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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Suffering Christ, scary resurrection (B3E)

Just a few quick thoughts about Sunday's scriptures.

I was looking at the footnotes for the gospel in NABRE, specifically the note on Lk 24:26. This might seem like a small thing, but that footnote says that "Luke is the only New Testament writer to speak explicitly of a suffering Messiah," and in today's readings from Acts and Luke we have two of the explicit texts. What is so astounding to me is that we are so inured to hearing those words, "suffering" and "messiah" (or "Christ") together that here I am 62 years old and I'm just finding out that Luke is the only evangelist who uses the terms.

What I take from that is that the late-Judaism developments of the Suffering Servant and the messianic hope that was associated with a restoration of the monarchy and expulsion of Gentile invaders only came to be seen as unified in Jesus, and that would happen perhaps decades after his death. Not insignificantly, today's gospel passage picks up Luke's post-resurrection narrative at the last verse of the Emmaus story. James Alison, in Jesus the Forgiving Victim: Listening for the Unheard Voice, suggests that in this crucial narrative the risen (but unrecognized) Jesus walks with the befuddled and argumentative Clopas and N. (his friend) and "gives their story back to them," explaining why it was "necessary that the Messiah (Christ) should suffer," but, significantly, telling them that story through their own texts. It was not obvious, at the time of Jesus's death, even to his own inner circle, that the messiah/Christ should be be like them, and have to suffer and die. Alison's concern is that we see, with the disciples in their nascent resurrection faith ("they did not yet know what it meant to 'rise from the dead'"), that Jesus was telling them the story of mimetic violence and the scapegoat mechanism from the point of view of the victim, which no one had ever done before, since victims of violence don't usually have a voice. Dead men tell no tales, as he says.

And yet, not only does Jesus come back to tell the tale to Clopas and N, his friend, and then to the rest of the eleven, he comes back with one word on his lips. Peace. There is no retributive violence on the victims lips. He doesn't, as Alison says, come back rattling his chains and making horrible moaning noises and threatening retribution, but quite the opposite. It's as though he says, "Yes, human violence killed me. They said I was guilty of blasphemy against God and the other god, Caesar, but look here—I'm alive. And guess what? I love you. God loves you. Don't be afraid any more. Live your life out fully and do as I've shown you. Death isn't a factor any longer."

Our natural reaction is to be afraid of ghosts, right? They're generally up to no good, if we're to believe our stories. But those stories emerge from the murderous hearts that made people into ghosts! Here we have the story of a person whom our murderous hearts destroyed, and he comes back from the place we fear the most and says, "Look, I've been there, and here I am. Where I've gone, you will be too. Do not be afraid. Everything I told you about Abba and the kingdom of God is true."

Which brings me to the final point I wanted to share about these resurrection narratives. This is most pointedly seen in the "original ending" of Mark's gospel, the verse (16:8) noticeably and mysteriously edited in the current version of the lectionary (it was present in the 1970 lectionary). Speaking of the women who had come to the tomb, discovered it empty, and had received the angelic message to tell the apostles to return to Galilee, the passage concludes with the unsettling verse excised from our hearing in the current lectionary:
Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Of course, excising it from our hearing doesn't make it go away, but we still have to deal with it. Why were they afraid? In Sunday's gospel, too, the eleven were not immediately filled with joy when Jesus entered the room, even after he said to them, "Peace be with you"! Luke continues:
But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
I don't want to make too much of all this, but there is something scary about the resurrection. Going back to Jerusalem (like Clopas and N. did) or going back to Galilee (like the discipleship community in Mark was charged to do) means going back over all that old territory and seeing it with new eyes, and begging the question of us again who have not opted in wholeheartedly to the work of the crucified Messiah. Now that we know Jesus was right all along, what do we do? Why are we sitting up here in a locked room, afraid? That work of Jesus, reconciling, healing, teaching the genuine worship of justice and care for the stranger, is a work of joy. Human treachery and the violence of exploiters and hoarders and the self-appointed mediators of divine presence and grace are no match for the patient, life-giving love of God. Jesus has gone before us and put himself in the very place of which we are most afraid, and his faith in Abba's loving-kindness was justified by the resurrection. The mission, handed on to us, can be scary, even lethal. But the resurrection message is, "Do not be afraid. Peace be with you."

"As the Father sent me, so I send you," says Jesus as he breathes messianic Spirit of God upon them in the upper room where they are huddled, afraid that what befell him might yet befall them. Not just them, though. Us too. Called to the life and mission of the suffering Christ, we have reason to believe that death has no power over us. What does it mean "to rise from the dead"? I think it means to start living, today, for a good life for every daughter and son of God, without being afraid of those who profit from their poverty, hopelessness, and subjugation. And to do that without participating in the violence that is the strategy of the oppressor, confident that divine love is as patient as it is kind, and that it wishes no harm on the other, even the enemy. That is the meaning of "repentance" in the gospel: turning away from the strategy of the other pretenders to divinity, and toward the gentle reign of the one God.

Music we're doing at St. Anne this weekend:

Entrance Song: I Have Loved You (Joncas)
Sprinkling Rite: Glory to God, from Mass of St. Ann by Ed Bolduc
Psalm 16: Path of Life (Balhoff, Daigle, Ducote)
Easter Alleluia
Preparation Rite: On the Journey to Emmaus (Haugen, ST COLUMCILLE)
Communion: In the Breaking of the Bread (Hurd)
Recessional: This Little Light of Mine (spiritual)