Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter 2006: Threatened by Resurrection

John 20:1-18

What a joyful, exuberant, and long-awaited
celebration of resurrection life!
Friends, the Lenten season of fasting is over.
It’s time for feasting!
And our spirits have been feasting this morning.
We’ve been singing our hearts out with joy.
“Let us sing praise to him with endless joy.
Christ has arisen! Alleluia!”

I would be hard to be in this sanctuary right now,
and not have your spirits lifted in some way.
We don’t all start from the same place, of course.
Some of us came, already bursting with the joy of life.
Some came with heavy burdens, with grief, with fears.
But even if only by a small measure,
I think we’ve all had our spirits lifted
by this joyous celebration of resurrection life.

But are we really ready for Easter?
I mean, do we really want to know what’s coming next,
now that the tomb has been burst open?
Do we really want to be a part of it?
We’d better think twice.
You know, if Easter is only about celebration, the lifting of spirits,
feelings of joy and exuberance,
then of course we’re ready...we’re always ready for joy,
especially in this wounded world.

But if Easter means what I think it means—
we’d better think again.
If Easter means opening up of a whole new horizon in life,
If Easter means throwing open the gates to a world
where God is turning everything on its head,
If Easter means letting go of a world
where we know the contours
and are familiar with the terrain—
Then maybe we better think more carefully,
before we claim to be ready for Easter.

Parker Palmer, in his book “The Active Life,”
ends with a chapter entitled “Threatened with Resurrection.”
He got his inspiration from a poem of the same title,
by Julia Esquivel, a Guatemalan poet and theologian.

Palmer recognized something in himself, that we can identify with.
That is, sometimes he fears life itself,
and the movement toward new life,
more than he fears death in its various forms.

He told two brief stories to illustrate what he meant,
one humorous, and the other tragic.
The first was from a Woody Allen movie,
where a man went to see a psychiatrist,
and complained that his brother-in-law,
who lived with them,
thought he was a chicken.
He explained that his brother-in-law cackles a lot,
he pecks at the rug,
and builds nests in the corners.
Psychiatrist says, “Bring him in,
I think I can cure him completely.”
The man says, “Oh, no, Doc. We don’t want that.
We need the eggs.”

Palmer commented that sometimes we cling to our pathologies,
because in some way they are useful to us.
We prefer these “little deaths” to a new and transformed life,
because we benefit from our illusions...
we “need the eggs.”

A second, more disturbing story, was about the apostle Peter,
a legend, not in the Bible,
in which he walked up to a blind beggar,
crouched in the dust by the city gate.
Peter put his hands over the blind man’s eyes, and said,
“In the name of the resurrected Christ, may your sight be restored!”
Immediately the healed blind man jumped up, eyes wide open,
his face full of anger, and screamed at Peter,
“You fool! You have destroyed my way of making a living!”
Whereupon he gouged out his own eyes, and collapsed into the dust.

There’s a metaphor there.
Isn’t it true sometimes, that we realize we suffer from blindness,
but at least we know how to “make a living” from it.
And the idea of doing away with that blindness,
and seeing more fully and completely,
can be threatening to life as we know it.

Resurrection puts us to the test.
It tests our willingness to move into new territory,
to live a larger life than the one we are so familiar with.
Death and defeat are no fun, of course,
but at least they’re understandable.
We know what to expect.
Resurrection forces us out of our comfort zone,
into a whole new lay of the land.

That probably explains the reaction of Peter and John,
when they confronted the empty tomb.
In the resurrection story we heard from the Gospel of John,
it makes a point of the fact that Peter and John,
once they saw the empty tomb, believed.
They believed, but it also says, in v. 9,
that they didn’t understand the scriptures,
that he must rise from the dead.
So what did they do,
when faced with these confusing signs of resurrection?
Their response is in v. 10.
“Then the disciples returned to their homes.”

They went back to the familiar. The safe environment of their homes.
Standing in the presence of resurrection threatened them, I think.
They couldn’t stay there in that place,
where their world was threatened to be turned upside down.

By contrast, Mary Magdalene,
found it within herself to stay at the tomb.
To linger with this strange, threatening, and unknown reality.
It says in v. 11,
“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.
As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb.”
And she was rewarded with an encounter.
By staying there at the empty tomb, despite the fear and confusion,
she met first the angels,
and then she met Jesus himself.
Because she persisted, she was given the gift
of encountering the risen Jesus,
who called her by name.
And she was able to go back to the disciples,
and report with confidence, “I have seen the Lord.”

The word of challenge to us this morning,
is to be like Mary.
Linger. Stay.
When we are confronted with signs of resurrection,
even when they frighten and confuse us...
Stay. Linger at the empty tomb, and look in.
Even when there is an unseen world out there,
that feels unsettling, but promises new life,
Stay. Wait for the encounter with the risen Christ.
Wait until Jesus calls you by name.

To stay at the empty tomb,
is to dare to ask ourselves some challenging questions.

Parker Palmer asked himself these questions:
“If I lived as if resurrection were real,
and allowed myself to die for the sake of new life,
what might I be called upon to do?
What strange and difficult tasks might be laid upon me?
What comforts taken away?
How might my life be changed?

Believing the resurrection is only the beginning.
Peter and John were able to do that,
simply by seeing the empty tomb, and returning home.
We can also believe the resurrection,
and go back home to life as usual.
It doesn’t require much risk or sacrifice.

May God give us the courage,
not only to look into the empty tomb, and believe,
but to say “Yes” to God’s invitation to live the resurrection life.
The Risen Lord Jesus Christ,
not only asks us to lay down our own agenda,
and take the risk of walking toward an unknown horizon.
The risen Christ makes a promise to us.
I will walk with you.
I will never leave or forsake you.
You can trust me.
Furthermore, Christ calls us not only personally,
as individual Easter disciples.
We are also called to be an Easter community.
We are called to be a contrast community,
that refuses to define life in the same way the world does.
The world tries to sell us a multitude of little “deaths,”
claiming they are what life is all about.
Easter turns the world’s idea of life upside down.
Which makes resurrection threatening,
to us and to others.

So let us rejoice that Christ has risen!
Let us rejoice loud and long!
Let us laugh and be glad.
But may we never take this news lightly.

Julia Esquivel, the Guatemalan poet I referred to earlier,
in her poem “Threatened by Resurrection,”
described resurrection this way:
“There is something here within us
Which doesn’t let us sleep, which doesn’t let us rest,
Which doesn’t stop pounding deep inside.”

If the fact that we are called to be resurrection people,
can keep us awake at night, heart pounding,
we are probably on the right track.
May God give us courage.
May God give us grace.

—Phil Kniss, April 16, 2006

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