Thursday, March 20, 2014

Marks on the Body

A few days ago, I realized that I still had a faint bruise on my left arm from my procedure more than a week earlier. A little closer look let me know that I also had a little mark from the entry point of the IV. This mark was just a little further up my arm than the shiny white scar from where the port was when I gave birth to my first son. Reaching around to the back of my hand, I felt for the small bump that was my souvenir from the days spent in the hospital, losing my second son. I wondered then and I continue to reflect on how these children of mine are leaving their marks on my body.

It’s not just the little scars and bumps from the medical technology, or the more expected and natural stretch and change elsewhere. By changing my body, my children have inexplicably and wondrously changed me down to the core. I’m like the Grinch in the 1966 version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. “And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville they say - that the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day.” 

Or as we read in Ezekiel, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (35:26). I would hope that my heart was not so small or hard to start. I remember quite clearly one person who told me I would never make it as a pastor because I was too compassionate. Regardless, what I had for a heart has grown by leaps and bounds with each child.

As Christians, we have an embodied theology – literally that our understanding of God takes place in a body, more precisely in the person and work of Jesus the Christ. Jesus, while fully divine, consented to become fully human, too. He was born as we are, lived as we do, and died as we all will one day. But in Jesus, God had the definitive word on our sad situation. Not content to let us wallow in our sin, God reached out toward us, proving God’s tremendous love toward us.

And I can’t help but wonder at the marks on Jesus’ body - the marks on his body that represent part of God’s labor pains, what God was willing to endure for our sake. I am confident that in the resurrection, Jesus’ body could have become spotless and perfect. Yet we read in the gospel of John, "So the other disciples told [Thomas], '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'" (20:25-27).  

God bears the marks of our birth in God’s own body. Thomas is not shamed by Jesus for struggling to believe. Jesus simply gives him what he needs – the ability to reach out and touch his body, even though Thomas doesn’t take him up on it.

I wonder how many times our brothers and sisters around us need just that same offer of reassurance. I see folks all around me who bear the marks of their life on their bodies. It would be easy to judge the unmarried young woman who is great with child or the man who smells of alcohol, stumbling down the sidewalk. But they are already bearing the marks of this life.

What would it mean for us to instead offer them the compassion we bear, the grace we have received, the love of a Savior who offered his all to save us. Imagine what new stories they could begin to embody, if we were only so courageous. 

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