A few years ago, I was at home in Charlotte with my family, and we were watching a movie. I left the room for a few minutes, and from the other side of the house I suddenly heard my dad cry out in disgust—“Oh! Oh God! Augh!”
I was confused. The movie we were watching was My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and I don’t recall anyone being done physical harm in that film other than maybe a roasted lamb.
I came back into the room to find my dad cringing on the couch in horror, and at what? We were on a scene where Toula, the main character, is trying contacts instead of glasses for the first time. The camera is zoomed up right on her face as she tries and fails to insert the lenses into her eyes. No blood, no gore—just eyeballs, but you would think my dad was watching someone being drawn and quartered.
Bodily fluids and functions are uncomfortable to talk about, so I’m just going to warn you that we’re going there tonight. Bear with me—the point is not to be graphic, and I promise to keep the blood references to a minimum.
I was drawn to Gillian Welch’s song “By the Mark” from the moment Martha suggested it as a focus song for Roots. The song has a certain charm in how it sounds like an old gospel song and yet was recorded just over 10 years ago. But more than that, the idea behind the song is puzzling and yet profound—that when we meet Jesus, however that happens, we will know him by his wounds.
I’m going to jump ahead in the church calendar for a minute. We are still in the season of Lent, that time of preparation before Easter. Next week is Holy Week, a time when the church remembers Jesus’ last days before the crucifixion. Let’s put a pin in that for a second and skip on over to the resurrection. After three days in the tomb, Jesus comes back to life and appears to his disciples—but one guy, Thomas, misses the party. Here’s part of John chapter 20:
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he 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.’ Thomas answered him, 'My Lord and my God!' (20:24-28)
We usually get pretty down on Thomas for doubting—but Jesus isn’t being nearly as hard on him as history has been. Jesus freely offers for Thomas to touch his wounds, and Thomas knows him by the mark where the nails have been—“My Lord and my God!”
All of us have wounds—they may not be physical wounds, but we all carry burdens and hurts in one way or another. The God whose son has scars even in the resurrection is a God who knows those wounds not simply by virtue of being omniscient but because in Jesus, God actually bore those wounds. Jesus was “a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity.”
Jesus’ wounds are not just about divine empathy. They actually become a point of entry for us into life with God. This might get a little weird, but I mean that kind of literally. Remember the hymn we sang earlier? “Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.” The hymn writer is saying that Jesus—the Rock of ages—was cleft—wounded—for him, and he wants to hide himself in that cleft, in the wound.
This hymn reminds me of a verse in Song of Songs: “O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.” (2:14)
Jesus’ wounds, the cleft in the rock, is a hiding place, a safe place, an intimate place. In the cleft in the rock, in Jesus’ wounds, we see his face, we hear his voice—we know him by the mark where the nails have been. He speaks to us in the vulnerability and intimacy of our own woundedness.
This is a completely ridiculous illustration, but I couldn’t resist. So, at the risk of derailing this sermon completely—do we have any Star Wars fans here tonight? I’m talking about the original trilogy, not the prequels, those are garbage. OK, there is a scene where two of the main characters are stranded on the planet of Hoth, which is completely covered in snow and ice. Han Solo and Luke Skywalker are in danger of freezing to death. Luke has a fictional animal called a tauntaun that he rides on, and when the creature dies of hypothermia, Han takes drastic measures—he cuts the tauntaun open and shoves Luke inside to keep him warm until he can build a proper shelter.
Now, I am not trying to compare Jesus to a tauntaun. I would say it’s an imperfect comparison, but really it’s just absurd and would probably get me in trouble with some of my seminary professors. But, taken very loosely, it’s an image of a wound as a place of safety.
You might be thinking that all this talk of wounds and safety sounds odd—a wound is the opposite of safe. Whether a physical or emotional wound, if we go there, we know it will be painful. And it’s not so much that the wound itself is safe, but that it is the place where healing takes place. A wound is an opening that hurts, whether a cut in our skin or a broken heart, but when we allow healing to occur, that wound can actually become a place of strength and hope.
Leonard Cohen said, “There is a crack in everything—that’s how the light gets in.” Our cracks, our wounds, are not ends in themselves but demands placed on us to acknowledge our powerlessness and to lean on a power higher than ourselves. Our wounds are places where transformation and healing can occur, and Jesus’ wounds are our way in to that promise of healing and salvation.
In Hebrews chapter 10, it talks about the new covenant that God makes with his people through Jesus’ blood—we talk about it every time we do communion. But the passage says something interesting about how we come into that covenant of salvation: it says, “we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh).” (10:19-20)
If you’ve been in the sanctuary here at Centenary, you may or may not have noticed that it is laid out in the shape of a cross. Many churches are designed that way intentionally. But some Coptic churches have interesting architecture that goes right along with this idea of a wound as an entry point. In these churches, the entrance to the sanctuary is on the side, where the wound from the spear would have been on Jesus’ body. They literally enter into worship through a wound. (See Eugene Rogers' After the Spirit.)
I’ve probably lost at least half of you by now, so let me try and bring you back. Here’s the point: if we know Jesus by his marks, Jesus knows us by ours. Because Jesus has born and still bears his wounds, he can bear ours as well. Isn’t it true in our human relationships that the people we feel closest to are often those who know our scars? That sharing makes us vulnerable—but when we share our wounds with God, we open ourselves to the healing available through the wounds that God bore for our sake.
Because the point, of course, is not to dwell on the scar, not to push the bruise, but to clean the wound, to believe in and pursue healing in the safety of the cleft in the rock. When I cross over, I will shout and sing—I will know my Savior by the mark, by his wounds, and he will know me by mine, and by his bruises I will be healed. By his bruises I am healed. Amen.
Sarah S. Howell