Saturday, March 26, 2016
March 27, Easter Sunday 2016: Glimpsing a Whole New World
The Empty Tomb, by Virgilio Tojetti, in the Sanctuary at Old First
Isaiah 65:17-25, 1 Corinthians 15:19-26, Luke 24:1-12
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
On this most glorious day of days, would you allow me to start off on the wrong foot, and speak of Donald Trump . . . and Bernie Sanders? The pundits have noted their common appeal in being anti-institutional. But to my mind their more powerful appeal is that they are the visionaries in this campaign.
Sanders offers a vision of society, a society of equality and equity and social justice.
What Donald Trump offers is a vision of himself, an Übermensch, a man who is powerful and totally free, free from policy, free from veracity, free from consistency, and free from courtesy and decency—in his freedom is his consistency.
Both of them are visionaries. That the two of them have dominated the debates in this campaign tells you how important vision is to us as human beings.
Other animals might well have visions. We know they do have dreams. But human beings are the visionary animals. We humans live our lives ahead of where we are, we are the animals with far-away eyes, we gaze into the future in order to live today. We are the animals who convert our visions into reality, and we do this by our creativity, artistry, invention, and culture. We are those animals who change the world, for better and for worse. People without vision perish.
The mother of vision is imagination. Allow me to shift here. Imagination, for human beings, is a matter of life and death, especially for children. I may tell you that nurturing the imaginations of our children is a governing value of our wonderful Sunday School teachers here at Old First.
Just last Sunday, the primary class was studying the resurrection, and the kids were invited to respond to it by coloring the wings of butterflies. One eight-year-old covered his butterfly with mathematical equations and math problems with answers. The teacher asked him about it, and he said that the resurrection is both the question and the answer! Creative imagination expressing remarkable insight.
It’s true. The resurrection of Jesus is an answer that poses its own new questions. It answers questions no one thought to ask, and it does not answer questions you might have. It was certainly not the answer his disciples were expecting. His bodily resurrection was of no use to them. It was not in their apparent interest and it did not solve the problems they were looking at. If they were expecting him to rise again, or even hoped for it, they would have kept vigil at the tomb, or at least believed the women who told them it had happened.
So it isn’t merely a case of man-splaining that Peter went to check it out. He had to go see this thing which had come pass but made no sense, he had to face this great surprise, and if only from what it left behind, he tried to catch a glimpse of it.
I think of Galileo peering through his primitive telescope and seeing the moons of Jupiter, and extrapolating therefrom a whole new cosmology of the universe. He looked through a lens with an aperture of less than an inch, and in that glimpse he imagined the world in a whole new way. He had been looking through his telescope for answers to questions he had. His questions were regarded as illegitimate by everybody else, but by now we’ve all accepted his questions and his answers.
As often in science it goes the other way. We recently got all those photographs of Pluto, full of absolute surprises, and astronomers suddenly had answers they did not know the questions for!
And then, in the case of quantum physics, you can only discern the existence of an elementary particle from its tracks, from what it leaves behind! The scientist has to work out the implications of its absence, and for that she must employ her imagination, no less than our eight-year-old Sunday School student. No less than Peter would have to do in the weeks and months and years after his visit to the empty tomb. He and the other apostles would have to imagine the reality of a whole new heaven and earth on the basis of its tracks inside this old one, on that resurrection morning.
The women got a better glimpse of it than Peter did. They were at the tomb much earlier, and they got to see and even converse with those two mysterious men in dazzling clothes. In Luke’s account they are not angels—they are human beings, earthlings, but of the new earth.
They are people from the future, from the other side of death, they are already-resurrected human beings, they are citizens of the kingdom of God as that kingdom is unmixed, unsullied, fully come on earth, untainted, no longer only partial and passing, no longer compromised by death. The women get to see it. And in those two dazzling humans they glimpse what they will be themselves, on the other side of death. A glimpse of a reality though still a mystery.
Easter offers you no proof; what it offers is an invitation. Easter invites you to be a Galileo of your own, Easter invites you to extrapolate from your glimpses in order to envision your whole world differently, already, in these centuries of overlap between the dying of the old world and the springing of the new. To make your reality out of your visions is natural to you as a human being, and so by your creativity, or your artistry, your invention, and by your culture you will change the world toward what you see. The message of Easter is an invitation to your part in its transformation.
Of course it’s not only your glimpses that you do this from. You also factor in the images and stories of the Bible. It’s always difficult to know when they’re meant to be literal or not, and very often they are not literal. Like in Isaiah, the wolf and the lamb living in peace, and the lion eating straw like an ox. A lion doesn’t have the teeth for it, nor the multiple stomachs. But still you get the point. You can easily imagine life within the city that Isaiah envisions. And you can even imagine the vision of First Corinthians, of life in a world where death is destroyed, although that is more difficult when you try to imagine that life as embodied, as physical, as cultural—but you can.
Yes, these visions leave us with questions, because the resurrection is an answer that raises its own questions. But these are good questions, questions to make you reconsider all the dominant opinions in the world right now, about power and success and how to ensure your future. These visions question the reigning political and economic certainties that do not solve but only exacerbate the misery and violence and planetary destruction of our global dance with death today.
You envision a society which is described by the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and in his positive interpretations of the Torah and the prophets. He said “blessed are the poor and blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” But weren’t we hoping instead that everybody would be rich, equally rich, and everybody could be proud and stand up for themselves? Well, how about if everyone were equally poor, but as poor as birds, as poor as elephants, as poor as whales, and just as satisfied with life. Imagine yourself as meek as an oak tree, and just as selfless and as strong. You can envision such a society, and you can fashion signs and specimens of it.
You will have company with your visions, and not only among Christians (and maybe not all Christians!), but also among other believers and even among humanists. But if your vision is through the telescope of Our Lord’s resurrection, then you’ll envision a society of praise and worship. You will want to offer praise, praise without self-consciousness, and that may challenge your imagination. You will need some converting fully to enjoy that life. But isn’t that what you want anyway, some transformation?
You are invited to a vision of the world, a vision of society, and finally to a vision of yourself. As free! But not as free from policy, veracity, consistency, courtesy and decency, rather free from death, because you’re on the other side of death. Frankly I don’t know what that all means, to be free from death, I have so many questions still unanswered, but I believe it, because I believe in him.
So I invite you to envision your soul and body free from death. I invite you to transform your own life now so that, despite that you must still die, you live your life as free from the power and shadow and curse of death, free from the shadow of shame and guilt, free from payback and revenge, free from the binding of fear, especially the fear of other people and their judgment.
Don’t worry about coloring your butterfly outside the lines, because of the reconciliation of the cross, which is the guarantee that your death is not your end nor are your mistakes or your fumbles your binding chains. The crucified one is the one who is resurrected, and you too, dying one, so there is your comfort and your freedom too. Freedom is the fruit of love, and comfort is its flower, and new life is the root of love. So, finally, what we glimpse today is the love of God, and we only begin to imagine how vast and expansive is the love of God for the world, and the love of God for you.
Copyright © 2016, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.