Sermon: The Trophies of His Love (18 April, 2021)
“Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.”
Hands and feet are not normally how we would identify an unknown person. But Christ is not just talking about His fingerprints. His hands and feet bear the unmistakable marks of the Crucifixion, the living proof that He is the One who has risen from the dead. We saw last week too how Christ showed the Apostles the scars left by His Passion, and how Thomas demanded to see them as a sign of proof.
We are probably used to seeing pictures of the risen Lord with the scars of His passion – the nail marks on his hands or wrists, feet, and side. But we drastically underestimate the marks that would have been left on His body. We are not just talking about a scab, scar, or a little red dot, like they are in most pictures. Large, heavy nails were driven through His limbs and left there for hours. St. Thomas, we read last Sunday, put his finger into the nail holes, and his whole hand into the Lord’s side. The marks of the Lord’s Passion on His risen and glorified body are real and substantial.
So why is this? Isn’t Christ’s body after the Resurrection perfect? Yes, it is. His body’s perfection includes the real marks of the Passion, which no longer cause pain, but are the trophies of His victory that He won. Maybe you know someone with a “battle scar,” the evidence of heroism and courage. Or maybe you remember being a kid and bragging about who had the biggest and grossest scabs – not just so you could gross out your sister, but as evidence of the misadventures that led to that injury and proved your mettle under fire.
Likewise, the wounds of the Passion still visible on the Lord’s body are the proof not just of the courage and strength with which He went into battle with evil, but proofs of the great love for us that motivated the “combat stupendous” that won our salvation – as we reflected with Easter Sunday’s sequence. He has come back from the grave out of love for you.
These scars are the reminder not just of His love, but of the price of that love, the cost that was paid to obtain mercy and salvation. They are meant not to inspire guilt, but awe at the depths of Christ’s love and mercy. They are meant to inspire hope. Though deep, Christ’s wounds have healed. They offer hope that the wounds left in our hearts by sin can heal as well.
Each of us has our own wounds, wounds caused by the sins from which Christ died to free us. They could be wounds left by the sins of others, or the wounds of our own sins. Maybe we haven’t brought those wounds to light yet by asking for God’s forgiveness for those sins, afraid of the shame they inspire. Christ teaches us not to be afraid to reveal our wounds to Him. He has felt the pain that our sins cause in our own heart, and He offers healing and mercy, especially through the Sacrament of Confession, His first gift to the Apostles after His Resurrection, as we saw last Sunday. He reveals His wounds to us so that we know that we can reveal our wounds to Him.
Maybe those wounds are left by the ways we have been sinned against. There too, we can often allow shame to prevent us from seeking healing. Christ’s wounds were those He allowed others to inflict upon Him. He knows what it is like to be the victim of abuse and shameful treatment. He wants to pour His healing love into these wounds as well.
Just like the wounds of Christ, the wounds of sin in our hearts are meant to be trophies of His victory. They can be so because the sins that He has forgiven become trophies of His mercy and love. Often, when a person has experienced tragedy, we admire her resilience and perseverance. Those are good things, of course, but here we are talking about something different. In showing us His scars, in inviting us to put our fingers into the nail-holes and our hands into His side, He is telling us that it is okay not to be strong. It is okay to feel bowed-down by the sufferings we endure. We do not have to earn the triumph; we do not have to win victory by the power of our own resilience. He has won it and the evidence of His victory is already within us, in those scars that maybe are not yet totally healed; and maybe never will be totally healed; like the holes in his wrists, feet, and side – not because we have found the strength to heal ourselves, but because His forgiveness is the ultimate victory.
On Easter Sunday we talked about the victory of Christ – “Death and life have contended in that combat stupendous: The Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal.” And we saw how all those baptized in Christ are the victory prize flaunted by the Conqueror in His victory parade. Recognizing our own imperfections, we were humbled to know that Christ chose us as the spoils in His war with sin and evil in order to set us free from sin’s power. Humbled, and maybe a little confused, seeing in ourselves so many defects that would make us think that the Lord should have chosen anyone else.
This is why you have been chosen by Christ as His victory prize – not because you are so great, but because the power of His mercy has made the darkest parts of your life, if you are willing to bring them into His light, into trophies of His love, just like the scars on His hands, feet, and side.
So how do we do that? How do we bring those parts of our lives that need healing “into the light”? First, we have the power of prayer. Christ is really and truly present to us in prayer. For the soul in a state of grace, the Holy Spirit dwells within us and intercedes for us with a power beyond words. Open up those dark parts of your life in honest and open conversation with the Lord in prayer.
Even more perfectly, Christ is present to us in the sacraments. The Sacrament of Confession is a powerful experience of Christ’s love and mercy if we truly seek to open our hearts to this encounter with Him. No matter how long we have been carrying the wounds of sin, it is never too late to experience not just forgiveness but also healing of the wounds of sin that can turn them into trophies of love.
During His three years of public ministry, Christ twice fed the hungry crowds with fish and bread. Now, after His Resurrection, He asks His Apostles to provide bread and fish so that He can prove to them the reality of His bodily Resurrection. In doing so, He sets the stage for when they will give others to eat His glorified Body and Blood in the Eucharist. In the banquet of love in which the sacrificial lamb offers Himself to the Heavenly Father and gives us not loaves and fish nor bread and wine but His Body and Blood for food and drink, our hearts – if prepared by the forgiveness of our sins in Confession – can also find healing for the wounds of sin.
If sin is a wound, then Confession and the Eucharist are like alcohol and antibacterial ointment. We need the alcohol to clean the wound and kill any festering germs that could be lingering on the wound’s surface. But we also need the antibacterial ointment that will protect that open wound from further harm – from anything else that could enter and try to fill that gap that is meant to be filled only by Christ’s love and grace. We need Confession as that initial shock treatment – the ointment can’t do any good if the wound hasn’t first been cleaned. But that initial cleaning isn’t enough either – we need consistently to re-apply the healing balm of the Eucharist so that those wounds can be transformed into the glorious scars that Christ wears as His victory trophy, even in His heavenly glory.
“Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.” Today Christ invites us to gaze upon these trophies of His love so that we might be ready to reveal the wounds of sin in our hearts in order to receive His healing balm. No wound is too deep for the Master’s healing arts, and no scar too ugly not to become the trophy of His victorious love.
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist, Goshen
III Sunday of Easter, A.D. MMXXI
Image: St. Francis Kissing the Wounds of Christ; Arezzo, Italy