The Scars/Wounds of Faith & Love

A little girl sat on her mother’s lap and she looked into her mother’s face and said, “Mommy, you have the prettiest face and the sweetest eyes I have ever seen. But Mommy, why are your arms so ugly?” The mother explained to her daughter that when she was tiny baby the house caught on fire. And that the mother ran into her bedroom and scooped her out of her crib. She had hugged her close, protecting her little child from the flames as she ran out of the house. In process, the mother’s hands and arms were badly burned. The little girl asked her mom, “But didn’t it hurt Mommy?” The mother replied, “Yes, it hurt but my love for you is greater than the pain of being burned.” The girl exclaimed, “Oh Mommy, you have the prettiest face and the sweetest eyes, but your arms and hands are the most beautiful of all!” (Fr. Anthony Coniaris, Gems from the Sunday Gospels, vol.1, p.79)

Thinking of this mother’s scars to protect her little daughter from a sure death in a house fire, think of Jesus’ scars that protect us from a sinful death in the fire of hell. They are no actually scars but open and raw wounds. Think of the punctures in His scalp from the crown of thorns. Think of His bruises from being slapped in the face. Think of the missing pieces of flesh on His back from being scourged. Think of the holes in His hands and feet from being nailed to the Cross. And think of the hole in His side from being pierced with the soldier’s spear. These are signs of Jesus’ great love for us.

These wounds are what Thomas, called the Twin, wanted to see as proof that Christ had risen from the dead. Last Sunday at the Agape of Vespers of Pascha, we heard in many different languages the Gospel passage (John 20:19-25) of the risen Christ appearing to the ten disciples (minus Judas the Betrayer and Thomas). But afterwards they tell Thomas, “We have seen the Lord!” Thomas’ response? Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe." (v.25).

Today, eight days later on Thomas Sunday or more correctly known as Antipascha, we hear the same Gospel passage with the additional verses 26-31 when the risen Christ appears again to the disciples:

26And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, "Peace to you!" 27Then He said to Thomas, "Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing." (vv.26-27)

The risen Christ still had the gaping wounds of His torturous death. And Thomas was not only able to see them but touch them. 28And Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!"

The Apostle Paul spoke of Christ’s sacrificial love for us.

6For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

We must always remember that when Jesus was unjustly arrested, tried, convicted and executed, He was not a powerless victim. We know that He had more than enough power prevent it from happening. Yet, He went willingly, obedient to His heavenly Father. So, when Jesus spreads out His arms on the Cross, it is a gesture of welcoming embrace, just like when that courageous mother scooped up her baby from the fire; just like when our parents welcomed us home from our first day of school or when we returned from a long time being away at college.

What does Jesus say to us as He extends His open arms to us?

28Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

33These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

What does Jesus mean? Christ is saying “if you come to Me, I will embrace you and help you carry your burden.” Now we all have burdens of various types and sizes: inconveniences, illnesses, difficult people, abusive family members. But the real burdens are those brought about because of our faith in Jesus Christ.

Our Savior promised this when He said during the Sermon on the Mount:

10Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11"Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)

St. Augustine of Hippo (4th cent.) said about God: “He has no sons without suffering.” Our Christian brothers and sisters in Libya, Egypt, Syria and Iraq are suffering, literally dying for their faith in Christ. Yet, we here in America can barely inconvenience ourselves with fasting, participating in worship services, and tithing to support our parishes. People tell me, “It’s too far to drive,” but do they know that some Orthodox Christians in Africa walk several hours to receive the Eucharist at Divine Liturgy? Others explain away the fasting guidelines of the Church while millions of poor people throughout the world barely have anything to eat. Still others completely ignore the command to tithe while the poorest people are giving much more generously to support the mission and ministry of the Church. My brothers and sisters, how could we possible endure persecution and suffering for faith in Christ, if we cannot or will not deny our own wants and wishes through asceticism?

When Christ reaches out His arms to us to embrace us, do we receive that with cold indifference or do we embrace Him too? Embracing Christ is not about emotional sentimentalism. It’s about denying ourselves, taking up our Cross and following Him who was wounded for us.

Today, we also celebrate the patron and protector of our parish and our people: St. George the Trophybearer. He knew the great sacrifice Jesus Christ made on our behalf. He knew the persecutions and executions that Emperor Diocletian had decreed for Christians throughout the Roman Empire in the early fourth century. Yet, He remembered the words of the Savior,

10Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11"Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)

In conclusion, St. George openly confessed faith in Christ and he endured numerous enticements and tortures. And not only did He receive a heavenly crown of martyrdom, more importantly because of his witness, many others came to believe in Jesus Christ, even the Emperor’s wife, Alexandra. And several of them were also martyred also. So you see our embrace of Christ, our wounds for Christ, can be just as inspiring to others as Christ Himself. Another way of saying it is that others can see Christ in us and through us. What wounds and scars have you endured for the sake of others, especially Christ? Do you show them to others so that too can see and believe? But even if we don’t see the risen wounded Christ or the faith-filled wounds of Christians, do we still believe? Jesus said, Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (v.29). Christ is Risen! Amen!