Saturday, April 29, 2017

An Idle Tale

An Idle Tale
This weekend The Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows will be consecrated as the 11th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis, the first Black woman to hold this rank of leadership over a diocese in North America. Johns Hopkins University is making history with the residency of Nancy Abu-Bonsrah, their first black female neurosurgeon resident at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

This week saw the 80th anniversary of the Nazi Germany carpet bombing of the town of Guernica, Spain – “the first deliberate attack on a civilian target from the air — years before Coventry, Dresden and Hiroshima, and decades before Aleppo.” [Washington Post, April 26, 2017] This week will be the 5th anniversary of the gun-shot killing of my two colleagues at Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church, Ellicott City: Brenda Brewington and Mary-Marguerite Kohn. And last week was the observance of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, worldwide.

The Revised Common Lectionary offers us a portion of Luke chapter 24 (13-35) for our consideration this week, but as is often the case, the crucial verses are omitted (9-11): “Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” These verses are crucial to fully understanding the story of the journey home and meal in Emmaus, as well as how it relates to these recent events and anniversaries. Such omissions are unfortunately a routine part of our otherwise busy lives, even within the community of faith.

First, the context of Luke’s gospel: Jerusalem is in ruins, smoldering, burned to the ground by the Roman Legions to quell a zealot uprising against the Empire – so Jerusalem is not unlike Guernica, Coventry, Dresden, Hiroshima and today’s Aleppo. That is, those reading or hearing these episodes in Luke have themselves experienced an historic holocaust – (1.destruction or slaughter on a mass scale, especially caused by fire or nuclear war. 2. (historical) a Jewish sacrificial offering that is burned completely on an altar) - at the hands of a ruthless empire. They are standing in the ruins of Guernica, Hiroshima, the Nazi Death Camps and Aleppo. We need to place ourselves there as well. It is a time for soul-searching and a search for meaning as part of the recovery process. Luke and others attempt to provide such meaning out of crisis.

The cross of Jesus also presented such a crisis. The “missing verses” 9-11 tell us that the first witnesses of the empty tomb and resurrection were women: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them. They announce a message of witness and hope to the eleven remaining disciples, all of whom are men. These men dismiss the witness and announcement of these women as “idle talk,” nonsense, mere twaddle. They dismiss the empirical evidence, facts and witness of not one or two, but a crowd of women, as an idle tale.

It is almost cliché! To this day men will wander and bumble about searching for direction while women will suggest simply asking for help, seek information, and ask for directions and facts. This dynamic is the source of endless jokes and cartoons. Yet, in the end it is not funny.  We still live in a world and a culture which is routinely dismissive of women – to our own danger and destruction. Which makes the news about The Reverend Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows and Ms. Nancy Abu-Bonsrah of vital importance and recognition. Slowly we are beginning to accept the importance of the leadership of women, and in particular women from diverse backgrounds.

As the story in Luke continues (13-35), we read about the continued inability for another two male companions of Jesus to understand what has happened, admitting that they too don’t really know what the women were talking about, and still don’t grasp it even as the risen Jesus himself is standing there explaining it to them!

I say “companions” advisedly for it means “with bread” or “messmate” or “those who share bread.” It is only when Jesus takes, blesses, breaks and gives them the bread that these companions recognize that the person who has accompanied them on their journey home is in fact the risen Jesus. They race back to Jerusalem to tell the others what had “happened on the road and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

Take, bless, break and give. This became the ritual action at table that replaced the ritual of holocaust, burnt offerings, at the altar in the now destroyed Jerusalem Temple – both for the surviving Jewish community on Shabbat, and the emerging Christian communities in the actions of the Eucharist. Jesus is described as doing this on three distinct occasions: the feeding with bread and fish, at supper with the disciples the night before he is crucified, and again at dinner table in Emmaus.

Taking, blessing, breaking and giving bread. This is more than what some may call mere ritual. There is nothing mere about it. It is representative of how Jesus lived his entire life – taking, blessing, breaking and giving his very self, all that he is and all that he has, to others. All others – especially to those who are continually, routinely and easily treated dismissively by society. Take, bless, break and give is about a sharing economy over against an economy of endless acquisition and consumption. Take, bless, break and give is about extending the resources for healing and wholeness to more and more people, not just those who can “afford” them. Take, bless, break and give is about extending justice, peace and dignity – what the Bible calls shalom – to all persons, not some persons, not a lot of persons, but all persons. Take, bless, break and give means to extend the sharing of leadership and power to all persons as well – especially to women who have witnessed, interpreted and present facts so critical to the survival of the community and the world. Take, bless, break and give replaces violence like the ritual of holocaust burnt offerings, and strategies such as carpet bombing and using guns to heal our pain.

In the end, one might very well say that the paradigm” take, bless, break and give” offers us a pattern for our lives on how we might, as a society and as a world community, survive whatever overwhelming crises faces us. Such actions will always challenge the traditional power structures which increasingly, like ancient Rome, only seek to maintain a grip on, not share, power, resources and life itself. Such actions as “take, bless, break and give” challenge us to find new and more inclusive voices to lead, heal and sustain the world we live in. One suspects this to be a more fruitful strategy than either carpet bombing or continuing to be dismissive of women. To quote Rabbi Hillel once again: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?"

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