Thirty or forty years ago, in another part of Sarawak, there lived a young man by the name of Thomas. Thomas did very well at his schooling, passing all his exams up to and including form six and his future looked bright – he would have probably been chosen to go on to University and then many careers would have been open to him. However, for several years, leading up to the time of his form six exam, Thomas had increasingly been afflicted by ill health. His feet and legs became swollen and rashes appeared on his body, but his doctors were unable to diagnose the sickness, until just about the time the form six results came out when they told Thomas that he had leprosy.
Those were the days before a cure for leprosy had been found and people were very frightened of the disease and Thomas found that his friends no longer wanted to mix with him. Then he was told that he would have to go away to the Leprosy Hospital in Kuching, the RCMB, and a police escort was provided to make sure he got there. He was taken to Miri, the town from where he would take a boat and from there the journey to Kuching took three or four days. Thomas was left alone in the bowels of the ship, during that time, unable to move very much because his legs were so swollen and the only time people came near him was when they gave him his food – which they pushed at him and got out as quickly as possible. Thomas told me that he felt sure he was going to Kuching to die and as he lay there alone in the bowels of that ship his thoughts were very bitter – all the hopes of his youth were gone, destroyed by the leprosy and the fear and prejudice of those around him.
The RCBM sent one of their patients, a man named James, to meet Thomas and bring him to the hospital. James was himself a leper and had been at the RCBM for many years. He knew the bitterness of Thomas’ experience for when he himself had contracted leprosy, years before, he had been arrested and taken by armed guard to the boat that would transport him to the hospital – and his pain was increased because his wife and children had refused to go with him. Thomas told me years later, that he still clearly remembered the moment that the door to the place where he lay opened and there stood James with a smile on his face. He also remembered James’ words, “Come on, old fellow, up you get, we’ll have you well again in no time!” Thomas said that it was like the sun suddenly coming out – suddenly there was hope again, maybe all was not lost, maybe he would not die. It was the beginning of new life for Thomas – it was “Resurrection”!
Thomas spent the next two years or so in the hospital wing of the RCBM and as his health improved he began to take on various jobs around the hospital and eventually he rose to become the Warden of the hospital. In 1984, a cure was found for leprosy and the patients began to move out of the RCBM village, which had been their refuge for so many years and so also Thomas, who, by that time, had married and had two children. He became a man of influence in his parish, a man of great compassion and kindness, a man who always carried with him, I felt, a certain peace and gentleness.
This story of Thomas and James is a story of “Resurrection”, for our belief in Resurrection is not just the belief that Jesus rose from the dead two thousand years ago, nor is it just the belief that Jesus is truly alive and present with us today. Resurrection is also a power at work in our world, a power that shines into the darkness of people’s lives through the words and actions of people like James. It lifts them out of despair and leads them into hope and new life. It does not destroy the past and make it disappear, but uses it to create the door to a new future. You can see that in the Gospel John 20: 19-21, when the risen Jesus appears to the disciples in the upper room. It says that he “showed them the nail wounds in his hands and his feet” – those wounds are not left behind – they are now part of his glory, part of his resurrection. We see what this means in the same passage, when the Lord speaks to Thomas, who had refused to believe that Jesus had risen, when first told of it by the disciples. Jesus came and spoke directly to Thomas, but with kindness, not condemnation. Thomas answered by falling to his knees and saying, “My Lord and God!” Such a deep response of faith and love could only be made because Thomas had first rejected that Christ had risen. In the same way, my friend Thomas’ experience of darkness on his journey to Kuching enabled him to receive his new life with a joy and gratitude that would last him the rest of his life.
It is Christ who brings us that new life of resurrection – but it is you and I who minister it. Through our words and actions, through our attitude to those in trouble, despair and darkness – never mind whether that be of their own making or the making of someone else – wherever there is darkness, we can bring the light that Thomas says he saw when James entered his cabin. But, we can also turn our backs on such people in fear or self-righteous condemnation and in so doing bang the door even more tightly closed. The trouble with that is, that when the day comes – as come it must – when I myself need to find the light, I will discover that it is behind the door I myself slammed shut – lying there together in the darkness with Thomas.
I have almost finished the preparations for the two retreats I shall be giving over the next week or two – one in Thailand and one in Bali. So I find myself with a little bit of time to write this blog. However, all my work is not over yet – I still have to examine the poor students – ten minute oral exams – and I remember from my own time as a student just how long those ten minutes can be.
This is the weekend of the canonisation of the two Popes – John XXIII and John Paul II, which I watched on TV. I still remember well the impact John XXIII made when he became pope. Suddenly there was a new vision of what Christianity could be – he was a resurrection man, of the type I write of above. I was reminded in an email today of one of the many stories about him. He once visited some children in a hospital and asked one little boy what he wanted to be when he grew up. The boy answered, “A policeman or the Pope” Pope John answered him, “I would become a policeman, if I were you. Anyone can become pope – even me!”
I am being chased by the makers of the tooth implant, who made the tooth that is now resting in my jaw. I have paid RM1500 already, but they want another RM4000 – about 700 pounds. I do not object to paying it – but they will not send me a proper bill. I get telephone calls asking me to send the money to a certain bank account, which I refuse to do without a proper bill. They have called me two times already, but still have not sent me a proper invoice.
Last blog, I forgot to wish you all God’s Easter blessings, so I do now. May you feel that “resurrection life” in you and may you pass it to all whom you meet.
Ps. “Thank you” to those who offered to help bring me my cassock. Things so often get list in the post.