Read Galatians 6:15-18
Near the end of a forty-day fast during a mountain retreat in the summer of 1244, St. Francis of Assisi was praying and meditating on the cross of Christ. As he prayed, he received a vision of a six-winged seraph, a creature of unearthly beauty, nailed to a cross. This vision filled him with a strange combination of joy, wonder, and sorrow. St. Bonaventure, his biographer, recounts the story: “Pondering what this vision might mean, he finally understood that by God’s providence he would be made like to the crucified Christ not by a bodily martyrdom but by conformity in mind and heart. Then as the vision disappeared, it left not only a greater ardor of love in the inner man but no less marvelously marked him outwardly with the stigmata of the Crucified.” St. Francis would be careful to hide these visible marks of Christ for the rest of his life, preferring instead to let his actions demonstrate his love for our Lord. He was a new creation in Christ not because of the stigmata, but because his heart and mind were conformed to the image of Jesus.
It seems strange at first that Paul would end this epistle by declaring that he bore the “marks of Jesus”. This probably just means that he had scarring from experiencing persecution and not that he had the stigmata like St. Francis. It doesn’t really matter either way, because, when all is said and done, there is only one thing that counts: a new creation. That has been the destination of this epistle and our forty-day journey. We have been crucified with Christ, killing off the old man within and rejecting the works of the flesh, and we have been resurrected to a new life in Him. Christ now lives in us through the power and mediation of the Holy Spirit. Peace, mercy, and grace will be ours as we walk in this new rule of faith. But this is more than just an individual walk. Notice how Paul prays a blessing on the “Israel of God”. That is the Church, the New Jerusalem, our Mother who is free. Jesus hasn’t just saved us individually from sin and death. He has plucked us out of the kingdom of darkness and inaugurated a new Kingdom of light and hope and peace. We have been chosen, not by virtue of ethnicity or circumcision, but because we have faith in Jesus Christ our Lord. It is no accident that Paul begins (1:3) and ends (6:18) this epistle with the message of grace. For it is by grace that we are saved and by grace that we live. It’s about so much more than heaven. It’s about salvation from misery and death, from failure and despair, from the mundane and ordinary, even from ourselves. Grace resurrected us from the fall and freed us not just to survive, but to live. All that matters is a new creation.
After Jesus rose from the dead, He proved his identity by showing His scars. What a poignant and beautiful gesture. Even the God of all the universe couldn’t escape life unscathed. We all bear scars, from what others have done to us and from what we have done to ourselves. But, brothers and sisters, we also bear the marks of Jesus. He has sealed us through baptism and marked us as His own forever. We do not belong to this world anymore; sin and doubt and despair and death no longer have mastery. We serve a new King in a new Kingdom. By His resurrection, Christ has set us free. He is making us new, just as he makes all things new (Rev. 21:5). Let us go forth into the world as new creations bearing the marks of Christ and proclaiming the good news of freedom and grace to all whom we meet. Let us say together with joyful hearts: Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!