Friday, March 21, 2008

Easter Day

He is risen!

[He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!]

Well, actually, I think it's a good news-bad news situation.  Bet you weren't expecting that.  Bet you thought today was just about good news – chocolate eggs and strawberries and champagne – anyway, that's what I've got planned for later, I don't know about the rest of you.  But I reckon it's bad news first, then it's good news.

The bad news?  Jesus Christ is risen!  And if you don't think that's bad news, that might be because you need reminding that the person we are claiming to be alive – the historical person called Jesus of Nazareth that we claim, in some sense or other, couldn't be contained by death and the grave, that it's this known troublemaker, this very challenging and inconvenient person who we claim to be still at large, still capable of stirring things up – and that, I suggest, might be very bad news for anyone like me who sometimes prefers not to hear some of the uncomfortable things this Jesus had to say.

It's certainly not that Jesus is the only guru, role model or even god on offer.  Just by opening the Weekend Australian yesterday I got more good advice than I knew what to do with from Ruth Ostrow, Phillip Adams and Susan Maushart – then there's daytime TV, Oprah Winfrey or Dr Phil – or if you want a real Messiah there's always Kevin Rudd, Tim Flannery or the Dalai Lama.  A lot of people even find Athena Starwoman more helpful than Jesus, who never seems to have anything at all to say about the chances of finding Mrs or Mr Right.

Of course there are other, what we might call, more traditional gods most of us would much rather know than Jesus – power, drugs, money, success.  I could make a pretty good case for coffee. 'Whatever your soul clings to and replies on, that is your god', is the way Martin Luther put it. How about education or health or family or even church? Most of us probably know a lot more about these gods – and give them a whole lot more of our time and effort - than Jesus.

So what's such particularly bad news about Jesus, by all accounts an extraverted kind of guy, loved to talk, loved to hang around with pretty much anybody really, the good, the bad and the dangerous - riff-raff, good time girls, respectable types and pompous gits - loved to eat and drink, had some whacky theories about the reign of God that he said was going to turn the status quo on its head – the poor would find themselves coming first for a change, rich folks would find all of a sudden they were poor in what really counted – in God's scheme of things, Jesus claimed, everybody who is now on the outer finds themselves welcomed and accepted, sins get forgiven willy nilly with no strings attached, women and men are healed of the secret afflictions, the shame and guilt that prevent them from living joyfully and with strength – all of this, of course, is what got up the collective noses of the powers that be so much that they had to put a stop to it – and if – as in fact today we do – we claim that nothing the merciless Roman occupation army could do, nothing the self-serving Jewish religious elites could do – not even nailing this obvious troublemaker to a cross – then nothing at all can stop this nonsense because Jesus refuses to stay dead.

Not only is it nonsense, obviously deluded and completely out of touch with the real world – but if you do want to claim this eccentric do-gooder as your cup of tea, your take on what's really going on, the prism through which you see reality, the way you judge what's right way up and what's not – in short, if you want to be a disciple of Jesus, if you, like me, want to claim this Jesus as revealing to you what God is like – and if you believe the resurrection of Jesus shows his agenda as ultimately realistic – then the really bad news is that – well, the challenge is to actually start living this way, isn't it? 

As people who understand themselves as forgiven and follow Jesus' foolish practice of indiscriminate forgiveness.  As people who take as the yardstick of their own lives Jesus' life of compassion and generosity in which we recognise something of the quality of God's life.

I'm sure you'll agree Athena Starwoman is an easier proposition, by far.

So you'd probably rather hear the good news?

Well, of course it's that Jesus Christ is risen!  [Alleluia!]

Easy enough to say, especially in all the hype and drama of Easter Day, but what do we actually mean by it?  Especially if, like me, you're too old to believe in the Easter Bunny?  What is resurrection actually about?

For a start, I think it means something more than just resuscitation – something more than just re-animating a dead-as-a-doornail human body, something more for example than the now almost routine medical miracle that gives new hope and new life where life and hope have almost gone – resuscitation which by its very nature means just a continuation of life, more of the same, even if nothing is ever going to seem quite the same again – resurrection on the other hand has got to mean a quality of life that's completely different, a whole new way of being, and notice that as Christians we don't just claim this new sort of life for Jesus as a sort of 'one-off' proof that he really was who he said he was – we claim Jesus resurrection as evidence of what God intends for every single human being.  That the God who creates the world we live in – and us – intends us for life and not for death.  The body that's missing from the tomb – the absence at the heart of the shining presence that is resurrection belief – is intended I think not to close off the possibilities of how we might understand Jesus' resurrection – and our own – but to drop us the hint that what we are being invited into is a mystery.

So what does it mean to claim that Jesus is alive?  At the very least, I'd want to suggest, it means that he can still surprise us, that he can still challenge us, still come out with something new, a fresh perspective on our own reality.  In other words, to say that Jesus lives is to say something about the future. That Jesus is not just a figure of the past to be remembered but a surprise in the future to be expected.

Our Gospel reading this morning points us in that direction, I think.  'He is going ahead of you', is how the Angel puts it to the Marys at the empty tomb. And then Jesus confirms it, 'Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; that's where there they will see me.'  In other words, right in the middle of your everyday reality, in the middle of your working week – not as some historical curiosity but as a fact of lived experience. 

And the second thing it means, I think, for us to claim Jesus is alive, is that as Christians we are not just following a rule-book, or a guide-book.  We don't just read the stories of our faith to nod our heads approvingly and say, 'good point'.  'Ah, there's something there for all of us, really'.  We don't just read the Bible as history, or as mythology, as poetry, or even just as a rollicking good story, for all that it can be every one of those things, at times – if we are serious in asserting that this Jesus is alive then it means we are claiming we have a relationship with him.  That Jesus can surprise and delight and challenge and annoy me because – in some way that really you can't expect me to be too clear about because like every living, growing relationship, it just is – I have a living relationship with Jesus, the Christ of faith.

And the third thing – this, I promise you, is my very last thing – is that the one you meet in the middle of your everyday life – the one who reveals to you the infinite, inexpressible heart of God – the living Christ of faith – is also and always the broken one, the suffering, crucified one who knows what it is like to feel rejected and abandoned even by God – the one who promises not carparks or good health or lottery wins, or that you will never feel pain or loss in your life, but that he will be with you through thick and thin – the one who, because he is with you is able to reach into the depths of your own suffering and bring forth from it beauty and compassion and joy.

And that, I think, is good news.

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