A sermon on the poem by Christian Wiman and a meditation on love from the end of The Conference 2014
Thursday, May 1, 2014
Sunday, April 20, 2014
Christo Anesti. Christo Anesti. He is risen, he is risen.
This is Easter.
The experiences that we are loved, have love, and can love – this is Easter.
We experience (from time to time) redemption… this is Easter.
You and I have resurrection experiences and stories of rebirth and new life. We experience the feelings of discovery and the jubilation of understanding.
We have glimpses of what it feels like to be free.
We dream of a day of peace when swords are beaten into ploughs. That is Easter.
We know what grace is and what it means to be forgiven even though we don’t believe we deserve it.
This is Easter.
In his 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College David Foster Wallace, one of the great literary geniuses of our time, began with what he called the “deployment of a didactic parablish like story” which I will now insert here.
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What … is water?”
The immediate point of the fish story is (he said) that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about…[i]
This is Easter.
Our resurrection story, our Good News, our Gospel, Easter begins with Mary. It begins with a woman discovering that Jesus’s body is not in the tomb where he was laid and then she reports it. She is the first evangelist, the first messenger of good news, the first one ever oh ever to know, and she tells the disciples this is Easter.
There then is the famous disciple race – who will know next? The beloved disciple loves Jesus the mostest and he arrives at the tomb first before Peter. When he arrives he sees the burial clothes and the lack of the body and he experiences resurrection and he believes that Jesus lives and that he is Lord. He sees, he experiences and he believes. He is the second to know. And he is the next to share with others his Easter experience.
Mary Magdalene then returns to the tomb. There she experiences the risen Christ – the living Jesus - when he appears before her in the garden. She has been searching for him; she sees him but does not immediately know him. In fact she does not know him until he calls her name. “Mary.”
This is the very real experience of Jesus’ own teaching from chapter 10 verse 3: "The sheep hear his voice as he calls by name those that belong to him." "I know my sheep and my sheep know me." He says. Her response is to announce to the disciples that she has "seen the Lord."[ii]
These are different experiences of the risen Christ from two loving followers.
Some years later Paul too will have visions of the risen Christ and believe that Jesus is alive and that he is Lord. Paul becomes a loving follower himself. The bible tells us this is only a few of the many stories of resurrection.
The experience over the generations of the risen Christ is Easter.
Each story gives a sense that the risen Lord is known in many ways and experienced in many ways and is known to many people. While true belief will come with the Holy Spirit, we are given here in John's resurrection story the beginning of the new creation where the Gospel is available to all people.
Victory is won on the cross. The chasm that separated the earth and heaven is now breached. A new order and a new creation is even now rooting itself in the cosmos and in our lives.
Here is the beginning of faith which comes from experiencing the risen Lord – here in these stories we have the beginning of our Easter.
John's Gospel tells us clearly that resurrection is not simply a bodily - this world - experience but it is a resurrection into unity with God. We are reconciled with God and new life is ours – freedom, redemption, resurrection, love, grace, and forgiveness is all ours. It springs forth this most obvious, most ubiquitous, most important of realities.
This is Easter.
David Foster Wallace believed that we are deluded by the lens by which we experience the world – this is part of our problem and it hides the most obvious realities. He wrote, "A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded… [because] everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence... Think about it: There is no experience you've had that you were not at the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is right there in front of you, or behind you, to the left or right of you, on your TV, or your monitor, or whatever. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real”[iii] that it is difficult to hear the other voices. Wallace says, "As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head.”[iv] “In fact some of you are carrying on that conversation right now.”[v]
Easter, the resurrection is a vision altering, relationship altering, and monologue interrupting event for those who experience it.
The living God in Christ Jesus (who bursts forth from the tomb, is not recognized till he calls your name, appears by your side at the road’s edge, sits with his feet below your table and breaks bread with you and shares wine, and he comes to you in the locked room of your darkest night) – this appearing and showing up shorts out the “natural, hard-wired, default-settings [of our] self-centered lens.”[vi]
The resurrection invites us to move beyond abstract arguments. It invites us to wake up in a very real world where Easter happens… look around ourselves and see what is outside of ourselves. The resurrection invites us to choose what we pay attention to and how we interpret our experience and how to interpret meaning from our experience.
Because of the resurrection we may see a sliver of what is offered - an invitation to reject wholesale the notion that the best it will ever be is a comfortable, prosperous, respectable, unconscious, adult life where we are slaves to our egos and end up in a day-in-and-day-out routine of death.[vii]
Because of a Jesus who will appear at any point in our life we are invited to look for him in the world around us and in the people around us. Because of a Jesus who appears alive we are to see the world for the living that is in it. Because Jesus comes to us in a companion along the road side or in the locked upper room we are to look for him in places we least expect to find him.
Because of a God who is obedient to his love for humanity and in so doing breaks death’s strangle hold on us we are able to experience love, grace, freedom, forgiveness, and mercy when we open our psychic tombs to the risen Lord.
We experience these things not from a self-centered way but because we open ourselves up to having our name called out by the other. We risk giving all that we have and all that we are. We are generous. We love. We love regardless of the cost. We love even to death and we love through death and to the other side.
You see Easter is awareness of life lived freed from death. What David Foster Wallace says of awareness in general is what we say of Easter - “It is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: “This is water.”[viii]
This is water… this is love… this is life… this is Easter.
This is Easter.
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- "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
- "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
- "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
- "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
- "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
- "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
- "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
- "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball