Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
You’ve heard it. You’ve probably said it once or twice, or lots of times. You may even believe it to a certain extent, and to our earthly way of thinking, it does have a certain calming, reassuring ring to it, I suppose. The phrase is oft repeated, almost to the point of becoming a mantra to those who have suffered loss or injury: “Time heals all wounds.” But does it? Does it really?
Wounds come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. They also come in lots of different dimensions—physical wounds, emotional wounds, and the wounds we probably consider the least but are best not neglected, our spiritual wounds.
And, of course, we also have the varying degrees of severity of our wounds:
- From hangnails and paper cuts to the life-threatening urgency of severed limbs and flayed chests and crushed skulls.
- From the furrowed brows and sidelong glances and joking insults to bitter, angry, hateful words and the silent torture of avoidance and neglect.
- From the skipped Sunday morning service; to the rationalizing of the self-defined “little sins”; to the failure to rightly confess the faith and keep our children in it; to the woeful, damnable claim of “God can’t forgive me—or you—for that.”
These all leave scars, every one of these wounds. No matter how quickly we get medical care, no matter how skillful the doctor or compassionate the therapist, it seems that there is always some lingering pain, some loss of physical or emotional functionality, some scar or risk of recurrence or relapse.
Whether we see them on our skin or feel them in our hearts, we carry those scars with us. We reach or bend or twist a certain way, and we get that ache or jolt of pain. We keep on going back for those tests, hoping that the numbers indicate the problem hasn’t returned or at least hasn’t gotten worse. We see someone or something or someplace that reminds us of a hurtful past experience, and our hearts and minds are once again clouded with misery, fear, anger, or despair.
The fact is: Time doesn’t heal all wounds. We might not notice some of the physical wounds after a while, if we healed well and the scars aren’t visible to us. But our bodies aren’t really the same, not exactly as God created us and brought us forth from our mothers’ wombs. The skin cells aren’t aligned the same way; the ligaments are not as taut; the bones show the ragged extra contours of being knit back together.
Our minds, too, don’t “reset” themselves from past hurts; we can’t re-boot or re-format them. Memories may fade and we can try to forget or repress the painful events of our pasts. We may find ways to cope and take deep breaths and re-frame things so that recurrences or remembrances of the pinpricks and the traumas don’t affect us quite so severely, but they never really go away completely.
The passing away of one year and the coming of a new year brings the promise of renewal to many people. You may or may not be one who makes resolutions, who writes them down and posts them where they’ll confront you daily, or makes public pronouncement of your best intentions so others will know and you’ll feel a certain external pressure to follow and execute your plans.
But no matter your method of making resolutions or simply hoping for a better future, it’s our nature to want to see positive changes in ourselves, in others, and in our world when we pass such a milestone. We want the wounds to heal, or at least to be less painful and debilitating. We want our flaws to be less pronounced, less noticeable, less imposing and limiting on our lives.
But we have some very real, very deep problems and challenges in making those changes and reducing those flaws, don’t we? For one thing, we live in a hostile environment. We have enemies, seen and unseen, who not only want us to fail, they want us to suffer. They want to inflict new wounds, and poke and prod and pick at the old ones so that even those that have nearly been healed will torment us continually.
For another thing, even without those enemies, we’ll find ways to undermine our own efforts and place obstacles in our own paths. It’s how we are. It’s what we are. It’s who we are. We are weak of body, weak of mind, weak of spirit. We’ll wound others, and they’ll wound us. We’ll remember the scabs and the scars, and we’ll pick and probe and irritate them, over and over again, until we create new and bigger wounds so that even the passage of time won’t eliminate the hurt.
And then we’ve got the biggest obstacle of all, it would seem. Yes, we can function with physical scars, even with the loss of limbs and senses and major organs sometimes. We can go on with some pain, either numbed by medications or dulled simply by getting used to it. Yes, we can even function with the wounds to our psyche; toughing it out, pretending we’re OK, smiling through the heartache of a lifetime’s accumulation of emotional traumas both inflicted and suffered.
But what of our spiritual wounds and scars? We have sinned; we have fallen short of the glory of God, and no New Year governed by the flip of a calendar page on some arbitrary human date will give us renewal in God’s sight. Our final paycheck, our W-2, our bonus for what we have done this year and every year is the same: The wages of sin is death.
According to God’s Word, our spiritual wounds and scars would condemn us. Even if the world would accept our physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds and scars, God cannot. He is holy, set apart and free from flaws. We must be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect. There is no other way.
But we have wounds. We have scars. We are limited, handicapped, debilitated, are we not?
No, it’s worse than that, isn’t it? We are helpless spiritual invalids, bedridden and barely alive, right?
No, dear friends, it’s even worse: We have no spiritual functionality whatsoever. We are in spiritual autopsy, our life and our dignity stripped away, all our wounds and scars revealed, the reality of being nekros in our trespasses having come to pass. Our past wounds—physical, emotional, and spiritual—have led to the present reality: I am a scarred sinner, and a scared sinner, and I can do nothing about that.
Give thanks, then, that God does not dwell on the past, except when it comes to fulfilling His promises made long ago; promises He always remembers, even when we forget. Look again at our epistle lesson for tonight, from St. Paul’s letter to the Church at Rome. You will see that God is focused on our present and our future, and not our past. All of the discussion of the past, all the things already accomplished there, are the work of God. Only our present and our future are discussed.
Granted, it doesn’t indicate that our present is a bed of roses, by any means. Far from it! “We are being killed all the day long,” it says. We are ever in the ongoing process of being killed. Continually attacked. Wounded and left dying, we are. Slaughtered as sheep.
Yes, perhaps we get brief respites from life’s daily battles to experience some superficial healing of mind and body, to form some scars along the way. But we are certainly never left alone in peace, are we?
The key aspects of Paul’s lesson to the Romans, and to us tonight, are the actions of God which he describes. Actions past; actions present; and actions future. Dissect this lesson in that way, and hope abounds.
The past actions of God that are listed are foundational to our confession of who God is, and what we believe: God loved us. God did not spare His own Son. God gave Him up for us all. Christ Jesus died. Christ Jesus was raised. Things already accomplished; things real and true and witnessed and testified by God’s people in the Scriptures and in their creeds and prayers and songs and worship.
And what of God’s present actions on our behalf? He is for us; defending us and supporting us so that no matter who or what might be aligned against us, they cannot overcome us or succeed in the end. He justifies us: Realigns us; makes us right with Him; declares that past wounds and present scars make no difference in our relationship to Him anymore.
His Son, Jesus, presently—now and forever—sits at God’s right hand, interceding for us. Through Him who loved us, we are presently made conquerors and more—not only surviving the battle and our wounds and scars, but even now having been given and assured the final victory in Christ.
Which brings us to God’s future actions for us: He will graciously give us all things: Healed, scar-free, glorified bodies, with all our wounds removed and forgotten. Cleansed, peaceful, undistracted minds which think only of things above, and do not carry the regrets and pain of things experienced here below.
He also will turn aside any charge brought against us by the Accuser. Satan will not be able to condemn us, now or in eternity. All the dangers in life, though very real, will not separate us from Christ’s love: Not troubles or fears, suffering or hunger, shame or violence.
When Paul, in the Spirit, wrote the words of this lesson, he was led to say specifically what God wanted his readers and hearers to receive. God wanted to give His people confidence that regardless of what they’d experienced, no matter what wounds and scars they’d received in their lives up to that point, their future was assured. Listen again to the words:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Tucked in the middle of that list, that long sort of sentence of which Paul seemed to be so fond, is an interesting phrase—one which we would do well to consider tonight as we stand on the brink of a transition from one human year to the next. Paul says, “nor things present nor things to come…” No mention there of things past, of the uncounted wounds already suffered and the many scars already carried by his readers.
That’s no coincidence, for Paul was writing to Christ’s Church; the church at Rome and the Church of all time, including you and me. In Christ, our past wounds are healed; our scars are taken away. We will still look upon the marks left on our skin, and feel the discomfort of things that are not quite right inside of our bodies. We will still have pangs of fear and anger and regret in our minds over what we have done, what we have left undone, and what has been done or not done to us. We are still both violators and victims in physical and emotional ways.
But Christ alone was the victim for us in the spiritual realm. He also bore the pain and suffering the torment of the punishment. He unjustly received the holy and just recompense of the wrath of God, due us for all our sins of physical and emotional injury to others.
Our spiritual wounds and scars are fully eliminated by God for the sake of the suffering of Christ, healed and eradicated as He daily and richly forgives your sins and the sins of all believers in the holy Christian Church. For the baptized, the believing, the confessing, there is no past with God—there is only a present and a future. You see, the removal of our spiritual wounds is all that matters for now, for that gift of God alone gives us an eternal future, free from wounds and scars of all types.
It is good, then, that we who are broken and battered, scarred and scattered, would come to the healing place this night as one bounded chapter in our human history comes to a close, and a new one begins. For, apart from the limits of time, unbounded by space yet inextricably bound to the predicament of humanity and the world, the Great Physician is here. He has treatment for your wounds, medicine for your pain, therapy for your scars.
Come, then, and drink of the rich wounds of Christ, suffered in your place, suffered on your behalf. Marvel at the glorious scars He still bears on His body for your sake. His wounds, His scars, heal you and renew you.
Time does not heal all wounds, but the wounds of Christ free you from the bounds of time and break the grip of death. The blood of Christ removes your scars, your flaws, your every blemish. In Him is your fresh start this New Year’s Eve, and every day to follow. In Him is your future. In Him is your eternity. In Him is life, and in His (X) name, Amen.