MOVING IN THE DIRECTION OF LIFE
Homily for Easter Sunday 2013
There is a story that portrays Jesus moving about in heaven, seeing people coming in, connecting with those who had been around for a while. At one point Jesus looks up and sees a white-haired old man approaching, but looking very sad. Jesus is moved to speak to him so He invites the old man to sit down with him.
Jesus spoke kindly to the old man: “Sir, this is heaven. The sun is shining, you’ve got all you could want to eat, there are good people all around you — you’re supposed to be blissfully happy! Was your life on earth that difficult?
“Well,” said the old man, “you see, I was a carpenter on earth, and lost my only son at an early age. He wasn’t my own but I loved him as though he were really mine. And here in heaven I was hoping more than anything to find him.”
Jesus replied: “Well, there are millions upon millions of people here, and your eyesight seems rather weak; how will you find him?”
“I’ll recognize him by the nail holes in his hands and feet,” says the old man.
Tears sprang from Jesus’ eyes. “Father!” he cried out.
The old man jumped to his feet, also bursting into tears, and said, “PINOCCHIO?”
(It’s an unwritten rule that you’re not supposed to laugh in church – it’s incongruous.)
It’s also an unwritten rule that you’re not supposed to find life in a graveyard. Again, it’s incongruous — inappropriate to the surroundings. And yet the Easter Gospel suggests that it is in a cemetery, with the agents of the religious and political authorities on guard, ready to kill anyone who might have tried to take the body away – it is in that place of death that the women discover life – the life that was about to change everything.
God somehow ordained that it would be women who would be the first witnesses of the Resurrection and bearers of the Good News upon which Christianity would have its foundation. Here is another incongruous aspect: It is the men who are confined to the house and the women who are out exploring the new frontiers of spirituality. The disciples are portrayed as having been immobilized, incarcerated, by their fears, so they huddled behind locked doors, while the women, who had been bold enough to be present at the crucifixion, were also bold enough to go and connect with the Resurrection.
Women trying to communicate with men learn to interpret what certain things mean: “I’m not lost, I know exactly where we are,” actually means, “I’m certain no one will ever see us alive again, but too afraid to show it.”
Move in the direction of life, the Gospel teaches us. God is about life. Part of what the Easter Gospel reveals is that, while we may seek to connect with the Jesus who was, we are met by the Jesus who is – we are met by the Christ of God – Jesus Risen. As Mary discovered, may not be immediately recognizable as the Jesus who was – because the new life is no longer restricted to a single human body, but has been released from those restrictions so that God’s Spirit may be present and available to all people.
The word incongruous can suggest non-conformity – out of step, unusual – not in keeping with the surroundings. To look for the risen Christ in our time is a bit like moving against a cold current of cynicism and doubt. In recent years, Christians have been drawn into the kind of thinking that suggests we can explain the resurrection – not only that, we think we have to. To be a believer in our world can also seem a bit incongruous.
We were walking beside the Coquitlam river a couple of years ago and we heard a child excitedly pointing out the fish “swimming.” She made a comment about how well or how quickly they were swimming. The problem was, they were “swimming” in the wrong direction – and as I looked to see what the child was talking about, I realized that the fish she was talking about were the dead ones, upside down, being carried downstream by the current! Fish swimming upstream are incongruous, and so it is in our spiritual life as well – it is far easier to go with the flow and be a little suspicious and skeptical about matters of faith and spirituality, and not bother seeking or exploring or trying to deal with deep questions. But it may also mean that you’re dead!
“Why do you seek the living among the dead?” The Bible is full of great questions and this is one of my favourites! God is about life, whereas death is just a means to an end, and one of the things which is distinctive about Christianity is the intensity of life which the resurrected Christ inspires. The Resurrection, as an experience, inspires us to be “fully alive” – fully ourselves. The resurrection is not a piece of information or an aspect of doctrine; it is primarily something experienced, something perceived at the level of soul, and it is God’s delight to see us come into the fullness of our being – to become the persons we were created to be.
There was a movie made a few years ago called Death Becomes Her, and that may be true for a lot of people (we all know we are in the midst of a zombie apocalypse). But on this day we want to assert that in Christ, all are made alive – that Resurrection becomes you. Life is what becomes us, not death. To be in Christ means to be moving toward life, and the Gospel for today would ask: Are you moving toward life?
Gradually, the disciples came out from behind the walls – they came out of their hiding places, and, as they journeyed, they realized Christ was with them. As they broke bread together, they realized Christ was in their midst; as they began to tell others about the new creation, they spoke with a new and convincing authority; as they were called in front of the powers that be, they found they were no longer intimidated or afraid; and as they reached out in compassion to people in Christ’s name they realized that they were being empowered to heal and forgive – just as Jesus had taught them.
St. Paul said: “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” The Gospel proclaims that the search for life reveals to us the emptiness of death and the fullness of life. “He is not to be found among the dead; he is risen” The Easter Gospel proclaims the good news that it is possible to relate to Christ in a new way – as St Paul said “even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view,* we know him no longer in that way”.
“We know him no longer in that way.” The ways in which we know something change with time and experience. Many people today no longer know Jesus or things related to the Church or Christianity in general in the way that people of previous generations did, and maybe that ends up being a good thing, because we have been complacent and apathetic for too long and these are signs of death, not life.
There is a huge awakening going on in our time – a bursting out of the tomb of new forms and expressions of spirituality – because resurrection, though it can’t be explained, does seem to find a way to keep happening, and people are turning to various forms of mysticism and meditation and spiritual practices, and are seeking new and just ways of being together in community, because the old ways have died – they have run out of steam – and we need a new infusion of energy – a new spirit of Resurrection – to move into a future that looks like what St Paul described as “the new creation.”
I Googled the word “mystical” and the internet offered up 9,440,000 entries that I might want to look at. I Googled the word “spirituality” and got 144,000,000 sites that have something to do with spirituality. And I Googled the word “God” and got 1,680,000,000 potential sites to explore. It’s out there folks – you can dismissively refer to it as “New Age” but it might be wiser to see it as being quite consistent with the work of the One who will not be confined to a tomb, whether that tomb be a stone cave, a set of doctrines, a deterministic way of thinking, or a church. This is not a radical way of looking at such things – Jesus told the Pharisees, who assumed they were pretty spiritual, that they were like “whitewashed tombs.”
I happen to believe those women were on the right path, even though they were swimming against the current. They came to the place of sorrow and they walked away with a smile on their faces, which is a reminder to us that our faith is meant to bring us to an experience with the risen Lord, into an encounter with Life. Faith and spirituality are not about tending to the memories of a once-upon-a-time nostalgia. Easter is a reminder that the Church is not a tomb but a font, not a museum but a place where the Source of Life is celebrated and encountered. The Church’s key characteristic, it’s defining feature, should be Resurrection. And words like transformation, renewal, re-birth, life, celebration and joy are the words we need to associate with our faith.
I want to close with an Easter greeting from St. John Chrysostom, who was Archbishop of Constantinople ca 400AD. When emissaries of the Czar were sent to find a new and coherent spirituality for the largely pagan Russian peoples, they came to the worship of the Cathedral in Constantinople. When they returned to the Czar, the told him, “We have been in heaven!”
On Easter Day about 1600 years ago, John Chrysostom said: “Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord! First and last alike receive your reward; rich and poor, rejoice together! Sober and slothful, celebrate the day! You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it … Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith. Enjoy all the riches of God’s goodness! Let no one grieve at his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that they have fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Saviour has set us free.”
Christ is risen! Alleluia!
The Rev. Grant Rodgers+
Scripture readings for Easter Day:
Corinthians 15:19-26 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
Luke 24:1-12 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee,
that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.