Preached on April 19, 2015
Christ has no body but ours,
No hands, no feet on earth but ours,
Ours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Ours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Ours are the hands with which he blesses all the world….
Christ has no body now on earth but ours.
* Adapted from Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)
Today is Earth Day – What is the Church saying? *
In February, a group of Anglican Bishops gathered in South Africa to build on months of conversations carried out via the internet. The group included bishops from cultures and nations that are major contributors to climate change – and bishops from cultures that are suffering because of climate change. In March, they issued their collective statement:
“We accept the evidence of science: Human activity, especially in fossil-fuel based economies, is the main cause of the climate crisis…The problem is spiritual as well as economic, scientific and political. We have been complicit in a theology of domination. While God committed the care of creation to us, we have been care-less – but we are not hopeless…“In the words of St Theresa of Avila, we are God’s hands and feet on earth: Now is the time for us, rooted in prayer, to step up and take action on the climate crisis.”
* The World Is Our Host: A Call to Urgent Action for Climate Justice, March 2015
Today is Earth Day – What are the Scriptures saying?
From the Gospel: The disciples were gathered together and were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed!” While they were still talking about this, 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…. Luke 24:36f
What this Gospel says to me: Although at first the disciples think the Risen Christ is a spirit – a ghost – Jesus is NOT just a spirit. He is not another ‘human’ being like themselves (he appears in the room even though the door is locked). But neither is he just a ‘spiritual’ being (he invites them to touch his hands and feet, and then he asks for food).
The disciples saw that in Jesus, God is present in and through the material world – how, they didn’t know (and we still don’t know). But they trusted their experience of Jesus; in fact, the experience of the Risen Christ was so powerful for them that most of them eventually stopped trying to figure out how it all happened.
(Our minds, influenced by modern materialism, want to understand before we can trust our experience. In fact, we are so consumed by trying to understand how things work that we have almost stopped looking for the experience. If the Risen Christ appeared to us today, could we set aside our questions long enough to simply experience his presence?)
What did the disciples conclude from their experience? That God surrounds the creation, that God is fully present in the creation – and that God is present with us through Love.
But – here’s the thought that’s been rolling around in my mind this Easter season:
It is easier to believe Jesus rose from the dead than to believe that God loves us.
It is easier to believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead
than to believe that God actually loves me.
And yes, it is easier to believe that Jesus rose from the dead
than to believe that his Spirit’s Love gives us the power to change the world.
From the first lesson: See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are… 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 him, for we will see God as he is…. 1 John 3:1f
What John’ letter says to me: Throughout this Easter season, we will be hearing portions of John’s first letter, written half a century after the Risen Christ appeared to the disciples. In his old age, John is telling his community that God loves them. He tells them that someday they will know God fully: when God is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see God as he is…. And someday we will know fully – but we have to start believing now:
It was God’s Love that raised Jesus from the dead. Indeed, it was because of God’s Love that Jesus endured his suffering. The Love that created us, the Love that creates the world, is so powerful that it breaks down doors, it opens graves, and it can make it possible for us to work together to change the world.
Today is Earth Day – what is the liturgy saying?
We Anglicans are blessed by the riches of the Book of Common Prayer – but other traditions can also give us new words, give us expanded visions of God and God’s world, and can help us learn how to care for the world God has given us. And so our liturgy this morning comes from a number of cultures – from New Zealand, Scotland, and England, as well as other American churches.
All these liturgies are telling us that if God is present in and through the material world – then God cares about the whole material world – its atmosphere, its resources, its species, everything – not just the human species.
(4) But before we start: Muir’s bear *
Hiking through Yosemite, John Muir came upon a dead bear lying in the forest. Writing later in his journal, Muir bitterly complained about religious folk who believed there is no room in heaven for such a noble creature.
“Not content with taking all of earth, they also claim the celestial country as the only ones who possess the kinds of souls for which that imponderable empire was planned.” These magnificent creatures, however, are expressions of God’s power “inseparably companioned by love.” They are made of the same dust as we, and breathe the same winds and drink of the same waters. A bear’s days are warmed by the same sun, and his life, pulsing with a heart like ours, was poured from the same First Fountain. With our stingy spirit we may want to block this creature from heaven. To the contrary, Muir said, “God’s charity is big enough for bears.”
* quoted in Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love, by Elizabeth Johnson (p. 228)
So think of the ‘bears’ that are lying in wait for YOU –
in the forests, the mountains, the trees, the beasts, the waters, the earth, the air.
what needs touch MY heart,
what cause awakes MY compassion,
what job might be MY job?
(5) Holy, Holy, Holy
Whenever we sing the Sanctus, we are remembering the prophet Isaiah’s vision.
Worshiping in the great Temple of Jerusalem, Isaiah saw the glory of God: the curtain covering the Holy of Holies, the most sacred room in the Temple, was opened – and Isaiah saw God’s throne and God, surrounded by angels and clouds of incense. And Isaiah cried out:
Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Isaiah 6:1f – BCP p. 362
But today, when we say the Sanctus, we will be using words from New Zealand:
Holy, holy, holy:
God of mercy, giver of life;
earth and sea and sky
and all that lives,
declare your presence and your glory.
NZPB p. 469
Notice that again the curtain covering the Holy of Holies is opened, but we are not seeing God dwelling in a room inside a temple, even a great Temple, surrounded by liturgical incense and music. No, we are seeing God’s glory present in the whole world, because :
earth and sea and sky and all that lives declare your presence and your glory…
and the curtain has been taken away from before our eyes.
(6) Today’s commitment – what are we saying?
As we come to the end of the Eucharistic Prayer today, we will ask God to
Empower our celebration with your Holy Spirit,
feed us with your life,
fire us with your love,
and confront us with your justice,
and make us one with every creature on earth…
NZPB p. 470
How can we dare to pray that prayer together?
Dare we believe that God is in our world – in this material world?
Dare we believe that God is calling us to bring healing to his beloved world?
Dare we believe that we have the strength to take on this call?
Dare we believe that God will give us the Love that makes such effort imaginable?
Dare we believe that God will give us the Love that makes our part bearable?
This is my prayer for today:
that God will empower our celebration,
feed us with Christ’s life,
fire us with the Spirit’s love,
confront us with the call to justice,
and make us one with every creature on earth
that cries out for healing, for justice, and for love.
Preached by the Rev. Donna Ross at St. Benedict’s Episcopal Church
Earth Day – April 19, 2015