Both Bob from Italy and Lupe from Bolivia move us to acting for God as service rather than servanthood. Bob speaks of co-operation and individual acts of mercy, such as feeding the hungry neighbor. Some theologians believe we should make co-operation, in contrast to competition, a primary contemporary Christian emphasis. Lupe suggests looking at service in terms of larger issues, such as “being honest and demanding honesty, caring for the environment, working proactively for peace or fighting racism and injustice”. I’m sure Bob would agree as he is known as an advocate for abolishing the death penalty.
I think I sense in both a reluctance to see suffering as an essential element of Christian service. I do not want to abandon the concept too easily. I think anyone is nuts to chose suffering. Gethsemane makes clear Jesus did not. However, I think Christian service can go beyond co-operating with or serving others. It is done at times even though there is personal sacrifice and cost.
The Bible is essentially a history of salvation in which God comes to rescue people who are trapped in self-destructive actions. He and his followers who act for him turn things around to make a better world. You see that in central teachings such as “return good for evil”, “love your enemy” (How else to make them friends?), and “act for justice even in seemingly hopeless situations”. These all involve some self-denial.
I think this spirit is caught in the Easter sermon sent to me by a dear friend, Sister Rita Yeasted, who is also one of our readers. The sermon was proclaimed by Sister Michele Bisbey, chair of the Humanities Division at La Roche College in Pittsburgh. She finds herself regularly at Western Psyche with her foster son, Alex, an orphan from Russia with serious psychological problems. After I got over nuns having foster children, I thought it was very timely.
Easter, 2010: For many of us gathered here this morning, as for the disciples on that first Easter morn–it’s been an unusually difficult Lent: marked by so many losses—through death, through illness—both physical and mental; marked by a historically difficult winter with unmanageable weather which paralyzed our region and ravaged that of our Haitian neighbors; marked by young people, loved into life, full of promise, choosing to squander all the gifts and opportunities that would afford them a better life.
The national political scene—has yet to yield the hope that was pledged And on the world wide screen we are daily confronted with the destruction wrecked by war, genocide and famine of proportions that are so mind boggling—they become numbing. And perhaps most disconcerting are the ongoing reports of betrayal within the Church,
topped by investigations which allege that our very life commitments are suspect.
I must admit, this Lent, I’ve had far too many days when I’ve felt empty bone weary
and heartbroken. I too easily resonate with the Magdalen of the gospel- tomb sitting!
At the same time, it’s been an astonishingly glorious holy week—especially these days of the Easter Triduum with sure signs of springtime’s renewal suddenly bursting through.
I find it very tempting to push aside, to ignore, to escape the empty, weary, broken thoughts and leap frog into spring and Easter hope. But somehow that feels like “cheap grace” and lacks the integrity of really entering into the paschal mystery. So, I’ve been caught this Holy Week trying to “hold” the tension in a life giving way. (Ideas explored in “The Broken-Open Heart”, by Parker J. Palmer)
Some insight began to surface as I was visiting with Alex at Western Psyche this week. In the waiting room, I met a woman who was quite distraught as she struggled to come to terms with the hospitalization of her 21 year old autistic son. Wringing her hands, tears streaming down her cheeks, she said, “It’s so gut wrenching, isn’t it? How do we keep dealing with this? How can we keep living like this? It just hurts so much, all the time.” My response came from some place other than my head—as I said, “I think you can’t resolve it, or make it better, I think you just lean into it and hope.”
Leaning into the hurt, we may be crushed, shattered, even broken but when our hearts are broken—if we’re blessed they may also be opened, opened to see what is essential, as the disciples saw and believed opened to see light in darkness, opened to hear what is barely spoken, as Magdalen heard her name, opened to be compassionate, opened to make God’s Providence visible, to the marginalized, to the lost, to the sick, to the disillusioned, to the hungry.
Just such a moment of broken hearted openness was recently related by a Sister of Mercy ministering in Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake. She writes,
By January 18, six days post earthquake, the food we had been promised had not yet arrived and hunger was spreading. As a medical team we’d been advised to bring enough food and water for three days, but by this time I had exhausted the peanut butter and granola bars I had brought. I was attending to James, 17, who had a concrete wall fall on him. It crushed his pelvis, sending a metal bar through his upper leg, through his privates, and into the other leg. Bedridden, James wasn’t going anywhere, so I asked him to guard my duffle bag that held all my expensive “doctor instruments,” worth thousands of dollars. He took the job very seriously and when he was sleeping, he would put his arm through the straps. I had almost forgotten that I had a Ziploc bag of nuts, raisins, and chocolate chips in the duffle bag. When I remembered and retrieved the food, James was starring right at me. I hadn’t eaten anything in 12 hours and I was hungry. This boy hadn’t eaten anything in days. Still, this was the only food I had left and I had to keep working 20-22 hours a day. No one knew when the promised food would arrive. James was watching me. I took out a handful of the trail mix and handed it to him. He immediately turned to the person in the next cot and gave half his handful away; that child turned to the person next to her and gave half of hers away, and so this went on, down about 6 cots, until the last person got just a few morsels. (Slightly adapted from Lessons learned in Haiti: From the mouths of babes Mar. 08, 2010 Sr. Karen Schneider, NCR online)
That, I think is the meaning , is the experience of Resurrection–hearts broken open to see and believe, hearts broken open to give when there is nothing left to give. Hope like love, is not a feeling—it is an act of the will it is a decision.
The God who raised Jesus is the same Provident God who suffered with Him on the Cross. The God who raises us up is the same Provident God who aches with us.
Resurrection is not to be trivialized as the happy ending to a tragic story,
it is the ongoing experience of the Risen One living among us continually calling us to lean into the pain, to hold it in our hearts— to feel our hearts burning within us—
until they are broken open in the sure promise of life.
Christ is risen— and is among us –Alleluia.