Some years ago, I paid a visit to the famous Leprosy hospital at Carville, Louisiana, USA and there learned about a skilled surgeon, who had once worked there. He used to rebuild the hands of those ravaged by leprosy and so enabled many of those, whose fingers had been damaged or destroyed by the disease, to find a new life. However, if he were complimented on his skill, he would reply that the true miracle of these new beginnings came not from the skill of his hands but from the love in his heart. He said, “My skill can give them new hands, but only the love in my heart can give them the courage to use those hands and so find new life”. He knew that when the hands of his patients had been destroyed by leprosy, their self-esteem and ability to build again were also destroyed – not, however, by the disease, but by the hostile attitude of people to those afflicted with this disease. It was his love for his patients and because he believed in them, that they were able to believe in themselves and so begin to live again through the new hands he gave them.
As I think about that story told by the guide at Carville, I realise that I was listening to a story of Resurrection – a story of new life and hope rising out of the destruction of the past – for our faith in Christ’s Resurrection is more than a belief that Jesus rose from the dead on that first Easter Sunday morning and also more than our hope that one day we shall share in his Resurrection. Our Easter Faith proclaims that the Risen Christ is a power now present in our world – not a power that wipes out what has happened, but a power which uses it to bring about something wonderfully new. We see this in the Risen Lord himself – his risen body still carried the marks of the nails in his hands and feet, for they are now part of his new and glorified life. We see this same power at work in the stories of Peter and Paul – Peter’s betrayal was used by Christ to bring about the new Peter – “Peter the Rock” and Paul’s persecution of the Church was turned, by the Lord, into the dedication that made him the Apostle of the Gentiles. Likewise, the doctor’s work at Carville did not take away the damage caused by the leprosy, but when their stumps were changed into workable hands, their hearts must have been so filled with joy at how wonderful it was to have hands – to be able to touch, to create, to caress!
There is, however, something more about resurrection, pointed to by those words of the doctor – people can only use their new life if they are accepted in love by those around them. The doctor’s love enabled his patients to find a new life, even though this was a life still confined to the community of Carville and it would be many years before the attitude of people towards those with leprosy changed enough to allow them to find a new life outside those walls. And this is also true of our resurrection faith – Peter and Paul both had to be accepted by the other disciples in order to enter fully into their new lives as apostles – and we ourselves, when we are raised up by Christ from the dark places of failure into which we find we have fallen, we also need the acceptance and love of those around us to be able to start again.
I have seen such new life and new beginnings come to be in many places and in many people – including myself. I have seen it in Bali, among those young people, who, having been sentenced to life in prison for drug smuggling, have found a new life of service to others. I have seen it in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, in people, whose lives have been wrecked by drugs and alcohol, but who have been drawn into new life and new ways of living, by, as they say “a Power greater than themselves”, but also, they say, by the love and acceptance of others in those groups, who help sustain them in those new beginnings. This is “Resurrection” they are attesting to, not “resuscitation”. This is not a mere going back to the way they were before the tragedy. As I have heard so many say, “In a strange way, I am grateful for having been an addict, for I now have a richer and fuller life than ever I had before my life was wrecked by drugs”.
Resurrection faith is not magic. The power of Christ’s life-giving grace has its own momentum, its own path and its own timetable. It is a long process of gradually learning to entrust oneself to God: of learning to live life with God and for people and, as we do so, we are gradually built into something we never imagined possible. Sometimes this work runs smoothly, sometimes it goes slowly, sometimes it even stops or retreats, but if those in need are to find the courage to persevere, then they need people around them who believe in them, they need us to believe in them. The grace of resurrection needs to be both received and ministered and Christ has drawn us all into being ministers of resurrection. Both the helper as well as the helped equally need resurrection faith; both need to be willing to witness to this resurrection faith, both need to be willing to be surprised by grace, and, if this is done, then reaching out to our brothers and sisters in their time of need will not be a false dawn, but will be the beginning of new life both for them and for those who reach out to them in love!
When I first lived here in Sarawak, forty years ago, I remember that the only time there seemed to be wind was when it was going to rain. I remember once, when I first arrived here, walking down a road with a friend, when I felt a strong wind and heard something like the sound of a train in the distance. My friend said, “Run!” so trusting him I ran, but did not quite get to the house in time and was drenched by the coming rain. Now, however, global warming seems to have changed the weather pattern, for at the moment we are getting cooling breezes almost every day, such a pleasant change from the still, heavy humidity I remember.
We only have one Mill Hill Brother still here with us in East Malaysia – Brother Ben, who lives in the mountains of Sabah and has done so for nearly 60 years. Next week he celebrates his Diamond Jubilee and most of us MillHillers are going up the mountain to celebrate with him. Over the years our brothers have done sterling work here in Borneo – from building agricultural stations and orphanages – which Br Ben has done and still does – to building small hydro-electric stations way upriver to bring power to a small mission hospital. Maybe we should write down some of the exploits of this group – a group of usually quiet, but such dedicated men.
I have had to change my grass-cutting habits. I used to wear sandals while working, but recently I went to the doctor with a skin complaint on the soles of my feet and was told it was caused by the cut grass. So, I have had to start wearing socks and shoes – and this, together, with some cream for the feet, has healed the complaint. Just as well, with a belly like mine it is difficult to bend down to scratch itchy feet!