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Lutheran World Federation Opening, March 2005

Luke 24:13–49

The cross lies at the heart of the mission of Christ. There is no way to be faithful to the call of Christ without enduring the opposition of both church and state. There is no way to be as totally enthralled by God as Jesus found himself to be and still enjoy the approval of the world. Neither church nor state was prepared to tolerate Jesus' interpretation of God's reign on earth. Neither church nor state was prepared to implement God's passion for mercy and grace. Church and state collaborated to do him in.

So the Risen One showed his disciples the one sign he could claim as his unique credential: he showed them the nail holes in his hands and his feet.

The cross is ugly and is usually successful in persuading the children of God that they should take another way. I have seen for myself how gruesome it can be.

I was part of an ecumenical group of Canadian church leaders who visited Mexico the week before Holy Week. My subsection of the delegation visited the state of Chiapas. The people of the village of Acteál, located on a lush green mountainside, were inspired by the autonomous grassroots democratic model of the Zapatista Liberation Front. They decided to model their village on Zapatista principles of self-governance, self-reliance and equality.

These folks are dirt poor. Their church is nothing but a simple shell of boards with a corrugated metal roof. The floor is bare dirt. Nevertheless, they began to receive threats. Members of the community were detained without charges. Time spent in custody was a brutal experience.

Unlike the Zapatistas, the people of Acteál refused to take up arms, so they were easy to pick on. They decided to pray for peace and organized a three-day vigil to be held in the chapel. The shootings came on the second day. The paramilitaries came from above and below and began shooting at that flimsy building. The people ran from the chapel and headed for a ravine where the plant cover is so thick you can't see the ground from above. That's where they felt somewhat safe until one of the babies cried.

The shooting lasted six hours and when it ended, 49 people were dead: three were men, the rest women and children; four not yet born.

After our service with the community, an old man went to the chapel wall and placed his finger in one of the bullet holes, I saw the risen Jesus in that action, showing the disciples his hands and feet.

It was a preview of Easter for me. The people of that village lived as internal refugees for months, but then decided to return to the village and live again.

Nail holes and bullet holes are hard to look at. We want to turn away from them, no matter how convincing the integrity of their bearers. It is so much more reassuring to look for the reign of God in the halls of civility or the politics of compromise. So the auxiliary bishop in Cristòbal told us ecumenical relationships are congenial and fundamentalists are not a problem. Community leaders told us ecumenical relationships are fractured and fundamentalists are capitalizing on the divisions.

The risen Jesus is not automatically recognizable. Religious hopes for the eventual dominance of the church mask his identity in popular culture. The identity of the risen Jesus must always be interpreted the way it was for those Emmaus disciples.

Jesus, himself, is an interpretation of God. He didn't merely quote Moses and the prophets, he interpreted them. Jesus did not merely obey the scriptures, he chose a particular way based on them. There is more than one way that can be derived from Moses and the prophets. That's why there are so many rabbinic traditions in Judaism. Our tradition is the interpretation and ethics of Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth.

That's as far as I want to go with this text, but it challenges me in preparation for this meeting. We are here to discuss the context for mission and the integrity of our communion as we face issues of divergent interpretation. We are doing this because we have run into conflict over contextual issues and our intention to remain in communion is being harassed.

What the Emmaus gospel tells me is that the risen Jesus is not immediately recognizable in all settings. But Jesus can be recognized in communion with strangers when his view of the old laws becomes the interpretation.

The reign of God is not the reign of Egypt, Babylon or Rome. The reign of God comes to people at the bottom who are the victims of a systemic social sin that finds it easier to blame the victims for a speck in their eye than itself for the timber blinding its own eye. Each society must walk its own Emmaus walk with Jesus and learn what these truths are in its own context.

Sometimes the holes in Jesus' hands are made by nails, sometimes by bullets, but always by the self-righteous leaders of a dominating system.

"Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets."

Luke 6:22-23

The church must find the courage to face up to these realities. The church must find the courage to hold tightly onto those of its own who are being humiliated and scapegoated.

Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who put on fine clothing and live in luxury are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet?"

Luke 7:24b-26a

"To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,

'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not weep.'

For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, 'He has a demon'; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children."

Luke 7:31-35

The Roman Empire is no more. Empires will come and go. Social mores will come and go with them, but when the smoke clears and all the legal systems of this world are gone, what will remain is Jesus showing us the nail holes in his hands and his feet. That's why, at Easter, we shout Hallelujah! We know that in those wounds the gospel is to be found. We know that there is life beyond them.

Christ is risen! Hallelujah!

+ Raymond L. Schultz, National Bishop

All Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version © 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA

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