Monday, November 21, 2016

A Homily for Evensong: Monday, November 21st, Proper 29, Year Two

A short homily on Galatians 6.1-10

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

“Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

In 1873 a group of Anglican nuns, the Sisters of St Mary, arrived in Memphis, Tennessee to open a school for girls. Although Memphis suffered regular outbreaks of yellow fever, in early August of 1878, the city was hit with its worst ever epidemic. Those who could fled the city, leaving behind large numbers of the poor. Also staying were the Sisters of St Mary, led by their school’s headmistress Sister Constance. Working together with Roman Catholic nuns, a handful of Episcopal and Roman clergy, a few remaining doctors, and even the owner of a local bordello, the sisters labored tirelessly to care for the sick and dying. By late August an average of 70 persons a day were dying. In house after house the sisters found victims, often abandoned and without medical care. By mid-September 5,150 had died, including 38 nuns, among whom were numbered Sister Constance and several of her companions. The Episcopal Church remembers the sacrifice of these “Martyrs of Memphis” on September 9th.

How do we bear the burdens of others?

In 1940 with the German invasion of the Netherlands, many Christian families made the dangerous decision to help their Jewish neighbors hide or to attempt escape. One such family was that of 80-year-old Haarlem watchmaker Casper ten Boom, and his two daughters, Betsie and Corrie. When the German occupiers announced that Dutch Jews must wear the Star of David, Casper donned the Star himself. As persecution intensified, the ten Boom’s built a secret room in their home in which to hide transiting Jews.  In February of 1944 the family were found out and they, along with 27 others present in their house, were arrested. Due to his age and poor health Casper was given the opportunity to return home, he replied, “ If I go home today, tomorrow I will open my door to anyone who knocks for help.” Casper ten Boom died after 10 days in Scheveningen Prison, Betsie died 11 months later in Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, only Corrie survived.

How do we bear the burdens of others?

In addressing a conference on Anti-Semitism last week here in New York, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in his opening remarks, “ If one day Muslim Americans are forced to register their identities, that is the day that this proud Jew will register as Muslim…making powerful enemies is the price one must pay, at times, for speaking truth to power.”

How do we bear the burdens of others?

These are dramatic examples, and thankfully most of us will never face being thrown into prison, or tortured for our faith. We may never be called upon to lay down our lives for our friends, much less those we’ve never met. Nevertheless each and every day we have the opportunity, through a smile, through a word, through prayer, through simple acts of mercy and kindness to lift those who have fallen, to bear a part of their burden. Teresa of Avilla wrote, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” We might add, ours are the shoulders that carry not only the cross of Christ, that carry not only each our own cross, but can also carry the crosses of others. 

I ask each of you tonight to consider, how do you bear the burdens of others?