Practicing Resurrection

April 1, 2018

Alleluia! Christ is risen!                                  

Happy Easter everyone, Alleluia! Alleluia!

Today is also April Fools Day, and I wonder if anyone has already experienced a good joke on you? My best one is that fifteen years ago today, I left South Africa for a new job and a new life in Pasadena and the USA. I thought it was for three to five years. I was very aware that it was April Fools Day and hoping that it did not turn out to be some kind of cosmic joke. Perhaps it did, and even so, I am grateful for all that these fifteen years have held, the good, the difficult, the tears and the joy. Alleluia!

This Easter I have found myself fascinated with the resurrection story in the gospel of Mark. On Palm Sunday last week the last words of the passion gospel were this: “Joseph then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.” This week, we hear that when the women went to anoint Jesus’ body, “They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”  When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. Alleluia!

As Mark tells it, even though they knew they would not be able to roll away the very large stone, a major problem, they went anyway, perhaps hoping, trusting there would be a solution. 

When they got there, that problem they had worried about, had already been taken care of! Alleluia! They are told that Jesus has been raised, Alleluia! and has gone to Galilee, and they are to be the messengers to the disciples, with special mention for Peter who was so undone after his denial, as an encouragement to him. 

Jesus had gone ahead of them to Galilee, note, not back to Jerusalem the place of betrayal and torture and death, but Galilee - the place where Jesus had announced the coming kingdom of God, the reign of God, where Jesus called his disciples, healed the sick, preached to the crowds, where Jesus lived out his mission. Resurrection was to be experienced in those places of grace and ministry and mission that pointed to the coming kingdom of justice and peace, wholeness and shalom. Alleluia!

Mark’s gospel records that the women fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing, for they were afraid. The resurrection was so terrifying yet so amazing that they could not speak. I find that somehow reassuringly human and very believable, very real. They were paralyzed by the enormity of it all. Decades afterwards, this is how they remembered it. Thankfully they did not stay silent. They had experienced the risen Jesus in their lives, the spirit and presence of the Jesus they had known and their lives were transformed! Alleluia!

This monumental event changed Jesus’ disciples’ lives forever and exploded the growth of Christianity around the then world, yet it took decades to figure out how to actually write it down. In the next century, there was a section added to Mark’s story, as if the ending in terror, amazement and silence, was not enough. 

Each of the gospel resurrection stories are different, yet they all affirm that Jesus lives, Alleluia! and that God vindicated Jesus. God said no to the powers that executed Jesus and yes to life and goodness overcoming death and evil, Alleluia! 

Now we can debate about the empty tomb and how it got to be empty, and that’s important, but it’s not the most important question.  

I know that many of us want desperately to know and understand this logic defying resurrection that defied the laws of nature. Many decide that it just didn’t happen.  But the Scriptures and sacred texts that tell our Christian story are not textbooks nor accurate, fact checked history books. Instead they tell us the deepest stories of our faith, the deepest truths of what we believe. The importance of this story lies in its meaning and its invitation. Alleluia!

While we do not leave our brains at the door, while we apply our God given minds to the intellectual questions of our faith that perplex us, we do that in tandem with our faith - faith that has enabled people over the centuries and around the world to risk believing in the resurrection and discovering the possibility of transformed lives, and energy to take on the deathly powers to transform intractable situations. Alleluia!

The real question is, What does it all mean? If you believe the tomb was empty, what does it mean? If you believe Jesus lives, what does it mean, and what difference does it make to your life? If you are not sure, or even very sure that the resurrection did not take place, that it’s a truth based on a collective experience of the presence of Jesus, then what does that mean and what will you do about it?

Ultimately, Easter is not about logic. Easter is about risks, it’s about the imagination of faith that believes that the empty tomb means that life can overcome the ashes of destruction and death, in our personal lives and in our collective social and political lives. Alleluia! 

It’s so enormous that we try and find metaphors to help us understand. The caterpillar entering the cocoon and then emerging as a butterfly is one of those. Sometimes a poem expresses truth that helps us understand. A poem by Kim Rosen does this for me:

Do you know how
the caterpillar
turns?

Do you remember
what happens
inside a cocoon?

You liquefy.

There in the thick black
of your self-spun womb,
void as the moon before waxing,

you melt

(as Christ did
for three days 
in the tomb)
conceiving
in impossible darkness
the sheer 
inevitability
of wings.

Another poem, by farmer and poet Wendell Berry, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, describes how we have lost our true values and live in ways that are meaningless long term. The only answer is to be crazy enough to follow God. He writes,  “every day do something that won’t compute. Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing. Take all that you have and be poor. Love someone who does not deserve it … Ask questions that have no answers … Plant sequoias … Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts … ”  He ends with the words that sum it all up: ‘Practice Resurrection.’ Alleluia!

What does it mean to practice resurrection in a world that knows mostly crucifixion, whether it’s the daily news, or in the tears and lives of our loved ones or ourselves?  Michael Usey says, “We must think of new ways to bring the power of Easter to this world, we must act it out daily. We must become conduits of the love and energy of the Almighty God. We are to be everyday reminders to people that death–in all its forms–is not the final word…Death could not hold Jesus; it will not be able to hold us, by God’s grace and power. Alleluia!

Practicing resurrection means living and loving like Jesus. Praying for our enemies, whether corporate like hatemongers or personal like difficult neighbors. Taking up courage to ask another person to talk and clear the deck about a problem between us, creating peace. Offering our money, our time, our possessions with extravagant generosity even when we don’t feel like it. Putting the power of Easter into our daily lives and being transformed! Alleluia!

Teresa of Avila said this: 

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,

If I could, I would add this: Christ has no body now, but yours, with which to practice resurrection. Alleluia!

Rowan Williams says that belief in the risen Jesus is trusting that the generative power of God is active in the human world;  it can be experienced in the present; as transformation and recreation and empowerment; its availability and relevance extends to every human situation. (Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel, p.44)

Every human situation, from the daily and mundane, to the unthinkable. I watched a new movie, The Forgiven, with Forest Whitaker playing Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who goes against the advice of all his colleagues and engages in conversation with an evil, cunning prisoner who has tortured and killed many people. It’s complex and soul searing. At one point the archbishop says, “You can’t change what is over, or where you have been, but you can change where you now go.”

Easter invites us, propels us, to change where we now go, change our ways that lead to death, to practice resurrection. Change is hard, perhaps because like the women at the tomb, we are afraid.  The risen Christ promises transforming love that overcomes fear. Easter is about new beginnings and overcoming our fears of failing or falling – getting up again, rising and trusting once again, that the risen Christ is with us always. Whatever situations we are facing, whether personal or collective, may we rise and trust again, and enter into the new beginnings of Easter in our lives and in our world. Amen. Alleluia! 

 

 

 

 

Whoever you are, wherever you are on your journey of faith, you are welcome here.