“Re-Membered by Easter”
Jonesborough Presbyterian Church
April 21, 2019
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body.
4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”
8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.
10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. (NRSV)
In my life before ministry, I taught social studies in a rural town in GA. For six years I made students learn names, dates, and events. And I made them learn those name, dates, and events for two reasons. First, it was my job. Second, yes, “There’s going be a test.” Lots of them. What the kids did with all those names, dates, and events after the tests was entirely up to them.
That was thirty years ago. And while I imagine that a few of them may remember that I taught them, I also imagine that very few of them remember anything I said. This is not false modesty, but I was, at best, a mediocre teacher because I failed to teach the stories of the past so that they became relevant to the present, so that they equipped the students to navigate the future with a clearer understanding of who they were as human beings and as responsible citizens. All I gave them was information to regurgitate for grades. I gave them very little to remember for living and for their personal well-being.
Teachers who simply dole out information to memorize don’t really teach. They just give marching orders. The same is true for preachers. If all I do is to tell you to believe this and do that, then I don’t have much to say that you don’t already know.
Jesus was an effective and memorable teacher because he helped people to recognize the presence of mystery in the world and to imagine new possibilities in their lives and in the lives of others. I’d much rather do that – share the Christ mystery then send you out into the world under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. To limit discipleship to a list of dos and don’ts, and to private experiences in church is to proclaim a Jesus who remains safely sealed in his tomb.
Think about Jesus’ teaching. He presents us with language and images to stimulate thought, to create discomfort. He wants to trigger questions and conversation. “Blessed are the poor,” “Love your enemy,” “Take up your cross and follow me.”
Blessed are the who? Love whom? And take up my what?
Those are the kinds of questions Jesus wants us to ask and wrestle with. And such answers as can be found to those questions are rarely given in sermons or Sunday school classes. They’re discovered, they’re remembered in the day-to-day grind of following the one who spoke those unsettling words.
In his newest book, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe, Richard Rohr seeks to reclaim the ancient biblical affirmations of God’s original blessing and humankind’s original goodness – things that have been forgotten. And St. Augustine, in his Confessions, his best-selling, self-condemning focus on his own guilt, may have done more than anyone to make Christians forget their Belovedness.1A thousand years after Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and other reformers latched onto Augustine’s idea of original sin, and taught that a human being is basically ten pounds of manure in a five-pound bag, and that to be loved by God, we have to say the sinner’s prayer, believe the right things the right ways, then quit drinking, smoking, cussing, lusting, and putting the toilet paper on backwards.
If shallow moralism becomes my “life of faith,” then my Yes to God gets drowned out by the terrified noise of my resounding NO! to the holiness within me, and within all that God has created. My Nofocuses on myself and my failures. And such a life becomes mired in selfish forgetfulness.
“Remember how he told you,” say the angels. “Then [the women] remembered his words.” The rest of Luke’s gospel has to do with remembering the things Jesus said and did during his ministry. All those things, words and deeds, come together to create a lively, spiritual compost.
Resurrection does more than evoke memories of Jesus, though. Resurrection rips open, in the fabric of the physical universe, a kind of portal, a place and way for us to re-member the deep-time mystery that reveals Jesus as the Christ, the eternal revelation and ongoing incarnation of God who is unfailingly present in and faithful to all Creation.
They tried, but neither Caesar nor Caiaphas could end Jesus. And come Easter morning, he would always be up and around, sneaking through that portal, slipping through the fingers of those who use governments and religions to intimidate and control. He would always be looking for, finding, and sending out followers who trusted the compelling mystery of Resurrection more deeply than they trusted the material weapons of war, the certainties of dogma, and tangible the laundry lists of good works. Easter reminds us that God’s Christ is the substance at the heart of all matter and the energy holding all things together, including all that remains forgetful, broken, and lost.
Easter doesn’t save us by turning us into something we weren’t or couldn’t be. It redeems us by restoring us to our ultimate “pre-existing condition.” At Easter, God, in Christ, re-members us to our truest and most deep-rooted selves, the selves we were before our births, the selves we will ultimately be again, the selves God sees, knows, and loves without condition or end.
Affirming Resurrection throws us into nettlesome territory, too. For one thing, we simply cannot prove Resurrection. For another, if we take Resurrection seriously, it challenges us to live a life we may not want to live. The life of Resurrection calls and equips us to regard the world through Jesus’ eyes. If you’ve never really tried to imagine seeing as Jesus sees, you’re not alone. It sounds and feels impossible, doesn’t it? Besides, who wants to look for the holiness in the felon, the terrorist, the immigrant, the person across the political aisle, the guy honking his horn behind you at the stoplight. And if you’re driving through some city while listening to the news on the radio, you can, to some extent, encounter all of that and more in a matter of moments, can’t you?
Trying to understand and explain how one can remain at peace, remain free from vengeance and free to love when experiencing the world’s brokenness leaves us in pretty much the same predicament as trying to understand and explain what happened on that first Easter. But that’s what Resurrection life looks like – a life guided by and fully entrusted to Mystery.
On Easter we often share the antiphonal greeting, “He is risen!” “He is risen, indeed!” And if we deny our confusion, and even our doubts, those words are less a witness than they are a secret handshake.
Easter re-members us into the realm of Resurrection where the Risen One’s mysterious presence creates for us, and for all Creation, new possibilities for wonder, joy, and wholeness. Resurrection calls and empowers us to claim and share the original and ageless blessings of our God-imaged humanity as our new way of life.
1Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe. Convergent, NY, 2019. Pp. 55-68.