Resurrection scars

Resurrection scars – an Easter reflection.

As we have journeyed through this season of Eastertide, rejoicing and reflecting on the resurrection of Jesus, I have been musing on one little detail – the significance of Jesus’ scars in his appearances to his disciples once he was raised from the dead.

John 20:19-20 reads,

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Jesus appears in their midst mysteriously, blesses them, but the final piece of the puzzle is when he shows them the wounds he endured during his crucifixion. Then they are able to ‘see’ him for who he really was. It’s the scars that verify Jesus’ identity for the disciples. This is no imposter.

Further on in the same passage, Thomas demands to see Jesus for himself, and not just to see Jesus, (in verse 25),

But [Thomas] said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

There is something about the wounds of Jesus, or the stigmata as they are called in Christian tradition, that verifies the identity of God’s Son. It forces us to acknowledge the death of Jesus on the cross not as some incidental detail, or an unimportant prelude to the main event of the resurrection, but as central to our faith.

We see this same insistence in the writing of the apostle Paul, when he claims in 1st Corinthians 2:2,
‘For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.’
Songwriter Graham Kendrick echoes this thought in his song, ‘Crucified Man’,

‘I have placed all my hope in a crucified man
In the wounds in his side, his feet and his hands.’

We can appreciate why we would make a big deal about Jesus’ resurrection – that’s obviously good news, but what is the significance of emphasising Jesus’ death, and highlighting the gruesomeness of it? Again, Paul the apostle has something to add here, when in 2nd Corinthians 11 he gives an incredible litany of his sufferings for the sake of Christ. He has been imprisoned, flogged, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, adrift, ambushed along with others too numerous to mention here. At the end of this list he makes this simple declaration,
‘If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.’
Here, again, we see a willingness to bare all, to expose ones failures and frailties as a authenticating mark of God’s anointing. Jesus appears in a room with his disciples but it’s not until he shows them his scars that they recognise him and rejoice. Paul holds up his many, many near misses and brushes with death, incidents that point more to his failure than to his success, as proof of his faithfulness.

For the disciples of Jesus, his scars confirmed to them that the One who was alive before them was the same One who’d died on the cross, under the curse of God. Jesus’ scars were the identifying marks that singled him out as the one who had been swallowed up by death, and then been raised by God. His wounds are not erased, but now sanctified as proof of his faith, and his Father’s faithfulness. They say, ‘Yes I died, but now I live.’

Paul’s scars do a similar thing. They show that he understands success in the Kingdom will not look like success in the world’s eyes. He has aligned himself with Jesus, the scarred Saviour, and boasts only in the signs of his weakness, which point all the more convincingly to the God who still manages to work through him (despite him being half dead more than half of the time!).

What about our scars? Do we allow others to see them? Do we realise that they are testament to God’s sustaining power in us? Or are we ashamed of them?

If Jesus’ example is anything to go by, our scars will come with us into the kingdom of heaven, and be used by God to prove that He raises the dead, heals the broken hearted, and frees the captives. They will be sanctified so they are no longer a reminder of pain, but a symbol of redemption. If we are scarred: emotionally, mentally or physically, yet are walking daily with Christ and his people, then could our scars point, in the very same moment, to our weakness and God’s strength? Could our scars be crucial in our witnessing to the gospel? Is it the very weakness we cover up that could reveal the power of God’s love to others, in raising and redeeming people like us?

Jesus’ scars remind us that the One who sits at the right hand of the Father is the same One who tasted a criminal’s death, bore the curse of God and the sin of humanity. Paul’s scars stood as a stark reminder that faithfulness to the gospel may look like failure in the world’s eyes. Do not be ashamed of your scars, they speak of how your story is being woven into God’s story, and they give hope to the world. Your scars are a testament to grace.

‘Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.’ 2nd Corinthians 4:16

AUTHOR: Malcolm Gordon
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