The Second Sunday of Easter: April 8, 2018
Preacher: The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh,
Associate Rector of St. Michael’s Church
Walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us an offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians) Each Sunday, these words from Ephesians mark the stage in the service we call the offertory – the moment when the Liturgy of the Word moves to the Liturgy of the Table. The spiritual shift from listening, praying, and reflecting on God’s Word to responding and revealing God through action.
Each week, we bring forward the gifts of bread and wine and money to become the bread of life, our spiritual drink and foundation for St. Michael’s ministry in the world. In bringing bread not wheat, wine not grapes, and money the fruit of all who labor, we are reminded of the mutuality and interdependence we share with humanity, God and nature. For none of these gifts is made by one person alone.
As we bring forward fruits of the earth and the work of human hands we give thanks for the God who loves us without limit. And here we make our generous response of love in return. Here we bring all that we are and lay it before God offering our selves, our souls, and bodies as a living sacrifice of love. Here we come with open hands and open hearts ready to connect the whole of our lives to the whole of God’s being.
These offertory movements of contemplation and action – the journey from prayerful awareness of God’s love to responding and acting in God’s love does not just happen on Sundays. This is the primary path of the Christian life – to walk in love as Christ loved us; to give ourselves in love as Christ gave himself for us. To offer up our gifts of life and labor to God and the world. To bring our whole selves (our gifts and limitations) before God each day and find ourselves becoming more and more the body of Christ in the world.
But there are times when we may not feel our lives, our gifts, our limitations are worthy to bring before God. Perhaps there are times when we like Thomas have doubts that hold us back from seeing God. Times when fear or grief or anger hinder us from fully trusting God and others.
What does it mean to offer our whole life to God?
In his book Silence, Shusaku Endo tells a tale of two Jesuit priests who go to Japan in the seventeenth century. The priests willingly go to a country hostile to their religion where Buddhist Samarai Lords force the faithful to publicly renounce their beliefs. They go out of love for their mentor and colleague to find the truth of what happened to him. They go out of compassion to bring hope and consolation to those who suffer.
Eventually, the priests are captured and forced to watch Japanese Christians lay down their lives for their faith. The priests bear witness to unimaginable cruelties that test their own beliefs. One priest is killed in the act of trying to save a villager. The other priest, renounces his religion so that the torture, death, and persecution of the Japanese Christians could end.
I wonder which do you think is the greater offering of love?…he who died or he who lived?
Father Rodrigues, the priest who lived understands what it means to suffer for the sake of one’s faith. But he struggles with whether it is selfish to keep his faith when he has the power to recant and end the suffering of others. Hearing the cries of the suffering, Father Rodrigues finally recants his faith by trampling on the fumie – a carving of Christ. In this moment, the model of faithfulness becomes the model of doubt and disbelief – the apostle becomes the apostate. The faith of Father Rodrigues fails as his foot falls upon the face of Jesus.
How could trampling on the face of Christ possibly be an offering of love for God?
As Rodrigues looks upon the face of Christ, Jesus breaks the silence saying, “it was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross…I know your pain…you may trample.”
After renouncing his faith and priesthood, Father Rodrigues spends the remaining years of his life serving Japan by rooting out the remnants of Christian belief. A life of silence, suffering and surrender seems an unworthy offering of love. And yet Rodrigues gave up his faith, the thing he loved most out of love for God and the Japanese people. And he spent the remaining years of his life bearing this sacrificial love for Christ and the Japanese people by enduring with those who suffered and bringing forth this love silently not through words but acts of mercy.
Father Rodrigues says, “No doubt my fellow priests condemn my act as sacrilege; but even if I am betraying them, I am not betraying my Lord. I love Jesus now in a different way from before. Everything that has taken place until now has been necessary to bring me to this love…my life until this day…everything I do, everything I have done…speaks of Him.”
“Everything that has taken place until now has been necessary to bring me to this love…my life until this day…everything I do, everything I have done…speaks of Him.”
May we have such courage to give ourselves, our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice for God. May we learn to walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us an offering and sacrifice to God. May we look on the rising Son and see the light he brings. Teach us O Christ to bear your beams of love. Amen.