First Sunday of Sleeba ~ First Sunday of the Cross ~ First Sunday of Tragedy
Mark 13:30-37 - I Cor. 2:10-16
Sermon given September 16, 2001 by V. Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock
In name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
O Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise!
What can I say to you, my brothers and sisters, on this first Sunday after the horrific tragedy that shook the world in an hour of destruction?
Like so many of us, I watched in disbelief and horror when the World Trade Towers fell. I cried then not just for the loss of life, although there was much loss of life; not just for the loss of property, although there was much loss of that too; not just for the loss of a skyline I knew once as home, although that is irretrievable. Rather, I found myself crying for the losses yet to come. I saw in the billowing plumes of smoke and dust raining down upon Manhattan the future losses that such a declaration of violence would reap. And I cried and somewhere inside I still cry. I cry for the young men and women that will die in retribution and war. I cry for all who will lose their faith because of violent acts in the name of God. I cry for those who will find hatred and violence in their hearts and will be lead by that same darkness rather than the light of Christ. I cry for all who become instruments of malignant joy to the Evil One.
Such losses have been experienced before, in other places and other times. I have wept when reading accounts of the Crusaders and the Conquistadors, the Inquisition and the Holocaust. From all this suffering and torment, my brothers and sisters, what have we learned? Is this yet another lesson? Will America use this as justification for inflicting others with similar injury? The underlying question is really – what would Jesus do?
Like many of us, I have watched the news specials broadcasting on all channels. I listened to the news on the car radio. It seemed at times like it would never end. How many stories of grief and sorrow can there be? How many commentaries for justifiable retribution? My vigilant witness by television and radio would not ease until I was serving as chaplain at the hospitals this weekend.
Friday, I visited with a man who was waiting for an organ transplant. I don’t often get to visit with such patients. So, I learned more about his condition and his suffering. Both he and his wife had such hope, even though they were in the hospital earlier this week and left without a transplant. At one point, I realized that his hope was based upon another’s death. He noticed this awareness and the visit became awkward. He had tears in his eyes when he said, “I realize that I benefit from another family’s loss.” I replied, “Yes, but so many of the families are honored that in their loss someone may benefit.”
That night, there was death in another ward. An elderly man was being taken for further imaging, examining his insides if you wish. Along the way, he died. Code Blue was initiated and the hospital doctors and nurses and other staff worked to revive him, but couldn’t. He died in the hallway. As a chaplain, I had to tell his wife who was on her way but not expecting this sudden death. When I told her, her first words, “I thought we would have a few more years.”
Her friend who had come for support started having tremendous difficulty as her parents and her husband had all died in this hospital. Eventually, she had to apologetically leave. She said, “Why would this happen to me?”
I told her that I believed that an angel guards the images and memories of traumatic events when we cannot deal with them. Then, when the angel is assured that we are ready and have the support around us, the angel lets us re-live or re-experience those moments so that we may be whole again. Traumatic events shatter us.
Across the hall, there was another death. This was long expected by the family. They simply wanted her to have some prayers for her journey. The family wept and said good-bye.
At the hospital, we place a butterfly on the door of rooms where a patient has died to alert staff who may not know of the demise. On this floor, the staff has only one butterfly. Although the second death was expected, they were still unprepared.
After a time, I went to the floor below where there is a special care nursery. These is where infants with difficulties after birth are tended with loving attention, but are of necessity separated from their parents. There an infant is crying in an incubator because she is withdrawing from the drugs her mother took. Another weak and feeble infant has a rare painful condition where her bones are so brittle that she cannot be picked up and held. Neither of these infants knows of the violence that was perpetrated in New York City, yet their suffering is just as real.
The intimacy of pain, death and suffering can only be experienced individually. Such is the image of the Crucifixion and the power of the Cross - suffering, pain and even death cannot hold back the glory of God.
Last night, I began to watch regular fiction and fantasy programming on the television. I have to admit that I am a fan of science fiction. There is a show that I have watched called “Earth: Final Conflict.”(It seemed appropriate.) In this show, aliens come to Earth to save their race as their destiny is somehow intimately entangled with ours.
In this episode, most of the alien race are in stasis, in sort of a coma, and the last two awake are debating about who should be the last one to go into stasis. Their ship can only finish its mission if they are all in stasis. One is willing to go into stasis for their race. The other does not trust the human’s to care enough about their problems and wants to stay awake to the possible demise fo their race. So, there is a conflict over saving their race by trusting humans. However, there is a prophetic figure who happens to be human, but a little more than human, who brings all the aliens out of stasis and tells them that they need to work NOW if they are going to save their race – in effect, telling them that both sides of their argument are incorrect. The answer is in being awakened. As one alien says, “Awakening us from stasis is the first step in our salvation.”
Now, I don’t often use science fiction stories to make a Christian or biblical point. I smile quite often at the symbolism and often not-so-subtle spiritual and moral messages. Perhaps, that is why I enjoy those shows. However, I found the alien statement to be a profound reflection into our current predicament and our Gospel lesson for today. “Awakening us from stasis is the first step in our salvation.”
Our Gospel reading from Mark and our Epistle reading from First Corinthians are so profound in the face of the historic and horrific events of this past week. I strongly recommend them for meditation and prayer over the next weeks and months.
Many times in today’s Gospel we are told: “Be Alert.” Be as alert as if you are the one who is watching a house and knows not when the owner will return, knowing that it is expected that you keep watch – as the owner “might come suddenly and find you asleep.” (Verse 36)
So, is this the time foretold in the Gospels, in the Prophecies of Christ? What of other Prophets and their sayings? Let me say that the Gospel tells me over and over again to be a skeptic, to focus on the personal and intimate interactions with others and within myself. This is how I will be judged as a Christian; by how I conduct myself regardless of the times or the seasons.
Verse 33: …for you do not know when the time is.
How should we be alert? We always need to allow for spiritual discernment in the face of the physical destruction and emotional turmoil. Let us look to St. Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians.
Verse 14-16: For the material man rejects spiritual things, for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But the spiritual man discerns EVERY THING…For who knows the mind of the Lord, that he may teach it? But we have the perception of Christ.
Brothers and Sisters, now that the shock of the events have diminished a bit, do not let the evil one into your hearts with what seems to be "justifiable" hatred or rage.
v Let us not be quick to judgment upon anyone nor quick to assume God's intent. None of us knows the will of God as well as He does. His allowance for us to hurt each other is a mystery debated since the founding of the Church, even as Christ hung on the cross.
v Let us be instruments of constructive good and peace.
v Let us shine as beacons of love and hope.
v Let us be good citizens of Christian conviction, serving others in these difficult times regardless of where they live.
v Let us be of Christ’s mind, using His perception in the discernment of our personal activities in the midst of what is a global crisis.
v Let us be witnesses of the good that others are doing.
v Let us remember each other in prayer and in goodness and in hope. Amen.