Chris Rose’s column in Tuesday’s Times-Picayune deals with the “badges of honor,” those spray-painted markings left from the days following Katrina when National Guardsmen were checking houses for survivors or victims. They brandished their cans of spray paint with a flair, marking giant X’s on every home no matter whether damaged or not, noting their unit number, today’s date, a number–usually a zero–to say whether anyone was found inside, and often “NE” to indicate “no entry.”
Animal lovers frequently came behind the guardsmen looking for abandoned critters. The markings they spray-painted beside the NG tattoos were usually large and gaudy and wordy. “Two cats under the house; dog in back.” Occasionally, a house will carry a full conversation between these animal lovers: “Dog in back.” “Could not find it.” “Look next door.”
Sometimes the only damage a home sustained was the bright red paint on the brick carrying the post-hurricane graffiti. A souvenir of our saviors; residue from our rescuers.
The community has not agreed on what to make of those tattoos. Or even what to call them. Hieroglyphs of catastrophe. Crisis markings. Marks of distinction. Disgusting souvenirs. Badges of honor. Battle scars.
I sometimes suggest to preacher friends that they consider bringing a sermon on scars. The scars on your body tell a story about you.
Childhood scars record the mishaps and close calls that scared your parents and branded you. A “V” on my right index finger testifies to my reaching up to a hot pan on the stove when I was five. A scar out from my right eye from about the same time, resulted from falling on the broken rim of a galvanized wash tub. The hip-scar that looks like a tractor tread is the result of surgery when I was nine, repairing a fractured pelvic bone. A frown mark between my eyebrows is actually a scar from the time my head broke the dashboard of the funeral home’s station wagon. A fellow in a pickup ran a stop sign and left me this memento.
The scars on Jesus’ body tell the story of His pilgrimage to earth and the price of our salvation. Up in Heaven, “the only thing there that’s been made by a man are the scars in the hands of Jesus.” (Marijohn Wilkins)
The scars the Apostle Paul bore must have been considerable, when you peruse his “resume” found in II Corinthians chapter 11. No wonder he later said, “From now on, let no one bother me. I bear in my body the marks (the “stigmata,” literally) of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 6:17) The New American Standard translates that “the brand-marks of the Lord Jesus.” He has branded me forever, Paul says.
“I’ve got the scars to prove it.” Ever say that? Soldiers often need no tags or IDs to prove their patriotism and devotion to their country; they carry its marks.
Some people hide their scars; others wear them with distinction.
In New Orleans, some people were quick to paint over the National Guard markings on their house, even to the point of leaving a large white swath that does not match the rest of the building. Others are preserving theirs. Artists have made metal castings of these markings and painters have recorded them in oil.
I suggest to the leaders of our flooded churches that when they rebuild or renovate, they leave somewhere in their plant–perhaps in a remote closet–the original stain on the walls that shows where the rising floodwaters topped out. Leave it for the next generation as a lasting remembrance of this event which has changed life forever in this city.
When Joshua was leading Israel across the dried-up Jordan River into the Promised Land, he had them leave behind two large piles of rocks as mementos. One pile was situated in the middle of the Jordan itself. After the people had crossed the river, the waters returned and no one saw those rocks on the riverbed again…until the distant day when a drought dried up the river. Then, those rocks would be reappear and the people would remember what God had done for them. Always a good thing to recall.
The other pile of rocks was situated one day’s journey from the river. This one would remain visible in good times and bad, testifying to God’s watchcare over His people and His faithfulness. (Joshua 4)
We forget so easily. We need these reminders.
That leads us to the two great memory-joggers Jesus gave His followers in the New Testament: the Lord’s Supper and baptism. In the first, we “show the Lord’s death until He comes.” In the latter, we demonstrate the burial and resurrection of Christ. This three-fold event–His death, burial, and resurrection–is the essence of the Gospel itself.
We celebrate the Lord’s Supper and baptism as rites of honor, but they represent major scars to the Lord Jesus. We take the bread and cup with scarcely a thought; He remembers the agony and feels the pain and relives the awful separation from the Father. We go under the water and sing of the resurrection rather glibly as though this were the commonest thing in the world; He grows silent when He thinks of the time between His death and the moment He emerged from the tomb and began to show Himself to the disciples. No one but He knows the cost He paid.
“None of the ransomed ever knew how deep were the valleys crossed, or how dark was the night that the Lord passed through e’er He found the sheep that was lost.”
We know so little of what He endured for our salvation. Yet, He left behind these two reminders in order that, however imperfectly we think of them and however poorly we celebrate them, we will forever keep them as the two tracks for the Church. Like two headlights, two eyes, two tracks, two lanes, they help to keep the Lord’s people on course.
Forget the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and we lose our way in the religious wilderness which is our culture. Without the corrective influence of those two great lodestones, the first thing you know, we’re preaching that everyone ought to “be good now,” as though God went to the trouble of moving heaven and earth in order to send such a shallow, superficial message to mankind.
Forget the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus and soon we’re declaring that all men are God’s children, everyone is basically good, and a loving God surely would not send anyone to hell. All religions are good, all roads lead to the same place, and all behaviors are approved.
A quick glance at the religious landscape of America informs us that something drastically has happened to the Church. More and more church leaders are declaring the Gospel as “be good now,” the church as a social club without standards, missionaries as dinosaurs, Jesus as irrelevant, and His death-burial-resurrection–if it happened at all–as meaningless.
God help us. Get us on track, please, and keep us there.