The Wounds Remaining
April 19, 2009
Acts 4:32-35; 1John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31
They were of one heart and soul writes Luke in the Acts of the Apostles. It sounds good but was perhaps a bit of wishful thinking. If we were to read on it is in the very next breath that one of them tried to keep some for himself and the radical new community just couldn't sustain itself at that level. This should not surprise us nor is it necessarily bad news. It is simply the truth. In first John it is written if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. Such a community as described in Acts 4 could not exist without sin. So it is with us. Even with sin the community grew and set loose in the world the good news of God's love in Jesus Christ. The goal here is not to be without sin for indeed according to the word it is not possible, the goal is to be faithful despite sin, to seek the forgiveness of God as we go on the journey to wholeness, to be come all we might be in God, the wounds of sin remaining but not destroying us, indeed strengthening us for the next time we face the choice to sin or not to sin. The writer of first John goes so far as to say that he is writing these things so that (we) may not sin as if it were possible not to sin at least some of the time but if anyone does sin we have an advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins and not for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
Atonement basically means to make things right. It implies there are consequences for sin and that those consequences require that some one take responsibility. Our tradition says that Jesus took the punishment for ours sins, took responsibility for us in a way that we cannot, by offering in our helplessness to fix what we have broken, a way to be whole again by simply acknowledging what is wrong with us and trusting God to forgive us so that we can continue to (the Biblical word is repent) change and learn how to sin less. I like the way the folk song says it: to turn and to turn 'til we come round right. This is the truth about the human condition and the heart of the Christian gospel. We are not expected to be sinless but we are expected to understand that we do sin and need forgiveness, need, in fact, salvation, need, in short, some help to be fully human. This does not mean that we must go around being down on ourselves. The point of our condition is not to feel guilty but to feel grateful that we are not helpless before our guilt, we have a savior whose grace will heal us and make us whole. We need not be afraid to live and love wondering when our next mistake will happen and use up our energy hiding our sin or pretending we are sinless. Indeed it means that we are to celebrate our life as it is offering it to God in open confession, because life as it is, is the hope of our becoming more and more what God wants us to be and to know more and more, as a consequence, the peace of God. There is a benefit for doing what God wants and it is peace, a large and solid peace right in the middle of our soul. It is love that God wants and it is love that is possible in us not because we are sinless but because we are not, for we may not even know what love is until we know how much we need love ourselves to overcome the power of sin and death.
Some of us need more convincing than others. When the risen Christ appeared, it is written in John, that Jesus had risen from death the wounds remaining and Thomas insisted that he would not believe unless he could touch the wounds for if he was not wounded he could not be the Jesus he knew. Thomas wanted no part of fantasy or wishful thinking. He wanted the hard truth as he supposed it is. Fortunately for him Jesus came and asked him to touch the wounds. There is no indication in the account in John that Thomas did touch the wounds. It was enough to see them. What is the hard truth for us? What is it that we need in order that we will believe, we who cannot see? Blessed are they that have not seen but believe, he said.
But we have seen. We have seen the consequences of human sin. What are the wounds remaining on our risen savior if they are not the marks of human sin? This is what we do to love every day in the world. The wounds remaining on Jesus' risen body are further evidence that we are not going to stop human sin from happening, not ever, as long as there is life on earth, but it also says that there is hope for us for even with the wounds there is life, life everlasting, life that refuses to be destroyed by sin, life that rises from the grave like the hope that rises in the human heart that knows of God's saving grace and love.
One day, when I was engaged with fifth-graders in a working-class neighborhood in North Dakota, (writes Kathleen Norris) I glanced down at a boy's paper and saw the words "My Very First Dad," and that alerted me that something very personal, very deep was going on. I no longer remember what my assignment had been, but I know it was nothing as invasive as "write a poem about someone in your family." Most likely it was an open-ended challenge to work with similes. Given the freedom to write about anything at all, this boy had chosen to write about his 'very first dad," and while I left him alone to work it out, I did have several conversations with him. He was pleased and surprise when I pointed out to him that his similes were so good they had quickly led him into the deeper realm of metaphor. He'd written of his father: "I remember him in my heart/like the clouds over head,/and strawberry ice cream and bananas/when I was a little kid./But the most I remember/is his love,/as big as Texas/when I was born."
The boy said, rather proudly, that he had been born in Texas but otherwise told me nothing of his story. It was his stunned teacher who filled me in. She said things that did not surprise me, given my previous experience as an artist-in residence -"He's not a good student, he tries, but he's never done anything like this before" - but then she told me that the boy had never known his father; he'd skipped town on the day he was born.
Who would have guessed that a little boy would have a love and a loss as big as Texas in his heart? Such truth is what our wounds reveal to us of us. In this case we also get a glimpse of how God's grace lives in a little boys heart whose love is bigger than Texas, so big that the healing forgiveness in his little ten year old heart overflows like strawberry ice cream and bananas on the Dad he never knew. The wounds remaining are what they are but they also have been carried to the heart of God with the risen Christ who, still wounded himself, walks with us and because he does we can continue to live as those who believe that love overcomes the pain and losses of human life, or if we can't believe that yet, at least we can believe in the hope that such a thing might be true, and therefore never give up the challenge of living out our days together as if it really were true, making it come true in the faithful living itself. Sometimes we are what we believe and sometimes what we believe is who we become. There are those who say that they must see in order to believe but perhaps the truth is that we must believe in order to see. Life with all of its sorrows and pain is also life with love and healing, even redemption and joy. Perhaps we could even be grateful, even glad to be alive, the wounds remaining nonetheless.
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