Easter 2018

April 1, 2018

Chancel Choir: Ukuthula African Folk Song

Bell Choir: Easter Joy John A. Behnke

All great religions offer humanity parables bigger than themselves. So also here. When Christ, rising from the dead after being executed for nonviolent resistance against violent imperial injustice, grasps the hands of Adam and Eve, he creates a parable of possibility and a metaphor of hope for all of humanity’s redemption.

Even though Christ is crucified for his nonviolent resistance, this Crucifixion and Resurrection imagery challenges our species to redeem our world and save our earth by transcending the escalatory violence we create as a civilization’s normal trajectory. And the universal resurrection imagery makes it clear that we are all involved in this process. Nonviolent resistance is alone capable of saving us from species death by detouring human evolution along a different trajectory from the violent spiral of inevitable self-destruction.
John Dominic Crossan and Sarah Sexton Crossan, Resurrecting Easter, p. 186

On Jesus Rumi
Where Jesus lives, the great-hearted gather.
We are a door that’s never locked.

If you are suffering any kind of pain,
Stay near this door. Open it.

Sara Moores Campbell
In the tomb of the soul, we carry secret yearnings, pains,
frustrations, loneliness, fears, regrets, worries.
In the tomb of the soul, we take refuge from the world and its heaviness.
In the tomb of the soul, we wrap ourselves in the security of darkness.
Sometimes this is a comfort,
sometimes it is an escape.
Sometimes it prepares us for experience.
Sometimes it insulates us from life.
Sometimes this tomb-life gives us time to feel the pain of the world
and reach out to heal others.
Sometimes it numbs us and locks us up with our own concerns.
In this season where light and dark balance the day, we seek balance for ourselves.
Grateful for the darkness that has nourished us, we push away the stone and invite the light to awaken us to the possibilities within us and among us—possibilities for new life in ourselves and in our world.

Mark 16:1-8
And when the Sabbath was over, Mary of Magdala and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices so they could go and anoint him. And very early on Sunday they got to the tomb just as the sun was coming up. And they had been asking themselves, “Who will help us roll the stone away from the opening of the tomb?” then they look up and discover that the stone has been rolled away. (You see the stone was very large.)

And when they went into the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right, wearing a white robe, and they grew apprehensive.

He says to them, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene who was crucified. He was raised, he is not here. Look at the spot where they put him. But go and tell his disciples, including Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

And once they got outside, they ran away from the tomb, because great fear and excitement got the better of them. And they didn’t breathe a word of it to anyone: talk about terrified…

Talk About Terrified

No matter how you look at it, rising up from the dead is a scary thing. Part of me wants to let the dead be. Rousing them up after they have been resting in peace is bound to make them grumpy. Plus it never ends. Raise up the dead one time, the next thing you know it’s a zombie apocalypse. All the dead want to get up and wander around.

It is no wonder that the women run away from that dude in white sitting in the tomb. They went to the tomb early in the morning with spices. They were going to preserve Jesus’s body out of respect, to honor his life, grieve deeply as his violent death has torn apart their lives and their hopes.

As they go to the tomb in the morning, they do have a practical problem. Who will help them roll away the stone that covers the tomb? Apparently, they decide they will figure that out when the time comes. But as they reach the tomb, they realize that the job has been done. The stone has been rolled away already. OK, that’s weird. Someone else got there before them.

When they look inside, there is this guy sitting there. They freak out. The text says it modestly. “They grew apprehensive.” But really they freak out. The guy says, “Don’t be alarmed! Guess what? Jesus, who you thought was dead, is alive! April Fools! Plus, Zombie Jesus got a party started up in Galilee. Go see him and make sure you tell Peter to come along, too. Peter’s been feeling bad for denying Jesus when it got heavy, but it’s all good.”

And Mary and Mary and Salome run away. They say to each other:

“We are not talking about this with anybody.”

Talk about terrified.

The most popular television series in the world has been for the last several years, “The Walking Dead.” The Zombie Apocalypse eight years running. Now “The Game of Thrones” is most popular. And yes, “The Game of Thrones” has zombies, too. Zombies are everywhere, on television, movies, comics. So much so, that a professor from Baylor University, Greg Garrett, wrote a book called The Wisdom of the Zombie Apocalypse.

His basic theory is that zombies, the dead coming alive, is a recurring theme when societies face looming catastrophes and fear. Entertainment featuring zombies is a way in which we deal with these fears. Global warming or climate change, over-population, energy and food shortages, outbreaks of disease, endless war, drones, terrorism, the Deep State, all can be personalized in zombie films.

The zombies enact revenge on the careless human beings who led us to this state of affairs. Since the zombies have no moral conscience or even any self-awareness, their punishment on what is left of the human race is indiscriminate. Bad and good alike can be victims of the walking dead.

It is not coincidental that this story of Jesus rising from the dead in Mark’s gospel, arose after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, burning down the city and demolishing the temple during the Jewish War from 66-70 of the Common Era. Twenty years prior to this event Paul is preaching about an apocalyptic prophet, Jesus, who came back to life. The catastrophe, that is the coming conflict between Rome and Jerusalem was looming then. The Jews were an occupied people. It is to be expected that there would be stories of people rising from the dead, especially those considered to be martyrs, as well as stories of evil spirits with names such as “Legion” the name for a Roman military unit, possessing people.

I am not saying, of course, that Jesus is a zombie.

The genre of the dead coming back to life as Paul predicted in Thessalonians of the dead coming out of their graves and meeting the risen Jesus in the sky pretty well fits the kinds of stories that arise when societies are filled with fear and looming catastrophe as the Baylor Professor shows.

I just uploaded on podcast my interview with Bart Ehrman, a leading scholar of early Christianity. His new book is The Triumph of Christianity. He says that Christianity grew and eventually took over the empire because it was exclusive. If you become Christian you could not be pagan, so it reduced the pagan population as it grew. Also Christianity promised miracles, including life after death. I found his book to be likely accurate and depressing.

For me, and I would likely venture for some others too, that I am a Christian in spite of that stuff not because of it.

What do we do with these stories now?

If you are not particularly keen on miracles and in believing the other supernatural stories, what does Christianity offer?

One way is to understand the stories of Christianity as metaphors for psychological and spiritual liberation. For instance, the beautiful poem we read responsively about the tomb of the soul. What is it that keeps us from being alive to life? Before judging, we should understand that our tombs protect our egos. They comfort. They insulate. But there comes a time when the tomb suffocates. There comes a time to roll away the stone and let the light in and trust that the light of awakening will liberate us.

I find myself often trying to get a handle on my own life in light of the spiritual stories of Christianity. It is a rich 2000 year history of art, music, architecture, myth, and metaphor to which we can link our own life experience. Resources for prayer and meditation, interpersonal relationships, building community, grieving loss, imagining a healthy future, personal ethics and discipleship, I mean libraries have been filled with these resources.

When my newly converted atheist friends equate Christianity with zombies and creationism and views of God that are shallow and dismissive, I get that they need to do that for themselves. There is no question that spiritual abuse including threats of hell has also been a by-product of Christianity. Like my atheist friends, I cannot believe what they cannot believe. But Christianity is a living tradition that has grown far beyond its beginnings. It has remade itself over the centuries and continues to do so. It is constantly being re-visioned.

Southminster is a church that is Christian but doesn’t push or insist. Companions on a spiritual journey is our slogan. Folks here represent a depth and a width of engagement with the Christian stories and the community’s history. For the folks at Southminster, Christianity is not restricted to “believing things.” Mostly it is about about living life.

Back to the topic for today. Rising up from the dead is a scary thing. Waking up is scary. It takes courage to expand our vision.

On the bulletin cover you will find three icons from the eastern church. About a thousand years ago, the west and the east split. The west became Roman Catholic and the east became Orthodox. The east and the west took different paths regarding how to make an image of the central story of Christianity, Easter.

For the West, that includes Protestants, resurrection was all about Jesus. Images of resurrection in iconography have Jesus alone, hovering over the tomb. But in the East, the image is quite different. In the East, Jesus doesn’t rise by himself, but yanks everyone right out of Hades with him.

So there he is he’s dressed, he looks nice. I mean he’s dressed in his Easter clothes. And if you look the left he’s got the guy with the beard and he’s got him by the wrist and on the right a woman in red he has by the wrist. Those folks are Adam and Eve. They represent humankind. Right? The the Mythical First humans. So he’s pulling humanity.

It could end right there. But they’ve got more folks in the picture. On the right side above Eve there’s a guy with a crown. Two people one has a beard and one not. That’s that’s David with the beard and Solomon. Then there is a halo. That’s John the Baptist, I think. He is the first martyr of the New Testament and then above Adam on the other side that’s Abel. He was the first martyr of the Old Testament as his brother killed him. Remember that story?

So the martyrs arise the Kings arise but ultimately it’s humanity itself that Jesus is just yanking he just pulling them right out of there. It is a break out in the tomb. There’s poor old Hades. Jesus is standing on Hades. Hades is just doing his job. You know he’s the jail keeper of the dead. This is not Hell. This is Hades, death. And the locks are broken. Jesus is standing there and he’s just pulling them and pulling them out breaking in and breaking them out.

And that is how the East understood Anastasis. Anastasis means actually literally “up rising.” And if that sounds political it should. It has a political context to it. Up Rising. Raising up those who have been put to death and you notice that Jesus didn’t die because he got old, right? And he didn’t get run over by a horse. He was crucified by the state sanctioned system. He was he was executed and he bears the wounds you can see on his feet the mark where the nails went into his feet.

So the system that put him in the tomb didn’t keep him in the tomb. Break it down. And so a couple of things just about this this icon. It’s universal meaning all humanity all at once. Jesus doesn’t do it by himself. It’s the whole thing happening at once. It has to do with the wounds that put him there. So I interpret that as saying that whatever put him there can’t keep him there.

And what put him there? Well there may be a number of things but one could be escalatory violence. the violence of humankind that increases and increases and increases. And Jesus had a different vision—a vision of nonviolent resistance.

That’s what I want to know from you. What did Jesus stand for? Raise your hand. Let me give you the mic. What do you think?

Voice 1: Jesus stood for our sins.

OK. He stood to save us from our sins didn’t he? Save us from that which separates us from God. Anyone else. What else did Jesus stand for?

Voice 2: All right for me Jesus is the emblem of belonging and community.

OK. Jesus is about belonging and community. Anybody else?

Voice 3: Jesus is about compassion.

Compassion. Thank you.

Voice 4: Inclusiveness.

Inclusiveness. I’m liking it.

Voice 5: He was a love revolutionary.

All right! He’s yanking them out of there. Revolution!

Voice 6: I’ve always seen him as a challenge. He’s called us to do uncomfortable things.

I love it. Inclusiveness. Challenge. Love Revolution. Other thoughts about Jesus means to you, that Jesus stands for? Well that’s pretty good right there. We can go with that. Say again.

Voice 7: Peace.

Peace. There is no reason to be afraid of rising from the dead. No reason to fear the death dealers. Whatever Jesus stood for among all the things we have named and other things, what he stood for in this image is what wins.

You can think of this image as as an advertisement for a movement and that movement is that whatever puts people in death, what Jesus stood for resists that.

Over against the fear mongering. Courage wins.
Over against the lies. Truth wins.
Over against rejection. Acceptance wins.
Over against exclusion. Inclusion wins.
Over against hate. Love wins.
Over again sadness. Joy wins.
Over against violence. Nonviolent resistance wins.

And at the end of the day, I come to you on Easter and say that’s why I’m a Christian.

That’s why today I can say,

He is risen and He is rising indeed. Amen.