Hope in the scars

For people who are approaching retirement, or anyone else who benefits from higher interest rates, these last seven years or so has been brutal. Even in the slow recovery since 2008, the Governor of the Bank of Canada has maintained the prime lending rate at historically low levels. In a recent interview with a small business owner who has been trying to retire for several years now, cynicism was beginning to creep into his voice.

Because he told a CBC reporter that while for the last couple of years those in power have been hinting at interest rates going up, they have remained level — and could even still go down further. When asked if he believed the promise of an interest rate hike, which would better his investments for retirement, he said: “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Indeed, we use this popular cliche often, especially about someone who does not have a good track record: A neighbour who constantly behaves in ways contrary to his stated good intentions — “I’ll believe it when I see it”; a teenage son or daughter who says they will complete their chores at home before going out — “I’ll believe it when I see it”; a politician who promises local infrastructure investment — “I’ll believe it when I see it”.

It seems apparent that cynicism fits like a comfortable old slipper or jacket. We go there naturally. Even though expressing it really doesn’t help the situation, and keeps us stuck in negativity and despair. Hope appears a distant relative when cynicism lives next door.

The cynic depends entirely on proof. If anyone or anything does not prove the point in question, I will not believe it to be so — especially if the proposition is positive.

So, I think we can very easily relate to the disciples of Jesus. Thomas the twin, the ‘doubting’ Thomas (John 20:19-31), is likely for us folk living in the first decades of the 21st century the most relatable character in the New Testament.

Perhaps we can relate to the men who came to the tomb after Mary’s announcement that the tomb was empty (John 20:1-18). It seems they didn’t hear the message of the angel that the risen Christ was to meet them in Galilee, and NOT at the tomb (Matthew 28:1-10). Maybe they didn’t listen because they were fixated on finding ‘proof’ of Mary’s claim: Her words “seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11).

Of course, they were disappointed. The ones who come to the tomb for answers don’t see Jesus there; they don’t get any proof in the empty tomb. They just find more fuel for the flames of cynicism and despair.

It is into the darkness of this mood that Jesus appears to his disciples. And when Jesus comes to them, what he does first is show them his scars. Thomas doesn’t need need to believe in propositions of glory based on proof; he needs to hear Jesus say, “Touch my wounds — see here the evidence of the lowest point of my human life, the time in my life when I was defeated and overcome and when I had been beaten down and I was myself questioning, ‘why would God forsake me’.” (Rev. Pam Driesell, http://www.day1.org “Beyond Bunnies and Jelly Beans)

This is what his wounds point to — not his triumph but his tragedy, not his victory but a time when he was vilified, a time of pain and struggle.

And this perspective turns the tables on ‘proof’. Seeking proof in the religious life is a hand-tool of ‘religion’, not of faith in a God who decided to die on a cross in order to release God’s greatest power of love for all people.

Imagine for a moment how else this story could have gone. Jesus could have said, “Look, friends, it is I — completely healed. Nothing the Romans and religious leaders did to me has any lasting effect. I am perfect again.”

Instead, Jesus said, “Hey, I am scarred and wounded. But these wounds will not keep the power and life of God from flowing through me to you! And guess what! Just as God has sent me into the world, so I send you, not to cover up your scars, not to deny your wounds, but to show people that the same power that raised me from the dead is alive in you.”

Easter is not a promise that your retirement fund and your investments will be like “it used to be” in the ’80s and ’90s when 20% was expected. Easter is not a promise that the church will be like “it used to be” in the ’60s and ’70s when everyone went to church. Easter is not a promise that your family will be like “it used to be” when the children were young and the world was so sweet and innocent. Easter is not a promise that you will be cured from all your disease and that your pulse will continue beating on this earth forever.

Easter IS a promise that the power that gave you that pulse will never abandon you. Easter IS a promise that the power that raised Jesus from the dead can raise you from despair and cynicism. Easter IS a promise that the power that raised Jesus from the dead is still at work in the world doing a new thing in you, and in the church, and in the world. Easter IS the promise that nothing in your past, present or future has the ultimate power to define you.

Because you are defined by the light, the life and the love of God that flows through you and that flows through all creation, making all things new!

We don’t find Jesus in the ‘tomb’ of proof, because proof won’t satisfy our longing for life anyway. You don’t prove love, you embrace it. You don’t prove power, you experience it. You don’t prove life, you live it. You don’t prove new life, you receive it — and share it with the world.

The divinity of our risen Lord is linked, as it was during his life and ministry on earth, with his willingness to empty himself with his radical humility (Philippians 2:5-11), and with his ready willingness to identify with “the least of these” (Matt 25:40,45). When he reveals – not hides – his scars as the risen Lord, God continues to confound the wisdom of the world by the ‘foolishness’ of the Cross (1 Cor 1:25-28). To this day.

In her short story entitled, “Revelation”, Flannery O’Conner describes a vision of souls climbing upward into the starry field, and shouting “hallelujah!” Wonder turns to shock as she discovers that all the people she had considered inferior to herself — those wounded, scarred and beaten up by life — are leading the procession. And that reputable people like her are pulling up the rear.

Perhaps Thomas’ confession of tears is a coming-to-terms with that Christ-like identity and mission. Perhaps when Thomas finally believes and on his knees worships the risen Lord, he understands that he is now called by name to join the triumphant procession to honour the crucified and risen Christ. Thomas is, as we are all, invited to join Jesus on a heaven-bound journey that requires the humility to join the back of the line, to be vulnerable with our wounds, and to give up our conceited, self-centred, and cynical ways.

Let us pray: Life-giving God, may the power that raised Jesus from the dead fill us anew this Easter season, that we might boldly embody your love in all the world that you so love. Amen.

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