Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A sermon for the 2d Sunday of Easter

Here is Sunday's sermon, preached (twice) at All Saints' Episcopal Church, Greensboro, North Carolina.

Student Christian Movement meeting, Dhaka, Bangladesh, 2002
Photo: Peter Williams, WCC (World Council of Churches)

Revised Common Lectionary

Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 133
1 John 1:1-2:2
John 20:19-31

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one
claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was
held in common.
***************Acts 4:32

The Resurrection
may have been a one-time occurrence for Jesus,
but for us,
it is a life.
And it is a life
for Christ in our midst.

Easter is not just one day
in our church.
It is a whole season.
Not only do we have 50 days to let the joy sink in
–or to lift up our hearts, or both—
but we probably need those 50 days
to reflect on what it means
to live after the Resurrection,
to live the Resurrection,
to live after Easter
and be Easter people.

How will we live?
Who and what
will we become
after the Resurrection?

Today’s lessons,
especially the first one from the Acts of the Apostles
and the Gospel story
but also, in a more subtle way, the passage from the First Letter of John,
show us that post-Resurrection life
is a particular kind of community life.

They are not just about what happens to us as individuals
after the Resurrection.
In fact, the Resurrection is not
about what happens to us as individuals.

I want to invite us today
to reflect on what our life as a community looks like
after the Resurrection:
the community of the friends of Jesus,
the community of the friends of Christ
who is risen and present.

Our focus on this second Sunday of Easter
has often been on Thomas.
There’s nothing wrong with that:
many of us can identify with Thomas,
the one who wants concrete proof.
And for the author of the Gospel of John,
writing a generation or two after Jesus
for a no longer quite new Christian community,
the statement “Blessed are those who have not seen
and yet have come to believe” [John 20:29b]
is an important one in a church where most people
were not eyewitnesses,
not contemporaries of Jesus and Mary of Magdala
and Thomas and the rest of the Twelve;
that generation had passed away.
So believing
without that live connection to the beginnings
was important.

We can see other indications of how late the Gospel was written
in the odd and frightening language about “Fear of the Jews”
which makes no sense as language from Jesus’ day,
since Jesus and his friends in the house with the closed doors
were all Jews.
That language was born of a kind of family feud,
much later, when church and synagogue
were going their separate ways.

But back to our friend Thomas
And to what this Gospel story
might mean to us today.
This is not just the story of Thomas.
We can read and hear today’s Gospel
and all of the Scripture readings
to discover how communal
and how bodily
the experience of Resurrection is.

Let me say that again:
Today’s Scripture passages reveal to us
how communal and how bodily
the Resurrection is.

We have a preview
of the communal experience of the post-Resurrection life
in one of the preceding scenes in the same Gospel of John,
the crucifixion scene.

There we see and hear Jesus
helping to create a new household,
one not based on ties of blood,
as he speaks from the Cross
and tells his mother Mary and the Beloved Disciple
that now they are each other’s mother and son:
they are family.

And indeed, the disciple,
whom many have identified as John,
takes Mary into his home.
Jesus’ legacy
is a relationship,
a new kind of family.

If we think back to what we celebrated
in the holy days of Triduum,
the three days that are really one celebration,
Jesus’ legacy to us is deeply and widely communal.
His legacy is the washing of feet and serving of each other;
his legacy is the meal we celebrate in his memory and with his living presence.
They are meant to shape us and build us
again and again
into a body of believers and doers,
a community of friends of Christ
and friends of each other.

Jesus’ resurrection legacy is communal as well.
The texts today
have more than hints about living in community.

They speak of two of the most difficult realities to negotiate in our world
which are also
two of the most essential:

material possessions and reconciliation.

Think about it.

Material and economic realities:
health care,
and enough money for basic needs.

All this is part of “distributing to each as any had need.”

That’s not easy to do.

And there seems to be a connection
between being “of one heart and soul”
and not laying claim to private property.
I’m not giving you political ideology here,
I’m just having a look at a passage from the Bible
and how we might understand it!
So stay with me.

Material and economic realities:
There they are.
In one of the earliest communities after the resurrection,
living as Easter people involves particular relationships
to material realities,
to the needs of bodies and communities
-- and, we might add today on this Earth Day weekend,
to how we live on the Earth.

Material possessions… and reconciliation.

Reconciliation: right relationship.
Relationships between people:

Living the Resurrection is about
this forgiving of sins Jesus talks about,
--not just the fact that God forgives us, which of course God does,
but the fact that Jesus Christ,
risen and present among us,
gives us the power and the responsibility and the invitation
to forgive each other.

He gives us the power
and the responsibility
and the invitation
to forgive each other.

The prevention and healing of jealousy, of envy, of broken hearts,
of emotional abandonment and abuse,
of estrangement for reasons of
ideology, personal disagreement, national claims,
discrimination because of caste or religion
or economic class or social status,
the prevention and healing of
war and tyranny:
all this falls under the umbrella of
“be reconciled.”

Not to use people…
To see them as the image of God…
That too is part of living

What you bind on earth will stay bound.
What you unbind, what you forgive,
will be
and stay
unbound and forgiven
[today’s Gospel says]
with God’s help,
as we say in our baptismal promises,
the promises we renewed at Easter.

We tend to focus on Thomas in this Gospel,
But what if we focus on Jesus?
Thomas says,
I will not believe
unless I see Jesus in some bodily way, and not just that--
unless I see Jesus with his wounds!

Last month a theologian named Nancy Eiesland [pron. EES-lund]
died at the age of 44.
Living all her life with multiple physical challenges,
she was the author of a book with a challenging and surprising title,
The Disabled God.

In the book Dr. Eiesland commented
on the resurrection appearance in the Gospel of Luke,
but that appearance features the same gesture
as the one we see today:
Jesus showing his wounds.

Nancy Eiesland
“proposes that the image of Christ’s resurrected body, with pierced hands a feet and scarred side, offers a way of seeing God as having lived through the fullness of human experience in a very physical way. Not only was [Jesus’] body broken in life,
but the signs, the symbols, of this brokenness remained after the resurrection.”[4]

“‘In presenting his impaired body to his startled friends, the resurrected Jesus is revealed as the disabled God,’ she wrote. God remains a God the disabled can
identify with, she argued…”[5]
and “the disabled” means not just 43 million people in this country,
but also most of us at some point or another in our lives,
as we age,
or as become ill or suffer accidents.

Christ crucified and risen
“…is not cured and made whole; his injury is part of him…”
It is not a divine punishment
or an opportunity for a cure.[6]

What happens when we view Christ this way?

What happens when we view God this way?

We Christians often have a thing about perfection.
Does Jesus Christ bring us perfection?
Not in the sense of a particular kind of beauty or
bodily wholeness.[7]
We meet in this season
a risen, wounded Christ
in a new kind of community.

We also tend to confuse resurrection
with immortality of the soul.
But the texts here do not talk about
immortality of the soul.
They proclaim
the resurrection of the body
and the victory of God’s justice:
the healing of the earth
and of society.
The resurrection is not,
as my mentor Krister Stendahl put it
in his inimitable way, about what happens to
“little me.”
When we pray as Jesus taught us,
We pray for God’s kin(g)dom,
not for our own immortality.[8]

What we do with our money;
whether we all have food;
how we feed each other;
how we walk on the earth;
how we view and treat each other’s bodies;
how we envision the Body of Christ;
how we go about the hard work of forgiveness
day after day after day:
This is the risen life.
This is Christ among us.
We are the community of Christ’s friends.

Christ is risen!

[1] See Krister Stendahl, “Immortality Is Too Much and Too Little,” in Meanings: The Bible as Document and as Guide (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), 193-102. This essay was originally a lecture at the 1972 Nobel Conference at Gustavus Adolphus College and was first published in the conference proceedings in 1973.

[2] See Jane Carol Redmont, “Fear of the Jews,” Lectionary Reflections for Easter 2 (C), A Globe of Witnesses, The Witness, April 15, 2004. http://www.thewitness.org/agw/redmont041504.html

[3] Nancy Eiesland, The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability (Abingdon Press, 1994).

[4] Nancy Erickson, review of Nancy Eiesland, The Disabled God, United Church of Christ Disabilities Ministries 4/7/07, http://www.uccdm.org/2003/04/-7/the-disabled-god/ , accessed 4/18/09.

[5] Douglas Martin, “Nancy Eiesland Is Dead at 44; Wrote of a Disabled God.” The New York Times, March 22, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/22/us/22eiesland.html?em

[6] Ibid.

[7] I preached the weekend after Susan Boyle became an international sensation after her vocal performance on a British reality show, but chose not to mention her because most of the congregation, especially the one at the early liturgy, was not active on the internet, where hundreds of thousands of people had viewed and heard Ms. Boyle’s performance and read commentaries about her and attitudes toward her before and after her performance. The live audience and judges’ initial attitude and their surprise and delight were a consequence of their perception of Ms. Boyle as plain and ugly; the beauty of her voice and delivery stunned them.

[8] Stendahl, “Immortality.”

1 comment:

Fran said...

I did not comment the first time I read this but I had to come back and tell you how much I loved this sermon.

Ah - if only I could have been there for it!