He is Risen, Indeed!

Easter Sunday
Acts 10:34-43
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
Luke 24:1-12

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!

These words will roll off the tongues of Easter worshippers this coming Sunday, proclaimed with a seemingly naive brazenness, given the world’s current state of affairs.

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!

The gathered Church will proclaim this as Truth as they point to flowered crosses and release butterflies into the springtime sky. But while it’s certainly joyous news that after the long gray of winter, bright sunshine and vibrant color will again have their season, the Easter proclamation is not meant to be a weather report. Rather, it is the radical declaration that God’s good future has erupted into our now: it is here, in the present, smack in the middle of history, in the midst of this world’s pain, standing among our broken dreams.

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!

But if the Resurrection is real and the tomb is empty, where is the Risen Christ? Would we know him if he was standing right in front of us?

Like the women at the tomb, I suspect that if we are going to find the risen Christ, we will first have to learn to name the signs of Resurrection in our midst and claim them as signs of hope. This will mean recognizing and abandoning our tendency to “look for the living among the dead.” We are as inclined as they were to misunderstand what Jesus foretold to his disciples: that he would be crucified, dead and buried, and then raised on the third day. Like those women and disciples at the tomb that first Easter, we know all the words Jesus said, and believe we have all manner of faith in God’s ultimate triumph over the forces of sin and death so clearly at work in this world. Yet we live and work and play as if that triumph is but an unrealized longing. We have become quite comfortable inhabiting a world where death is the norm, and we arrange our affairs and hedge our bets accordingly.

In his novel The Second Coming, Walker Percy writes:

Death in this century is not the death people die but the death
people live. Men love death because the real death is better than
the living death… Here are the names of death, which shall not
prevail over me because I know the names…

Death in the guise of God and America and the happy life of home and family and friends is not going to prevail over me…

Death in the guise of belief is not going to prevail over me, for believers now believe anything and everything and do not love the truth, are in fact in despair of the truth, and that is death.

Death in the guise of unbelief is not going to prevail over me, for unbelievers believe nothing, not because truth does not exist but because they have already chosen not to believe, and would not believe, cannot believe, even if the living truth stood before them, and that is death…

Death in the form of isms and asms shall not prevail over me, orgasm, enthusiasm, liberalism, conservatism, Communism, Buddhism, Americanism, for an -ism is only another way of despairing of the truth…

Death in none of its guises shall prevail over me because I know all the names of death.

The American dream, with its attendant security. Sex. Alcohol. Drugs. Wealth. Power. Notoriety. Do we know all the names of death in our world?

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Can we learn to recognize the places and things in and through which we seek life, that are in truth nothing more than pretty flowers ephemerally masking the stench of death?

The Easter proclamation stops us in our tracks and catches us as surprised and fearful as those women on the first Easter morning. While we are on our way to anoint death in a graveyard, life has broken into the world. As the men on the road to Emmaus would learn that same day, it takes a different kind of vision to see and know the risen Christ. It takes new eyes, rather than eyes trained to seek salvation in the living death.

The work of Easter, then, is this: To point to death and name it as death. Then, to find and point to evidence of resurrection in this world, and name it as life. And this is the thing: it might be where we least expect it. But it is there nonetheless, a sign of God’s good future here, in the present, smack in the middle of history, in the midst of this world’s pain, standing among our broken dreams:

It may be found on Tuesday evenings at Reality Ministries, where a community of belonging is created when youth and adults with and without developmental disabilities come together for food and prayer and play. It may be found amongst members of the Holy Friendship Collaborative as they walk alongside those bound in the chains of opioid addiction in Southern Appalachia. In Athens, Ohio, the folks of Good Works, Inc are “believing people back to life” through a ministry of hospitality that proves that the forces of life and love are stronger than the forces of death. There is evidence of resurrection at Central Women’s Prison in Raleigh, NC where a woman convicted of murder receives a weekly visit from a member of a group of laity who have come faithfully for over 20 years.

It is the Body of Christ claiming victory over the powers of sin, death, isolation, and despair. It is visible evidence of a community that defies the kingdoms of this world. It is hope and life revealed in the breaking of bread. It is what happens each and every time the Church gathers around the Eucharist table to share in Christ’s broken body and blood and we proclaim his death and resurrection until he comes in glory. It is the new life of Resurrection.

This Sunday, whether we gather in the majesty of a towering cathedral or in the humility of a few friends around a table, the great mystery and miracle of Easter abounds. As we receive the grace of Christ’s Table, may all of our eyes be opened to see evidence of God’s resurrection victory in the unlikely and ragtag communities in which we gather. When the proclamation rings out: Christ is Risen! May we look around with awe and respond with joy: He is risen indeed!

From Confusion to Conspiracy

Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 4:32-35
John 20:19-31

There’s a conspiracy at work, undermining the institutions of power, subverting politics, threatening the markets, turning the tables on all those who feel secure in the status quo.

It’s a conspiracy that began long ago, behind locked doors. It started in the fear of those early disciples who were thrown into confusion by the cross. Their leader was dead. It looked like that was that. But now the word was spreading that somehow Jesus is back from the grave, that what God did for Lazarus, God now did for Jesus–that even death couldn’t contain this life that had come into the world in all its abundance. Read more

The Truth on the Other Side of the Resurrection

Easter Sunday
Acts 10:34-43
Colossians 3:1-4
John 20:1-18

Easter is a good time for doubt. It’s a time when people occasionally dare to ask the pointed questions: “Jesus was good and all, but – you don’t really think he rose from the dead, do you?” They want the truth – and rightly so.

So consider what it means to read the Gospels in terms of what is true. The passion narratives grip us, filled as they are with raw emotions and experiences. Like all good stories, they invite us in, and at the least we can probably admit that the emotions are likely to be true.

In my Roman Catholic tradition, we call this practice of putting ourselves into the story the “Ignatian Method” of reading – but I think that many Christians confronted by the pathos of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection put themselves there at the cross naturally.

So at last week’s Passion Sunday service, when I heard Peter denying Jesus before the cock crowed three times, I thought, “Yup, I probably would have denied him too.” Read more

Don’t Be Afraid

 

 

The Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 16:9-15 (RCL); Acts 15:1-2, 22-29 (LM)
Psalm 67 (RCL); Psalm 67:2-8 (LM)
Revelation 21:10- 22:5 (RCL); Revelation 21:1014, 22-23 (LM)
John 14:23-29

“When love has entirely cast out fear, and fear has been transformed into love, then the unity brought us by our savior will be fully realized, for all [people] will be united with one another through their union with the one supreme Good.”

St. Gregory of Nyssa,
from a homily on The Song of Songs

In a wide-ranging conversation with Bill Moyers early last year, writer Marilynne Robinson spoke about fear in American life. With eloquence and insight (and no little exasperation), she noted how we have managed to convince ourselves—or, rather, how we have been persuaded by powerful interest groups—that fear is really courage.

We fashion, she said, “little narratives” that make each of us the hero of an imagined drama and anyone else a potential threat. And all the ways in which we prepare (expect? secretly hope?) for our fear-driven stories to unfold constitute something of an addiction, a cultural obsession, a collective pathology.

Robinson’s insights are as timely as ever these many months later. Why is America’s culture of fear taken as a matter of course? Read more

Easter People

Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 133
1 John 1:1-2:2
John 20:19-31

“Easter people, raise your voices,
sounds of heaven in earth should ring.
Christ has brought us heaven’s choices;
heavenly music, let it ring.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Easter people, let us sing.”

– William James, Easter People, Raise Your Voices, UMH #304

“What is a ‘Easter people’?”

That was the question that a 4-year old child in my congregation asked me on the way out the door on Easter Sunday just a few days ago. We had just sung one of my favorite Easter hymns and the unfamiliar expression in the song caught his attention. Kneeling down beside him I told him that “Easter people” are people who lived their lives as if the story we just told about Jesus being raised from the dead was really true. Then I stood up, rubbed his bright red buzzed head, and told him that we’d have the next few weeks to figure out what it means together. Read more