Friday, March 27, 2009

A Christ With No Hands

Easter 7c.2008.Holy Spirit
The Easter story concludes with the Ascension of Our Lord.
On the Sunday after Ascension, we read the prayer
Jesus said for us as he was preparing to say goodbye.
He prayed,
“Now I am no longer in the world
But they are in the world . . . .”

This is hardly anyone’s favorite Bible story.
It leaves us feeling abandoned, bereft.
Ordinary life already has enough loss in it.
We want our religion to save us from that feeling,
not drive it home with the image of Jesus
going to his Father while we are left “in the world.”

But the good news of the Gospel is that whatever Jesus does,
he does for us.
Jesus was born for us, died for us, rose for us,
and now he ascends into heaven for us.

When Jesus says goodbye,
he hands over his mission to us.
All the healing, reconciling, forgiving, and loving,
all that he did in his earthly ministry,
he hands on to us.
He passes the torch and says,
“It’s your turn. Now you run with it.”

There is always a part of us that just wants to be taken care of.
And God does take care of us.
But God also challenges us to grow up.
That is often hard. It can be painful.

It is like physical rehabilitation after surgery.
We need the nurse to take care of us for awhile,
but there comes a point when, in order to get strong,
we have to get of bed and work.
It takes courage. It takes determination.

Salvation is like that.
It starts with God accepting us as we are.
But, as the saying goes,
“God love us the way we are,
but because he loves us,
he doesn’t leave us this way.”

Salvation is more than being forgiven.
Salvation is being transformed.
Salvation is growing in grace,
developing the strength of character
we see in Jesus.

Salvation is a process of becoming more compassionate,
more just, more courageous,
more serene in the face of adversity.
Jesus showed us what it looks like when a human being
lives in a godly way.
But he doesn’t live a godly life so we don’t have to.
He does it to show us what we can and must do.
He shows us what we are intended to be.

At first, we come to the Church with our wounds
and our spiritual needs.
It right that we do that.
Where else should we go?
At first, we just take in the care of the church’s ministers.
We are like patients lying in bed after surgery
being cared for by the nurse.

But we will not fully recover until we get out of bed.
In fact, if we stay in bed too long,
we just get weaker and weaker.
To get back to life,
we have to get on with the hard work of rehabilitation.
That is where the real healing happens.

St. Francis of Assisi prayed to move from the first stage of faith,
the stage trying to get his needs met,
to move on to a more mature faith.
After he prayed to become an instrument of the Lord’s peace,
he went on,
“Grant that I may seek
not so much to be understood as to understand;
not so much to be consoled to console;
not so much to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we truly receive;
it is in pardoning, that we ourselves are pardoned;
and it is in dying we are born to eternal life.”

Salvation buds like a flower in early Spring
when we discover that we are loved.
It blossoms when we learn to love.

Our faith journey begins when we receive
the ministry of the Church
It matures when we become the ministers of the Church.
It matures when we turn our attention from what we need
to what others need and to what we can offer.

There was a village in Italy that had a beautiful statue
of Jesus in the town square.
It was Jesus in a classic pose, his hands extended
in loving invitation.
The people loved that statue
because it made them feel cared for.
During World War II, the statue was demolished by bombs.

After the War, when the rebuilding began,
first thing this village did was hire experts
to restore the statue.
They had gathered the pieces and saved them for this day.

After months of work and thousands of dollars,
the statue of Jesus was good as new,
except for one thing.
They could not find the original hands.

The restoration workers said
they could make new hands.
And the people considered it.
But after much prayer and reflection,
they decided to leave the statue as it was
– the arms extended, but with no hands.
Instead of restoring the hands,
they put a plaque on the base it the statue.
It was a quotation from St. Theresa of Avila. It said:
“In this world, Christ has no hands but our hands.”//

In life we experience loss.
We lose people we love.
We lose the comfort of our world as it changes
year by year.
It is right and natural that we grieve that.
No one wants to feel abandoned.

But the Gospel story shows us what to do with that.
We trust that nothing good and beautiful and right
is lost forever.
Jesus is not lost forever.
He is waiting for us.
No one we love is lost forever.
They are waiting for us at the side of Jesus.
And they are there, alive in God,
bequeathing all that was best about them to us,
so that we can become as they were, as they still are.

We will be with them again in the Resurrection,
but for now, or challenge
is to do for each other
what someone once did for us.
Our challenge is to become the hands of Christ.

St. Theresa’s best friend was St. John of the Cross.
He said,
“Where there is no love, put love,
and there you will find love.”//
It is a wonderful thing to have been loved.
But it comes to nothing unless we take that experience
and, instead of trying to get it again over and over,
to grow in our capacity to love.
It is good to be beloved. It is better to be the lover.

That’s the second stage of salvation,
becoming the lover, becoming the servant,
becoming the minister,
becoming the hands of Christ.
And when we have matured in this live-changing,
soul-shaping faith,
we will discover more joy
than we had imagined possible.