Year C, Easter
March 31, 2013
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
Hallelujah! Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Hallelujah!
It has been a deep Holy week, no? Thank you to everyone. It, like so many things is no more complicated than showing up.
Sometimes I wish I, we could go through Holy Week without remembering that Easter was coming. I was sitting there on Holy Saturday, the day when Christ is gone, descended to the dead, working on this sermon with Easter basket fixings in my office. Through the darkness of this week, we do know what is coming. No matter what He suffered, we know it was for a reason, that it was not futile, horrible yes, tragic and unfortunate and unconscionable perhaps, but not futile. We, of course, expect the resurrection.
But that was not where Jesus and His disciples were. For them, it was tragically futile. It could not have been worse, actually. All was lost. Jesus was not only the practical and spiritual leader of the group, but He was the Messiah, the anointed one of God, the Son of God, even. They had staked their lives on Him, left their families, acted on faith… Then He was betrayed by one of their own, taken away in the dark of night. His number 1, Peter, denied Him not once, not twice, but three times. And He died. Badly. Condemned by a mob, humiliated, beaten, paraded through the streets and executed horribly by an army of occupation. The apostles were scattered, fleeing North towards Galilee. It was terrible. It could not have been worse. Well, it could not have been worse until even His body was taken, desecrated, probably, right. That must have been her thought. “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him,” said Mary. From where we sit, we know that that is not the end of the story; the friends of Jesus did not know that. They did not know about resurrection.
Resurrection is a complicated idea. It is not just new life springing from old, new life springing from death. Resurrection is not about spring flowers, as fabulous as spring flowers are, a much as spring flowers do arise out of death, depending on your theology of compost. Resurrection is being alive, passing into death, then being alive again. Maybe it is not being alive in the same way, but it is definitely about an individual life that ends and then that same individual life restarting. It is the same life being reignited. That is what happened to Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. He passed through the doors of death and took away the sting of death; through the darkest days the brightest of lights should not, could not, was not extinguished, well, not for long, at least.
The hows and the whys of all of this, the theories and theologies of atonement, we’re not talking about atonement today. I don’t know how or why it took the death of an innocent young man to save us, but it did and we must be grateful. What I am more concerned with is this gift of resurrection.
They were devastated. They were terrified, fleeing, possibly expecting to be pursued. She, Mary, went to take care of the body and even that was gone. But then the angels came, and then another came, one she did not know, one she did not recognize. In most of the appearance stories, Jesus is unrecognizable at first. And then outside the tomb, He called her, “Mary!” He called her by name and she saw Him. “Do not hold onto me…go to my brothers,” He said, “say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” And she did.
Resurrection is complicated. The bodily resurrection, the appearance accounts across the gospels… these are hard to understand from our modern perspective. All I know about resurrection I know in faith. That is the nature of it. The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ happened: I have faith that that it true. What I am less sure of is what form that the resurrected Son of God has taken. Those who knew him best, who knew Joseph and Mary’s son, they didn’t recognize Him a day an a half after he died. How recognizable could the body of Christ be to us thousands of years and more thousands of miles away? Now that is a good question.
I keep finding myself dwelling in the trauma of the disciples. How lost they were, devastated, vanquished by the principalities and powers of empire, of corrupt religion and government, devastated simply by evil. How did resurrection happen there?
This concerns me because the way things are now. We face burgeoning poverty, an economy on life support, wars and rumors of wars, the dysfunctional disaster that is our Congress, salinized soils and desalinizing and acidifying oceans, the driest quarter in history here following the worst droughts in history across this continent last year, not to mention the super-storm that engulfed the East coast and southern Thailand spending last spring under water. Where the disciples faced a relatively microcosmic devastation of their community, we face a macrocosmic devastation of the world. In this condition, how do we recognize resurrection when it happens?
The disciples, they had it bad, don’t get me wrong, Pax Romana was peaceful only for the citizens of Rome, never forget that. Unforgettable suffering occurred under their Imperial sandals, and ecologically, the Mediterranean basin was deforested and deserts encroached, Rome collapsed in part because it outgrew its food-shed. And for the apostles, after the Acts were recorded, everything went from bad to worse. The Zealots pushed their lot with the Romans; and Israel, from the Temple on down ceased to exist as it had in history. Their religion, society, civilization was crushed, scattered; it was the original Diaspora. And this huddled, dysfunctional little group of dissenters, religious and social dissenters who knew that God loved everyone, in particular the least of these; who knew that God so loved the world that God would, could dare to participate in it under terms we can recognize, if not understand; who knew, who learned that death is not the only end of all stories… they held together. They more than held together, they lived joyfully even as the beasts of the coliseum consumed them, they proclaimed the truth of Christ even as the falsehoods of the world retrenched themselves against them; the light of Christ burned in them even as they were martyred on the burning pyres of bigotry and malice. How? Why? What can we, we who face dark days now and ahead, what do we have to learn from our ancestors and how? It is all about resurrection.
The body of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ persists. He lives. We inhabit Him. We are in Him in this very moment. We are that body. The resurrection of Jesus Christ persists in this world in us, the Body of Christ, the community gathered as Christ’s church. Yes, it manifests in our sacramental heart, in the bread and wine that somehow, incomprehensibly change, are mysteriously inhabited God in God’s self. But more importantly, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior’s body, His being was resurrected into forms barely recognizable as Him. That is the Church. The church is as far from perfect as any human community, worse, largely, because we know better, or are supposed to know better. We know better than to hate because of difference, we know better than to judge others, to exclude anyone, to idolize wealth and comfort and human achievement, we know better than to deny truth revealed in the myriad ways truth is revealed in different times and different places than our revelation of truth.
But despite the horror the church has caused, that it causes, the resurrection of Jesus Christ continues in our hearts and minds, in our bodies in this gathering of human beings. How? All I can offer is the smug shrug of an Anglican priest. I don’t know. But the more I lean into the practice of this religion, the practice of Christianity, the more I can imagine what those disciples, what Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of our Lord, the more I can imagine how and why they kept going on; how and why the scattered disciples re-gathered and founded the church. I can understand better how the desolating sacrilege unleashed by the Romans on Israel strengthened the faithful remnant, how suffering tremendous horror at the hands of an Imperial master laid the foundation of the Church on bedrock. Jesus Christ was resurrected with and for his faithful friends and with and for the rest of us. Jesus Christ was resurrected for us in the church and for the whole world. Each time we gather here in the mystery of this hour, each time we gather around the table, gather to serve those who need us, gather to do the work that we have been given to do, each time we do that, the resurrection is remembered, it is reenacted, it happens again. And the harder it gets, the worse off you are, the more you suffer and witness suffering, the more you are broken and witness breaking, the more the darkness encroaches, the brighter the light and life of our resurrected God shines into the world. Life, death, and life again. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. Jesus Christ is the resurrection, and by the grace of God, so are we. Christ is Risen! Halleluiah! AMEN.