The name Didymus – Thomas, as we say – means ‘twin’, as I expect you know. Two of my sisters are identical twins. That expression means that they began as one fertilised egg, not that they are identical people – I expect you know that too, although many don’t! Identical twins can certainly look very similar, but, like all of us, time changes their bodies and allows their paths to diverge. In the baby photos of our twins, Hebe had had a battle to be born, and is dark and swollen from the ordeal; Alice, who slipped out after her, is small and pink. Already, life had marked their bodies in ways that distinguished them.
I think Thomas, as a twin, appreciated that a man could look suspiciously similar to another man; but that the marks on his body would identify him.
I wonder what scars your body carries?
I have some little ones that have been there so long I can’t remember any more what caused them. I’ve had this little one on my thumb since I was about my daughter’s age. I like it; it’s part of what my thumb looks like, and I can’t remember it being different any more. There’s another one at the base of the same thumb that’s so faded that no one else can see it now, but I look for it because I remember when I received it – the slow motion fall and the inevitability of pain. Perhaps my biggest scar is my appendectomy scar. Then again, it now sits within the crêpey skin of the rest of my abdomen, which has been marked by pregnancy and will never go back to how it used to be.
Scars, in my view, are something to be proud of. They are only a problem – a blemish – if our standard of beauty requires a perfect and pristine surface, denying any evidence of disruption; a moment arrested and unchanging.
But life is movement. We are not suspended like an insect trapped in amber. As we travel through time and space, our bodies are the suits we inhabit that allow us to make this journey. Over time, they are changed and marked by the events we encounter, by wear and tear, by the choices we make. That is OK. We are beautiful in the eyes of God. He knit our bodies in our mothers’ wombs. He patches them up, and delights in the work of his hand. A scar is a patch. It’s like a badge that honours the things you have walked through and away from.
If you were with us on Maundy Thursday, you may remember me talking about baby Michael touching the calloused place on my foot that I didn’t like, and how for him it was all part of knowing me intimately. He loves everything that is a part of me, and so does God.
I have a tattoo on my left arm, of a cross contained within a circle. It can symbolise different things to different people, but for me it was a mark of something I had lived through; of what had changed and what remained. I wanted more tattoos, but for years I didn’t get any, because of my husband’s preference and because of the fear of having to live with it on my body forever. Eventually, it dawned on me that it was my body to mark, not my husband’s; and that it was getting marked and changed anyway, in ways I hadn’t chosen or expected, so I may as well choose some of the marks as things I would find beautiful and uplifting. A body doesn’t last forever anyway, so you may as well decorate it how you wish!
In some cultures, tattooing and other ways of marking the skin are common rites of passage, that speak of the individual’s tribe and of their personal and family history. I think, in a similar way, scars are a witness to our story. There are things that happen to you that you cannot separate out from who you are now. Wounds take time to heal. A scar is a mark of change that can’t be undone; it is also a mark of survival and a place that is tougher than it was.
For Thomas, Jesus was met and recognised in the place of wounding, in the possibility of renewal after devastation. Different, changed, but alive. Jesus showed us that God is seen not in military conquest, political power or religious orthodoxy, but in the tenacity of life. God breathes life into broken places. This is God’s identifying mark; the other word for which is glory.