Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Entering the Unknown

Published in the Fiji Times' "Off the Wall with Padre James" 3rd April, 2013

Warm Easter greetings from Seoul!

I had a busy weekend, as one can imagine. Easter is not a public holiday here in South Korea, but remains significant for the many Christians who make up around 29 percent of the population.

On Easter Saturday, Fijian students and the staff of the Fiji Embassy in Seoul gathered at Ambassador Filimone Kau’s residence. The purpose was two-fold. It was our first fellowship for the year and so included students who had travelled north from the coastal city of Busan. It was also an opportunity to have a lotu (worship), given the significance of Easter.

Interestingly enough, it was my first time to hold a service and preach on an Easter Sunday. I have spoken at Easter Camps but not held a worship service as the two significant days for Methodists, and many other Christians, are Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  Perhaps with good reason as even in the biblical accounts nothing really happens in the day between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. This is because that day was the Sabbath.

I’ve been in Israel on the Sabbath and even nearly two thousand years after the events of the frst Easter, nothing much happens on a Saturday, because it is “Shabbat”. There was even a special “Shabbat elevator” in the hotel I stayed in, which opened  automatically on every floor so that the more observant Jews staying there would not have to do the “work” of pressing the buttons.

As a result of the approaching Sabbath, the Gospel stories have Jesus being taken down from the cross and hastily buried in a tomb provided by Joseph of Arimathea. The Gospel stories continue on the day after Sabbath, the “first day of the week”, when Mary Magdalene and others discover the empty tomb and have moments of encounter with the risen Christ.

In fact, I was so struck by this that I chose to preach on this biblical non-event, the day between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. The day of the “unknowing”.

When someone we love dies, when we are confronted with an uncomfortable truth, or when something we have toiled over fails, it is very hard to hold on to the hope of a better tomorrow.
This is how the Disciples must have felt on that day of unknowing. Their world was shattered. Their three years of following the Messiah was wasted. It was all over. It was a time of shock, of sorrow, of fear and confusion. It was a time of uncertainty, a time of paralysis.

The reason was that they could not see beyond the cross, they could not see the empty tomb.
For Christians, the crucifixion of Good Friday is not a full-stop but a marker that points to the empty tomb. Our salvation through Jesus’ death on the cross is not complete without the resurrection.

As a nation, our experiences have been like that of the disciples: fear, confusion, wondering about the future, the uncertainty – not just of the political journey of Fiji but also as we look at what is happening in our society: increase in rape and domestic violence, prostitution, HIV and AIDS. As I write in Seoul, there is fear and uncertainty about the “cousins up north” with much sabre rattling from North Korea.

In Luke’s Gospel (24:1-12) we find the women who on being told that Jesus has risen, recall the prophecy and rush to tell the good news to the disciples. We also find the disciples reluctant to believe both the women (an issue that still lingers), as well as the truth. Peter rushes to the tomb but only peeps in and walks away wondering what happened.

In John’s Gospel (20:3-8) Peter and the other disciple run to the tomb. The other disciple, the one Jesus loved, reached the tomb first, bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in.  Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.

Let us not be like Peter, spending our days wondering what happened and what will happen. Let us live the commandment of the Risen Lord to love each other as He loves us. Let us spend time expressing our love of God in the love of our neighbours, regardless of how many social barriers are built between us. Let us gain strength, not just physically, but by the power of prayer. And let us share the peace of God with each other in practical ways.

The living Jesus takes hold of our tired lives and breathes into us His power. He takes hold of our sinful lives and offers a wonderful new beginning through forgiveness. He takes hold of lives that appear lost and gives them new purpose and meaning even in the most difficult circumstances as we face in Fiji today.

He comes to challenge a selfish world with the possibility of a new beginning which involves love and concern for others.

Jesus appeared to His disciples, who were hidden and barricaded out fear. Jesus enters through locked doors, through whatever barriers we have placed as a result f our fear and ignorance, and says: “Shalom Aleichem!” “Peace be with you!” “Salaam Walekum!”

Peace is the opposite of what the disciples were going through on the day of unknowing. It is the “Shalom” of loving and living according to God’s way – compassion, justice, mercy, humility, righteousness and reconciliation.

But it is not a cheap peace. It is costly. We must sacrifice our fear, our inaction, our selfishness for the greater good.

The Resurrection of Jesus may be a once in history event, but that does not mean that resurrection cannot take place in our lives, in our families, in our communities, in our nation and in the world daily.

Jesus’ victory over death means that that His imagined and voiced hope of a new social reality must be accomplished through us. The Kingdom of God is not only “over there” it is to be manifested over here in our lives. Our faith is not just about individual spirituality but a faith lived out in community, in society.

In the light of Easter we are challenged to be agents of transformation. Even in the midst of the unknown and uncertain.

“simplicity, serenity, spontaneity”

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