August 5th, 2018
The word stigmata is often used to refer to certain marks or wounds that have appeared on the bodies of some very faithful Christians. Paul wrote to the Galatians: I bear in my body the marks [i.e. the stigmata] of the Lord Jesus ... Reportedly, Francis of Assisi was marked by the visible, physical stigmata, and so were others, more than can be named or counted.
The wounds, sometimes actually bleeding wounds, have usually appeared on the hands and feet or side of a person’s body. They have seemed to duplicate the wounds and suffering that our Lord suffered on the cross. Such stigmata, such wounds, such specific points of suffering, shared with Christ, have always signified faithful and devoted Christians.
But, stigmata may take different forms. They need not be physical. They may even be invisible. Stigmata have importance to us because they signify suffering and because the meaning of life may be found in what a person is willing to die for. It may be a soldier for his country, a father for his family, a teacher for her pupils, or a mother for her child. It may be that willingness to deny the body in order to feed the soul.
As an Oriental proverb has it: If you have two loaves of bread, sell one, and with the money you obtain, go and buy hyacinths to feed your soul.
The secret of your life and its meaning, its priorities, values, orientation, may be found in what you are willing to suffer for what purpose and for what person. Paul speaks of the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ ... Now we can understand what he means. Peter says, If you suffer for Christ, be thankful ... Now we know what he is talking about.
In another vein, so to speak, the Battle for Britain, in which all of England was defended by a very few, very brave men of the Royal Air Force, moved Sir Winston Churchill to say, Never before have so many owed so much to so few ... Through the years many reflections and memories of those participants have been printed. These brave men, these quiet, genuine heroes, have reflected upon that crisis when every moment was literally life or death, and when there was never time for rest or sleep or a catching of breath or even a change of clothing. When these men recalled the combat in the air, the fear and the fatigue, the word they most often used to describe it was exhilarating. It was exhilarating then, and it is exhilarating now to think back on it, because they knew what they were willing to die for. Oh, yes, the meaning of life may be found in what a person is willing to die for.
Stigmata have meaning for us today because the question will not go away ... what suffering will we bear and what scars will we wear? Are we willing to do it for Jesus Christ? You see, life also receives its meaning from those who are willing to do the suffering. The whole Christian gospel is a message of God’s willingness to suffer for us. What we do, all that we do, at this table may be summed up in these few words: this is my body broken for you ... this is my life, given for you ... The measure of all self-denial is not how much is denied, but who did it and for what reason.
The definition of love and devotion is spelled out in terms of how much we are willing to suffer for that love. This church, this family of faith, has meaning for you to the extent that you are willing to suffer for it, to bear the stigmata, not physically, but emotionally and spiritually. Oh, yes, you may suffer for it in different ways. Sometimes you may only be inconvenienced. Will there be demands upon energy, and will you get tired? Indeed. Will there be conflicts of interest when you and your church family want different things at the same time? To be sure there will be. Will it mean spending money? Of course. Christian stewardship does not mean that when you see a barefoot child, you say: Here is a pair of shoes because I have two pair and you have none. Oh, no! Christian stewardship means that you say: Here is a pair of shoes in the name of Christ because he suffered for all of us and I cannot bear to see you suffer.
The famous psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, observed, The meaning of life, the answer to the inquiry into existence, is found in one’s willingness to suffer for someone else or something else. This is why both Peter and Paul said that we should count it all blessing when we can suffer for Christ. When you have problems because of Christ, be glad, because your willingness to suffer is a sign of your Christian witness, and this is what it is all about. We show our faith and values by what we are willing to suffer for. If it means scars and marks and wounds and stigmata, then we wear them with pride and thankfulness.
However, keep this in mind. The most painful suffering can be entirely invisible. You may suffer for your Lord quite silently and secretly. But, remember, Jesus said that ... Your Father, who sees in secret, shall reward you openly ...
Neither science nor medicine nor Better Living Through Chemistry, as the Dupont Corporation used to advertise, can stop the pain of a broken heart. There is no prefabricated solution to the crash of a private world when it has fallen in on you. No iron or steel supports come to our rescue when we feel the sky is falling. Nor do we have any Fast, Fast, Relief as Anacin used to advertise, for the anguish of our hurting hearts. No, the most painful suffering, the marks, the wounds, the stigmata, that hurt the most, will probably always be invisible.
As Peter said, Be glad ... if you can suffer for Christ ... not as a neurotic who seeks suffering for its own sake, but as a Christian, who knows now the ultimate cause for which we may be privileged to suffer. That is, of course, the cause of Jesus Christ and his mission of salvation sealed in the cross of Good Friday and the open tomb of Easter morning.
So, are you willing to bear the stigmata of Christ, and thus share his suffering? This is what he has done for you. And Communion is one way that our Lord has of saying to you and me, I love you, I suffered for you, and I died for you. So, come, to my table, and follow me.
Go To Top Of Page