must have energized the disciples on that Sunday night so long ago. They are together in a house with the doors locked for fear of the Judeans – which, by the way, is probably a better translation than “for fear of the Jews”. The disciples are locked away for fear that they will be taken next. After all, if Jesus was a rabble-rouser worth getting rid of, then his followers probably shouldn’t be put up with either.

It’s in this context of being closed up, locked away, and scared that Jesus shows up. In John’s story, this is his first appearance to the Eleven. They’ve heard the rumors that he was raised, but they haven’t set eyes on him since they abandoned him when he was betrayed to the authorities. Jesus comes into their room, bids them peace, and then shows them his scars.

This isn’t like that awkward moment at the dinner party where your uncle eagerly offers to show you his scar. Rather, this is how Jesus identifies himself to his disciples. By showing them his hands and his side, he shares with them his wounds and his scars. This is how they know that the one standing in their midst is not a stranger, but their Lord.

The wounds identify Jesus, but we might also wonder just what they mean. There has been much made of those wounds recently, especially in light of the popularity of Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ. Stanley Hauerwas, a prominent theologian and an Anglican, spoke about the movie in a recent interview. He said that it was “an extended exercise in showing how much punishment a human body could take.” He said more worth quoting – and here I’m going to resist the cheap laughs of doing an impression of Dr. Hauerwas’ distinctive nasally twang. He stated:

“That Protestant evangelicals would leave Gibson's movie and say "gee, I didn't know he had to suffer so much for my sins"—quite frankly, that's to make yourself more important than you are. When you say, "someone had to suffer to reconcile me with an angry Father," you forget: it's not an angry Father who has given the Son to receive our violence[:this is the second person of the Trinity who is suffering.] The problem with saying "I didn't know he had to suffer that much for my sins" is it fails to do justice to the Trinitarian character of the Christian faith. What is happening in the cross is a cosmic struggle.”**

Christ’s wounds show who he is: that he went to the cross, and that he took it up rather than merely suffering it. Not as a punishment, but as Hauerwas says, as part of a cosmic struggle. And in Christ dying and rising to new life, we see that that struggle is over, that the forces of death and darkness have been overcome. Not that we do not experience death and darkness at times in our lives, but that but that they are not the final word for God. In his wounds, Christ shows his disciples not that he was not crucified or did not die, but that he has gone through death and come out clear on the other side. As Rowan Williams has put it “There is all the difference in the world between Christ uncrucified and Christ risen: they speak of two different kinds of hope for humanity, one unrealizable, the other barely imaginable but at least truthful.” (81)

Christ’s wounds identify him, but they are more than just signs of a struggle completed. They are more involving than that, for the disciples are seeing the wounds for the first time. We will recall that of Jesus’ followers, when the going got rough near the end, they all abandoned him. Judas betrayed him. Peter, the supposed leader of the disciples, denied three times that he even knew Jesus.*** In a sense by showing them his wounds, Jesus shows them what they missed: not with accusation and recrimination, but with love. In identifying himself to them, Jesus forgives his disciples, and is reconciled with them.

And they are not merely restored to relationship with Jesus, for the next thing he does is give them the Holy Spirit. This forgiveness of Jesus isn’t just so that the disciples can be at peace with themselves, not just so they can sleep at night. This is the message that they are to now take to the religious authorities who handed Jesus over, to the Roman Empire which crucified him, and to all people everywhere. They will do this through the power of the Holy Spirit, which is the dynamic presence of God working in and through them. No, the wounds that Jesus showed his disciples were not the end, so that the disciples could live with themselves: they were the beginning, so that all people everywhere could have true life.

This Spirit that Christ passed to his disciples is still with his disciples today, still energizing us, still sending us out to spread the reconciliation with God that we ourselves have experienced. With that Spirit and that mission, we are identified closely with Christ. In fact, the church just is Christ’s ongoing presence in the world, so much so that St. Paul described the church as the body of Christ, with each person of the gathered group as a part of that body.

That can be sort of hard to digest these days. We’re used to hearing folks talk about being “spiritual” but not “religious”. People will sometimes say they believe in God but they don’t need a church. Or even some Christians will talk about a “personal relationship with God” which is not connected to the body of the church except perhaps accidentally. But returning to Stanley Hauerwas, he contends “the heart of the gospel is that you don't know Jesus without the witness of the church. It's always mediated.” ****

Or to sum up in the words of Teresa of Avila, a sixteenth-century nun, “Christ has no hands on earth but yours, no feet on earth but yours, no eyes of compassion on earth but yours. He has no body on earth but yours.”

So the question is: when we encounter modern-day doubting Thomases, how will we identify ourselves? Apart from our driver’s licenses and student I.D.s, what would we show? I would like to suggest that as Christ’s body we show them, metaphorically, our hands and our side, our own wounds.

These are marks we encounter in love on behalf of the world. They are also the wounds we have suffered as we walk with God, and sometimes wrestle with him. They are the scars we have from our own memory of betraying, abandoning, denying, the very source of our own life and health, and our memory of Christ coming to us, forgiving us, restoring us, loving us, and sending us out.
And as the world comes to see our identity in this way – not high and mighty, but in the phrase of Henri Nouwen, as wounded healers – they will also come to know the risen Christ, identified by his wounds. And may they and we, on putting our fingers in the marks, echo the worshipful cry of Thomas: “My Lord and my God!” Amen.

* New York Times, March 21, 2005, Section E , Page 1 , Column 6. I have embellished the details here for the telling; for example, the article did not mention (that I recall) the autograph, but – although I think Brown’s history is shaky – I have no reason to believe that he is anything other than gracious and kind in person, and such an action would have been in accord with this view.
** http://www.beliefnet.com/story/161/story_16134.html
*** I leave aside for the moment the question of the identity of “the Beloved Disciple” and his (or her?) presence at the cross.
**** http://www.beliefnet.com/story/161/story_16134.html


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