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18th April 2021

Taking The Old Into The New

Passage: Luke 24;36-49


It was Princess Eugenie, wasn’t it, who deliberately had her wedding dress designed to reveal a long scar running down the back of her spine? The scar was what remained of a medical procedure in her teens, which had caused pain, reduced mobility, frustration at not being able to do all the things teenagers like to do, but she had come through. That scar was to her a symbol of a battle fought and won.

Times are changing, aren’t they? It is not so very long since wedding dresses would have been designed to cover up physical scars; photographs airbrushed so that scars, wrinkles and even body fat could be made to disappear; plastic surgery the holy grail of a damaged or simply ageing body. The physical ideal is still to a certain extent about looking untouched by life.
But lately we hear of people learning to be proud of their scars; to take pride in their own body image rather than pursue that of a supermodel. Even supermodels themselves are coming in slightly different shapes and sizes.

Right back in one of the very oldest stories in the Bible, Jacob is left with a permanent limp, a battle scar from the night when he had wrestled with an unknown sparring partner. Jacob had had a turbulent life, had caused a lot of damage in his family, was on his way home to try to put things right but unsure of his reception. Unable to sleep, walking in the dark, he meets this mysterious stranger and, at the end of their wrestling match he is told, “you have fought with God and with man and you have overcome. This injury, this scar will be a permanent reminder of your battle.”
Like many ancient stories, whose origins are lost in the mists of time, this story carries a powerful message: that, as we live out our years, we carry something of our past into our future. There is no such thing as a completely blank sheet. Even new-born babies carry something of their parents’ past into their own new life.

In more than one of the Easter stories, we read of Jesus showing his disciples his hands and feet, where the nails of crucifixion had pierced them. And it was not only about proving who he was. He was reluctant, remember, to give Thomas the “proof” Thomas demanded- to see the scars before believing that Jesus was alive.

The scars that Jesus showed were again, signs of the battle he had fought and won. He had been hated and despised by powerful people, betrayed and trapped in a corrupt court, condemned to death by a weak leader, abandoned by his friends, given over to torture and death. Yet he had come through. He had not given way to hatred or vengeance; he had not turned back from the path he knew to be right; he had been given the power to overcome even death itself and the scars on his body were the sign of that victory.

Jesus needed his friends to see these scars, but it was not just about him. In today’s reading he explained to his disciples that this victory was not only his personal battle; it was a battle fought and won on behalf of the whole human race. “The Christ- the Saviour- must suffer and rise from death. Then repentance and forgiveness of sins can be proclaimed to all people.” What was this about?

Centuries before, the prophet Isaiah had written these mysterious words, “He was despised and rejected; we thought nothing of him. But surely, he carried our pain and bore our sorrows. He was pierced for our wrongdoing; crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed.”
Who was Isaiah talking about? He does not give a name. Was Isaiah talking about himself? After all, faithful religious leader living with his people under a hostile regime would have been very vulnerable. Was he talking about some other innocent victim of human cruelty? Or was he actually predicting Jesus Christ? Scholars have never agreed on this. Personally I think Isaiah could easily have been speaking on all three levels…..
You see, human life has always involved innocent suffering. We do not know why but we all to a greater or lesser extent suffer because of other people’s actions. And, if we are honest, we are all to a greater or lesser extent, guilty of causing suffering to others. Life was like this long before Isaiah was writing in 700 BC. And sometimes the suffering of the innocent actually produces some benefit to humanity as a whole. Is not this what we commemorate on Remembrance Sunday each year? “For your tomorrow we gave our today.” So yes, there may have been innocent victims of human cruelty in the time of Isaiah. He too may have been persecuted by the enemy regime. And the suffering of the innocent may have helped to bring peace and freedom to their nation in the long term. And if Isaiah remained a faithful minister of God to his people then any suffering he steadfastly endured might have kept them encouraged and inspired. This is an ongoing story.

The amazing then, about Jesus is that we believe he was God himself personally involved in suffering and sacrifice. This was God achieving victory over sin and death through death on the cross. And because of this victory, repentance and forgiveness and renewal can be proclaimed as real possibilities because the power of God, the power in Christ’s victory now is given to us.

Scars and wounds inflicted on us can easily fester and poison our existence and through us, poison humanity.
Trying to hide our scars, pretending they do not exist does not work. As I said, there is no such thing as a blank page in life.
Hating ourselves for the wounds we bear; hating life for inflicting them upon us; hating other people for hurting us does not work either. It just drives the wounds even deeper.
Jesus scars were transformed from signs of horror into signs of hope because he offered them to the world as signs of God’s saving grace and as a promise to us all of “power from on high.” There can be forgiveness. There can be renewal, even through suffering.
Life right now is very slowly and cautiously returning to “normal.” But, as we come out of the pandemic, we are aware ourselves of bearing many scars from this last year. For most of us, there are scars of deep-rooted fear, which will not easily go away; for some scars of personal grief; for many scars of guilt- could we have done more? There will be scars of illness, of exhaustion, of a sense of personal diminishment. There may well be scars of doubt and despair.
And all of this we shall carry from the old into the new. What kind of a life are we going to live? What kind of a church are we going to re-create? What kind of a world can we hope to build, battle-scarred as we are?

Jesus shows his disciples his deeply scarred hands and feet and says, “Peace with be with you.” They too were scarred by the fear and horror and guilt of previous weeks but, by his wounds they will find peace and they will be healed. By his wounds they can go out and proclaim forgiveness and renewal to a hurting world; by his wounds they will receive power.
Jordan Peterson, exploring ancient stories of heroic battles wrote,
“The circle of redemptive action is not closed until information hard won on the battleground of the individual psyche has been integrated into the larger community. There can be no salvation for one in the presence of the continued suffering of all.”

The path to new life then, is found through bringing the scars we bear and offering them, by faith and in love, to God, to our families, to our community, to our church, to our world. A lot of questions have been asked during the pandemic; a lot of heart-searching done with regard to the environment, politics, economics, race relations, faith. There has been something of an “awakening” in many hearts to which we are called to offer a message of hope and salvation. It is not about waiting until we feel fine and strong again because we won’t. But, through faith in Jesus Christ, we move forward, scars and all, carrying our past into God’s future. Amen.