Archive for April, 2021

Easter 3B, 2021
Luke 24: 36b-48

Life Matters More in The Afterglow of Easter

As you already know this year the gospel story emphasis is on the storyteller we call Mark.
But if you do just a brief skim of the set gospel readings since Lent, there has only been four of Mark’s stories selected. And it seems there won’t be any more until we move into the season After Pentecost. That’s four stories out of a possible 16! When we wonder why this might be we hear that it is because Mark’s stories don’t add up to much – volume wise. Mark’s gospel is so short that we need to supplement his stories with the stories of others, to fill up the whole year. The problem is that one in four is not a supplement.  It is take-over! And the other is that the importance of Mark is that it is the shortest and thus the one most likely to be the most accurate in its portrayal of the man Jesus. So for me it is important to not give up on Mark’s Easter too soon.

First of all the storyteller we call Mark has the earliest Easter story in the whole of the New Testament. It is thought to have been written close to the time of the Temple destruction so its backdrop would have been all the turmoil of a Jerusalem losing its status as a Hebrew centre and a religious one to boot. For many of Jesus’ followers and this might have been less than 10,000 this was and is really a surprising story. The first surprise is: Mark’s story is so brief.  Eight verses to be exact. If we compare this with the other gospel storytellers: Matthew’s story has 20 verses, John’s story has 56 verses, while Luke’s story has 53 verses. It is amazing because it was so brief when most important stories were much larger.

The second surprise is: Mark does not have any so-called ‘appearance’ stories. This is a very significant g thing to remember when we come to the other gospels. All the appearance stories are found in the other, much later, gospel accounts thus they are likely to be additions and creations of the movement rather than being present at the time of Mark. What Mark does have is the indication that the disciples will see/experience/be aware of, Jesus in Galilee.

And the third surprise is: Mark’s Easter story ends very abruptly. The women fled from the tomb. “They didn’t breathe a word of it to anyone: talk about terrified…” (Mark 16:8 Scholars Version). Such a surprise and puzzling ending was deemed “unsatisfactory as early as the second century, when a longer ending was added to Mark (16:9-20)” (Borg & Crossan 2006:196).

It is on to this story, Mark’s story, that the other storytellers – Matthew and John and Luke – expanded and changed. Indeed; each storyteller has his own collection of different stories. Matthew’s stories are set in the garden and in Galilee. Luke’s stories are centred on Jerusalem combined with a commissioning – our gospel story today. John’s stories combine garden and Jerusalem.

It seems that even given the propensity for interpretation a storyteller did not expect his or her local audience to pick up the other storyteller’s text and ‘fill in the gaps’, so to speak. Neither are all the stories easily reconcilable. Of them perhaps this is all that can be said: “(They) are the product of the experience and reflection of Jesus’ followers in the days, months, years, and decades after his death” (Borg & Crossan 2006:198).

Today in the church calendar is known as Easter 3, we are “still in the shadow, or afterglow, of the resurrection at Easter” (Rick Marshall P&F web site 2006). So, what can we say of all this?  Perhaps these claims.

The first is that Jesus lives and we need to remember here that resurrection is not about an individual return to life. Resurrection in the traditions of the time are universal and mass return oriented. It is a resurrection of all at a future date and time. Here the significance is that Jesus is not among the dead, but among the living. His spirit “was still coursing through their veins” (Patterson 2004:4). We have a timelessness of Jesus similar to that of the Passover meal. The meal is not a remembrance of, not a ceremonial re-enactment but an actual reliving of the history of liberation. Palm Sunday comes in here too and becomes a political social and economic threat. Is it any wonder Pilate felt he had to control the people?

The second is that God has vindicated Jesus. God has said ‘yes’ to Jesus and ‘no’ to the powers who executed him. Stephen Patterson has what could be an important comment here:  He says: “The followers of Jesus did not believe in him because of the resurrection.  They believed in the resurrection because they first believed in him and in the spiritual life he unleashed among them” (Patterson 2004:121). Again the shortness of Mark is important in its omission of the resurrection. True, his death mattered to them.  But only because his life mattered more…

So they began to speak of his death in ways that affirmed his life. And they came to see he stood for something so important he was willing to give his life for it (Patterson 2004:127). Here we have a significant inclusion in who this man is. He is the Messiah Judaism is waiting for and in fact it is God’s realm that was his passion or vision of life. A new life focused not on their plight, not on social and military control and power over but rather something called the empire of God where an alternative approach to life is possible.  And it is significant that Jesus followers were a diverse group of people who came to reaffirm their own commitment to the values and vision stamped into his life
by his words and deeds. They believed that “in his words were God’s words” (Patterson 2004:127).

And we also remember here that Jesus’ vision of a new empire was cultivated by him among them long before he died, It has been proven that no executioner could kill this vision. Likewise, when we believe in this vision of a possible new empire or realm, we too can reaffirm our commitment to the values and vision, and a ‘resurrection’ invitation,
to live life deeply and generously.

We agree to be embraced by life, not scared of it. In all its particularity.  Because life cannot remain visionary! It must be concretely practiced. And for our gospel storyteller this morning, Luke, “to fulfil the hope of the resurrection is to tell the story of Jesus.  That means telling what he did, how he was rejected and then vindicated; and it is at the same time to live it by the power of the same Spirit, by doing good and bringing liberation for all” as William Loader reminds us. (WLoader web site, 2003).

The ‘truth’ of the resurrection stories are not about their historical facuality. Their ‘truth is rooted in the Source of Life we name as God, and which lives on for us and through us and among us, today.

I wonder if we are on the cusp of something today when many churches are facing closure and it seems that what we call religion and Christianity is on the wane and fewer people are joining the church or even coming to what we call worship. To whom do we tell the story of Jesus? Is the way we tell it the way to go? How do we tell it to people who have never heard of it? In this day and age when sacrifice is just life and saviour’s don’t exist and sin is an antiquated concept. How do we as Church people of old become participants rather than spectators remaining on the sidelines?

We still believe that Church places such as this place are important in our religious world so why don’t others recognize this? Church places such as this provide a valuable counterpoint to current and prevailing points of view. So why don’t more people want to share in that.

So, perhaps in the spirit of what Jesus was passionate about, and in the spirit of the wider Easter stories by several storytellers, we might need to again be captivated by the vision of a new world. And this vision seems to have some contextual nuances to it in that the God we envisage is not a God who sits outside of creation and manipulates it. What seems to stand out is that for us today the Jesus story is an invitation into a way of life which was reflected in his own’ own life – in his words and deeds. Before the movement or the church began to grow. Marks time at least where Jesus says that “God is supremely within reach. God or that which we call God is at hand, as Jesus said God’s realm, God’s way, Gods’ world is in our hands “Perhaps this is why God might prefer a good atheist
to a wicked believer” (Benedikt 2007:13). What if the secular and the sacred are the same thing? What is Jesus vision in todays context?

Notes:
Benedikt, M. 2007. God is the Good we Do. Theology of Theopraxy. New York. Bottino Books.
Borg, M. J. & J. D. Crossan. 2006. The Last Week. A day-by-day account of Jesus’s final week in Jerusalem.The Five Gospels. The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus New York. HarperSanFrancisco.
Funk, R. W. & R. W. Hoover. 1993. . New York. MacMillan Press.
Patterson, S. J. 2004. Beyond the Passion: Rethinking the Death and Life of Jesus. Minniapolis. Fortress Press.

rexae74@gmail.com

Afraid of Death or Terrified of Life?

What the ancients new about story telling long before the advent of written text was the importance of metaphor and painting pictures with words. The Bible is filled with poetry and metaphor and I think it is because it is far more accurate that text. Text requires greater interpretation and communication elements that a picture that goes straight to the heart. I like the idea also of going to nature for some of the best word pictures and I want to try that today.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning writes of a rose that helps me place the death of Jesus into a context of loving adoration and the loss of one’s hero, saviour and mentor. The sense of value of Jesus and the loss at his execution is awakened.

A Dead Rose by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

O Rose! who dares to name thee?
No longer roseate now, nor soft, nor sweet;
But pale, and hard, and dry, as stubble-wheat,—
Kept seven years in a drawer—thy titles shame thee.

The breeze that used to blow thee
Between the hedgerow thorns, and take away
An odour up the lane to last all day,—
If breathing now,—unsweetened would forego thee.

The sun that used to smite thee,
And mix his glory in thy gorgeous urn,
Till beam appeared to bloom, and flower to burn,—
If shining now,—with not a hue would light thee.

The dew that used to wet thee,
And, white first, grow incarnadined, because
It lay upon thee where the crimson was,—
If dropping now,—would darken where it met thee.

The fly that lit upon thee,
To stretch the tendrils of its tiny feet,
Along thy leaf’s pure edges, after heat,—
If lighting now,—would coldly overrun thee.

The bee that once did suck thee,
And build thy perfumed ambers up his hive,
And swoon in thee for joy, till scarce alive,—
If passing now,—would blindly overlook thee.

The heart doth recognise thee,
Alone, alone! The heart doth smell thee sweet,
Doth view thee fair, doth judge thee most complete,—
Though seeing now those changes that disguise thee.

Yes, and the heart doth owe thee
More love, dead rose! than to such roses bold
As Julia wears at dances, smiling cold!—
Lie still upon this heart—which breaks below thee!

Amen.

We arrive today at the brink of; ”It is finished”

It is the evening of the first day of the week, and the doors are closed. Locked.

The anxious and fearful disciples are shut tightly inside.
The suspicious world is shut tightly outside.

The fear of loss and isolation and confusion is palpable

What next? What are we to do now? Will it happen to us next?

Fear is a very powerful thing in our lives. It prompts us to seek protection in times of very real danger. It motivates us into needed changes and surprising adventures.
It serves as a constant reminder that we are fragile, limited, human. On the other side of these impulses, we know fear also prompts us to ‘close the doors of our lives’ from the mystery and wonder of the unknown and run into places of isolated hiding. Very few emotions are stronger than fear.

Then, all of a sudden, defying locked doors,
locked hearts,
locked vision…
A dead faith is re-created.  A dead hope is born again.

Remember the collection of traditional Easter stories… Empty tomb.  Grave clothes.  A voice in the garden.  Doors closed for fear. We can’t help wondering whether Jesus’ followers, then, were afraid of death or terrified of life!

Leonardo Boff, a liberation theologian from Brazil, helps us understand why resurrection life is the wonderful and terrifying thing that it is. In one of his articles he says: ‘Wherever, in mortal life, goodness triumphs over the instincts of hatred, wherever one heart opens to another, wherever a righteous attitude is built and room is created for God, there the Resurrection has begun’.

And retired Melbourne Uniting Church minister, Dr Francis Macnab, offers this Easter prayer: “

God, on this Easter morning, help us to say
Yes to life,
Yes to a new beginning,
Yes to the presence that gives us courage
for whatever is ahead of us.” (Macnab 1996: 75)

And as if responding to Macnab’s prayer, English philosopher and founder of Sea of Faith, Don Cupitt, writes: “We should say ‘Yes’ to life in all its contingency because it is the accidentalness of life that makes happy accidents possible, and that makes innovation and creativity possible.  We wouldn’t wish the self-replication of DNA always to proceed with precise accuracy, because without all the slippage and the accidents there would not have occurred the favourable mutations on which evolution depends – and so it is also in the realm of… personal life.” (Cupitt 2003: 16-17)

I wrote a poem that attempts to highlight how fear and doubt have been too corruptive of the human spirit.

A Prisoner Of Doubt

This prisoner is not bound by bars of steel,
but the barriers to freedom, remain just as real.
There is no judge that can free one on bail,
and no able lawyer that can keep one from jail.
It started so simply, just a concern here and there,
or maybe a bad memory, that grew in thin air.


One started to repeat, things already said,
offering faint clues as to the negative ahead.
One slowly grows worse, as the stories flash by
One knows something is wrong, but not what, nor why.
To try to go anywhere becomes such a task,
for over and over, the same questions I’d ask.


Then comes the times when how and why become true,
I beg: “Please help me!” and weep a world of blue.
Now’s the time doubt becomes the bus,
and every day is a dilemma to be had and such a big fuss.

The answers we give seem like assurances no one can receive.
Slowly, but surely, the doubting shuts doors we believe.

Now we can see, the beginning of the end.
What is this illness, with no hope to be found?
Doubt as a prisoner of fear

Has no place in a faith that is dear

Doubt as an opportunity to be without fear is connection

A blessing of hope and resurrection.


In the face of this we can’t help wondering sometimes whether Jesus’ followers, now,
are afraid of death or terrified of life! Resurrection begins when we accept the call to open closed doors and leave our places of hiding.

Some time ago Rex Hunt told the story of the boy who found the body of a dead man washed up on the edge of a seaside Brazilian village. In that village it was the custom for the women to prepare the dead for burial, so the women began to clean the body in preparation for the funeral. As they did, the women began to talk and ponder about the dead stranger. He was tall… and would have had to duck his head to enter their houses.
His voice… was it like a whisper or like thunder. His hands… they were big.  Did they play with children or sail the seas or know how to caress and embrace a woman’s body.

The women laughed” and were surprised as they realised that the funeral had become resurrection: a moment in their flesh, dreams, long believed to be dead, returning… their bodies alive again.”  (Alves 1990: 23)

The husbands, waiting outside, and watching what was happening, became jealous of the drowned man as they realised he had power which they did not have. And they thought about the dreams they had never had… Resurrection begins when we accept the call to open closed doors and leave our places of hiding.

Which, I guess, brings us back to what I reckon is the central focus of all of John’s writings: 
Life! Hopeful life! Abundant life!

John’s celebration of the Easter message points to life as its message. Before and after Easter it is still life. Indeed, in John’s story, Easter it seems, coincides with Pentecost.
The post-Easter Jesus appears, breathes, sends and commissions – all in one burst of ‘holy energy’. The change is, now there are new bearers of that life.

The Spirit given without measure to Jesus (to use traditional language), now operates without measure among the disciples and makes Jesus’ presence real to them. So they came to reaffirm their own commitment to the values and vision stamped into his life
by his words and deeds.

The good news of Easter according to storyteller John, is not just the final scene as it is in fairy tales that say everyone ‘lives happily ever after’. It is good news in the sense that the unexpected, the unforeseen, the serendipyous and the ambiguous. The death on the cross is not about taking away human sin but rather calling us to a new understanding of vulnerability, of ambiguity of uncertainty of doubt as times of resurrection, times of new direction, new life, a new heaven and a new earth, not in death but in life.

Easter is the beginning of an open-ended future. Or as Michael Benedikt says in another of his meditations: “God is practiced, like dance, like music, like kindness, like love… theopraxy.” (Benedikt 2007:4)

Resurrection begins when we accept the call to open closed doors and leave our places of hiding. See doubt as a door to peace and understanding and new life. Amen.

Notes:
Alves, R. The Poet, the Warrior, the Prophet. London. SCM Press/Trinity Press, 1990.
Benedikt, M. God is the Good We Do. Theology of Theopraxy. New York. Bottino Books, 2007.
Cupitt, D. Life, Life. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2003.
Macnab, F.  Hope: The Deeper Longings of the Mind and Heart. Richmond. Spectrum Publications, 1996.

rexae74@gmail.com

Resurrection as Healing and Humour’

Easter Day – today – is regarded as the most important day in the liturgical life of the church. Theologically speaking, Christmas doesn’t hold a candle to Easter. It is the day in which we celebrate the mystery of resurrection. Notice that.  I said ‘mystery’ of resurrection, not the ‘fact’ of resurrection (JShuck. Shuck&Jive blog, 2007).

My recent reading of the world views of millennials and people of the future, we modern folks like facts. Did this happen? Did this not happen? What are the facts? But as the reading has pointed out, correctly I think, the problem with religious symbols such as resurrection is, they are not fact-friendly (JShuck. Shuck&Jive blog, 2007)

So; this day, as part of the ‘mystery’ of resurrection, we celebrate life over death. This day we celebrate the moments of life that make up the span of our lives. This day we celebrate changed possibilities. The serendipitous moments, the creative moments. And we give thanks for the Spirit of Life visible in Jesus of Nazareth, visible in each one of us, visible in people in all walks of life… As we celebrate, we also acknowledge that all we have, are the stories, shaped and reshaped and told orally, by people of faith from generation to generation. No logical, scientific proof of a ‘bodily’ resurrection. No videotape of an empty tomb. No seismograph of an Easter earthquake.  Just the stories. But significant stories of life, hope, promise and revelation.

The stories tell us that in the midst of brokenness, healing stirs. That in the midst of darkness, a light, shines. That in the midst of death, life is breaking forth. That when all seems gone, hope springs eternal. We are convinced that, Jesus’ death mattered to all those early storytellers. But only because his life mattered more. So, they spoke of his death in ways that affirmed his life. And to be embraced by life, not scared of it. This is the invitation to us all today. The ‘resurrection’ invitation today is similar: be embraced by life, not scared of it? Then there is this suggestion that talks about what this might look like. These stories have a touch of humour.

David Henson writes: “[Jesus] is no longer doing miracles for the masses. He’s no longer directly confronting the Powers that Be. He’s no longer teaching in synagogues, or leading a movement, or marching on Jerusalem. He’s just doing a few simple things, slowly: gardening, walking, eating, laundry, and cooking.

“The first thing he does is to fold up the shroud neatly and to take care with his linen grave clothes… And then, in the final verses of the final chapter in [John’s] gospel we realize that Jesus, for all his talk of feeding, for all his multiplication of loaves and fish, for all the times he feasted with sinners, tax collectors, and Pharisees, has apparently never cooked a meal of his own, at least not one worth remembering, until he’s resurrected.

“Meals feature so heavily throughout the gospels. Jesus presided over many feasts and meals. But he apparently didn’t take the time to cook them himself. He certainly took the time to criticize those like Martha who did spend so much time cooking, but we never see him actually cooking a meal in the gospels.

“But here, the last thing Jesus does on earth is cook a meal, his first recorded one, and then he commands Peter to feed his sheep. In the resurrection, it seems, Jesus institutes the sacrament of housework and everyday chores”.  (pathos.com/blog)

It is good to be reminded of these very human activities. Especially in the midst of so much super-natural stuff! So, says Rex Hunt, “let me offer some other suggestions (religious sounding perhaps) you might like to ponder sometime:”

  • How do we care for each other interpersonally in ways which do not suffocate and oppress? 
  • How is the well-being of our neighbour pursued in the complex problem of global hunger and international war?
  • How are communities developed positively around respect and care for each person, rather than around a common enemy?
  • How are the systemic causes of non-love eliminated? All human issues to be viewed in the light of the resurrection stories… Bishop John Shelby Spong has offered a comment which is also worth pondering:
  • Loving God… means that people do not treat the legitimacy of their own spiritual path as a sign that every other spiritual path is somehow illegitimate.
  • Loving your neighbour… means treating all people – regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, nationality, ethnicity or economic class – as holy, as having been made in God’s image.
  • Loving ourselves… means basing our lives on the faith that in Jesus as the Christ all things are made new and all people are loved by God (Spong Newsletter, 23/3/06).

All of the above have implications for us here in NZ with the horrific execution of people of faith in Christchurch. How do we be a Jesus follower in the light of what has taken place?

To live with these questions and their implications coursing in our veins, is to live in the spirit of the sage we call Jesus, it is to embrace life, not be scared of it. Because ‘resurrection’ can and does happen every day!  Love says so, Love demands it, Love resources it.

Peter Rollins, author of The Orthodox Heretic, puts it another way. He has this to say about ‘the’ resurrection: “Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ…  I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system.  However, there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are.  I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed” (Rollins 2009).

According to Irish-born Rollins, you can believe all the things you want.
You can even be as religious as the Pope (Francis i) or your favourite TV evangelist.
But unless you can “cry for those who have no more tears left to shed”,
the resurrection means little to nothing.  Amen.