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Easter 3 April 15, 2018 - The Rev. Samuel Torvend
Sermon for April 15, 2018 | Easter III
Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48
Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in the name of the risen Messiah to all nations. If you and I were to walk into another Christ Church – this one in Alexandria, Virginia – we would find ourselves in the company of George Washington who worshipped there when he was in residence at Mount Vernon and served on its vestry for over fifteen years. Were we to sit in the pew that Washington rented, we would see behind the altar and flanking it two enormous panels inscribed with the Ten Commandments. One commentary on the prominent placement of the Commandments in the worship space notes this: “Since we do not fully obey the law of God, we see more clearly our sin.”
In 1973, Dr. Karl Menninger, preeminent among psychiatrists in this country, published a best-selling book entitled, Whatever Became of Sin?  His argument was this: whenever society as a whole marginalizes sin, personal responsibility for one’s words and actions begins to evaporate and what replaces it is the tendency to blame others for the problems of one’s own creation. As a psychiatrist who had been taught that a person’s neuroses or pathologies in the present can be traced to their childhood in the past and set at the door of one or both parents, Menninger argued that there can be no hope – no hope – for recovery and potential growth unless one avoids the tendency to blame someone else for one’s problems.
Well, there may be some truth – some truth, I say – in Menninger’s argument but I wonder if the underwhelming presence of sin in the rhetoric of mainline Protestants and Anglicans has more to do with the overwhelming presence of accusation and threat and shame in much Christian rhetoric concerning sin: in the preaching, catechesis, and hymns that have marked the nation’s religious landscape – you know, sin as failure to obey the law of God. This is what theologians call a “punitive” form of justice: break the law and you get punished, either here or in the hereafter. And what of forgiveness? For some but not all Christians, the notion that God will forgive one endlessly appears insufficiently strict and not sufficiently demanding. Forgiveness, you say? Won’t that inevitably lead to backsliding, to a kind of spiritual recidivism?
We also hear these words in today’s gospel: Look at my hands and my feet. Touch me and see, says the wounded and risen Christ. In the calamitous 14th century, a century quite similar to our own, the English mystic, Julian of Norwich, recognized that her countrymen had experienced wave after wave of catastrophe: crop failure and famine, armed conflict with their neighbors, cruel taxation to support wars of aggression, peasant revolts, and the ever-present plague that was rapidly devastating the population. What she diagnosed was this: a people traumatized by circumstances beyond their control; a people whose leaders had gone mad with the fever of war; a people who had come to the conclusion that natural disasters and personal traumas were nothing less than God’s punishment for the failure to “fully obey the law of God.” And yet, when she beheld the wounded Christ, when she heard Christ’s voice speaking to her from the crucifix, she recorded this message: We see clearly that our sin is actually the pain of being wounded by the world in which we live, by the forces that diminish, depress, and disfigure the creatures of God. Julian was clear on this: we are responsible for some of this pain when tempted to act solely for our benefit alone; when we ignore the pain of our neighbor and do little to alleviate their suffering. But she was also clear about this: that the God we encounter in Jesus Christ does not stand in accusation over us but actually jumps – jumps she says – into the ditch of this world where he, too, experiences the wounds of human existence which, if anything, call out not for punishment or accusation but for healing, for restoration to health.
Sin as breaking the law. Sin as being wounded by the world and perhaps by one’s silly failings.
And so I wonder: is there anyone – anyone – among us who has not been hurt physically, emotional, spiritually by life in this world? Is there anyone among us who does not bear the wounds of personal failings but more so the trauma caused by rejection, by discrimination, by being different “than the norm,” by separation or divorce or death, by an economy that favors the few, by the politics of greed and tribalism, by the ugliness of degraded land, water, and air, by loneliness, by unrequited love? It was Julian of Norwich, quoting Augustine of Hippo, who said that the community of Christ, if it is anything, is a hospice, a hospital, where the wounded can be healed and then return to the world – not as its brute disciplinarians – but as its agents of healing.
The irony, however, is this: you and I are healed by the wounds of another. Touch me and see, he says: that is, come to my altar and drink from my life-giving cup; taste in the bread my goodness and my love.
Who among us does not need, does not hunger for healing in our lives and in this beautiful though wounded world?