Ne nous laissons pas voler l’Espérance !

Conférence de Carême, par Michael Lapsley

« Our calling is to be an Easter Day people NOT a Good Friday People »

La conférence de Carême, donnée par Michael Lapsley le 22 février 2015 à la Cathédrale de Luxembourg, est visible ici.

En voici le texte intégral :

« Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of hope. » - Pope Francis

« Our calling is to be an Easter Day people NOT a Good Friday People »

Here we are on the first Sunday of Lent. Is it well with you ? Is it well with your soul ? When we greet each other, we smile but is that the whole story. How am i in the deepest parts of my being ?

We live our lives in our families, with our friends and in our work places. Where does Lent fit in ? What is it for ? Does our faith journey connect with the rest of our lives, or do we keep the different parts of our lives in separate compartments ?

When I was a child we were encouraged to give up things for Lent - and so we would give up eating dessert or chocolates except on Sunday. Some adults would give up cigarettes and become grumpy and bad tempered.

But what was the message of Jesus then and now. Jesus invited people to follow him. Because Jesus treated people wirh dignity and respect, listened to them, took them seriously, people felt good about themselves. Jesus showed us by how he lived that we need to treat all people as our sisters and brothers. When people experienced Jesus they felt more hopeful.

Many people believed that Jesus had the power to heal them. Sometimes Jesus would say words like : Rise up and walk. Othertimes Jesus would say « Your faith has made you whole »...... pointing not to himself but the divine power we carry within ourselves.....

Lent is a special annual intensive training programme for disciples of Jesus. This programme is both external and internal. Just as many Moslems do during the fast of Ramadan, Lent is a time that invites us all to focus on acts of kindness, generosity and compassion towards others in a very conscious and deliberate way.

As Pope Francis says : Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society.

Also Lent is a special opportunity to focus inwards similarly to what we do when we are on be alone with ourselves and with God.....maybe you are thinking that sounds a little bit scary.

For some of us, to be silent even for 5 minutes can be a challenge, without music, tv, radio or social media.

How many of us are still haunted by things we have done, what has been done to us and what we failed to do at different times in our lives ? Also many of our families have within them deep wounds that have not healed

Lent challenges us to give ourselves time and space to walk this inner journey, to face our demons, our woundedness,

We can also read the Gospels like looking into a mirror - always asking ourselves who are we in the Gospel the life of Jesus and in all the other characters.

How does the Jesus story relate to us, in particular the pascal mystery of the suffering, crucifixion and resurrection ? But also the denial of Jesus by Peter, the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, the fear that caused the men to run away, the love and faithfulness that caused the women to stay close to Jesus.

Like the disciples James and John at time we also long for recognition.

Jesus gets angry when he witnesses religion being used to exploit people. He criticises the religious folk of his day for slavishly following religious practices and failing to understand his central message.

If we are honest, can we not recognise in ourselves the crowd who cried Hosanna to the Son of David and a few days later : Crucify him. Crucify him

We are called to be an Easter Day People, not a Good Friday people.

The teaching of Pope Francis in a refreshing way highlight the teaching and example of Jesus as the one to follow.

Pope Francis has also not been afraid to criticise the religious establishment

Pope Francis pleads with us not to be robbed of hope.

Papa Francesco says :

Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is good... Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place.

Pope Francis also says :

We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, spread love. Be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach peace.

But let me home in on the central themes of the Easter story and how it relates to us.

I know that some of you hear today are part of the catechumenate - preparing for Baptism - the Church teaches us that tn the great sacrament of Christian initiation we die to sin and evil through the waters of baptism and rise to new life in Christ.

New beginnings are always filled with hope. How often do we go to bed sad and after a good nights sleep we wake up and feel that maybe things are not so bad after all. Perhaps not surprising computers sometimes behave like people. something is wrong with the computer - its not doing what we want it to do and we keep on trying but it doesnt help. eventually we turn off the computer and start again and voila ! Everything is now fine.

How many of us here today have experienced betrayal and crucifixion in small and large ways ? An even more challenging question : have we ever been the crucifiers of others ?

Nearly 25 years ago I had my own experience of crucifixion - many of you know the story of how I received a letter bomb which blew off both my hands, one eye and shattered my ear drums.....what could be more devastating and hopeless than that.

Yet God was faithful to me, keeping the great promise of Scripture : Lo I am with you always even to the end of the age. I felt God’s presence with me. I believed that Mary who watched her son being crucified understood what it was that I was going through....the same Virgin Mary who protected Luxembourg from the plague a long time ago.

Children played an important part in my healing journey and helped me to be hopeful. One week before the bombing, I had been talking to school children in Canada.. When they heard what happened to me, each of the children decided to do a painting. These paintings covered the walls in my hospital room first in Zimbabwe and then in Australia. When I felt down, I would look at those paintings and say : but you are loved, why are you feeling sorry for yourself. I began to say to myself : Now my struggle, is the struggle to get well, to return and to live my life as fully, as joyfully, as completely as possible and that will be my victory.

Through the prayers and love of people around the world, I was enabled to make my bombing redemptive, to bring life out of death, good out of evil

I realised that if I was filled with hatred, bitterness and desire for revenge, I would be a victim for ever. They would have failed to kill the body, but they would have killed the soul

We are called to be an Easter Day people not a Good Friday people

What have you experienced in your life ? There are many kinds of crucifixion that happen to people that scar us and wound us

Bullyiing at school, domestic, family sexual violence - perhaps some of which we have never felt safe enough to share with another human being. Sometimes we fear what people will think of us if we tell them the truth. Sometimes our minds play games with us and we blame ourselves for being the victims especially in the case of sexual violence. False voices in our own heads tell us that it is our fault, we are to blame for what has happened to us. Our experiences can often prevent us from loving ourselves.

Gender violence : In South Africa Violence against women and children is very serious. Because much of it happens in private space, most of it goes unreported. What about in Luxembourg/

Some in the LGBTI community feel rejected and even suicidal because of how we in the faith community behave and speak about those who fall in love with their own gender.

A great South African Chief Albert Lutuli once said : Those who think of themselves as victims eventually become the victimisers of others. People give themselves permission to terrible things to others because of what was done to them, This is true of individuals, communities and nations.

But in the Jesus story, the victim of Good Friday does not become the victimiser of others. No, Jesus is the Victor of Easter Day.

We all know the different accounts of the Resurrection. John tells us the story of Jesus appearing to the disciples in the upper room. Thomas is not there. Thomas says that he will not believe it was the Lord unless he sees the marks of the nails. So on another occasion the disciples are in the upper room with the doors locked. This time Thomas is present when the risen Christ appears and tells Thomas. Put your hand in my side and touch my hands where you can see the marks of the nails. Thomas says : My Lord and my God. You see the risen Christ was also the crucified Christ. You could still see the marks of Crucifixion.....however the wounds were no longer bleeding, the wounds had healed.

This tells us something about God’s will for the whole human family - that we don’t have to be crucifiers of one another, but rather that our wounds can heal

Sometimes even in the darkest of times there are individuals who are signs of hope.

Sometimes it is people of other faiths who show us how to live as brothers and sisters.

During the horror of the terror attacks in France just last month it was a Mr Lassana, a Moslem man from Mali who instinctively responded based on our common humanity.

« I went to the freezer, I opened the door, and many people came in with me. I told them to calm down, not to make noise » That is how a dozen people escaped almost certain death.

When he got out of the store, police arrested and handcuffed him for 1.5 hours, assuming that this black man was inevitably one of the terrorists. When the police finally realized their mistake, they interrogated him, and he gave them the plan of the store, which facilitated the police intervention.

The young man of 24 is particularly humble : « I am a practicing Muslim, I’ve already done my prayers in this store, in the storehouse. And yes, I helped the Jews. We are brothers, he said. This is not a question of Jews, Christians or Muslims, we are all in the same boat » he declared.

This ordinary hero is a role model. An undocumented citizen when he first arrive to France, he was finally welcomed in a Jewish store, and he saved fifteen Jewish people.

The story of Lassana is a great example of a world in which we are all called to be sisters and brothers. which some say is the deeper meaning of all true religion.

Another sign of hope yesterday was the decision of 1000 Moslems to surround a synagogue in Oslo in a circle of peace chanting No to Anti semitism and No to Islamaphobia. As one of the organisers said there are more peace mongers than war mongers

As Pope Francis says :

“To love God and neighbor is not something abstract, but profoundly concrete : it means seeing in every person and face of the Lord to be served, to serve him concretely. And you are, dear brothers and sisters, in the face of Jesus.” (Pope Francis, Address during Visit at the Homeless Shelter “Dona Di Maria,” 5/21/13)
One of the most important ways, that I have made my crucifixion redemptive has been to set up an Institute for healing of memories. We seek to contribute towards the healing journey of individuals communities and nations. We do this by creating safe and sacred spaces where people can speak freely about their feelings about the past - to have other people listen and acknowledge the truth of what has happened to them and to begin to let go of poisonous feelings like hatred and bitterness.

I have written about my experiences of death and resurrection as a follower of Jesus in my memoir. Here in Luxembourg the copies of my memoir Redeeming the Past have been available in English and German. After this address copies of the newly published French edition will be available. In an endorsement of the book, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams wrote that some times the church thinks it knows what people want. He says that actually what people really want to know is that however long and difficult, healing is possible - he talks of working with the grain of grace. Perhaps some of you may find the book helpful to read during Lent..

We can all become Easter Day people.

Whenever we begin to heal, we move away from being a Good Friday people towards being an Easter Day people.

Whenever we find the grace to forgive another human being there are new beginnings and therefore new hope

Whenever we open our hearts and ears to listen to the pain of others, we become more like Christ.... wounded healers...signs of hope that is the calling we all have as followers of Jesus And to be co-workers with Christ in building God’s kingdom.

Pope Francis tells us :

If we wish to lead a dignified and fulfilling life, we have to reach out to others and seek their good.

and on another occasion Papa Francisco says :
« It’s best to not confuse optimism with hope. Optimism is a psychological attitude toward life. Hope goes further. It is an anchor that one hurls toward the future, it’s what lets you pull on the line and reach what you’re aiming for » and head in « the right direction. » Hope is also theological : « God is there, too. »

We are called not to be a Good Friday people but to be an Easter Day People.

Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of hope.

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