Being a funeral director must be difficult, every client a grief-stricken one. But what about being an embalmer, every client a deceased one?
I remember a thought-provoking movie from 1991 called “My Girl.” One of the lead characters (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) was a professional cosmetologist who took a job preparing dead bodies for their final appearance in the casket. Although the movie had an interesting storyline, the most thought-provoking thing about it was wondering how hard it would be to do the hair and makeup of someone who’d already died. Linked with that job is a question that’s been rumbling around in my head for years. Do people working on the bodies notice scars?
Certain scars are easy to identify: a Cesarean section, an appendectomy, a hernia, open heart surgery. But what about the others? Do embalmers try to guess? Do they talk together about unusual scars? And more importantly, do they feel respect for the one who has borne them?
Everybody could tell tales of trauma linked to their scars. It seems probable the more scars a person has, the deeper the character of that life, a phenomenon of the strange relationship between outer hardship and inner growth. If we had our way, we’d skip scars altogether, since each one translates to an experience of personal pain.
Some people willingly endure pain now, for a perk later: piercings, tattoos, corrective surgery. Nate was eager to go under the knife when the orthopedic surgeon told him his back pain would decrease after he healed.
But when I think of willingly undergoing pain deep enough to leave a scar without any perks afterwards, the chief example is Christ Jesus. His scars were many – both hands, both feet, his side, his brow, and all over his lacerated body – yet he agreed to every bit of it ahead of time, for our benefit and not his own.
I’m sure when we get to heaven, all of us will still have our scars, because Jesus still had his when he appeared to the disciples in his resurrected body. He showed them his healed wounds and invited them to touch his scars. In this life we think of scars as ugly deformities, but in that new world, I believe scars will be considered the most beautiful thing about us. Certainly the scars of Jesus will be supremely meaningful to us throughout eternity, because without the voluntary suffering that caused them, we wouldn’t be in heaven.
I think also of emotional scars, the kind no coroner or embalmer can see. Scars on our skin are an indication that physical healing has already taken place. Scar tissue is actually stronger than uninjured tissue and resists future damage better. But emotional wounds hidden deep within us often heal slower and sometimes don’t heal at all. Was Jesus emotionally wounded? After reading Luke 22, the only feasible answer is “yes”.
Surely his emotional scars were healed after his resurrection, just as his physical wounds were. But what about the rest of us and the emotional wounds that continue to fester within us here on earth? In the next world, will they be healed, too?
My guess is they’ll be transformed… into beautiful scars.
“[Thomas] said… ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.’ Then [Jesus] said…‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’” (John 20:25b,27)