Easter Day 20th April 2014 Year A
Something miraculous has happened! We may try to tie it down in our ideas, in our facts, in our categories of understanding but the truth of what really happened is so wonderful, so unexpected, and so miraculous, that it avoids all these attempts. Dare I suggest even those attempts of Scripture itself? One only has to place the five accounts of the resurrection, the four gospels and that of 1 Corinthians, alongside one another to find just how many differences they have in their description of such an incredible event as this. They all try to put words around that which as profound experience is far beyond words. While initially the resurrection experience at the earliest level, as evidenced by Paul is one which is beyond literalist physicality, ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 15:50), over time it became increasingly literalised and concretised. Thus the resurrection becomes more fleshed, the empty tomb becomes increasingly important as evidence for the event, and overall the event is increasingly associated with more and more spectacular miracles and signs. What is of course clear is the inadequacy of words, concepts or whatever we may structure around it to make sense of, or prove in some manner that the resurrection has happened. The resurrection always lies beyond all these things, for it is far deeper than all these things.
Likewise for us the evidence of the resurrection will not be found in seeking to tie it down in some evidential manner but rather in how it transforms our lives. What then does the resurrection say to us and how is it transformative of our lives?
I want to suggest that it turns all conventional wisdom on its head. The pragmatist and the cynic argue, thus the world is and thus will it always be. Power, cold calculation, conniving and cruelty always triumph and while the idealist may be admirable they are admirably deluded if they think anything can be any different. What the Easter story shows to us is that such reason is confounded. Those who truly believe in the possibility of an alternative future, who truly believe that justice, peace, the harmony and reconciliation of all things are possible, are confirmed in their hope. This is not confirmed in some type of naive way, in a manner in which we pretend that pain and suffering does not exist, but in a manner which deeply knows their dark power, as seen in the cross, but which knows that the cross is not the end point. It gives us the courage to enter to the deepest point possible in the cross, to really face up to the pain and anguish of our world, with the promise that the final word is not with those realities. The world is thus filled with hope, light and love. Good Friday has shown us a God in Christ prepared to enter into the very depth of the world’s pain so that nothing is left untouched by divine love. The resurrection shows us that nothing is left untouched by divine power, that power at work in the world transforming even the darkest place and now filling it with light, hope and life.
This is why the resurrection needs to be intimately connected to the death of Jesus, and the reasons for that death. Jesus’ death has often been separated from, indeed lost all connection to, the real human events of his life which brought about his death. It has been encased with all the elements of a cosmic drama, enshrined in fossilised creeds and the heavy-handed tradition of sin, guilt and forgiveness, ‘He came to die for our sins!’ In such statements Jesus’ death, and therefore his resurrection, has lost all connection with his life, his teachings and the vision he shared. To the followers and friends of Jesus, his death was important in its particularity as the fate of him who said and did certain things, one who stood for something so important to him that he was willing to give his life for it. That something was the vision of life he called the Kingdom of God. This is the vision of a new empire; God's Empire, and the bearer of this vision was not dead. No executioner could kill what he was. To kill Jesus, you would have to kill the vision. This is what the cross could not do. Easter is the time when all that Jesus did and said is affirmed by God, when the choices made by Jesus are validated, when the risk taken by Jesus turns out to have worth the danger. Easter is about the triumph of Jesus’ vision that vision of the reign of God, that time of peace, of justice, of compassion, of love and mercy.
Such belief then allows us to live at risk. Death, and its coercive power, is no longer ultimate. The resurrection comes as a subversive action. The early Christians were so regarded as subversives by the Empire, their creed being that ‘Jesus (rather than Caesar) was Lord.’ By their belief in the resurrection, rather than being coerced and intimidated by those with power to live the way of conformity, they were liberated to live in a radical manner of freedom. Likewise we are to be so freed, freed because no longer is the power the power of life and death, the definitive power. We are thus freed from systems of security we may otherwise establish to protect our lives, and therefore can live at risk. Those who manipulate and tyrannize no longer hold the ultimate coercive power. The history of the church is filled with examples of those who knowing that the ultimate power no longer lies with that tyranny and the power of death, have given themselves, even to the point of their lives, in the belief that beyond death God is present in resurrection. Such belief enabled Dietrich Bonhoeffer to face the insanity of the Nazi regime and to give his life, Martin Luther King to face the bigotry of the racists in the United States and to likewise give his life and enabled Archbishop Oscar Romero to face the threats of the El Salvadoran death squads and to pay with his life. The actions carried out against those figures show clearly the threat that belief in the resurrection brings to those who deal in oppression. But nothing not even death itself can extinguish that power. ‘They may kill me’, said Oscar Romero, ‘but I will rise in the El Salvadoran people.’ I am also reminded of the story of Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly homosexual man to be ordained a bishop in the Episcopal Church in the United States. Faced with so many threats that he needed to be fitted with a bullet proof vest at his ordination he on being asked whether he was fearful in facing possible death spoke of the resurrection, concluding with, ‘that is the power of the resurrection. Not in what happens after death, but what the knowledge of our resurrection does for our lives… before death.’ Gene Robinson is correct faith in the resurrection is not something just to be relegated to some after-life dimension. It is something effective now, transforming and empowering our lives this very moment.
If we were to read on in our gospel today a few more verses we would find that some of those responsible for the crucifixion tried to buy the silence of some of those who witnessed its power. The power of the resurrection however is not something so easy silenced. It still speaks to us today never silenced and still transformative. In such lies the reality of the resurrection. We cannot prove it by usual categories of truth and proof. We cannot compel belief in it by reference to history or creed. Rather we bear witness to it by how we allow it to transform our lives and the life of our world. We see it at work and help others to so see it, when we make visible those small signs of God’s reign, germinating beneath the ground, to be seen by ‘those who have eyes to see.’
Marcus Borg quotes the Amerindian storyteller, ‘Now I don’t know if it happened this way or not, but I do know this story is true.’ That should be our attitude with the resurrection stories. The truth of those stories will be in how they transform our lives. In spite, despite of, we believe and in believing are transformed and act as transforming agents in our world. That is the true proof of the resurrection and in that it is truly miraculous beyond words!