Sunday, April 08, 2012

....Impossible

Of course, religious liberals will be flummoxed by Easter. 

The day celebrates an event which the rational and reasonable mind knows is impossible to have happened.  The modern mind, and religious liberalism, is, in part, Christianity as touched by the modern, scientific, rational mind. 

So, impossible things, like the dead returning to life, flummox it.

To which, some people respond with “and that’s the point....”  Jesus rising from the dead is impossible, which says that it is a miracle, which proves that everything that was said about Jesus’ divinity is true.  With God, all things are possible.

No one in the early church, it appears, doubted the Resurrection.  By the time Paul writes -- which is the earliest Christian writer there is -- just 20 years after the death and resurrection of the Christ -- we have no trace of a debate about the story of Resurrection was true.

No one can be detected saying -- maybe it was just a metaphor.

We have no record of anyone saying maybe we have the story confused with other resurrection stories of other cultures, or maybe it was a trick and an illusion.

No one said that it was really about the Earth’s rebirth in Spring.

 They all believed it happened.  The angels rolled the stone away and Jesus walked out, blinking into the sunlight of a fine Sunday morning.

On the other hand, one of those French enlightenment philosophers, Voltaire maybe, said that it wouldn’t matter if every person in Paris said that they saw with their own eyes:  he knew that it was not possible for the dead to return to life.

Whether you believe in the historical truth of the resurrection is not crucial to one’s spiritual life.

There  are two stories that come down to us from the Passion of Jesus -- the final week of his life in Jerusalem. 

One is that He was the Son of God who suffered and was crucified for our sins.  By being God, he was the only substitute worthy enough to repay the debt to God that our human sins had incurred.  It was all a divine plan to save us from the inevitable wrath of God.  The fact that Jesus came back for short time after this death does not add to or take away from the work of our salvation done by Jesus.  It was so we might believe.

And the other story is that Jesus was a human being, caught up in a social and political and cultural crisis, who became the scapegoat of a city in crisis, and was executed by the powerful to satisfy the mob, an innocent victim whose death reveals to us the nature of the world that we live in, the myths that support the powers that be, and our own dark urges. 

Again, if Jesus emerged from the dark tomb afterwards does not change the meaning of that story.

Easter tells the story of one of many resurrections. 

Remember that there is the resurrection of Lazarus, recounted in John.

And then the resurrection of today, the Easter Resurrection.

And then there is revelation of the Holy Spirit, as the spirit of the resurrected Christ, which is still with us.  That resurrection is often seen as the meaning of the Pentecost story.

But here is another version of the same story: According to the gospel of John, Jesus promises his disciples that even though He (Jesus) will be going away, going to the Father, the Father will send another to be with them forever.  The one who comes next is the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of Truth.  The Greek word is Paraclete, which also means Advocate, the defense attorney of the accused.  So Easter foreshadows the arrival of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit of Truth.

Satan is, according to one strand of the Bible, the accuser.  Remember that in the book of Job, Satan initiates all the calamities that befall Job when he accuses him of being not really so righteous.  He is righteous, says Satan, because he has gotten everything he wants.  Job is, according to Satan and to use the language of today, living with great privilege, and so he can afford to be righteous.  Take it all away, says Satan the accuser, and see if he is still so devout.

Accusation and Defense.  How much of the life together is the endless repetition of accusation and defense and counter-accusation and counter-defense?  And oh, how tempting it is to see it that interplay as morally equivalent, the actions of players who change sides, like a sports team that sometimes plays offense and sometimes plays defense, like a baseball team.

But the spirit that comes after Jesus is not the spirit of forgiveness, according to John.  It is not the spirit of neutrality, nor the spirit of the above the fray. It is not the spirit of split the difference.  It is not the spirit of centrism or bipartisanship.

It is not the spirit that there is no truth.

It is the spirit of truth. 

 Jesus calls Satan the father of lies, and he says that the truth will set us free.

What are the lies that Satan tells in this world.  It is the lie of the false accusation.  Not just any accusation, but the false accusation.  After all, Jesus made many accusations -- he accused his critics of hypocrisy and narrowness and placing religious ritual and regulations between people and God. 

No, the lies of Satan are the false accusations that justify many of the social oppressions that we see today:  that whole groups of people are depraved; that gays and lesbians lead lives consumed by lust; that the poor are stealing from us (!!!) ; that traitors walk among us. 

The oppressors demonize their victims; to humanize those who have been demonized is the work of the Holy Spirit.  

Demonization vs. Humanization.

These broad and general accusations should not be met with counter-accusations, but must be met with the truth.  Even though the truth is hard to know, and everyone is sincere and is trying to do the best they can.  Sometimes, the truth offends.  And sometimes, we ourselves don’t know the truth in full, and we will need to be corrected.

The spirit of truth is an advocate and a defender, not the final judge. The Spirit of Truth takes the side of the falsely accused, the single victim, the scapegoat, the powerless.

The Christian church has often been called the Body of Christ -- the resurrected Christ existing in ordinary space and time -- it is people inspired by the Holy Spirit to carry on the work of Jesus.  And, I believe, that the body of Christ, the resurrected Jesus, is not confined to buildings with steeples and pews, or even people who call themselves Christian, or have even ever heard of this story.  It is those who do the work of his ministry: to feed the hungry, to heal the sick, to bind up the brokenhearted, to bring a garland instead of ashes to all who those mourn, and to humanize those who have been demonized.

And one part of that work is to defend the accused.  At the very most personal and individual level, the church defends that single, lonely isolated person that carries within him or herself, and yourself, the accusation that you are not good enough for God to care about -- that you have fallen so low that you have no chance for God’s grace. 

And we defend the sinner, you and me, against the accusation that there is no second chance, or third chance or any chance at all.

And we defend all those who face discrimination and oppression against the countless accusations made against them that they deserve what is coming to them.

And we defend the poor against the accusations of the rich.  And on and on.

The Holy Spirit is the spirit of truth and it stands against the powers and principalities of this world.  That this spirit of truth and concern for the victim is at work in the world is a sign of the resurrection of the first Easter.

But what of this resurrection of the body -- Jesus defeated death.

Is this not the one great and wild hope of humanity?  Cannot we call it just that? 

An wonderful expression of our wild hope that Death, that implacable angel who haunts our every dream and whose cold shadow stunts our every hope, that tall angel who carries off everyone we love, fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, friends and lovers, sons and daughters will not ultimately prevail. 

 Easter morning is a sign that Death has not the final word and that all of this, all of this, everything does not ultimately dissolve into nothingness and futility. 

Oh, it is hard to believe, it is so hard to believe, but before you can believe, first you must love the possibility that it could be true. 

Easter expresses the tenderest hope of humankind -- that death might be evaded and overcome.  Not because any of us really want to live forever  -- I don't know anyone who wants to live forever, but because we yearn to be reunited again, with a few special people we have loved and lost, even for a shortest of times. 

Perhaps like Jesus for a few weeks in Galilee.
   
Easter carries the dream that every sad thing might come untrue.

Or as Revelation says: No more death, no more mourning, tears wiped from every eye -- that sadness and sorrow are a part of a universe, an old Universe, that is passing away.

So, let us this Easter have a heart, and view ourselves, and the rest of humanity with some compassion. 

Blessed with life, and cursed with the knowledge of death, blessed with love and burdened by loss and grief: suffering and frightened humanity nurtures this wild, crazy, joyous hope of death overcome, of impossible resurrection, of heaven’s bright fields, and golden streets, of harps and robes and gossamer wings. 

O you, who think you know better, please be kind.

Turn the power of your truth-telling not against these small hopes, but instead against the false accusations that empower the mighty. 

Spare the impossible hopes that sustain us in our grief. 

For someday, you may need the balm of impossible hope yourself.



1 comment:

RevJo said...

Thank you for this sermon. Very much.