Monday, April 06, 2015

Easter 2015: "What we see"

Mark 16:1-8
Nehemiah 8:1-10

"Let everyone count themselves immortal.  Let everyone catch the revelation of Jesus in His Resurrection.  Let them say not only, ‘Christ is risen’; let them also say, ‘I shall one day be raised!’”  Phillips Brooks, 19th-century Episcopal priest & bishop

It is one thing to remember the Resurrection of Messiah from a safe distance; that Jesus was murdered and has come back to life.  That is a “surface” observation – not untrue, of course, but it barely scratches the surface of the whole Story.  We have to get much closer in order to appreciate the depth and the breadth of all there is to see.  As the 19th-century priest and bishop had observed, we are witnessing much more than the Resurrection of Messiah.

There is also a challenge for those who dare to hope to “one day be raised”.

The psalmist observes, “The Lord exists forever; Your Word is firmly fixed in Heaven” (119:89).  The psalmist also writes, “If Your law (Word) had not been my delight, I would have perished in my misery” (119:92).  St. John’s Gospel then introduces Jesus by proclaiming “The [same] Word became flesh and lived among us … [that same Word] full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

We are indeed witnessing much more than the Resurrection of a Man.  The Bible records more than one whose life had been miraculously restored not only by Jesus.  So the “more” we must learn to see is what the discipline of Lent and Holy Week reveals to us when we participate faithfully.  The “more” must be desired and actively sought after as we move through the Easter season and beyond.

We are beginning to see the “more” as Jesus marched to Golgotha despite His desire to “have this cup taken from [Him]” (Luke 22:42), but we have to draw near enough that His prayer in the Garden becomes our own.  We must be willing to experience His anguish for ourselves as He pleaded for His own life (which was denied Him, incidentally, for something greater), and we must ourselves sweat His “sweat as drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). 

These things – without exception – must come before there can be a “resurrection” of any kind.  As our Methodist tradition maintains, we cannot jump straight from Birth (Christmas) to Resurrection without having first experienced death – and I do not mean only the “casket” death we will all face.

Somewhere along the way the Church has collectively suffered from what Bible scholar and theologian Walter Brueggemann calls “progressive amnesia”.  That is, the more enlightened we think we are, the more we think we know, the more “progressive” we think ourselves to have become, the further away we have roamed from the very simple and yet profound and Eternal Truth. 

We must first die to self.  We must first freely surrender our flesh and its desires, and submit fully and unreservedly to The Living Word which is Chris because it is written in Galatians, “The flesh craves anything that is opposed to the Spirit and the Spirit craves anything opposed to the flesh, for they both are contrary to one another” (5:17).  The Spirit and the flesh are not in any manner compatible.

In our “progressive amnesia”, however, we have managed to convince ourselves we can somehow be both fully alive in our flesh with all its worldly desires and demands, and still be somehow fully alive in the Spirit.  The reality of “progressive amnesia” reveals that our “first love” experiences have faded, and the “marriage” between the Bridegroom, who is Christ, and the Bride, which is the Church, has been dangerously neglected to the point of “irreconcilable differences”.

Evangelism is a $20 word few in the Church really understand – or care to understand.  We think (or prefer) it be a task reserved only for a select few who are specifically called and gifted to this ministry of “making outsiders into insiders” (Brueggemann), but that is not correct.  It is the Task of the Whole and Holy Church to not only “make outsiders into insiders” but to also “summon insiders to [restored] memory” (Brueggemann).

In order to recapture this memory, then, the sense and urgency of evangelism must be re-envisioned and reawakened in “perfect submission” – not “progressively” but faithfully and consistently.  There is no component of the Church, no program, no committee – NONE – that can be separated from the essential mission of the Church which is evangelism – TELLING the Good News.  Family life, membership care, even administrative and finance functions must all work toward the task of evangelism – both inside the church and out. 

But before we can – or should even try – to recapture that urgency, we must be willing to see everything in the Resurrection of Messiah there is to see … because we cannot tell it if we never saw it – and we cannot share it if we refuse to experience it ourselves.

During the rebuilding period of Ezra/Nehemiah, the people of Israel were being reminded of what “progressive amnesia” had done to them.  The restoration of Jerusalem and the Temple as the central feature of their being as the people of The Lord would not only require a lot of hard work and devotion to the task at hand, but they would also have to have their memory restored.  They had to distance themselves from their present reality in order to reconnect to their past, find their roots, and learn to stand on the foundation long established and still present – but long forgotten. 

The Rebuild / Reconnect / Restore Process required – and requires still - that The Word of The Lord be “resurrected”, in a manner of speaking – not “progressively” adjusted or modified to fit the times – because the “times”, such as they are, are fleeting and passing.  The Word is to be embraced, lived, and experienced as though there is no other Way (as Jesus is The Way) – indeed for the faithful there is no other way as it is undeniably written, “Your Word, O Lord, is firmly fixed in Heaven.”  That is, Eternal and thus unchanging.

The challenge of the Church is that this same Word must be “firmly fixed” and faithfully lived to the bitter end “on earth as it is in Heaven” – even at the expense of our own lives, our own “sweat as drops of blood”.

The Resurrection reveals and promises much more than the mere restoration of the body.  We will witness the “glorified form” of the Body of Christ in its perfection – having given His all without ever lashing out, striking back, or making personal demands.  Living the Word, BEING the Word.  It is The Resurrected Word perfected in Jesus’ faithfulness which has been raised to Glory.  It is the Eternal Word which “is seated at the Right Hand of The Almighty God”.  It is the Eternal Word which will come to “judge the living and the dead” (as in, “Lord, Lord, did we not?” … “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practiced lawlessness”).

The enduring love of our Eternal God and Savior is the Resurrection of the Eternal Word “firmly fixed” on earth in Messiah – and in His disciples.  The profound Love in that Word would not – could not – be buried even by those who once rejected that Word according to the desires of the flesh.  What we see – if we dare to look – is that Word which is by its very nature indestructible in its faithfulness!  As will be all who embrace and experience this Word as their very own “delight”!!  AMEN.

No comments: