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Saturday, June 3, 2017

Rising from the Dead 4: Easter spreads its Pentecost wings


 4. Easter Spreads Its Pentecost Wings


This is the day that people, mostly men, have made.

It is a day full of violence and images of violence. Beheadings and suggestions of beheadings. Lynching and dreams of lynching. Murder and threats of murder. War and rumors of war.

It is a day when strangers are presumed to be enemies, a day when those who look, speak, or dress differently from us are presumed to have it in for us. It is a day of mistrust and quarantine, deportation and isolation. It is a day of fear, and scarcity, and hoarding, class war and intellectual snobbery.


This is the day that we have made. Let us feel the oppressive weight of it, rue the energy we've spent demonizing our enemies, believing the lies of scarcity and death. We'd been warned. We know better.

There is another day, the day we've been living for the last fifty days in another reality, when we give our time to it, if we'd let it break out of its Sunday horizon. It is the day God has made, and it is beautiful to see.

Narrative and Counter-narrative. The world has always belonged to the death-dealers, the lynchers, beheaders, the masters of exile and forced labor. And there has always been another story, rising up from that dark narrative like light seeps through a crack in a wall. It is a new narrative of shared plenty, of freedom and equality, of rest and abundance for all. The story takes place in this world, transformed by justice. The forces of the quick fix, of might-makes-right, of manifest destiny have always tried to assimilate this counter-narrative, to marry it to the property of the rulers. But it will not be held captive for long. "There is no imprisoning the word of the Lord." Its story makes fools of its captors and shows them for the duplicity and opportunism of their revisionism.

In the days following the murder-by-capital-punishment of Jesus of Nazareth, there was confusion and fear among his inner circle. But as dark and final as the narrative had turned, the counter-narrative was as sudden and bright as creation, a "big bang" that threw unimagined light in every direction. The tomb of Jesus was found to be empty, and the frightened folk who had been his companions suddenly found voices and power to say something extraordinary, without fear of reprisal: Jesus, whom they had seen die, was alive. Their experience, during the reorientation to the new light of Easter that was the empty tomb, the experiences of Mary, Peter and John, Thomas, Clopas and his companion, and finally the other disciples, was that the divine mission undertaken by Jesus in their lives had been passed on to them, ordinary Jews, to spread to the world.

This couldn't have happened overnight, and might not have happened at all except for the extraordinary change wrought in a fiery Pharisee evangelist named Saul by a vision of the risen Christ. His narrative, too, was overturned, reinterpreted, and given back to him, so that the Law and the prophets meant something utterly new, not to be enforced and defended by threats and violence, but by persuasion and table talk. Even more important, the deep sense of mutual belonging to God that had formerly been a covenant only with the children of Abraham came to be understood by him to be offered in a new way, through Christ, to the whole world. In a similar, more gradual way, the same insight seems to have sunk in with Simon Peter after some interactions with a Roman official and his family. The preaching of the twelve, at least as recorded in Acts half a century later, reveals continued meditation on Jewish scriptures but with a new narrative in mind that slowly begins to include everybody in the parental love of God through adoption in Jesus Christ through the working of God's love in the Holy Spirit.

We who have been part of the Easter liturgy over the last 50 days have heard this story retold over the din of counter narrative being noisily and angrily, violently, mortally preached by ISIS, Donald Trump, Putin, Duterte, and their spokespersons and minions. While the voices of death and isolationism and domination preached their dysangelion, we have heard how a handful of inexperienced fishermen and artisans voyaged around the known world, often reviled and ridiculed, subject to shipwreck, shunning, hunger, threatened with prison, stoning, and exposure to Roman arrest and revenge, took a message not of threat or exceptionalism but of welcome and the all-encompassing love of God to the world.

What kind of fire? What kind of fire would turn these men and women of no particular influence, means, or talent into a peaceful force that called such diverse people to unity in the crucified Jesus and their own transformed Jewish story of a world created by God for freedom and equality?

After fifty days, after ninety days, after two millennia, what kind of fire would convince us to ignore the narrative that says "there's only enough for us," "only our way for the world," "enterprise before the earth," "violence will be met with deadlier, unremitting violence," and "one race above all others"?

Christ still announces his simple message: Turn around. Stop listening to those angry, lost voices. Believe in love because it is the life of God. Follow me. Love your enemies. Call God "our Father," everybody in the family. If you have two, give one away. Lead by serving others. Treat everyone the way you'd want to be treated.

How's the other way working out for you? Happy with the way things are? Jesus says, Turn around. They're lying to you. You're going the wrong way.

I don't know what it means "to rise from the dead." I have no grasp of what resurrection life is. But I see something worth following here because it changed people from being afraid of death to embracing it when it became unavoidable because they were certain from their experience that it was not the end, that something full of life, something greater than life, was coming, and coming in this world, because it was here that they experienced the resurrection. It is for everyone. No one is excluded, no one gets less than everything. No one has to fight, argue, or kill to get it. It's gift. No one offers anything better. So I choose to believe in "Follow me."

Follow me into the fire that is Life. I'll go first.

Summary: Rising from the dead means finally breaking out of the cocoon that is the safe and familiar: family, community, faith, nation, into God's wide universe of the whole human family, the earth. We've been raised in a world that has given us too small an identity and crippling allegiances with no future. The gospel and the resurrection offer abundant life, for everyone, in this world, and more. "Only God could make this day. It is beautiful to see." (Psalm 118:23) "Lord, send out your spirit and renew the face of the earth." (Psalm 104:30)