Sermon for Thursday, April 17, 2014
Just over two weeks ago, on the morning of Monday, April 7, in the Syrian city of Homs, a Dutch Jesuit, Fr. Frans van der Lugt, was dragged from his apartment by a masked gunman into the courtyard outside and killed with two shots to the head. Fr. van der Lugt had lived for nearly 50 years in Syria, his adopted home, and was beloved by all, both Christian and Muslim. Though he had had multiple opportunities to leave Homs in the months before his death, he refused. “The Syrian people have given me so much,” van der Lugt said, “If the Syrian people are suffering now, I want to share their pain and their difficulties.” Fr. van der Lugt was perhaps best known to the outside world as one who pleaded for food for the starving people of Homs. One of his pleas can be found on You Tube.
Shortly before his death, Fr. van der Lugt in an interview said the following:
Christians in Old Homs are asking themselves: “What can we do? We can’t do anything! But God will take care of us; we are paralyzed, though we believe that God is with us, especially in these taught circumstances… God will never forsake us, he knows us, and knows our suffering; He never wanted any evil. All He has is a compassionate look toward his beloved…
Our faith helps us a lot to overcome this critical situation, provides us with hope and patience… But it is getting harder and harder, and our ability is getting narrower… Starvation is threatening our lives, we miss the basic elements to survive: food and elementary needs…
But somehow we are surviving, and push life forward. Moreover, we experience the goodness of people who are in need. They find some lentils and bulgur… in front of their doors. Now, when we are poor and in need, we rediscover the goodness of human beings, when we receive from our brothers and sisters.
We see evil is trying to find his way among us, but it can’t turn us blind before the goodness…
We are preparing ourselves for Easter, reflecting on crossing from death to resurrection. We feel like we are in the valley of the shadows, but we can see that light far away, leading us to life again…We hope that Syria will experience resurrection soon again.”
Fr. van der Lugt’s story of starving people sharing lentils and bulgur with their neighbors reminds me of Jesus on Maundy Thursday. Like Fr. van der Lugt, Jesus is staring death in the face, yet refuses to flee and save himself. Like Fr. van der Lugt, Jesus does not let fear overwhelm his desire to care for and show goodness to those around him. Like the people of Homs giving away food so that their neighbors might live, Jesus gives of himself that we might live. Jesus and the people of Homs are surrounded by danger, fear, and death, and yet they counter with goodness, with generosity, with food.
Hearing the story of Fr. van der Lugt, I cannot help but imagine what it must be like to live in Homs. As I imagine what it must be like to live in Homs and to one morning find an anonymous gift of lentils and bulgur on my doorstep, I wonder what I would do with such a gift. Since I’m hungry, I imagine I’d probably eat some. But I imagine that I wouldn’t eat all of it. I imagine I’d save some, not merely so that I could eat more tomorrow, but also because the gift was so extraordinary gift that I’d want to savor it. I mean, it was extremely generous for someone to give me some of the food that was probably all they had to live on. Kind of like I can’t simply recycle a birthday card as soon as I receive it, but rather set it up on my dresser for a few days to remind myself of the person who sent it and their care for me, I think I would want to linger in – to relish – the gift of food. I think I might set it out in a special place for the day and overnight, to remind me that, even in the midst of darkness and death, yet there is generosity, goodness, care, concern and love. I imagine that I’d linger before this gift, to bask in those good feelings. And then tomorrow, because it would seem unseemly to hoard this gift – it was given to me to eat, after all; somebody wanted me to live – after a day of gratitude, I would eat the rest and put my life in God’s hands, trusting that the Lord will provide.
This evening, we have an opportunity to relish Jesus’ gift of bread and wine, Jesus’ gift of his own self. In our hunger, we will eat some here tonight. And then, so that we might savor this gift, we will set this bread and wine in a special place over at St. Paul’s, where – if we like – we can go and sit in front of it, and be reminded of Jesus’ generosity, care, concern and love for us. And then tomorrow, after a night of gratitude, we will consume the rest and put ourselves in God’s hands, trusting that the Lord will provide.
I invite us here this evening to take advantage of this opportunity: to eat some of Jesus’ gift, and then to go over to St. Paul’s to linger before it, letting it be a sign to us of Christ’s love and care and concern. And when this gift is consumed, may we ask God for the grace to put our lives in God’s hands and trust that God will give us new life.