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            When I was waiting tables we could use trays when we were moving glasses when you had a lot of beverages to take from Beverage Station to your table. But we didn’t use trays when we were moving food from one side of the restaurant to the other. There were always a lot of people wandering around to bump into you but there were a couple of trays around to never use.  One day a server had a huge group, exhausted, and they gave her the big round tray, filled. She didn’t carry it on her shoulder but on her arms down here.  All she had to do was make it a few steps, up some stairs, across the restaurant, past all the wandering people. She made it up the stairs and her arms failed her, all the food and plates hit the floor. I never saw that tray again.

How heavy? How much can you bear?

For Joseph, how heavy is this body?

I imagine Joseph, from a town called Arimathea, was also tired. Every gospel mentions Jesus was placed in a tomb by Joseph. In Matthew we’re told that Joseph was a disciple of Jesus. The Gospel of John tells us that Joseph was a secret disciple of Jesus. Regardless, they let us know that Joseph knew and was known by Jesus and the other disciples, he would have known of Jesus’ arrest, he probably stayed up all night doing something or waiting for news.

Of all the disciple we meet in the Gospels, Joseph was the only one who could have asked for Jesus’ body. We’re told he was on the council, the Sanhedrin which was a council of the elite of Jerusalem, priests and economic leaders, people with power and influence–AND they had been appointed to their position by the empire. So Joseph had a relationship with the Roman leaders in Jerusalem that the other disciples did not. This relationship he could leverage to care for his friend.

So, how heavy is a body?

78 years ago today, the United States dropped the first nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, with the second dropped 3 days later.

1500 miles away and several hours earlier, Air Force Chaplain Father George Zabelka had offered a blessing over the pilots, the airmen,  and the mission that flew the planes that day, as was the job of a military chaplain. It was also his job to care for those who returned for their spiritual health. He counseled an Airman who had returned from the bombing of Nagasaki who described in horror of the thousands of bodies that had died and the thousands who were walking aimlessly in shock, their bodies literally falling apart until they died. Horror rose from the depth of Father Zabelka’s soul, “My God, what have we done?” Several months after the bombing he saw for himself,

“Three of us chaplains took a trip to Nagasaki to see [the results of] the bombing. There were no restrictions of any kind. So we went to the nearest place where there were still the survivors. And this I think is what really got me started on even a beginning of a new way of thinking on this. Because, here were little children that were horribly burned and suffering and dying. By that time there were nurses and doctors taking care of them, because this was two or three months afterwards. But this was the beginning of a whole new kind of worm squirming in my stomach that something was wrong. These little children had nothing to do with the war. Why were they suffering?

Spanish Jesuit Father Pedro Arrupe had been sent as a missionary to Hiroshima after he had finished his training as a doctor. In 1942 he was appointed Jesuit Superior and novice master in Japan and was supervising the Jesuit novices in the suburb of Hiroshima. That is where he was when the bomb fell on the city. He was one of eight priests in the bomb radius who survived. He wrote of his experience, of the people walking towards the monastery covered in blood, and the horror of these thousands of people. He wrote, “We did the only thing that we that could be done in the presence of such mass slaughter, we fell on our knees and prayed for guidance as we were destitute of all human help.”

And then he did what he could with his priests caring for the wounded as best they could with all the experience that they had. They couldn’t save everyone but they did what they could. And they did what they had to. He would go on to write:

“It is at such times that one feels most a priest, when one knows that in the city there are 50,000 bodies which, unless they are cremated, will cause a terrible plague. There were besides some 120,000 wounded to care for. In light of these facts, a priest cannot remain outside the city just to preserve his life. Of course, when one is told that in the city there is a gas that kills, one must be very determined to ignore that fact and go in. And we did.”

How heavy is a body?

These experiences, images that lived in their minds, shaped their lives. Father Arrupe felt the weight of the bodies he moved, carried, set to rest. He carried throughout his life the weight of the people he could help and those he could not. He spent the rest of his life caring for those on the margins, for the poor and the oppressed, he set the direction of the Jesuits for decades to come.

Father Zabelka carried the weight of the guilt and shame of blessing the work that lead to the death of 200,000 people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the days of the bombings and the first couple months after. He carried them with him always. He spent the rest of his life learning and proclaiming nonviolence, a disarmament of nuclear weapons, and a Christianity that bought more light, hope, love, and peace to the world.

And I wonder if Joseph felt like either of these priests–that he did what he could or that he should have stopped it–maybe he felt both. While this is the end of the story of Joseph in the Bible, tradition tells us that he took all he had learned from Jesus, and all his resources, and continued to speak and teach abot Jesus, to live the life of an apostle.

How heavy is a body?

Father Zabelka in  an interview later in life said, “Calvary, the place where Christ suffered and died at the hands of the civil and religious politicians of His day, is the holiest shrine in Christianity. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are Calvaries. For here, Christ in the bodies of the “least” was again tortured and put to death hundreds of thousands of times over by exactly the same dark and deceitful spirit of organized lovelessness that roamed Jerusalem two thousand years ago… I’m sorry, I can say nothing else–if Calvary is a holy place, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are holy places.”

We are called and if we pray to see all people as scared, to see the face of Christ in our neighbor, a stranger, or an enemy, then we should expect to see the face of Christ in those who are suffering under the hands of empires, of political and military machinery. We should expect to see the face of Christ in those who are struggling under the weight of seeming inescapable poverty and mental illness and addiction. All who are living and dying with a boot on their neck, in the midst of and fear of gun violence in schools and at home, who are dying to have someone love them for who they are and who they are becoming.

And I know you care, I care, about all these people and struggles, of the deaths that seem senseless. Maybe you feel the weight of each body and long to do something, anything, long to fix it. Maybe sometimes that it is too heavy and too much to bear. Some days all we can do is fall on our knees like Father Arrupa and pray to God for guidance  as we were destitute of all human help. And then we get up and do one thing, one thing that brings more light, hope, love, and peace to someone, and then another, and then another. We cannot carry the weight of all the lives we see hurting, there are 7 billion people in the world and we are limited, we are not the saviors or f this world. We take them to God in prayer and trust Christ is with them, and someone else has fallen on their knees in prayer and is getting up to bring more light, hope, love, and peace to their part of the world. It’s what we do, it’s what we can do: pray, get up, do the things you can that bring more light, hope, love, and peace. And we trust God that the we don’t carry anything alone, that the church that gathers at this table throughout all of space in time carry and work with us, and we can trust that is enough.


A Prayer of Remembrance

O God, tender and just,

the names of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

cut through our denial

that we are capable of destroying the earth

and all that dwell therein.

Forgive us –

and help us to always remember.

We must remember because this must never happen again.

We must remember because you would have us live

in harmony with each other,

seeing the joy of your creation in our

sisters and brothers.

Holy God, God of all the ages,

lead us from death to life,

to the stockpiling of hope, and of possibilities,

and of love

rather than the stockpiling of weapons, or stones to throw,

or of hate.

We pray for the healing of the earth and of its peoples,

especially for our sisters and brothers

upon whom a nuclear rain poured down.

Help us to imagine that another world is possible

and guide our actions towards the peace

you envision, the peace you have already given us.

In the name of the One who came so that we might have life,

and have it abundantly, we pray.



Written by Rev. Loey Powell