By Rev. Shirley Bowen
Luke 24: 13-35
The first memory I have of “taking in” today’s reading from Luke is as a teenager. And I remember thinking, like many teenagers who think we have all the answers, that the disciples were idiots. How could they, having spent the previous 3 years traveling with, learning from, and witnessing his ministry to many types of people, how could they not recognize Jesus walking alongside them? And after they heard from the 2 Mary’s that they had seen him and the disciples who went to the tomb verified that he was indeed raised from the dead, wouldn’t you think that by then they would be able to see him? What film covered their eyes until he sat at a meal with them.
Thankfully wisdom gradually increases with age and experience, (I hope) and I came to understand that there are many things which keep us from seeing the Holy before us.
Yesterday was Earth Day. We are travelers on this beautiful ball of rock and plants, water and air, animals and humans, that we call Earth. As you’ve heard me say before, Celtic Christians believe that we are all creations by God and of God and are therefore holy. And yet, what are we doing to our planet and each other? We fight over global warming, over exploitation of resources, over “ownership” of territories. Species are going extinct! People are being forced from their land in the name of progress and greed. The destruction is right in front of us, but we allow a film of denial to cover our eyes. Our indigenous sisters and brothers are telling us that we are not in right relationship with our celestial home, but we refuse to see the sacredness of our charge from God to have dominion over creation. In the context of Genesis, dominion or power over doesn’t mean that we rape and destroy our charge. It means that we are responsible for caring for all of creation. And we are failing, and I believe God weeps. I know many of us do as well.
As you know I am a retired Episcopal priest. Foundational to my identity as a Christian practicing via the Episcopal church is our baptismal covenant. One of the most powerful promises we make at our baptism, our confirmation, our ordination, and several times throughout the church year is to Seek and Serve Christ in All People. And yet we allow there to be homelessness, poverty & starvation, violence of all kinds. We walk past a person sitting on a bench with all their belongings beside them or standing on a street corner with a sign and often don’t even see them. Or if we do, we might shake our heads in judgement or hopefully at least in pity. But still often we don’t act. What film is over our eyes that allows that violence and indignity to continue?
There is a famous bumper sticker I used to have in my office and on my old car which said, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” It runs through my mind when I become too complacent with my daily comfortable life. I know it does for many of you as well.
I want to end with a story that came to me many years ago that has never left me…
The story is from the play Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw. As we all know, Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake for heresy. Following the execution, one of the characters who was pushing for her burning comes back into the courtroom lamenting his participation in her execution. He confesses to the remaining clerics that, after watching her suffer the flames, he had no idea that anyone could suffer so. He chastised the other clergy, that their pious words defending the action were empty, stating that those who had condemned her but not witnessed her death could not have any idea of its horror.
In the final scene of the play there is a dream sequence where the cast reappears to reflect on the events. Some are dead and some were pulled to the conversation from their dreams. As they discuss the harsh penalty, another participant echos the words of the chaplain, that he had no idea how horrible such a death could be. But he stated that witnessing that event saved him; he turned his life around because of it. One of Joan’s supporters responded with this question…
Must then a Christ perish in torment in every age to save those that have no imagination?
What today’s scripture does for me is to remind me that even though we know at the Good Friday story that there is a “happy ending,” it doesn’t mean that we forget the Good Friday story. We must discipline ourselves to witness year after year the horror of the crucifixion so we will be able to then develop the imagination of our own Easter responsibilities.
The Christ in the Earth, the Christ in our impoverished and violated sisters and brothers, the Christ in injustice is suffering. A lack of imagination is that opaque film which keeps us from seeing the holy before us and acting as though all of creation is by and of God. It is when that film dissolves that we can co-create with God a world of compassion and justice.