Secret Wounds

Can I tell y’all a secret?

And I know this might come as a shock, but I’m not perfect. I screw up all the time. I fall way short of the life I’m supposed to live—the life I want to live. I leave undone the things God calls me to do, and I keep doing the things God warns me not to. I say things and think things and do things that violate God’s vision of Creation as it should be. I sin—a lot. I’m not perfect. And neither are you.

And yeah, obviously, that’s not really a secret. The fact that I sin—that we sin—isn’t news. As our Old Testament reading shows us, it’s the human condition. Adam and Eve have just been commissioned by God to till and tend the Garden to God’s glory, and already we see them reaching out their hands to exploit it for their OWN glory. And the rest, quite literally, is history: a story riddled with humans misusing the gift of life that God gave us. We screw up and wound ourselves and each other—all day, every day.

But the question before us today is: What do we do with those wounds? What do we do when our eyes are opened and we see what we’ve done?

Adam and Eve show us one course of action. They misuse the Garden that has been placed in their care. And when they realize that they’re naked, when they start to comprehend what they've done, they decide to cover themselves and hide from God. The psalmist today—we don’t know what he did, but when we meet him he’s holding his tongue and concealing his guilt. We do this kind of thing all the time when we sin, too! From adults hiding affairs from their spouses and families, down to kids hiding scrapes they got while breaking the rules. We mistreat and wound ourselves and each other, and then we hide it, deny it, and try to cover it up.

But what happens when we cover up a wound like that without cleaning it? Scraped knees get infected. Relationships, marriages, and communities implode. The psalmist feels his bones withering away inside him. And when Adam and Eve try to hide their sin, it just leads to more painful blaming and cursing. 

When we sin—when we wound ourselves and each other—we often try to seek refuge in the secrecy of our hearts hoping that if we hide away our sins, we can forget all about them. But we can’t put away our sins by ourselves. Sure, we can try. But if we keep our wounds secret they spread and consume us. The secrets may seem small—they may start small. But little by little they seep into every aspect of life.

I’ve seen this and experienced it in my own life, friends.I’m a recovering alcoholic, and one of the great curses of addiction is secrecy. Every alcoholic or addict I’ve ever met has wounds that have been covered up, kept secret, and hidden away. These secrets fester and build up until you’re living surrounded by sins and wounds that you’ve tried to keep hidden forever. You end up living life hiding even from yourself. And the posture of secrecy slowly destroys you and everyone around you. Addiction might put this dynamic on display in extreme ways with dramatic examples. But it’s a pattern that plays out in each of our lives in big and small ways whenever we join Adam & Eve in keeping our sin secret and hiding it away.

But if Adam and Eve show us how we usually deal with our sins, Jesus in today’s Gospel shows us another way. I’m not saying Jesus sinned. (The fact that he didn’t is actually pretty central to the whole Gospel story.) But whereas Adam & Eve flee from God’s presence, hiding among trees and seeking refuge in themselves, Jesus models exactly the opposite. Faced with the temptation to do what Adam & Eve did—to seize power; to misuse and abuse his role in Creation—Christ immediately seeks refuge in God’s promises. Rather than hiding from the voice of God and closing in on himself, Jesus turns to God’s word and lays himself bare to God’s call in the desert.

This is the response to our wounds & our weakness that God wants for all of us. Instead of covering up a scraped knee, to open ourselves to the balm of healing. Instead of biting our tongues and concealing our guilt, to acknowledge our faults and show God our wounds. Instead of fleeing from God and hiding our shame, to say “Here I am” and to let God see our weakness. That’s the example, the salvation, the healing, that Jesus the new Adam exhibits today: to seek refuge in God, to let God hold our weakness, to let God put away our sins, rather than trying to hide them away in ourselves.

It’s a tall order—to acknowledge our faults openly and confess our sins. We fall into those old habits of Adam & Eve so easily, that I don’t think we could live this life of openness on our own. But God doesn’t leave us to learn this alone. God knows our weakness and comes quickly to help us. Jesus is not just a model; he’s our means of salvation. He doesn’t just beckon us to imitate him if we have the strength. He is present with us daily to save us with his strength. 

And he has entrusted the Church with grace through the Sacraments to free us and heal us as often as we need it. It’s often neglected in the Episcopal Church, but the Sacrament of Reconciliation especially is a chance to open our hearts and surrender our secrets; to step out from the trees and show God our wounds; to acknowledge our faults and seek refuge—not in ourselves, but in God’s promise to heal us and to restore us to the fullness of life that we’re made for. On Holy Tuesday we’ll have a Service of Reconciliation and Healing, and the sacrament will be available to any who need it then. But this encounter with God’s grace doesn’t have to wait until then. The grace of absolution is always there, whenever we need it, as often as we need it. (And Lord knows I need it often).

You don’t have to confess your sins to a priest to be forgiven. But at the same time, you don’t have to carry your wounds secretly either. There is great power and healing in laying bare our hearts—in letting our weakness be seen and our faults be heard. We don’t have to hide in the bushes with Adam & Eve. We don’t have to hold our tongues and let our bones wither. We don’t have to carry our secrets inside us, letting them fester and spread until they’re too much to contain. The door is always open for us to take the sins we can’t carry, to hand them over to God, and to be assured, “The Lord has put away all your sins.”