Easter Day B, 2006
RESURRECTION PROVES NOTHING. A 'PASSIONATE' LIFE WELL LIVED, DOES
Today, Easter Day 2006, a group of people will begin in Phoenix AZ,
a 4,000 km, 141 day, 5,000,000-step walk across America.
Destination of this walk is Washington, DC - the national capital.
Their purpose is to arouse public consciousness to the
misuse and abuse of Christianity in American public life today.
They are Christians who want to reclaim their faith
from what they believe are the distortions
and the manipulations of the so-called 'Religious Right'.
A group that so often appears to stand for a Christianity
that is heard in narrow, prejudiced and even hate-filled ways.
Simply put (adopting Jack Spong's recent comments):
* They are concerned that fundamentalism, the religion of the 'Religious Right'
has become the dominant, indeed, sometimes the sole
religious voice, in newspapers, TV and radio.
* They are embarrassed by the present alliance of political conservatives with fundamentalist Christians,
who seek to impose a sectarian and moralistic religious mentality
upon the population.
* They are offended that negativity to homosexual persons and opposition
to the quest by women for equality
and the right to define their own life choices,
are now in the public mind, the defining essence of their faith.
They... also include friends I met when I was in Phoenix AZ. last October.
Writing about all this in his newsletter some weeks ago,
retired Bishop, John Shelby Spong, said:
"The Charter of 'CrossWalkAmerica' constitutes a stirring call to the Christians of this nation... to stand up and reclaim a place in America for a loving, progressive, courageous understanding of what it means to be disciples of Jesus. It finally lights a candle in this dark age of religious close-mindedness" (Spong Newsletter, 23/3/06).
How appropriate the start of the walk
should be happening today - Easter Day.
For me the 'CrossWalkAmerica' is a resurrection event.
Now mention of 'resurrection' and immediately many of us
familiar with this term, are likely to assume I am also referring to Jesus' resurrection.
This is because we only ever hear about resurrection in relation to Jesus.
Well, maybe I had better modify that claim.
There have been sitings of Elvis out Parkes way, each year,
and for several years now!
Stephen Patterson, from whose book I quoted last week,
picks up this general notion when he says:
"The resurrection is unequivocally Jesus' resurrection for us. This is because most of us do not really believe in resurrection from the dead, except, of course, in the case of Jesus. He is in a class by himself" (Patterson 2004:104).
But then Patterson goes on to suggest that this way of thinking
places us in a completely different mindset from those ancients.
"For ancients, resurrection is quite possible... The hard part would have been believing that Jesus, a nobody, had been raised from the dead..." (Patterson 2004:106).
Now much ink and blood, sweat and tears, has been spilt
over 'what is' and 'what is not' considered
to be meant by 'resurrection'.
And that includes all the problematic stuff argued by a bloke we call Paul!
And the thousands of trees chopped down in the name of an empty tomb!
And whether or not the 'resurrection' was a 'bodily' event in the life of Jesus!
All this, while noting none of the gospel storytellers provide
an unambiguous, totally convincing account!
I know you have heard all this, and more, before.
And from others.
Which makes sermons on Easter morning difficult to preach,
because I always feel there may not be much that can be said on this day,
that hasn't already been said before.
So at some risk let me offer some of my thoughts.
Maybe they will gell with some of yours.
Maybe they will conflict with yours.
But they are mine, learned over time.
And in the company of others whom I trust and respect.
I invite you to listen carefully.
Those close to him, we would claim, were both surprised and shattered.
Stricken with fear and grief, they were in no mood to be
looking for that 'silver lining'
that supposedly comes with every cloud.
But some people did think about his death.
And all we have of that time and that thinking, are the stories,
shaped and reshaped and told orally by people of faith
from generation to generation.
Yet it is in those stories, I would also claim, they were saying something important,
not about his death,
but about his life.
True, his death mattered to them.
But only because his life mattered more...
Especially when they heard him say something,
or do something, that moved them, deeply.
So they began to speak of his death in ways that affirmed his life.
And they came to see he stood for something so important
he was willing to give his life for it (Patterson).
That something was the vision of life called the empire of God.
And they came to reaffirm their own commitment
to the values and vision stamped into his life
by his words and deeds.
They believed that "in his words were God's words" (Patterson 2004:127).
And that his vision of a new empire,
cultivated by him among them long before he died,
no executioner or cross could kill.
Jesus was dead. But he was not dead to them.
His spirit was still coursing through their veins (Patterson).
Likewise, when we believe in this vision of a possible new empire,
we too can reaffirm our commitment
to the values and vision, and a 'resurrection' invitation,
to live life deeply and with zeal.
To be embraced by life, not scared of it.
In all its particularity.
Because life can not remain visionary!
It must be concretely practised.
It must be 'a way of life'.
Perhaps it could be practised, shaped by these thoughts (following Jack Shea):
• How do we care for each other interpersonally in ways
which do not suffocate and oppress?
• How is the well-being of our neighbour pursued
in the complex problem of global hunger and international war?
• How are communities developed positively
around respect and care for each person
rather than around a common enemy?
• How are the systemic causes of non-love eliminated?
To live with these particularities coursing in our veins,
is to live in the spirit of the sage we call Jesus.
Because resurrection is not just a collection of stories about a so-called once-only event in the past.
Resurrection can and does happen every day!
The 'CrossWalkAmerica' comes out of a vision of life called 'The Phoenix Affirmation'.
It is calling attention to the claim: live life out of love in all its particularity.
Bishop Jack Spong sums up what that living and loving is:
* Loving God, they say, means that people do not treat the legitimacy of their own spiritual path as a sign that every other spiritual path is somehow illegitimate.
* Loving your neighbour, they say, means treating all people - regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, nationality, ethnicity or economic class - as holy, as having been made in God's image.
* Loving ourselves, they say, means basing our lives on the faith that in Jesus as the Christ all things are made new and all people are loved by God (Spong Newsletter, 23/3/06).
Of such is to live in the spirit of the sage we call Jesus.
It is also to live 'resurrection'.
Today, more than any other, may it be so for us.
Patterson, S. J. Beyond the Passion. Rethinking the Death and Life of Jesus. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2004.
Shea, J. The Challenge of Jesus. Chicago. Thomas More Press, 1975.