Saturday, April 19, 2014
Easter 2014: "I Know that You Are Looking for Jesus Who Was Crucified"
Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, Colossians 3:1-4, Matthew 28:1-10
Welcome to Easter, welcome to the celebration of the resurrection of Our Lord. Members and friends, visitors and seekers, whatever your religion, whatever your belief or unbelief, it’s good that you are here. Easter is a public day, Easter is not church property — it is but our privilege to host the celebration of it for the world.
What brought you here today? Are you like the women in the story? Are you looking for the Jesus who was crucified? You came here to get close to God, you came here for the worship and the celebration, you came here for the music and the prayers, you came for the metaphors and mysteries. Or you came here out of curiosity, or from your desire for faith and hope and love that go beyond the hardness of the world.
The resurrection is a window to the Great Beyond, so that when we speak of Jesus rising from the dead we have to speak of things we do not know the meaning of. Yet some of its meanings are discernible.
It means the vindication of Jesus as the Messiah, in spite of his public failure the Friday before.
It means the affirmation of the long experience of Israel, and the lasting importance of that people for all the rest of us.
It means the victory of goodness over evil in the universe, but from the inside out.
It means that grace is stronger than sin and forgiveness is stronger than guilt.
It means that justice beats injustice, not by force of arms but by the force of love.
It means that life is stronger than death — the life that comes from God.
It means that the promises of God hold true, even at great cost — especially at great cost.
It means that our species Homo sapiens has a strange and blessed future which remains a mystery hidden with Christ in God, and of which we can only catch some glimpses and some intimations. His risen body is the window, the doorway, the gateway, the wardrobe, the wormhole, the conduit into the future of God already impinging on us now.
And yet there is something so primitive and old-fashioned about it, that it centers on the revival of a physical body, which physical body will have an endless life. As if the physical body is so important. Aren’t spiritual things the most important things? Isn’t truth eternal anyway?
But isn’t it so that your physical body is the intersection of all that’s important in your world? Your emotions, your affections, what you love, whom you love, where you sleep, where you dream, where you work, what you do, how you feel, your fears, your griefs, your pain, your exultation? Your body is both spiritual and physical, where what is eternal encounters what is seasonal, where heavenly realities hit the dirt, where good and evil, and holiness and depravity, are jostling each other side by side. Your body is the stage on which the universal drama gets played out. Your body is the seat of your strengths and weaknesses and the vehicle of your enjoyment and your suffering.
So if God loves you, then God loves your body too, and God’s great salvation will include your body. The resurrection of Jesus is an affirmation of the flesh-and-blood existence of humanity. That is a continuity. But as the angel says, he is not here. That is a discontinuity. Easter gives us both.
This is a problem. The resurrection is the hardest doctrine to believe.
Humanism tries to solve it by denying its reality and his divinity. Gnosticism tries to solve it by denying his flesh-and-blood humanity. For both of them it ends up all within your mind.
All four gospels claim that Our Lord arose in flesh-and-blood. You can read in this the promise of some continuity between your bodily existence and your eternal life. But there is discontinuity in how hard it is to pin him down. He comes and goes, he appears and disappears, you can touch him and then you can’t. He presents himself to his disciples but most of the time he’s in absentia. "Jesus, come back, where are you going? Can’t you just stay put, and not go off again?" The great discontinuity is that the angel’s proof of the resurrection to the women is that his body is not there!
So he is real but also beyond us. His risen body is the intersection of time and eternity. He is where we will go but can’t go yet. We have to die first. We have to disconnect. His resurrection life is real in us, but only partially, and mixed with the corruption that remains in us. We live at the intersection of time and eternity as well.
This means something for yourself. It means that your eternal life is not the mere extension of your current life right now, and it’s certainly not the simple immortality of your soul. It’s rather the transformation of your life, the transformation of your body and your soul. It will be you, not by the extension of you, but by an extrapolation from him within the form of your own particulars.
And because of this discontinuity, you cannot see yet what you will be. As our epistle says, your life is hidden with Christ in God, hidden even from yourself. Hidden for safe-keeping. Preserved, protected, guaranteed, and incorruptible even by your failures or your sins or doubts or unbelief. Which is a great relief. You can let go of yourself. You can die to yourself. Do not be afraid.
This also means something for Christian social justice in the world: the continuity of his body tells us that we can share the ethos of humanists and progressives for the greater humanization of the world, and for the progress of liberty, fraternity, and equality. But the discontinuity, as well as the fact that this most perfectly humanitarian person who had ever lived was innocently crucified, is the judgment upon the secular faith in the positive power of humanity to achieve the progress we desire. We can receive it only by our transformation, upon repentance and in our dying to ourselves, in union with the Jesus who was crucified.
But do not be afraid. By raising this particular crucified person from the dead, the Lord of history has raised a banner in time and space against tyranny, injustice, discrimination, disease, poverty, suffering, oppression, greed, and war. That is where God stands, and to that social transformation we bear witness, even in our fear and trembling. So of course the women left the empty tomb in fear and in great joy.
Somebody who’s here today needs to be encouraged. Somebody who’s here today needs to be inspired. Somebody needs to see this vision once again. Somebody needs to be relieved.
Somebody here is trying to be good and noble on your own, and no matter whether that makes you hard and critical or soft and mushy, you need to hear the message that you must look for Jesus who was crucified, and die to yourself and even to your noble aspirations, and do not achieve but receive, and for your goodness you aspire to a life of gratitude and humble generosity.
Somebody here is afraid, afraid of the future of the world and for the children being born today. You need to hear the message that yes, the world is truly self-destructive and is judged by God, but also the promise that God so loves the world, and God has future plans for it, and for its good, and for its healing and its peace.
Somebody here is angry, angry at the failure of love in your life, and you are tested and tempted by the power of hatred and hardness and self-preservation, and you need to hear the message to get you through this temptation, even if sweating drops of blood, and believe that love is costly but love wins.
Somebody here is grieving, grieving at the loss of someone you loved, or for the loss of what you had hoped for, or at the imminence of your own death, and you need to hear the message that death is a boundary which has another side, and that while you are not fully shown the geography of that other side, you can know that there is reconciliation, and satisfaction, and joy and peace.
Somebody here is in pain, or you are sick in body or in soul, and you need to hear the message that God loves your body more than you do, even in its connection to infection and pollution and its susceptibility to aging and decline, and God will take it from you, and give it back to you in some new version, as yet unseen, without spot or wrinkle, and fit for bearing light.
Somebody here today is guilty and feels ashamed, and you need to hear the message that your value and your goodness is securely held by God and not by you, and is preserved by God against your failure and your foolishness and faltering.
Somebody needs permission to believe this mystery. Somebody needs encouragement to believe that the green and yellow metaphors of Easter are backed up in reality, though that reality be hidden from the present in the past and in the future. That reality is opened in the promises and prophecies, and reasoned out in the epistles and enacted in the gospels and emoted in our music.
The love and joy you feel today is passing and partial, but there is reality behind it, more real than all the other incidents and accidents you call reality. Whatever you are looking for today, I invite you to believe the enduring and cosmic reality of the love of God for you.
Copyright © 2014, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.