Thursday, April 26, 2012

Remembering; Easter 3B (April 22, 2012)


1 John 3:1-4, 7
See what love God has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know God. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when God is revealed, we will be like God, for we will see God as God is. Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as God is righteous.

Luke 24:36b-48
Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” 

***
Will you pray with me? God of all times and places, we remember your child Jesus today—and all your children who were killed because of who they were. Open our hearts and spirits to recognise their presence in us and among us, that we may be your true children, showing Jesus’ face, Jesus’ love, and Jesus’ presence to the world. In all your names, amen.
  

The Shoah—the Holocaust. Most of you are aware of the program of the Nazis in World War II, their plan to exterminate—their term—all Jews from the lands occupied by the German nation. Not only Jews, of course—but also gay men, Jehovah’s Witnesses, clergy, socialists, sex workers, lesbians, intellectuals, Roma (or gypsies), and the disabled—whether physically disabled, developmentally delayed, or mentally ill. Those who could not work—whether because of disability or age—were called “useless eaters” by the Nazi regime and marked for death. Others were singled out because they were considered a threat to the “perfect Aryan nation” Adolf Hitler wanted to create. Thus, those who did not fit into the Nazi vision of the “master race,” were to be eliminated—because they were antisocial, such as gay men and lesbians, because they would not bear children; or the clergy, because they taught people that there is more to life than what we see; or they offered an alternative vision of society, such as the socialists. But the largest part of the Nazi hatred was aimed at the Jewish people—because they were viewed as an alien nation within the German nation. The Nazis used the traditional Christian anti-Semitism, of course—that the Jews had killed Christ—but they also pointed out that Christianity—which was also seen as a foreign importation, something alien to the German-Aryan race—was derived from Judaism, which they called a gutter religion.  They continued on this genocidal path even when it was against their best interests, when it used resources (soldiers, trains, etc.) that they needed to continue to fight the Allis.

It is a dreadful history. There are many books that have been written about that time, both by historians and by the survivors—and one or two by people who did not survive. The Diary of Ann Frank, Night, The Hiding Place—many of you have read these. It has been central to my theology, to my formulation of an understanding of who God is and what God does and does not do. I have had Jewish friends all my life, and have read about and studied the Shoah since I read the Diary of Ann Frank in high school. In seminary, when we were required to take an immersion trip to study another culture, I chose to visit Poland and study Christian theology in the light of the Shoah. It led to my taking courses in Jewish theology and an independent study in Christian anti-Semitism. It is safe to say that these events that took place well before I was born had a profound impact on my personal life and theology.

One of the issues that I found myself pondering as I visited the Warsaw ghetto, the last remaining synagogue in Warsaw, the camps at Treblinka and Auschwitz, and other sites, was how I would have behaved, in that time and place. I want to  think I would have done something—protested, worked in the underground, hidden people, helped them escape, something. But would I have? That is the doubt that is ever present in my mind. Speaking truth to power is a frightening thing; it can get you killed. Would I have had the courage of a Father Kolbe, who voluntarily took the place of a Jew who was to be executed? Father Kolbe was starved to death at Auschwitz. Or the heart and wisdom of Corrie ten Boom, the young Dutch woman whose family hid hundreds of Jewish refugees, passing them through a network of escape. Or even the courage of so many rural families in Poland, Germany, and Eastern Europe, who smuggled food to people hiding out in the forests and farm outbuildings?

I have to stand here and tell you I do not know if I would have had that courage. I do not know if I could have taken that risk, offered my life, in effect. I want very much to think I would—and yet I know the power of fear, fear of death, fear of ostracism, fear of failing. 

And then there is this—I might not have had a choice. If I had lived in Germany or German-occupied lands, I might very well have been one of the millions with a triangle whom we have lost. I probably would not have been clergy, given the fact that few churches in Europe ordained women in the 1930s, but on the other hand, I might have been a nun—and they were counted as clergy. Or perhaps I would have been included with the women who loved women, and were marked with the black triangle. Or maybe the purple triangle of the pacifists and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Probably every one of us here would have been classified into one or more of those groups, those set apart by the triangle.

On the actual day of Yom HaShoah this year, many people changed their Facebook profile picture to that of someone killed by the Nazis—a family member perhaps, a resistance fighter, a face they found on the internet that haunted them. For a day, all those dead, those executed simply for who they were, populated Facebook. They were remembered. As long as we remember them, we can embody them—and therefore they do not die.

In the same way, as we remember Jesus, we embody Christ. Jesus Christ is present in our hands, outstretched to help others, loving others, and in this meal called communion that we share with each other.  We do not forget him; and he lives in our love, our forgiveness of others, our generosity of heart. Other people know Christ through us, our actions—or lack thereof—our lives. As we share Christ, not only in words, but in the open hands of grace, we remember him, he is with us, and he lives.

The ones we remember are always with us. Whether a person died on a hillside near Jerusalem two thousand years ago, seventy years ago in a German gas chamber, or a year ago—as long as we remember them, as long as we embody them in action, in thought, and in love, they live.

We remember. We remember. We remember. Amen.

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