Afraid of Death or Terrified of Life?

Posted: April 8, 2021 in Uncategorized

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

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