Easter 3 2011 St. Andrew’s
“Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’”
“When Jesus was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him;”
We are forgiven sinners. We pray “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We are forgiven because Jesus death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead have set us spiritually free, free to live a new life in him, free to forgive in the power of his Holy Spirit.
Many of us have mixed feelings about the news of the death of Osama Bin Laden at the hands of American sailors. We feel that justice has been done, that the person who claimed responsibility for the death of 2,996 people from more than 90 countries - 19 hijackers, 246 on the four planes, 2,606 in New York City in the towers and on the ground, and 125 including 55 military at the Pentagon – that person has also died. He now faces God’s perfect justice.
The news reports are not clear, but Bin Laden may have been unarmed and his 12 year old daughter says he was shot in front of her. Every death diminishes all of us. We regret his death and we regret the deaths of those for whom he was responsible.
In spring, 1945, 66 years ago American soldiers liberated over 32,000 prisoners from the concentration camp at
Dachau, 10 miles northwest of . Munich was the training camp for the SS – the Schutzstaffel, which translates as “defense squadron.” It was the Nazi party private army. The Dachau concentration camp was established in 1933 just weeks after the Nazi party took power. The guards for Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and other extermination camps were trained at Dachau . Some of the prisoners were German nobles, about ten per cent were clergy – and they continued to offer the eucharist in the camp. Karl Leisner was ordained priest December 17, 1944. Truly Jesus was even there “known to them in the breaking of the bread.” Dachau
My mother’s brothers served in
Germany in the same 3rd Army that liberated ; both of them saw it before they came home. I was 6 years old when that war ended; the pictures of the liberated prisoners continue to have a powerful impact on me. They are on the web; you can see them at the Dachau Holocaust Museum in Washington or at Yad Va Shem in . Jerusalem
The Nazis killed over 11 million people – 6 million Jews and 5 million other “undesirables.” In the late 1970’s the Khmer Rouge killed 2 million Cambodians; in 1994 the Rwandan interahamwe (the name means “those who kill as one” murdered about 800,000. In Darfur in western
over 400,000 have been killed and 2½ million have been forced to flee. Sudan
Almost 100 years ago Turks massacred almost 1½ million Armenians. Russian and Chinese “wealth distribution” led to the death of millions. And in our own country millions of Native Americans have died in war and massacre.
We have tried to deal with the reality of human depravity and injustice in a number of ways. One is denial; denial will help us in the crisis but eventually the truth is known. Another is anger and blame. All evil is in them –out there- and we must crush it. Sometimes true, but anger and blame eventually fade and we have to deal with the perpetrators as human beings. Eventually we have to repent of our own sins and ask God to forgive us, and having been forgiven to forgive.
The Holocaust museum in
is surrounded by “the garden of the righteous,” trees with plaques of the names of those who sought to save Jews. One so honored is Corrie ten Boom, sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp where her sister Betsie died. After the war Corrie offered a home to former prisoners and wrote a book The Hiding Place. I quote (pp 214-215): Jerusalem
I continued to speak, partly because the home. . . ran on contributions, partly because the hunger for Betsie’s story seemed to increase with time. I traveled all over
Holland, to other parts of Europe, to the . United States
But the place where the hunger was greatest was
. Germany was a land in ruins, cities of ashes and rubble, but more terrifying still, minds and hearts of ashes. Just to cross the border was to feel the great weight that hung over that land. Germany
It was in a church service in
that I saw him, the former SS man who had stood guard at the shower room in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of out actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there-the room full of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face. Munich
He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Frauline,” he said. “To think that, as you say, Jesus has washed even my sins away.”
His hand was out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side. Even as the angry vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? “Lord Jesus,” I prayed, “forgive me and help me to forgive him.”
I tried to smile; I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer, “Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness.”
“As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.