After Special Gathering chapel service on Sunday morning , James, whose disability is within the autism spectrum, came up to shake my hand. Because it was Resurrection Day, we had abandoned our usual worship format. The chairs were arranged in a circle. We sang,
Celebrate, Jesus, celebrate.
He is risen. He is risen.
Come on and celebrate
The resurrection of our Lord.
I had shared a devotion retelling the amazing story of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Then we dismissed to take part in the pancake breakfast given by the youth department of First United Methodist Church of Melbourne.
It was obvious that James was overwhelmed with emotion this morning. He grabbed my hand, gently pulled me toward him. Then in a clumsy, lovely and awkward way, he kissed me on the cheek. Then he did it again and again and again. Four times James kissed me.
Unless you know James and unless you are familiar with the symptoms of autism, you cannot understand what a gift and miracle those four kisses are for me and for James. In the ten years, I’ve known him, neither his staff nor I can recall anyone that James has kissed.
The autism spectrum is a wide range of symptoms that span a wide variety of anti-social, personality disorders. For James as with many people whose disability is within the spectrum, personal contact is extremely difficult. Yes, they have deep, stirring emotions; but their ability to express those emotions with personal contact can be vastly limited.
When and if they instigate contact with another person, it is fine. However, they can be repulsed and may even be terrified by contact with someone, if they do not initiate the touch.
After James kissed me, he left to join the other members standing in line for pancakes. Erik, a good friend of James’ who had been his staff person in the group home where James lives, came up to me. ”What was that all about?” he asked in a protective and concerned tone.
“He kissed me. Four times, he kissed me on the cheek.”
Immediately, his anxious look turned to a broad smile. ”He did what?”
“He kissed me. Four times,” I held up four fingers, adding emphasis to my claim. ”He kissed me four times on the cheek.”
Erik grinned and turned to other duties. ”I have my resurrection miracle,” I said as he began to turn away.
Again, Erik’ smile overcame his face, as he turned back to me. ”I’ll say you did.”
I remember the day James reached out and touched my extended finger in a sacred, quick touch. A miracle of tender care occurred that morning. Some months later, James came up to me. He took one finger out of his ear, stopped humming for a split second. Then he extended his hand to shake mine. Again, I knew a miracle of love had happened joining James’ heart to mine.
Within the disability Christian community, mighty miracles happen almost every day. They come in the form of a touch, a handshake. But the resurrection miracles often become a kiss on the cheek. Indeed, Jesus has come that we might have life and that life comes in abundant love.