THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE SCARS
Sermon delivered on the First Sunday after Easter (Easter 1) the 12th April 2015 by Bishop Nicholas JG Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban's Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands.
Scriptures: Acts 4: 32-35 1 John 1:1 - 2:2 S. John 20: 19-31
1 John 1: 3 "That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ." The Greek word for "fellowship" is in both cases koinonia = communion.
I’m fortunate to get a periodic mailing from a Dutch-Canadian called Jack Popje, who represents the Wycliffe Bible Translators. One of his mailings, years ago now, he called “IT’S THE SCARS THAT TELL THE STORY”
Jack is right about that.
My scars on my chin and around my left eye tell particular stories of my childhood and teenage years, which actually I have almost forgotten about.
Some of you too may have bodily scars which when you look at them will remind you of certain events, perhaps some of them like mine going back over half a century. There are other scars we may have, that we do not see: such as,
Scars on our internal organs, perhaps due to “substance abuse” of some sort.
Perhaps more importantly, psychological scars, even spiritual scars, that we carry around with us, sometimes throughout the rest of our lives. With these sorts of scars, sometimes we are called to keep on carrying them or some modified version of them, and sometimes we are given the opportunity to do away with them completely.
Our Lord Jesus need not have kept His scars when His body was glorified after His resurrection – but He chose to keep some of them at least, so that His true story could be told, and so that people could recognise Him.
We are specifically told that His disciple Thomas needed to see the scars of the nail wounds in His hands and the spear wound in His side, in order to believe, and immediately to become the first disciple to say of Him that He was his Lord and his God. For Thomas, as for the other disciples as well, it was the scars that told the story.
During the last week of His life on earth, we can be sure that our Lord received many scars of many sorts. One supposes He was scarred by the knowledge, when He rode into Jerusalem that last time, that His victory as a conqueror would be of an entirely different sort from what the shouting crowds were anticipating, a victory that would involve not His adulation, but His rejection, to the point of being condemned to a criminal’s death.
When He exercised His Father’s authority in the Temple at Jerusalem and cleared out the money-grabbing business from the House of Prayer for all nations, He was scarred by the knowledge that He was drawing down upon Himself the wrath of the authorities of His own people.
He was scarred in the Garden of Gethsemane in His knowledge that going through this terrible ordeal, when the Father would even look away from His own Son, could not be avoided – it was a cup that could not pass from Him, if the will of God for the rescue of mankind was to be accomplished.
He was scarred by the faintheartedness of His closest disciples, by the betrayal by one of them, and by the denials of one of His closest three.
And of course He was scarred by the coarse and shameful treatment He received at the many hands of his abusers up to the last, before he was scarred with the marks of Crucifixion.
Why am I recounting all this in the Season of the Resurrection? It is because it is the scars that tell His story too, and give the Resurrection its true meaning, just as the Resurrection gives His scars and passion their true meaning.
The Athanasian Creed has in it this wonderful line about the Godhead and Manhood of Christ – it says they are “One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh: but by taking of the Manhood into God.”
Jesus rose with the scars of His Manhood, in a glorified human body, and was enthroned, no doubt with those scars He had chosen to retain in that body, at the honoured place with His Father.
His scars tell His story to us today. We do not think of a divine being untouched by the scars of mankind. He carries the worst story of all, and bears the scars of it. That is why he can help all those who call upon Him, and why that Friday so terrible is called Good Friday.
The Resurrection contains the power, but His scars, which are the worst of our scars, tell not only His story, but ours as well. And when our stories, as well as His, are told and borne with this power of His Resurrection, His story becomes our saving story.
EXTENDING THE INCARNATION
No doubt St. John had the scars of Christ in mind when he wrote, "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, WHICH WE HAVE SEEN WITH OUR EYES, WHICH WE HAVE LOOKED UPON AND TOUCHED WITH OUR HANDS, concerning the word of life ... - that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ." St. John expresses here the truth that the proclamation of Christian truth, "the word of life", is a handing-on of something that is already in existence, the handing-on of the divine-human Christ-life.
HOLY CATHOLIC CHURCH
When we say in the Creed "I believe in the Holy catholic Church", we are affirming that the fellowship about which St. John speaks has been passed on to us. We have become a part of something that has extended the incarnation of the word of life over all the generations between the coming of Christ and the present. This fellowship in the Light is what gives definition and a sense of homecoming to us as Christian people. If it were not for the Church, a Christian person on earth would have no home or comfort or sense of belonging. The first Lesson from Acts describes the company of those who believed as being of one heart and soul with Christ. They sat so light to personal possessions that it was as if what one person owned, everyone owned. Even though the model of communal living does not extend throughout the whole Church, the Church has always been called, as it is to this day, to take care of its needy, after the pattern of Christ.
The Holy catholic Church extends the word of life in the same way, not through hearing alone. We testify to and proclaim the Word of Life and absolution. We receive the Body and Blood of the Lord by means of the material of the sacrament. Water is poured over us. We come or are brought to be given the touch of blessing or ordination. For particular needs we may be anointed with oil. We are called to look out for our needy. Many Christians' bank accounts carry scars from giving sacrificially. These characteristics are all the stuff of the Church, so to speak. But they are not mere symbols: they are the means by which the koinonia, the fellowship or communion of believers with the Father and the Son is made manifest to each one of us. We are not on our own any more. We have come home to the fellowship of the Light, the fellowship of the scars. Have joy in it and take up your cross, and follow Him in extending the fellowship to your brothers.