Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (John 20:1-31) transports me five hundred years back to the mountain I now inhabit, before Europeans ventured this far inland in search of gold and the Cherokee hunted the land and fished the streams. The Cherokee didn’t have to have game wardens and highly regulated hunting seasons to govern their activity; neither did they need GPS devices or packs of hounds with radio transmitters to follow so they could shoot the bear out of a tree at point blank range with a high powered rifle. Before the age of European settlement, the Cherokee, like other indigenous tribes, had a sacred relationship, a bond, with the animals who co-inhabited the land with them. Kim Mammedaty, a member of the Kiowa tribe, spoke about this sacred tie between humans and animals several years ago at a Baptist Peace Fellowship gathering. The relationship is treated with great care and respect. . . The name one carries, the dress one wears, the symbols one uses, all come from an experience with that animal. The animal calls the person, and as the person follows the animal, it begins to teach the person what she/he needs to know. This is a sacred gift. The people then say, “This person has buffalo medicine,” or “The fox gave her its medicine.” The same is not true for the bear. There is a dreaded fear of the bear medicine. The medicine is so powerful that it completely alters the person’s being. Its power is enticing and seductive. One goes deeper and deeper into the experience until the person’s whole self is identified with that of the bear.
When Native Americans first heard the story of Jesus, they could readily identify with his story of death and resurrection. They had a similar story, about a bear with powerful medicine who was killed and then rose again to new life. They could recognize the strong medicine Jesus was offering, and they could understand the sacred bond he was inviting people to enter with him. I imagine the Cherokee and Kiowa would understand the enigma of Jesus‘ warning for Mary not to touch him, followed by an invitation for Thomas to touch him, better than I do. There’s something about that sacred body, filled with a strong and holy medicine, that is at once untouchable, and then again irresistable to the touch. There is fear and fascination, causing us to back away and to approach at the same time. One goes deeper and deeper into the experience until the person’s whole self is identified with that of Jesus, the wounded and crucified and resurrected incarnation of God With Us.
After two thousand years of church history and sophisticated theological development, our understanding of Jesus is about as far removed from that first century figure known by Mary Magdalene and Thomas called Didymus as our relationship with animals and the food we eat is removed from that relationship known by the Cherokee five hundred years ago. Our eating habits are largely determined not by the animals and birds we hunt in our forests, nor by what fruits and vegetables and nuts we can grow and gather on our land, but by the Farm Bill, which determines which industrial foods will be subsidized and made affordable on our grocer’s shelves. The lame duck (with not very strong medicine) session of Congress starts today, and policy makers dominated by deficit hawks (with a different kind of medicine) are set to take up this very piece of legislation. Several sacred cows (which do have strong medicine) will be on the negotiating table – most notably nutrition programs for hungry kids and corn subsidies for agribusiness. If only the risen Jesus who walked through walls to appear in that upper room would walk through some other walls, two thousand years thick. If only Jesus would suddenly appear and influence these lame duck decisions, so that the body politic of our Judeo-Christian nation would be enticed to go deeper and deeper into our experience with this strong medicine until our whole corporate self is identified with the Wonderful Counselor who promises to shoulder the government with unending peace and fairness and justice. Whether we find that body too awesome to touch, or too inviting not to touch, may we one day be so identified with it that people the world over will say of us, They are filled with Jesus’ medicine.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.