The awe-filled Holy Week has come again. Though Christians throughout the world observe it in a most traditional fashion, the repeated remembrance is anything but routine. The glorious but humble entrance into the Holy City on a donkey is superseded only by a more humble sight: the blood-filled, pierced, and lifeless body of the One hailed as the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the Son of God. This sight is an unmistakable sign to many. But to all who see it, it is unmistakably a sign of sacrificial love. This love is not human, could not be human. But it was demonstrated to humans as a consequence of the greatest inhumane-ness. Yet, the cross is a sign of love. On one hand it is impossible for the finite, sin-full human to understand the illimitable, unbounded love of God. Others, torn between reason and revelation, simply cannot resolve the seemingly irreconcilable. Humankind’s sinful reason denies man’s worthiness. Humankind’s experience of sin simply confirms the obvious. Humankind is not worthy of love. Humankind should surely die. On the other hand, God’s revelation declares “love.” Not just any love. Divine Love. Sacrificial Love. Yet, though simple, humankind cannot always understand something so inestimably simple but overwhelmingly complex. How can love be demonstrated in spite of such cruelty? How can there be love in such abuse? How can there be beauty and joy amid such ugliness? The answer lies in the story of a child’s stuffed bear. A five-year-old was given a bear as a birthday present. Immediately the boy and his bear became attached. The boy named his bear the simplest name he could muster: “Bear.” The boy took his bear everywhere. He took it to school. At naptime, the bear was always there. He took Bear to a friend’s home. Bear always ate, slept, and played with the boy. After several months, Bear started to wear out. Stuffing was coming out of his oft-hugged neck. The legs were loosing up. Bear’s left eye was barely holding on by a single thread. Bear’s fur was dirty and bore countless “scars” from participating in the roughhousing known to boys. One day the boy’s mother took her son aside. “Son, we have to do something about this bear. You’ve carried, dragged, and hugged him so much that Bear is falling apart. Why don’t we go to the store and get a new bear?” “No!” the boy protested. “Why not?” Mom replied. “He’s falling apart. What’s he good for? After all, he’s all tattered, ripped, and ragged. Why would you want to keep him? “Because,” the boy explained, “the only reason Bear has rips and tears and dirt are because Bear has never left me. When I fall, Bear falls. When I hurt, Bear hurts. I have healed. But Bear can’t. I love Bear. How can I give Bear up and throw him away when every time I see Bear’s rips and tears, I see the marks of love?” This child knows love not by words but by the scars that it leaves. The message of Christ’s atonement on the cross is a message of hope. But it is also a message of scars. The nail wounds in His hands and feet, the back stripped of skin, the forehead pierced with thorns, and the beaten and abused face and body leave scars. Amid the dripping blood flowing from His hands and side, Christians see more than just scars. As from the perspective of a child, they see beyond the scars. They see love because they see the scars. The scars cry out louder than the stones. They cry out God’s message of hope, of joy, of life and, of course, love.
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13 (NIV)
Christ’s love for us is not simply “love.” It is a love beyond all understanding. It is a love which is beyond any doubt. It is nothing less than “Scarred Love.” This love is pure grace. It is Grace given for you. Our ministries often involve hurts of many kinds. Often we are left scarred. Like St. Paul, we bear on our bodies “the marks [“stigma”] of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17). The word “marks” [“stigma”] referred to a practice in the Roman army. Soldiers were commonly “branded” as being under a specific commanding officer. The branding was often caused by cutting a mark in the soldier’s flesh. This mark, “stigma,” identified them with their leader and their mission. But the mark was also a scar. It could never be removed without greater scarring or injury. Those scars which remain in us are the “stigma” which brand us to Christ. Regardless of the scars—whether physical, emotional or spiritual—and irrespective of the burden of dealing with these scars, the “stigma” remains. We are our Leader’s. We are identified in His mission.Our strength for this mission comes not merely from the Leader’s words. It comes from His love. And we know His love the same way He knows our love: the scars. The message of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ is a message of pain, death, and scars. But unlike pain and death, scars imply hope and healing. For scars do not occur unless healing has occurred. Scars cover the wound, complete the healing and leave their mark. Scars then become a reminder of love, healing and hope. The pain of ministry will not always exist. The bleeding will not always linger. The weakness will not always overpower us. For God will send healing. In love He will give us resurrection and renewal. With that renewal He will give us a scar. As with St. Paul, that “scar” marks our mission and our faithfulness in Christ’s mission of grace. The love we preach and the love we bear is a unique love. It is a scarred love. Such is the love of God. May your Holy Week and Easter proclamation be one which proclaims this scarred love to bring healing to all God’s people throughout the world. Thomas F. Fischer