How did Sunday’s liturgy speak to me about the meaning of life in the light of the paschal mystery? What did the readings teach me about what it means to “rise from the dead”?As I reflect on the scriptures and how I heard them last week, it’s the words “repent, and be converted” that struck me. I think it’s because of the reading I’ve been doing, because the question that really pops for me is, repent of what? Be converted to what? We tend to spiritualize those words, much in the way we have spiritualized the cross, but more and more I wonder whether the gospel offers an explicitly “spiritual” message any more than a socio-political one. Certainly for Jesus's contemporaries, the Jewish culture was not a way of imagining a better afterlife, but was how people lived in this world. Wouldn’t opting out of this world, in favor of one to come (after death), actually be a victory for "the other gods," the forces of death? Whose world is this, anyway? In the clash of ideologies and gods, it’s the way of the god Tiberius (following after Augustus) versus the God of Israel, the abba of Jesus. If the clash is between this life and the next, what does Tiberius have to lose? Or any other despot or boss or husband or warlord or president or ayatollah who controls the destiny of others by violence or intimidation?
On the contrary, it seems to me, it is complete turning away (repentance) from the strategy of empire (the violence and threats which Crossan and Borg call “peace through victory”) and a turning toward (conversion to) the strategy of God (what Crossan and Borg call “peace through justice.”) That may or may not have something to do with the world to come: no one knows about that. But it does have an effect upon the followers of either “way” in this life, on this planet. "Rising from the dead" is repentance (i.e., metanoia, changing our inner direction) when we understand the competition between gods for our allegiance while the one God, the one whose "name" is "I AM" waits all around us, perfectly full of life, inviting us to turn together in a new direction.
So how did Sunday’s liturgy speak to me about the meaning of life in the light of the paschal mystery? Well, first, God is a God of freedom, life, peace. Living for God is to be a stranger in a strange land, or in Stanley Hauerwas’s happy phrase, “Resident Aliens” in whatever civilization or culture we find ourselves now. We live and work and love here, in this world, the world that God made good, and claim it for the good God by our way of life here, in this world. It means sharing and not hoarding, dialogue and not coercion, and every possible alternative to violence in every situation. The words of the Messiah to the “army” of his empire is, “Put away your sword. Enough!” (Mt. 26:52 and equiv.) We’re not incarnate spirits, or souls trapped in bodies: we’re divinely created beings that are all at once body and soul, substance and meaning, inseparable. To live in the paschal mystery is to learn that it’s not enough to be right; it’s fairly easy to kill for what you think is right, but it’s often difficult to live and die for it without killing or threats of violence or coercion. The paschal mystery of God, that great kenotic arc of creation and salvation by which God creates and saves the world through the presence of the Spirit and the incarnation of the logos, is the eternal example lived out by Christ, who washed his disciples’ feet like a slave. God “bent down” in Christ, Christ “bent down” to serve his world, and now, we ourselves are called to do the same. Not to fight for what we believe, but to live for it to the death.
And so in the gospel, Jesus speaks the words that we heard Peter echo in Acts in the first reading:
"Thus it is written that the Christ would sufferGod achieves victory not through the violent intervention of angels or armies, but through the surrender, in life and death, of those who love. It is our witness, we who have not seen him but have believed in him through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling gift of faith, our witness that will save the world. Our witness is the lives we live as a community that follow the example of the master, who bent to wash our feet. Our witness is our participation in the saving actions of life, justice, peace-making, and healing taught by Jesus and the saints who have followed him. If we were buried with Christ in baptism, we’re risen with him now. Nothing else can bring us to any harm.
and rise from the dead on the third day
and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins,
would be preached in his name to all the nations,
beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things."
God has thus brought to fulfillment
what he had announced beforehand
through the mouth of all the prophets,
that his Christ would suffer.
Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.