At some point during Lent, I blogged about the Christian state of brokenness and woundedness, and how being broken was not something to be ashamed of, but rather something to embrace, as we have been reconciled to Christ, and in our brokenness and woundedness, we are very much whole in our faith and relationship to God. A strange and odd paradox to say the least, and yet, so totally rational at the same time.
The subject came up again at dinner with my parents this weekend. I was trying to explain the theological meaning of “brokenness” and “woundedness,” only to find that my “seminaryese-”style conversation wasn’t exactly welcome, and would be promptly shut down. I guess wounds, scars and brokenness isn’t exactly dinner conversation in the real world…shocker!
But the world’s brokenness is scriptural, theological and is an important topic to be discussed; we do live in a broken world, do encounter broken people on a daily basis – whether we choose to recognize it or not – and we are all broken, flawed and scarred in one way or another! Christ encounters his disciples again after his crucifixion and resurrection in the Gospel of John; the infamous “doubting Thomas” story of John 20 seems to fit perfectly when talking about woundedness and brokenness, as in the face of one’s imperfections, Christ steps in to show that his own brokenness is in fact, perfection and nothing but.
“But [Thomas] said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’ A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” (John 20:25-27, NRSV)
In the face of Christ’s own brokenness, and the physical signs to show that Christ too had suffered as a man, endured much pain and suffering and could be just as scarred, Thomas believed. Maybe this isn’t the right interpretation for the text, or maybe it is, one will never know. But it seems to me that John saw it extremely important to point out that even after his resurrection, Christ still had the marks of his human wounds, even though he had overcome death as the divine. It would make far more sense for Christ to come back to his disciples whole – his flesh unmarred by the nails driven through his hands and feet, his side pure and undamaged by the wound from the cross. And yet, here he appears to his beloved disciples, as though he had never left, wounds and all. These wounds are a mark of honor, a badge of courage for the one who had the audacity to overcome sin and death for all of humanity, even the most sinful and righteous. To the disciples, Christ is both the risen Lord, and the one who went to the grave to overcome death, and to do so, he had to endure the most incredible and excruciating pain, which meant the accumulation of scars upon his perfect flesh.
He could have erased them after the Good Friday mourning had ended so that the joy of Easter Sunday could be perfect and right, not marred by scars and seeming imperfection; but the Lord Jesus Christ modeled the reality of human existence in that not every day is bright and shiny, but humanity is broken, even though we have been reconciled to God the Father. Thus, he donned his scars with pride and in solidarity, modeling for the rest of the world the fact that our scarred, broken, imperfect existence is not something to be ashamed of. Rather, the depth of our wounds connect us to the Christ who embraced and showed his to the world, as he bore his for the sake of the human world, and continued to show them for just that purpose.
Why are we so afraid of being broken? Of showing our scars, of exposing our wounds, when Christ has gone ahead of us to model for us that the behavior of vulnerability and woundedness is acceptable and courageous? After all, Christ Jesus is a wounded Lord, and is the leader, savior and teacher of a wounded and broken community, and this is not and should not be something to be ashamed of by any means. Perhaps being vulnerable means having to show our wounds, weaknesses, fears, concerns and the things that make us human. But what’s the worst that could happen? We could see the face of Christ in those with similar wounds, vulnerabilities and scars. Or worse, others could help heal the wounds we have, or put a balm on our healing wounds, strengthening our testimony, and show us further that we are a part of the Body of Christ, who lived, breathed, and suffered so that we could be wounded and broken together. After all, are we really suffering for perfection?
Illness and life do and cause the funniest of things – it leaves behind the ugliest and yet most beautiful of scars, whether they lie above the surface, on faces, chests, arms or legs, or beneath the surface, where no one can see them, but still they exist each and every day with the rising and setting of the sun. These scars for some are the marks of vulnerability, evil, wickedness, and are to be hidden; I remember a family member saying that I shouldn’t show my pacemaker surgical scar, and that soon it would fade, “don’t worry.” But yet, scars are also the sign of the strength and veracity of our faith – that our faith in Christ Jesus, in his death and victory over it in the form of the resurrection was far stronger than the very thing that tried to overcome us, whether it be illness, the loss of a loved one or job, or a life-altering event. Our willingness to expose our brokenness and the scars that represent this state is exactly what Christ was getting at when he showed Thomas the marks left behind by the cross – they are the signs of belief in the face of tremendous doubt, sorrow, and horrific odds to the contrary, whatever those odds may have been.
My pacemaker scar has faded, much to my disappointment, but I love to show it off whenever I have the chance, just as Christ showed his scars to Thomas and the other disciples. Scars and other signs of our brokenness and vulnerability are not things to be hidden away from the world out of shame; instead, they are symbols of unity, radical welcome and the welcome into the new creation gained through Christ’s suffering and resurrection. My wounded Christ, and yours, is scarred and broken. But he accepts the brokenness as wholeness. Our wounds and scars are the very things from which we can testify to God’s strength, persistence and goodness, even in the face of horrible circumstance.
Even though there is death, there is always a resurrection. Even though there may be a wound, that wound will always heal into the most incredible of scars, testifying to our body’s ability to heal itself without any explanation as to how such is possible. It is our duty to testify to our scars, journeys and God’s goodness and mercy in the midst of it all.
“Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and the calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7b-10, NRSV)
Our weaknesses, scars, marks, vulnerabilities and flaws are the very things that make us strong in Christ; they are not the things that bring us closer to God, nor are they the things that make us “better Chaplains,” “better pastors, doctors, lawyers, humans…” But they strengthen our testimony that we worship a God who is willing to suffer with and for us, and continues to suffer with and for us, to the grave and back.
So, do we see brokenness and vulnerability as an insult? As a condition to be avoided with a ten foot pole? Or do we flock to the Christ who was willing to show his wounds to his beloved with pride and courage, so that they too could do the same for others? After all, perfection is overrated. I love my scars, as they show that the very thing that tried to bring me down didn’t win – the strength, courage, and redeeming blood of my Lord did, and in turn, so did I. Thanks be to God.