The Undamaged Chasuble

The Easter season is behind us, but the life-affirming nature of this ultimate Christian story has a more-than-seasonal shelf life. In fact, it lasts forever. Hearing this message from Eden Hill no doubt does not surprise you, but come with me. Let's walk about 7/10ths of a mile south, down the hill, on Pine Street toward Main Street, Stockbridge, Mass.

In a few minutes, we arrive at the corner of Pine and Main. On our immediate left, you will see the lovely stone edifice of St. Paul's Episcopal Church. This house of God provides spiritual solace befitting a structure of this kind, and it's also one of the most architecturally significant small churches in America. Built in 1884 on a design by Charles McKim, who also designed the Morgan Library in New York City and the Boston Public Library, the church features Tiffany windows, a baptistery designed by Stanford White, and sculptures by Louis Saint Gaudens.

A Tale for All
That's not what impresses us most, however. That honor goes to St. Paul's pastor, Fr. Tom Damrosch, which brings us back to Easter. In the spirit of unity under one God and especially the close spiritual kinship between Catholics and Episcopalians, we share Fr. Tom's Easter Day Father Tom sermon. It involves the amazing work of God in our lives. The major players are Americans and Filipinos, but this is our story - each one of us - in some way or another (think like God, not like men).

The preaching focuses on a familial (and familiar) tale: that of God's mercy in the workings of people. Here's what Fr. Tom wrote and preached on Easter this year:

Every year at this time, we hear two core stories of our faith. On Saturday night, at the Great Easter Vigil, we hear how God's people crossed the Red Sea on dry land, led by God from bondage to freedom. And then on Sunday morning, we hear how the disciples woke in fear to astonishing news. Some women of their number had gone to Jesus' tomb and found it empty. At first they were stunned and baffled. Yet soon they came to realize that that moment of discovering the empty tomb was for them the turning point for their whole lives and indeed for the whole world. And so every year from then to now, we tell that story again, as recorded by Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

I'd like to share a family story with you this morning, a story that took place a few years before my birth.

World War II found my parents and my infant older brother living in the Philippines. In due course, they were rounded up with civilians of nations at war with Japan, including with other missionaries, and interned in a place called Los Baños.

By early February 1945, my father wrote in his memoirs, "[T]he sounds of war could be heard constantly. We knew that there were large Japanese forces between us and Manila, and weren't at all sure that any of us would survive the necessary massive attack to break through to Los Baños." Indeed, "more and more there was concern that the guards would turn their guns on us before they would allow us to be liberated."

On Washington's birthday, U.S. planes flew over the camp. That day, the authorities distributed the last food in the camp - palai, unhusked rice, inedible in that form. But don't worry, they said, you will not need any more food anyway.

The internees spent the night in fear and profound discouragement. Then, my father says, "Early the next morning we woke up and started to shamble out for roll call, when we heard the sound of airplane engines. Overhead flew nine C-47's at a low altitude. One of them had RESCUE painted in bold letters on its fuselage."

Then American parachute troops started dropping out of the sky and Filipino guerilla fighters surged into the camp from the jungle. Gunfire was everywhere. The internees found whatever shelter they could in their flimsy barracks. "The three of us lay under our bunk, saying psalms," my father writes.

"Then we heard an unmistakably American voice: 'All right you people, we can't hold this place. We're going to take you out.'"

Sixty large army vehicles were roaring up to the camp. In a very few minutes, all the civilians were rushed into these vehicles and they headed off - straight toward a very large lake nearby. "We're trapped," my father thought. (This is where the Red Sea part comes in.)

The vehicles drove straight into the lake! They were amphibious. For an hour, they crossed the lake and arrived, seven kilometers away, to safety, beyond the U.S. lines.

I was thinking the last night my parents and my then 3-year-old brother spent in Los Baños as I tried to put myself in the place of the terrified disciples as they spent the third long night in a row without Jesus, huddled in fear of the authorities of their day.

The first night he had been under arrest. But the second night, he had been summarily executed. Now on the third night, bereft of their leader, the remaining few wait without hope. Will it be the authorities knocking on the door? Will a mob come for them?

Instead, before it is daylight, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee go out to the tomb, to anoint the body with the spices that were not ready when He was abruptly arrested, tried, executed, and buried, all in less than one day.

At the tomb, they are stunned. The stone has been rolled away. And when they go in, there is no dead body there. The tomb is empty.

There are times when we find ourselves facing "tombs" - places, circumstances, relationships where we expect only deadness. We all encounter places of great loss in our lives. And yet there is life to be found there. When we face these places, we should expect the possibility of discovering that God has been there before us, that there has been some rolling away of stones, even small ones. The Good News tells us that God always has new life in store for us. It may not be a restoration of the old way things once were, but it is indeed life that God offers us.

Suddenly, the women become aware of two men in dazzling clothes.

Who are these messengers from God in our lives? They can be as dramatic as the GI who called my family out of what they had thought was their tomb.

Or they can be as quiet as a lady I know who continues to show hope and care for others in all circumstances. They can be as innocent as the small child who has not become prematurely discouraged like the adults around her. The Good News tells all of us to listen for those voices of life and hope and promise. God sends them. Do we have eyes to see them, ears to hear them when they come into our lives?

And these two men say, "He is not here, but has risen. Remember that the Son of Man must rise again on the third day."

We are to remember precisely this Good News that we are to look into every situation we get into for the recurring reality of the ways of God in our lives. If there is any particular situation something of a dying, is there something of a resurrection? When my parents were in the internment camp in the Philippines, the future seemed unclear and probably very short. And yet within a few years, they were not only alive but raising an expanding family, the Philippines were not only liberated but a free and independent nation.

When the two men had spoken, the women did remember Jesus' words, "and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest."

How do we communicate this Good News? If the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is key in our thinking, if we see it as a paradigm of the way God works in the world, how do we communicate this?

For my parents, much was restored after the war and much would never be anything like the world they had known before. When Dad returned to his work, much had been lost. But the white Easter chasuble made for him before the war had been hidden away in a chest, just like the one where our children hid their Easter banner before Lent. His parishioners proudly brought it out, undamaged except for one water stain, which bears to this day.

And the faith of the church had deepened it in its time of trial. Soon Eduardo Longid, the catechist who had helped my father in caring for his many small, outlying mission stations, was a priest. In due course, he became one of the bishops of the now truly indigenous, independent Philippine Episcopal Church, a full partner in the global work of sharing the Good News. And my father was able to do new kinds of missionary work in places like Hulls Cove Maine and the Upper East Side of New York City. The small family that thought it wouldn't survive the war became a large family, and my own story began.

The Good News of Easter is that God is constantly bringing us renewal and new life. And God calls us to see that happening in our lives, to be co-creators with God of new life for ourselves and for our communities, and to share that Good News that renewal, redemption and restoration are indeed God's plan for all people.

And so let us join again in the Easter proclamation: Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

This writer thanks Fr. Tom for making his words available to us.

Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, both in print and online. He is the author of Dan Valenti's Mercy Journal.

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