Rev. Rebecca Heilman-Campbell
The reality of a country burdened by systems of oppression that reduces the availability of medical treatment, clean water, or a safe environment meant I attended many funerals during my year in Zambia, Africa. Zambia is unique in their mourning traditions. Often, when a loved one dies, all the furniture is taken outside, where the men sit in the shade and the women on the floor in the empty house. Throughout the week, visitors, friends, family, and even strangers flow in and out of the home. Women stay indoors and men out. The grief of death, not unlike our own traditions, is a communal act. You are never alone when mourning in Zambia. During the hottest part of the year, I remember traveling by bus through the busy streets of Lusaka to visit a family who had just lost their grandfather. I arrived with a large group of women and men from our church, singing as we walked up to the house. As I was guided into the home, I was overwhelmed by the number of people already there. Men were outside talking in a corner on dark green couches, as women sat inside on the floor, filling the hallways and other rooms. Somehow, women made room for us new arrivals. We each greeted the wife and the female children and grandchildren, expressing our sorrows to each of them. Then, as we sat in a tightly fitted space, everyone began to sing softly. While looking down and holding each other’s hands, the singing slowly became louder, interchanging between singing and weeping. Shouts of despair, and sniffles of grief hovered in the room. You could sense the fear of the unknown and the future for the family. The power of the present heartache was overwhelming. It caught everyone by the throat and not a single eye was dry or a voice quiet. As I sat in that room, engulfed by the hot heat and sorrow, I realized, how liberating it was to cry like that and share that moment with other women who understand the gripping nature of grief. It was communal, a whole entity, a true act of solidarity. Zambian women, more so than men, stand together, side by side, weeping to express to the family members, who had just lost their loved one, that they understand. We all grieved, because we’ve each experienced our own grief. In those long hours in that room, we connected to one another, shedding walls and opening up locked doors. Stories were shared and vulnerability was welcomed into the room. Valarie Kaur, a Sikh activist and civil rights lawyer writes on this type of solidarity – what we she calls “revolutionary love.”1 She writes, “When a critical mass of people come together to wonder about one another, grieve with one another, and fight with and for one another, we begin to build the solidarity needed for collective liberation and transformation – a solidarity rooted in love.”2 She continues, “When their story is painful, I make excuses to turn back – ‘It’s too overwhelming’ or ‘It’s not my place’ – but I hold compass and remember that all I need to do is be present to their pain and find a way to grieve with them. If I can sit with their pain, I begin to ask: What do they need?”3 I tell you this story because in our story today, revolutionary love, exactly as I experienced in Zambia and as Valerie Kaur describes is lived out through nothing less than the scars on Jesus’s body. You’ll hear me repeat this phrase – Every scar carries a story. You know this.
Jesus has yet to appear to the disciples in our story today. They don’t know, like we know, that Christ has been raised from the dead. Well, it’s assumed that they do not know or that they believe Mary when she told them all that she saw. All we know is the disciples are in a locked room in fear of the authorities. They are sitting in fear together and in grief, wondering what their future holds. They could have been weeping together or sharing a meal together. They could have been sitting in silence or asking what they should do when morning dawns. No one really knows. All we know is that they are hiding and are as surprised as we are when Jesus appears into a locked room without the doors opening wide. Jesus uses the traditional greeting of that time, “Peace be with you.” And somehow that was not enough for the disciples. Jesus then shows his scars to provide proof that it is him and they erupt with joy, carrying the Holy Spirit with them. However, the author of John writes that Thomas was not there with the disciples when Jesus reveals his risen self. The disciples, I’m sure with much excitement and persuasive joy, tried to tell Thomas what they saw, but Thomas did not believe and said, “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.” If there is anyone in the Bible that we can connect with, it’s Thomas. How often have we not believed our friends and family and needed proof? As if Jesus knew this, and in parallel form, Jesus appears to the disciples exactly a week later, on the Sabbath, where the community of disciples are gathered again in a locked room. Jesus appears, saying the same greeting as a week before, “Peace be with you.” And Jesus, with all vulnerability, compassion, and love for Thomas, desiring Thomas to believe, said, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” And Thomas, he believed. Every scar carries a story.
Christ, purposefully, came back to the group of disciples to show his scars to Thomas, which reveals the love that Jesus and God carries for each of us. Not ONE disciple was forgotten. And not only that, just when we would expect Jesus to be resurrected with a perfect, unblemished body, Jesus instead uses his scars of trauma and tragedy to reveal himself to his beloved friends. Jesus, in this moment, once again shows his disciples that he is both human and divine. That he performs great miracles with majestic awe, while equally suffering and hurting by the world and powers at be. If there is one way we have an opportunity to connect with Christ on a deep level, it’s through those wounds.
Whether our scars are internal or external, greater than anyone could ever imagine or hidden from the world. Whether our scars are pierced by systemic racism or mass shootings or scars left over from a surgery or a hurtful comment, Jesus carries those stories with us to both feel all that we feel and to remind us that we are made in God’s image – blemished, scratched up, hurting, and in pain. Every scar carries a story.
Not long after a mass shooting in Georgia on the Asian-American community a few years back (Sadly, it’s hard to keep up with all the mass shootings in our nation). did Lee Wong, an Asian American and elected official in Ohio, share his American journey with the public. He told his township board of trustees that people have come up to him to say that he doesn’t look American enough or patriotic enough.4 He told the public that throughout his life, he has both been attacked because of his race and experienced abuse and severe discrimination, which disrupted his career, leading him towards the Army for over 20 years.5 At this meeting, upset and deeply wounded by the shooting just days before, he said, “Here is my proof [of my patriotism].”6 And lifts his shirt and reveals long scars reaching across his chest that he received from infected cuts during combat training in South Carolina. He asked, “Now is this patriot enough?”7 In that moment, Lee Wong was showing scars on his chest as well as deeper wounds inflicted by racism and hate. He had had enough and wanted people to hear his story and sit with it. Every scar carries a story.
Have you ever read the book Beloved by Toni Morrison? It’s one of my absolute favorites. It’s set in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1873. It’s all about Sethe, who is an ex-slave, and her daughter, Denver. Sethe is haunted by her time at Sweet Home, the plantation who owned her. She was haunted by a moment that occurred not long before she escaped. She was whipped and beaten by her owner and left with thick lasting scars on her back. At one point a white girl said to Sethe that her scars were shaped like a chokecherry tree.8 Some interpret Sethe’s scars as something horrific being turned into marks of beauty and survival. Or how I understand it from a class I took in seminary on intergenerational trauma, Sethe’s scars mark the trauma from her past and the trauma her family will experience over and over again through system after system of oppression and hate. Every scar carries a story and for some in this nation, those scars are reopened every time there is a mass shooting, every time there is a death of a black man, every time there is a microaggression, a stigma, a racial slur.
Every scar carries a story, and it is about time that we stop slicing into people’s souls and wellbeing. It’s about time that we hear those stories and sit with them, understanding the cost those scars have had on humanity and lives and how we have contributed to it. It’s time that we sit in the presence of each other, opening those closed doors and not just listening, but doing something that might cost something. You know Rosa Parks was not sitting in the front part of the bus because she was old and tired. That’s what we often think or say, at least that’s what I was taught in public school. I thought maybe she didn’t know she was doing something illegal. But that’s not it. Everything about that day was planned out. Rosa Parks and other leaders of the civil rights movement looked at every risk, every legal implementation, every detail. It was a planned protest. She knew she would be hauled off by the police. She knew it would cost something, maybe even her life. Later, she would write, “I was not tired physically [that day], or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was 42. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”9 Every scar carries a story.
And that’s the thing about Jesus and his scars, he’s willing to hear those stories and enter into a world that is suffering. He is willing to not only run towards death but be resurrected with a body marked by his murders. Jesus understands that solidarity costs something. His scars, while marked by violence, calls us into God’s image. While we are scarred, so is God. While we weep, so is God. While we struggle to believe, God reaches out God’s damaged hand and pierced side reminding us that God is with us in our own suffering, especially those who are wounded over and over again. Every scar carries a story and in the presence of our wounded healer, may courage take shape and may we move beyond unity and into the cost of solidarity.
Pray with me. Loving God, we believe, help our unbelief. Amen.
1: Valerie Kaur, Seeing No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love (One World: 2020), 310, 311- 312.
3: Valerie Kaur, Seeing No Stranger
4: David Williams and Kat Jennings, “Asian American official asks if his military scars are ‘patriotic enough,’ CNN, March 28, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/03/28/us/ohio-asian-american-official-scars-trnd/index.html.
8: Toni Morrison, Beloved, (New York: Random House Inc., 1987), 18.
9: Rosa Parks and Jim Haskins, Rosa Parks: My Story, (Puffin Books, 1999), 116.