Br. Randy Greve, OHC
Easter 5 C - Sunday, April 24, 2016
Easter continues and the celebration is well-founded in these Fifty Days. Resurrection is the impossible and the unthinkable, yet it happened. Crucified and buried, Christ is raised from the dead. We live in the crisis and delight of how to respond, how to live in the light of this wonderful, earth-shaking news that we cannot ignore and which changes everything. After the tomb is empty and Jesus is alive and new life is offered to us, do we dare live, really live? And if so, how? What difference does this event make in the ordinariness of my own life? If he is alive, then the question that must be asked next is "am I alive?" We are offered a choice – Easter is about this profound choosing - either despair and hopelessness on the one hand – there is no bigger story, life is about me and my pleasure here and now - - or joy and community and generosity beyond our wildest imaginings. The life and love of Jesus means waking up from what Thomas Merton called “the illusion of separateness” and receiving and celebrating the reality that there is hope because there is no us and them, there is only us. The invitation of Easter is new life together in and with and for the source and giver of life from whom flows our very breath.
The lectionary scripture readings for today each give us some insights into resurrection life. The images are brimming with excitement and possibility, but living out their ethic is neither easy nor comfortable. Our illusions are deep and instant gratification is easier than the long march of discipleship. The biblical vision of resurrection life does not promise an easy or painless life, but it does promise that the vision of life offered to all and a new world of justice, love, and peace is breaking in and is moving toward fulfillment. The biblical picture is of a shocking equality where the outcast and rejected get in alongside those of us who are among the rich and privileged. The readings from Acts and the Revelation are the accounts of what has come and what is to come as the Lord in the Gospel reading grounds our present and future in the self-giving delight of love.
In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Peter’s cultural customs about clean and unclean food are transcended by a new reality of grace to non-Jews. "Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life". His world and identity are turned upside-down, his boundaries and expectations redefined in the shattering light of grace. The shock is that God has not consulted me first on who is in and who is out! God is present and at work in people I don't like! The great equalizer of grace is enough to turn many off of Christianity because it is so much easier to make rules, control access, and evaluate one another’s goodness than to take seriously the statement "Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life" which negates our petty attempts at managing God. We all have the equivalent to Gentiles in our lives. A sure way to tell whether we really believe in grace is to reflect on how we treat the outsider and the rejected.
In the Revelation, our future gives us hope to live the risen life today. The reality that unifies us beneath the externals is that we are mortals; we are all future dead people. And God is with all of us, we are destined for one city - not the city of the people I like, not a separate city where everyone agrees with me or looks like me - but one city, one people. This is the vision of love toward which we are moving. This is where we are going in the glory of the empty tomb. What does love look like? It looks like the new Jerusalem where we are gathered together in the presence of Christ for a party that lasts for eternity. So when we give into temptation and engage in judgments, prejudices, attacks, and insults, we grieve God's heart because that is not where we are going, that is not God's mission or our destiny. We are designed and destined for something bigger. God is present and at work in people I don’t like!
The bringing down of barriers and the new Jerusalem are not some pious fantasy for which we passively wait. God will bring about their fullness in God's own time, but we live as people of hope and promise now, believing that what is coming is already coming among us.
Then in the Gospel of John we have our Lord’s ultimate command – love as he loves! God in Christ loves us and gives us life. Resurrection life is summarized in love for one another; the surest proof of the resurrection is that Christians love one another. If we love one another everyone will know that we are his disciples. And now, risen, he lives. He lives in us who are his body, the baptized who are animated by his Spirit. In us he has found his place for loving. The love that he commands he also gives.
So because the resurrection happened, love has happened and can happen. If the tomb is empty, everything is changed and the impossible becomes possible, the unlovable becomes lovable, excuses fall away, creativity blossoms, the world looks at the church and does not say "what a bunch of hypocrites", but "see how they love one another".
A priest friend of mine has come up with the best definition of hell I have ever heard. He says hell is what happens when folk get to the pearly gates, look in to see who is there, and say, “Oh, I’m sorry, we’re not in communion with them.” His definition is perfectly theologically accurate, too, because it images hell as the fundamental “no” to God’s invitation even to people I don’t like. To say “no” to grace, “no” to the presence of those who are not in my tribe, who do not fit my ideological expectations, is to put myself in the hell of isolation where I in essence am given by God what I most want – to be left alone in my own smug self-righteousness. Hell is the world in which it is more important to me to be right in my own eyes than to be surprised by the expansiveness of God’s grace. If heaven, the kingdom, the promised fulfillment of Christ with us and the final overcoming of sin and death, is the gift and the shock of being in communion with “the other”, then why not see the world that way now, why not live as if what God has promised is true now?
Over the next six months or so our cultural fetish on conflict and controversy will get kicked into overdrive as we move toward the election in November. The question is which vision will we believe? That I have worth and value when my side conquers the other, that victory is vindication of my rightness and of the other’s wrongness? Or the vision of Easter which confronts us and invites us today – that God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life and that we are headed toward a new Jerusalem, a new community of justice and peace bigger than nationality, party, or election that calls for our participation and preparation here and now today in efforts of reconciliation, respect, and understanding? This life does not mean that I abandon my convictions on issues or compromise my conscience in order to be liked. It means that within our individual backgrounds and personalities and passions and gifts we can travel together in humility and respect toward the same fulfillment.
Forgiveness and healing will be our call and a great need until our Lord returns in our church, our culture and our politics, but we must be attentive to what that looks like for us today. Let us commit ourselves to being the best signs of what it means to respect the dignity of every human being. "Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life". God is present and active in people I don’t like. What can they teach me about the journey to the kingdom? What do I offer to them to enlarge their vision of the wonder of grace? In the light of the impossible and unthinkable, Christ raised from the dead, what new thoughts and possibilities – what new life - is God offering us in our communities and families? Are we open and willing and ready to listen and respond? Amen.