The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Scars (in their multitude...)

I forgot to bring my video camera into church today, so no video of the sermon, but I'll attempt to recreate it a bit...  This is, at least, what I was trying/hoping to say.


The entrance to the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem
Easter III (B)
Luke 24:36b-48

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

They say that the quickest way to put your congregation to sleep is to begin your sermon by saying, "In the early church..."  But even so, today, I promise it's relevant.

In the early church, one of the biggest controversies that was running around was about whether the Resurrection had been in body, or just in spirit.  Part of the concern was, if Jesus had simply sloughed off his body after death, it wouldn't really say anything to the sense of the wider community about the impurity of the body.  If Jesus had come to reconcile us from impurity to true union with God, we needed a bodily resurrection - spiritual resurrection, it was argued, simply would not solve the problems of the impurity of the body.

In many ways, the Gospel lesson that we hear today is an answer to that controversy.  All of the signs of the Gospel lesson today point to the belief that Christ was resurrected, body and soul.  You could see the scars of the crucifixion in his hands and feet.  Moreover - he ate with the disciples.  He was hungry.

So he couldn't have been just a ghost.  He was real.  You could see it in his scars.  The scars revealed the truth - his story.

I was thinking of that a few weeks ago as I was traveling through Israel and Palestine.  Many of the holy sites that we visited were very old - often even in ruins.  But even in the ancient buildings still in use, you could see the scars of their histories.

This was most notable in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  At the entrance to the church there was a vast entryway - an arch maybe as large as this church.  But somewhere along the line it had been filled in, and there was a smaller arch within in its place.  But it, too, had been filled in for a smaller arch.  And a smaller one, and a smaller one - the cycle repeating itself until there was left only this tiny entryway - a door not half as wide as the aisle of our church and not even as tall as me.

There are different stories about how the arch came to be so small.  One is that as piety around the place developed over the centuries, and smaller and smaller entryway was desired until, in its current state, it has been redesigned such that everyone who enters must bow in reverence to the holiness of the place.

The other story - perhaps more likely, as I imagine it - is that the entryway kept getting smaller and smaller for security reasons: the door would get smaller so as to limit the attractiveness of the space for use by military forces.  If you couldn't get your animals or your gear inside, it would be less likely to be used for purposes other than what it was intended.

Who knows what the truth is - probably some in the middle.  But the truth that does remain, however, is that the scars tell something of the story of that centuries-old holy site.  The scars - though not beautiful in any traditional understanding of the word - make it somehow more real.

That's the way it is for us, too.  Our scars are a part of who we are.  They show that we are real and fully present.  They reveal a piece of our story.

I've been thinking about that this week in terms of physical scars.  Most notably, I'm remembering my surgery from last year.  Of course I can feel it in my body - even still - but even on my better days when I can't, the scars remain.  They are a real and present sign of a story from my life.  They help to tell my story.

We all have those scars - whether from accidents as children, or surgeries, or whatever else, our bodies are scared with the stories of our lives.

And, of course, there are those deeper scars: the ones left by the pain and trauma of loss, loneliness, and despair.

They are never the most beautiful parts of us - at least not in any traditional understanding of the word.  But they are some of the truest parts of us.  They tell our stories.  They make us real.

Though the early church controversy about the resurrection of Christ - whether is was bodily or spiritual - is mostly resolved now, most people nowadays don't really care.  People still believe both scenarios (and blends of the two scenarios) - but we don't typically get into fights about it much anymore.  It just doesn't feel as pressing in our generation as it once did.

But a bit of truth that remains in this "scar" of story from the Gospels is that we do believe that Christ is real.  Christ is present.  We can tell because of the scars.  Even though probably none of us have seen the physical scars of in his hands and feet, the scars of his presence remain in our community.

In this third week of Easter, we are much like that first community of gathered disciples.  There's this beautiful line in the text: "in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering...."  That's really how it is for most of us here in the wake of Easter Day.  We are still somewhat washed in the joy, but it's somehow fading - not unlike a fading scar.  Though the joy remains true, it exists in the background of our disbelief and wonder.

But the scars tell our story.  The scars reveal the truth that might otherwise be hidden.

Christ is raised.  Christ is real.  Christ is present.  Amen.  Alleluia.



and just in case you got my little pun in the title...  here ya go! :)


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