Communion Meditation delivered by The Rev. Timothy C. Ahrens, Senior Minister, The First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio, May 4, 2003, Easter 3, dedicated to G. Dene Barnard on this day of his final concert as our Organist and Choir Master and always to the glory of God!
Psalm 4; Luke 24:36-48
(Second in the Series, "Psalms of Zion")
"When I cried, the God of my salvation answered me. He gave me room when I was in distress, and was gracious to me and heard my prayer." (Psalm 4:1)
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our salvation. Amen.
In the mid-1960's a friend and colleague and friend of mine served in Ghana as a missionary. He had converted from Judaism to Christianity while in College and strongly believed God was calling him to serve in "the mission fields." He was from Brooklyn, NY and full of spit, fire, and enthusiasm for the Gospel when he was placed in a small, rural Ghanaian village.
His first morning he arose early (so he thought) to find all the villagers in the dirt streets walking from hut to hut. What a strange sight, he mused. He inquired as to what they were doing. One woman answered, "we are greeting the morning." "Greeting the morning" was their way of checking, hut-to-hut, to find out if who had survived the night. With lions and other nocturnal hunters as neighbors prowling around at night, they had lost many family members and friends "to the night."
This ritual of greeting the morning began. Soon, they had discovered that it was a beautiful way to begin each day. They knocked and asked, "How is it with you?" If all was well, the answer came back, "It is well with my soul and with me. How is it with you?" Their prayers of protection in the night were answered! If the answer came back that things were not well, villagers gathered for prayer, comfort, and support - as was needed. Their prayers of help in the face of hardship were answered.
My friend's first response growing out of his American and especially Brooklyn, New York perspective was, "This is an awfully slow way to get the day started. How will we ever get work done around here?" But, he came to realize, such care IS our work. After sharing this ritual of rising to the day through his years in Ghana, my friend said, "I learned the power of prayer and the power of care in community. It was as natural as the rising of the sun on a new day."
Psalm 4 echoes the sane and gracious power of prayer and care. It begins: "When I cried, the God of my salvation answered me. He gave me room when I was in distress, and was gracious to me and heard my prayer" (Psalm 4:1). Having sung his song and praised God for never forsaking him, the Psalmist ends "Altogether in peace, I will lie down to sleep; for though alone, O Lord, makest me dwell in safety" (Psalm 4:8).
We need to always bear in mind that our God hears our prayers. We are never alone. We are never forsaken. Although we feel alone at times and feel forsaken in other moments of our lives, we are not alone or forsaken.
One of my heroes in this life, is the martyred Archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero, who was assassinated while celebrating mass in San Salvador's Cathedral chapel in December 1980. In a posthumous book of his collected homilies entitled The Church is All of You, we find these words from his Good Friday homily April 13, 1979.
(Although Christ cries out "why have you forsaken me?") he is not forsaken, but he does feel the pain and anguish that our hearts must sometimes suffer. It is the psychology of suffering to feel alone, to feel that no one understands, to feel forsaken . . . God is not failing us when we do not feel his presence. Let's not say: God doesn't do what I pray for so much, and therefore, I don't pray any more. God exists and he exists even more the farther you feel from him. God is closer to you when you think he farther away and doesn't hear you. When you feel the anguished desire for God to come near you because you don't feel him present, then God is very close to your anguish. When are we going to learn that God is not only a God who gives happiness, but that he tests our faithfulness in moments of affliction. ... God is always our God and never forsakes us. We are closer to him than we think. (From The Church is All of You, compiled and translated by James Brockman, SJ, Winston Press, 1984, p. 75).
You and I really struggle to believe these words from a saint of God. In our moments of affliction, we often turn toward our anguish and away from God. Unlike the Psalmist, we end up in pieces, rather than dwelling in peace. We end of sleepless and restless, rather than resting and sleeping in the peace of God. We fear, in the silence that comes after the anguished prayers, that our God is not listening, that our God is forsaking us, that our God has forgotten. But, nothing is further from the truth.
In Luke's resurrection story, we encounter the closeness of God once again. The Risen Christ says to his disciples, "Why are you frightened, and why does doubt arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that is I myself. Touch me and see; for the ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." He doesn't say, "listen to my voice" or "look at my face." He wants his disciples to identify him by his hands and feet - the places of pain and scaring; suffering and death. He wants those who love him most to see the marks left by crucifixion and now the gifts of God's grace in resurrection.
Look at his hands - hands that have broken bread, hands that have blessed broiled fish, hands that pressed mud against a blind man's eyes, and taken a girl by the hand so that she could walk again. Look at his hands, hands that danced through the air when he taught, reached out to touch lepers in their agony without pausing or holding back.
And his feet - the ones that carried him hundreds of miles, taking good news to all who were starving for it; feet that took him into the homes of criminals and corrupt bureaucrats and tax collectors, into the graveyard where he raised his dear friend Lazarus from death to life; feet washed by the vulgar woman who had wet them with her tears and dried them with her hair.
They wounded and scared now - both his hands and his feet. They had holes in them and sore looking bruises and angry looking hurt. But, they were hands that would heal a world yet unborn. They were feet that would traverse lands yet unrevealed.
"Look," he said. "You can look at them now." He had gone through the danger. He had gone through the pain. He didn't come back cleaned up. But, he did come back.
Is there any doubt that the God and father of this man, the God and father of our Risen Christ listens and hears our prayers. Do not be frightened. Come to the table - for you are the body of Christ. And you will be his witnesses to all the world. Amen.
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