Comfort and Liberation – 7th May 2017

In the Easter season we remind ourselves again of what the risen life means. What does it mean when we sing “Christ is risen–we are risen.” What do the Easter people do? What difference does the resurrection make? How can the world see the risenness of Christ?

We are glad to have with us today Marcelline Budza thanks to Richard Hide. In 2013 Marceline founded the women’s coffee producing association Rebuild Women’s Hope. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the country considered to be the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman , she has helped many women regain economic empowerment as coffee farmers. Marcelline and Rebuild Women’s Hope have already helped more than 1000 women register as farmers and subsequently sell their coffee. That coffee is now available in this country.

That seems to me to be a good example of what the resurrection and the resurrection life is all about – enabling downtrodden people to rise up and reclaim their lives so that they may in the words of the gospel “have life and have it in all its abundance.”

This is central to the biblical record. As Richard Holloway says in his fascinating book A Little History of Religion , “Judaism had started as a slave religion. The voice that spoke to Moses from the burning bush told him to free his children from Egypt and lead them to the promised land.… Judaism was the faith of a people who longed for liberation from bondage. So did the African-American slaves. They made the story their own, and they sang songs about it.

Go down, Moses,

Way down in Egypt land,

Tell old Pharaoh,

to let my people go

“Christianity also began as a liberation movement. Jesus was God’s agent for bringing on earth  a kingdom unlike anything yet seen in history. It would bring down the mighty from their seats and exalt humble and meek. It would replace the way of oppression with the way of justice. It would heal the sick and liberate captives. And it would be brought about by a Messiah who would be whipped and taunted as he carried his cross to Calvary

“Listening to these words, how could the slaves fail to hear them as a description of their own condition?… They might not yet be able to read the Bible but they knew how to be the Bible. Its longing for liberation was their longing.

“Then something else started to happen in the way they used it. The Bible sang of their yearning to be free, certainly. It echoed their longing for something they did not yet have and might never have. But then they started using it in their worship in a way that gave them freedom within the system that imprisoned them. Their preachers did not just talk about the stories in the Bible. They made them present (so that) if only for an hour or two, they escaped from the whip and the taunt into an ecstasy that transported them to another place.

Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus!

Steal away, steal away home,

I ain’t got long stay.

“They were enacting another of religion’s purposes, its ability to console and sweeten the lot of those who bear unendurable sorrow… Only an ungenerous mind would fail to sympathise with those whose misery is eased in this way. Only a heart of stone would be unmoved by the sight of a congregation of slaves finding consolation in the promise of Jesus to take them home.”

It is important to recognise the validity and value of such consolation. It can be a true resurrection experience for those of us who has been overwhelmed by life and its problems. “But that wasn’t the only use the African-Americans made of Judeo-Christianity and its stories. They did something more directly political with it. They used its message to campaign against racism and injustice. For them America was still Egypt land and they were still in bondage. (In the last century) their new Moses was the preacher Martin Luther King who called on old Pharaoh yet again to let his people go.”

Holloway goes on: “Religion may begin with mystical experiences but it always leads to politics.” That is a typically provocative remark by Richard Holloway but it has a lot of truth in it. He continues: “Sometimes the politics are bad. People are persecuted for following the wrong faith or listening to the wrong voice.… But sometimes the politics are good. They are about liberation not oppression.… Religion is no longer used as an opiate to dull the pain of injustice and inequality but as a stimulant to overcome it.”  (Quotations from pp 191 – 196)

And surely what distinguishes the two, the bad from the good, is how they look in the light of the Resurrection. Does this enable people to have life and have it in all its abundance? Does it enable people to continue to hope? Given the long catalogue of things about which we might despair, surely it is the wonder and power of the Resurrection which can enable us to keep hoping and to keep working that “your kingdom may come on earth as it is in heaven.”

Surely the resurrection should foster in us a divine impatience that things do not have to be like this. Thank you Marcelline for bringing us one heartwarming example of how things can be, whether or not they are explicitly in Christ’s name.

I finish with another quote from Richard Holloway, from his book Doubts and Loves:

“So I end with what may appear to be a paradox: I can say I believe in that resurrection then, the Jesus resurrection, because I see resurrection now, see stones rolled away and new possibilities rising from old attitudes. If a belief is an action indicator rather than a purely mental event, belief in resurrection means that I must commit myself to the possibility of transformation. That means continuing to struggle with the intractability of my own nature; it means joining with others in action to bring new life to human communities that are still held in the grip of death. (Richard Holloway, Doubts and Loves, Edinburgh: Canongate, 2002, pp 141–142).

 

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