Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Divine Partnership

Easter Day B 2009 – John 20.1-18

Allelluia! Christ is Risen. The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia!

John gives us what is perhaps the most interesting, most entertaining and easily the most sublime of all the Resurrection appearances recorded in Matthew, Luke and John. The attention to detail gives us plenty to ponder. The race to the tomb by Peter and “the disciple whom Jesus loved” has an old-school cartoon feel to it, imagining them racing, racing, racing, and all of a sudden putting on the brakes. One can see that sort of long skid, dust and smoke of the scorching braking action of their sandals as they ponder who is going to go in first. Why were we in such a hurry in the first place?

But it is surely Mary Magdalene who anchors John’s account in the garden. The garden, of course, is suggestive of a return to Paradise, that first garden where God and the man and the woman used to walk in the cool of the evening. Some point to this setting of the resurrection as Christ offering us new access to the garden, a complete reversal and transformation of the long alienated human condition. No longer are we barred from returning to Eden; the way back is opened to us for those who choose to follow in the Way of Christ.
Allelluia! Christ is Risen. The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia!

It is Mary Magdalene who bears our sorrows, the sorrows of all those who stood by and witnessed the death on the cross. All his disciples, the women who supported His ministry, all saw it as the end of the story, the end of his presence, the end of hope. She weeps as Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus. She weeps as we all do when struck with a profound loss. As she weeps she bends over to look into the tomb, for the burial chambers are small and low to the ground.

She seems unfazed as two angels, good messengers, are in the tomb asking why on earth are you weeping. “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” No matter how many times he had told them all, it is obvious that no one, not Mary, not Peter, not the beloved disciple, had any idea what he was really talking about.

So she turns around, bumps into someone she presumes is the gardener, who is also asking her why she is weeping. As she continues to explain her sadness and loss the gardener says one word, and one word only, to stop the world from spinning: “Mary.” He says her name. And with that, and just that fast, she knows it is the Good Shepherd who knows all His sheep by name – It is Jesus. He is Alive!
Allelluia! Christ is Risen. The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia!

He does not look the same. He is physically alive, but transformed in some new way. Alive enough, it seems, to hold on to him. Perhaps she falls and grabs onto his feet. Perhaps she embraces him. Perhaps she falls into him in a near faint, but he tells her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” And off she goes to say, “I have seen the Lord!”

In her little book, The School of Charity: meditations on the Creed, Evelyn Underhill writes: “When Christ said, ‘My Father and your Father – My God and your God,’ He made a declaration which must enslave and transfigure the whole lives of those who realize what is implied in it; conferring on them the tremendous privilege of partnership.
’Fellow-workers with God, because co-heirs with Christ.’ After that, the soul’s own life is to be ‘in the Spirit’: that is, delivered from the tension and struggle of those who are ever striving to adjust the claims of two worlds, because gladly subordinated to the mighty purposes of God. Everything is left behind which does not contribute to those purposes; and so, all that is left is harmonized within his Peace. To them that are perishing, says St. Paul, such a programme is foolishness: ‘but unto us which are being saved it is the Power of God.’ It is, in fact, what Christianity really means; and if Christians chose to stand up to this obligation, they could transform the world.”
The School of Charity, p. 69
Allelluia! Christ is Risen. The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia!

Do we so choose? That is the question. Do we choose to accept the offer to live in partnership conferred by the words, “My Father and your Father, My God and your God?” We may as well admit it, there are many tempting alternatives. Some like Freud, Marx, Feuerbach and others have criticized Christianity and religion in general as nothing more than believing what one wants to believe for the sake of comfort, an illusion grounded in the human longing for consolation. Apparently it never occurred to them, or their modern-day acolytes, that atheism and agnosticism might be equally illusory, grounded in the human longing for autonomy. Alistair McGrath, Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford notes, “One of the driving impulses that brought the modern world into existence was the human desire to be free – free to make our own choices, choose our own destinies and not be accountable to any higher authority for our decisions.” Resurrection, (Fortress, Minneapolis:2008) p. 30

From Maundy Thursday through Easter Morning we find ourselves facing a progressive series of questions. Can we accept Christ, or anyone, doing something for us? Will we allow Christ and His disciples wash our feet? Do we accept the handing over of Christ’s Spirit from the Cross? Are we ready to claim our Belovedness? Will we, or do we, allow God to disrupt the rules of our world? And finally, Do we choose to accept the partnership conferred by the words, “My Father and Your Father, My God and Your God?”

We know that Mary did. We know that Peter did. We know that countless witnesses who have taken the time to bend over and look into the empty tomb have made that choice to be in partnership with God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And the world is a better place. We who choose to enter into this partnership are children of the Eternal Perfect whose essential nature is Generous Love! We are destined to manifest the splendor of God revealed that morning in the Garden. It means a new quality of life possible to us, awaiting us; not somewhere else, but where we are now!
Allelluia! Christ is Risen. The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia!
Allelluia! Christ is Risen. The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia!
Allelluia! Christ is Risen. The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia!
And so are we! And so are we! Amen!

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