Where Do You See the Risen Christ Today

Bonnell--The Road to Emmaus--low dpi

Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Luke 24: 36 – 48.  Focus on where we see the Risen Christ Today.  Check out the duetWe Walk By Faith featuring Rasaan Bourke & Michael Whitakar.

The post resurrection appearances of Jesus happened at a fish fry on a beach, he appeared to two other disciples on a road to Emmaus, and he appeared to the women in the form of a gardener, an angel, which means messenger and the one thing that all of these appearances have in common is that it was in a human form that the resurrected Christ appeared.

But what’s interesting is that he did not look like the Jesus of Nazareth that they had seen and followed prior to his death and resurrection. This raises the distinct possibility that the post resurrected Jesus still comes to us in human form though not as the same human form every time.

It’s often easy to think that there are no more appearances of the risen Christ today because where do we see weak ordinary people changing society today the way Jesus changed his and the way the disciples changed their society. But if you listen to stories like this one that I want to share with you today you will hopefully see the image of Christ still breaking down the barriers to sin and death that would seek to separate us one from the other.

This is the story of a group of 10 young Irish working class women and one young man who worked in a shop called The Dunnes, a grocery store on Henry Street in Dublin in 1984, who made a difference in the fight against apartheid in South Africa. If you don’t know what apartheid is or was it’s an Afrikaans word meaning “the state of being apart” a system of racial segregation in South Africa enforced through legislation by the National Party government, which ruled South Africa from 1948 to 1994.

I heard this story told by Karen Gearon, one of the 10 Irish women involved in this most amazing story of self-sacrifice for a greater good for a whole nation’s greater good that helped end South Africa’s system of apartheid. If you wish to hear her tell this story you can find it on Public Radio’s program – The Moth.

I invite you to sit back and relax and hear Karen’s story. “I’m 20 years of age. I’m the shop steward at Dunnes Store in Dublin and I received instruction from our union saying that we were no longer to handle South African produce. We knew very little about South Africa. We didn’t know how to spell or pronounce apartheid. But we followed the union’s instructions and informed management that we were going to follow this instruction.

We were immediately put on cash registers. And I remember sitting there with my coworkers looking at each other as this women with two grape fruits came up to the check out line and we prayed that she wasn’t going to come to one of us. But she did. She came to Mary Manning. And Mary Manning refused to handle South African produce and was suspended from her job.

We came out on strike. And that was the 19th of July 1984 at a quarter past 12:00 p.m. on a Thursday and I remember it well that day because that was the day that the Dunne Store went on strike.

As I said, we didn’t know that much about apartheid. We knew it had to do with discrimination but we didn’t know anything about it. And we were on the picket line for a couple of days when a gentleman by the name of Nimrod shows up on the picket line and starts telling what it’s like being black in South Africa. He was black and had lived in South Africa his whole life until 10 years ago when he came to Ireland to escape it.

And he told us what it was like to be black and live under apartheid. You couldn’t sit in the same seat as a white person. You couldn’t use the same toilet. You had to be out of the cities and towns that white people lived in by a certain time. And you had to have a passbook to leave your township. And he described apartheid in the best way I’ve ever heard. He described apartheid as a pint of Guinness. The majority of the people are black and they live on the bottom of the glass just like this pint of Guinness and on top of those black people are the white people just like the foam on a pint of Guinness.

And because of Nimrod that became personal for us. No longer was it a union mandate. We were never ever going to handle South African goods until apartheid was gone and freedom for everyone in South Africa had been achieved.

Our union representative told us we’d be on strike for maybe a couple of weeks. Six months later and living on half of what we used to make we got an invitation from Bishop Desmund Tutu of South Africa saying that he wanted to meet with us in London. He was coming over from America going to Oslo to pick up the Nobel Peace Prize. And he said, “I’d like to meet the Dunne store strikers.”

And I remember being in London and it was the first time we really had any media interest in what we were doing. And then this tiny little man comes over and hugs us and tells the media how proud he is of us. And for somebody like that to say something like that to us just brought us even more passion for what we were doing than we ever had before.

And he told us that what we were doing he was going to go back to South Africa and tell the ordinary workers of South Africa what other ordinary people were doing in other parts of the world on their behalf. So they would know that they are not on their own. There were people who cared enough to do something about Apartheid.

And then on the first anniversary of the strike when we were getting very little support from the government of Ireland, the Irish people or the trade union movement, but we stuck to our guns and Bishop Desmond Tutu asked us to come to South Africa to see for ourselves what apartheid was all about. And we had no money to go to South Africa. Because when we were working we earned about 85 pounds per week and now on strike we were living off of 21 pounds per week.

The union was only able to give us a $1000 pounds but the trip was going to cost us about $8000. So we got everyone who was sympathetic to us to help us by going all over Dublin for one full day to all of the pubs and we raised $7000 pounds in 1985 dollars from ordinary working class people so we could go to South Africa.

The trip was organized and we headed off to Heathrow. Now as Irish and British citizens, all we require to visit South Africa is a current passport and a return airplane ticket. But when we arrived at Heathrow in London, we were informed by British Airways officials that we would not be allowed to board the plane because they had been informed by South African Embassy officials that we now today have to have visas to enter South Africa.

British Airways officials requested us to surrender our boarding passes, and when we refused to do so they threatened to call the police. Finally, after a three-hour delay they allowed us to board the plane.

When we arrived at Johannesburg, we left the plane and found that there was a line of soldiers on each side of the pathway with machine guns and dogs. At the time, we thought that this was the normal procedure; but, in fact, they were there for us. When we joined the line to get our passports checked, we were approached by a British Airways official and asked if we were the group from Dublin. We told him that we were.

We were immediately surrounded by South African security, which accompanied us up six flights of stairs to an unauthorized part of the building. There they detained us for eight hours. During this time, we requested to be allowed to contact our families, to tell them where we were and that we were safe. They refused to let us do so. We also asked to speak to the Irish Consulate and a British Embassy official. The Irish Consulate was refused entry to us, but the British Embassy official was allowed up. He stated that if it was political, he did not want to know. He told a woman who was a British citizen that, in his opinion, we were being treated very well, and if we had been anywhere else we would probably have been thrown in a cell somewhere and left without food or anything. He also informed her that he would contact her family, but said it was not his concern to deal with the other members of the group.

If we had to go to the toilet, we had to have an escort of two South African security women accompanying us and the door to the stall left open in full view of everyone. After approximately five hours, we asked whether we could change our clothes. Before we were allowed to do so, our cases and hand baggage were searched, and all personal letters and diaries were read.

We finally persuaded British Airways officials to contact our families to tell them that we were safe and were being sent home on the next plane. At 6.30 in the evening armed guards finally escorted us back on the plane. The last words that I spoke from the top of the stairs on the plane were: ‘We will be back to South Africa when it is free’. At which point my friend Sandra one of the strikers pushed me into the plane and told me to shut the f up.”

Remember we were only 20. The youngest of the 10 of us was 17 and the oldest was 25. We were young and scared.

When we arrived back in London, and we got off the plane we were met by British security officers who escorted us off the plane and into a room where the world’s press awaited us. They wanted to hear from us what was going on in South Africa. And there was a headline that read – The Most Dangerous People in the World. And that was the Dunne Store strikers. 10 women and one man.

When we got home to Ireland there was a mass picket organized. Now up to that moment there was very little support for the Dunne Store strikers. A lot of people paid lip service to it but very little real support. But on that day, the day we arrived back in Dublin there were 73,000 people on Henry Street joining the picket and you couldn’t walk up or down the street at all because of the number of people supporting the 11 strikers.

So thank you to the South African government for kicking us out.

Then in October of 1985 the most amazing thing happened we were invited to come to New York to address the United Nations. And here we were all of us these store clerks, common people being invited to talk to all the important people in the world. And after I gave my speech the entire chamber stood in applause. It was the first time in their history that the world’s representatives had stood in applause because we were just ordinary everyday people standing up for what was right.

Eventually the government started to take some notice of us. And they brought in a boycott of all South African goods. When we started the strike there were just two anti-apartheid movements in Ireland. By the time the strike ended, which was two years and nine months there were 36 anti-apartheid groups that formed as Dunne Store support groups around the country.

And in 1987 Ireland became the first western democracy to put in a boycott of South African goods. And that was a result of the Dunne Store strikers – 10 women and one man.

Then we all drifted apart and tried to get on with our lives as normal people do. And we were all watching the day that it was announced that Nelson Mandela was being released from prison in South Africa. And each of us watching this on television thought to ourselves. ‘Wow did we ever think we’d see the day.” And then we find out that he’s coming to Ireland and he wants to meet the Dunne Store strikers. This is our hero. This is the symbol of a new South Africa and he wants to come and meet with us.

And when we met him. And he’s a very tall man. I thought, ‘Oh my God. You are the person I’ve always wanted to meet and now you are standing here right in front of me.’ And he shook hands with us and it was totally surreal and he said to us: ‘You are so brave’! And he gave us his medal of bravery. And when he did this. All of the bad feelings, all of the hurt we went through at Dunne’s just totally fell away because he acknowledged what we did.

Years later we got word with the rest of the world that Nelson Mandela had died and we went to the embassy in Ireland to sign the book of condolences and before we left we received a call that we should bring our passports just in case.

And when we arrived all of us who had started this strike were invited to be part of the official delegation to attend President Mandela’s funeral. And when we arrived in South Africa at that same airport now all these years later. All of the Dunne Store strikers were there and South Africa was at last free.

This is but one example of where you will see the risen Christ today.  Amen



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