Sunday, May 1, 2011

“The Easter Treasure of the Brokenhearted”

1 May 2011
The Second Sunday of Easter
St. Joseph’s Chapel, Kent School
The Reverend Jonathan A. Voorhees
Pray Eat Walk for Japan

Today’s Gospel is one of the most famous resurrection appearances, the story of doubting Thomas which is found only in John’s Gospel.  It is a story about the difference between secondhand experience and the firsthand threshold of the miracle of the Easter season.  Though Jesus has appeared to some of his disciples, he has not appeared to Thomas.  Until Thomas meets the Risen Lord personally, he refuses to believe in the Easter miracle.  There is a little of Thomas in all of us.  His story is our story.  Until the Easter story meets you personally, until it calls you by name, it remains someone else’s story.
            In the words of Thomas: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
            When Thomas finally meets the Risen Jesus, his confession of faith is the strongest affirmation of any disciple in the Gospels: “My Lord and my God!”

            On your bulletin, it says “Kent for Japan.”  As you know, a fundraising brunch for the Japanese people will follow this service.  After the brunch, hundreds of Kent students will walk together, in solidarity with the Japanese people.  At first glance, it might seem strange to be celebrating Easter here, and then working to help people in another corner of the world.  But I think it all fits together on this second Sunday of Easter.  What does it mean to celebrate new life—to even talk about resurrection—when so many in our world are lacking the basic necessities for life?  Will there really be a resurrection in Japan?  Or does Thomas have it right at the beginning of the gospel?  We also have heard the news this week that whole communities, here at home, have been wiped out by tornados in the South.  Hundreds of lives have been lost.  What does new life look like for someone who has just lost his or her home?  But Easter hope brings us all together—a Loving God holds it all together for us.  Even when Thomas experiences the Risen Jesus, it is clear that that the wounds of Jesus are real.  He really did suffer; it was no illusion.  The scars are still on his body, the ones that Thomas says that he must touch in order to believe.  So today, we celebrate new life, not by isolating ourselves in joy from a suffering world, but by opening our hearts wider than they have ever been opened before.  Jesus’ own theology and ministry were likewise directed by this central question: who is my neighbor?  This morning I would like to follow the implications of this question; from Jerusalem, to Afghanistan, and finally to Japan.  As I reflected on the paradox of new life and resurrection combined with the images of the tsunami, I thought of the mystical poet Rumi.  Rumi was a Muslim who lived in the thirteenth century, in what is now Afghanistan.  His poetry deeply investigates the paradox and mystery of God, especially the love of God that is found, surprisingly, in human suffering. 
Here are some samples of the spiritual wisdom of Rumi.  
“Let the beauty we love be what we do.
                        There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”

                        “Chase a deer and end up everywhere!”

                        “Mystics are experts in laziness.”

“What have I ever lost by dying?”

Because I love this, I am never bored.
Beauty constantly wells up, a noise of spring water
In my ear an inner being.”

“Where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure.”
That last quotation especially reminded me of Japan; that even in the midst of destruction, and loss of life, there is treasure to be found: in the Japanese character, the soul of a people, being revealed right now, as people work together to survive; as they put their lives in each other’s hands for a common future.  Where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure.”  As a Christian reading the mystical poet from Afghanistan, I can’t but help but be moved by his poetry about, and for, Jesus Christ; the way he comes to Jesus so personally, with fresh expression, and even with love.  Rumi was fascinated by Jesus, as many mystics from other traditions have been.  Even as an outsider, coming from a different religious faith, Rumi felt the healing power in the life of Jesus, the way he turned things upside down, so that we could see the real possibility, and the reality, of God in our midst.
                        “I called through your door,
                        ‘The mystics are gathering
                        in the street.  Come out!’
                        ‘Leave me alone.
                        I’m sick.’
                        ‘I don’t care if you’re dead!
                        Jesus is here, and he wants
To resurrect somebody!’”

The mystical experiences of God often obliterate, wonderfully, the boundaries that human beings hold most sacred, the ones that divide us; strangers and even former enemies can become friends, as in the case of Japan and the United States since World War II.  When the Kingdom of God comes near, a wonderful chaos can break out in human society; the last become first, the first last, the poor hold spiritual riches, and the rich walk away empty-handed.  Rumi sensed the transformation at the heart of Jesus’ life before God. 
This next Jesus poem by Rumi is called “There’s Nothing Ahead.”
Lovers think they’re looking for each other,
                        but there’s only one search: wandering
                        this world is wandering that, both inside one
                        transparent sky.  In here
                        there is no dogma and no heresy.

                        The miracle of Jesus is himself, not what he said or did
                        About the future.  Forget the future.
                        I’d worship someone who could do that.

                        On the way you may want to look back, or not,
                        but if you can say There’s nothing ahead
                        there will be nothing there.

                        Stretch your arms and take hold of the cloth of your clothes
                        with both hands.  The cure for the pain is in the pain.
                        Good and bad are mixed.  If you don’t have both,
                        you don’t belong with us.

                        When one of us gets lost, is not here, he must be inside us.
                        There’s no place like that anywhere in the world.

Jesus lived fully, completely, into both the beauty and the peril of creation, seeking out his neighbor in the least among us.  In him was the delighted mystic who lived each moment in the divine dance of creation.  God was so near to him that he called the ultimate reality Father or even Papa—his Beloved.  The Kingdom of God could be seen by Jesus in every human face, even those--especially those--on the outside of the sacred community and righteous boundary.  Jesus chose as his discipline the Way of Transformation, the way of the heart in deep thanksgiving for every breath we take. 

            I would like to close this sermon by taking us to Japan, as promised, to Tokyo, in a scene from a novel by Chaim Potok, who was himself a rabbi.  This quiet passage comes from the novel The Book of Lights, as two American soldiers, one a chaplain and the other an engineer, visit Tokyo.  The chaplain is a rabbi, and the engineer is Roman Catholic.  Both men come to understand God better through their friendship with each other, and their exposure to the people of Korea, where they are stationed just after the end of the Korean War, and through their visits to Japan on leave.  The rabbi Gershon Loran learns to practice his own Jewish faith more deeply, because of his love for the people of Asia.  This morning is full of paradoxes, it seems.  In this scene in Tokyo, they watch Buddhists at prayer in a temple.    
            “Later that day they walked beneath the arched roof of the Asakusa outdoor market.  The street was crowded with shoppers.  The shops were small and neat.  In the indoor shrine at the end of the street, people crowded before an altar on which stood an image.  Candles burned in tall dark metal candelabra.  Women stood with their hands together, praying.  Children prayed softly.  Before the altar was a railing. An old man stood at the railing.  He wore a hat and a brown coat.  He had a long white beard, a flowing beard that lay upon his chest and seemed possessed of a life on its own, like a waterfall.  It caught the soft lights of the candles and glints of the sunlight that came through the door of the shrine.  In his hands he held a prayer book.  His body swayed back and forth, as he prayed.  His eyes opened and closed behind rimless spectacles that flashed and flared with the lights of the candles and the sun.  Gershon looked at him.  Had he seen him somewhere before?  He could not remember.
            ‘Do you think our God is listening to him, John?’
            ‘I don’t know, chappy.  I never thought of it.’
            ‘Neither did I until now.  If He’s not listening, why not?  If He is listening, then—well, what are we all about?’

            At the end of the novel, Gershon Loran and another rabbi, Arthur Leiden, go further into the mystery of suffering, and witness its transforming power and beauty.  They make the decision to go to Hiroshima; to go deeper into the spiritual treasure of the brokenhearted.  While visiting Hiroshima, they say Kaddish, the Jewish prayers for the dead, at the monument honoring the victims who died in the atomic blast: “Magnified and sanctified be the name of God throughout the world…,” they pray.  Kaddish is usually reserved for Jewish family members who have died, but the two rabbis pray for the Japanese people; they pray for the whole human family.  Even though the people of Hiroshima have perished, the rabbis embrace them as their neighbors, a gentle hand of friendship from the living to the dead.  The same way of transformation is open to us as we pray, eat, and walk for, and with, the Japanese people today.  We too are called to be God’s children, and to extend the family.  In his kingdom, at table, the broken become whole, the sinner is forgiven, and the humble poor are lifted up.  There’s no place like that anywhere in the world.  Let the beauty we love be what we do; that the name of God may be magnified and sanctified to the ends of the earth.

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