Second Sunday of Easter
Sunday, April 7, 2013
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
Those who worked with him knew him as Jo-a-chim. He was born in Kpémé, Togo in West Africa on March 20, 1965. He died on January 30, 2013 in Kahului after collapsing to the floor at a local business.
Because he had no family on island, the management of the resort company where he worked relied on social media to locate his next of kin. It was only within the last several weeks that they were finally able to find a sister, one of eight surviving siblings, living in Minnesota.
I received a call a few weeks ago to lead a memorial service in remembrance and celebration of his life. I did not know Jo-a-chim personally. But before the service began, someone showed me a photograph she had recorded in her cell phone.
He began work in November of last year and within a very short time he managed to touch the lives of those around him. That was evident at the memorial service when many of his co-workers and others whom he had come to know while living in Kīhei came forward to share stories of their relationship with him.
One recalled how he loved to eat. He was a big man, not heavy, but big and he had a big smile. She said she asked his name. He respond and she said, “What kind name that? I just call you Jo.” Someone else noted that Togo had been colonized by the French and so Jo-a-chim’s name should be pronounced with a soft “j” – Joachim.
Another said, “I met him the day he arrived on Maui. He was dressed in a colorful African shirt so I called out to him, ‘Hey, Africa, what are you doing on Maui?’” Jo-a-chim turned and smiled his big smile and they became instant friends.
Someone else recalled an incident at work that could have cost Jo-a-chim his job. There was an argument that ensued with another employee. In the process Jo-a-chim found himself in a confrontation with a co-worker who had become belligerent and aggressive.
His supervisor recalled that given his size and strength, Jo-a-chim could have physically overwhelmed his co-worker. But he chose instead to subdue the other person by just holding him until the situation was diffused.
Whatever else may be said about Jo-a-chim everyone agreed that he was a kind and generous man. At the close of the service those who had gathered at Poʻolenalena began walking towards the shore break. Rose petals, orchids, tuberose, bougainvillea, plumeria, kupukupu, ‘ōhiʻa, and other flowers and ferns were tossed into the water as a final farewell.
I did not know Jo-a-chim personally, but through the stories shared by friends and neighbors, I met a kind and generous man. Each of them bore witness to someone who was quick to lend a helping hand.
As I read through today’s readings from The Book of Acts and The Gospel According to John, it occurred to me again that none us know Jesus in the same way that Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Peter and Thomas knew him. But through them and the stories that have been recorded about the resurrection, we have come to believe and in believing we have life in his name.
Alexander McKelway is a retired Presbyterian minister. He reminds us that “our only hope for life beyond the grave depends on Christ’s victory over death. We do not possess it on our own. This is the message of Easter . . . what ought to be a forthright proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection is often obscured by vain attempts to prove that it really happened.” (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2009, page 366, 368)
No one among us can prove that the resurrection occurred. Nor do I think it is necessary for us to burden ourselves with such an undertaking. It is enough for us to proclaim, not explain, the resurrection of Jesus as the central reality of our Christian faith.
Peter responds to charges that he violated the instructions of the high priest not to teach in Jesus’ name (Acts 4:17-18) by proclaiming that the resurrection occurred. Peter, along with many others, were all witnesses of the Risen Christ. (Acts 5:32) But in succeeding generations, those who knew and saw Jesus first-hand would diminish in number until no one was left who knew him personally.
What remains are the stories that have been passed down to us and through them we have come to believe. Through him we have new life and new hope.
We are no longer a frightened people. Because he lives, we have courage to face life and to face death. We are no longer a lonely people. Because he lives, we can accept ourselves and reach out to others. We are no longer a scattered people. Because he lives, we may come together to worship and to witness in our weakness and our strength to the presence of the Risen Christ amongst us. (Touch Holiness: Resources for Worship, Duck & Tirabassi, The Pilgrim Press, New York, 1990, page 80)
Jo-a-chim’s sister, Akossiwa, was invited to share her thoughts about her brother for the memorial service. She sent an email which read: “Joachim was a gentleman, kind, friendly and hard worker. One thing, however, is that he was also a little introvert and failed to reach out for help when needed. We will never forget him. With his death, we lost one branch of our family tree that nothing can replace it.”
“Joachim was our mother's favorite ... She loved him more than us. Everyone in the family miss him already. It’s hard for us to take that cross. The whole family is still in shock.”
“However, as Christians, we believe that we will see him again. Thank you for all your care. The family back home (in Togo) sends you special thanks. May God bless you. Akossiwa.”
Yes, as Christians, we believe that we will see him again. That is the promise of the resurrection. That is the proclamation we make this day as we gather around this table to share in the eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup - to remember and celebrate the One who gave his life that we may have life. Amen.