Monday, April 21, 2014

Roses to Bougainvillea

Easter 2014
Chatfield UMC
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
Resurrection Joy

On one of my face book posting this week, a 2 year old living in Minneapolis asked her mom when Santa was coming. The foot of new snow persuaded her that she was back at Christmas instead of waiting for Easter.

Do ever wonder why the Easter Bunny has not taken over the celebration of Easter in the same way Santa has co-opted Christmas?
There is certainly enough grist for the consumer mill to churn out untold amounts of revenue around this time of year. The supply and demand for chocolate alone must be fueling some kind of economic. 
Now, certainly we have seen a rise in the consumerism of Easter, I have seen Easter lights, Easter table decorations, bunnies for every room in the house and chickies galore.

But even with all of that, Easter hasn’t taken on the commercial significance of Christmas. No retailer will tell you that their store lives and dies according to Easter merchandise sales. And no other world religion has had to figure out how to incorporate Easter traditions into their practices. You won’t find too many Muslims or Jews with Easter egg trees in their living rooms.

Why is it that the world hasn’t co opted Easter? The miraculous story of a resurrection is no more or less feasible than a virgin birth. Women going to a tomb and meeting an angel is no more or less fantastic than shepherds hearing angels singing in the skies. And people gathered in an upper room with the door locked shut, suddenly confronted by Jesus with nail pierced hands and feet is no more or less strange than wise men from the east following a star to Bethlehem.

Why is it, do you think that the world doesn’t embrace this story and squeeze it for all of its worth?

Is a little baby much more easy to market than a crucified and risen man?

Or is it more than that?
Is it because the idea of the cross is so scandalous and horrifying that unless you have a really good reason to believe it, it is best left alone? And even more so, is it because the message of a death that has been defeated is so scandalous and horrifying?

Remember what Paul writes: For the preaching of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

I do believe that is why Easter remains, primarily, the focus of those who take their faith seriously rather than the casual Christian.

A cross as a central theme of the story is cruel. It represents the very worst of human imagination. Killing someone by crucifixion is tortuous. Ugly. Inhumane. We can try to put flowers on our crosses, or decorate them with jewels even. But a cross will always be stained with blood.
For the preaching of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

It is the power of God to us who are being saved not to us who have been saved. But to us who are being saved, because each day of our lives we need to know that we could throw the very worst at God, all of our sin, all of our violence, all of our hatred, all of our unfaithfulness, all that makes us turn from God’s way of being in the world. We can throw all of it at God, We can crucify the only truly good man who ever lived. And God will still love us. God will return our violence with love, our unfaithfulness with love, our hatred with love, our sin with love. 

No matter how you define resurrection, as an actual physical bodily return from the dead or a metaphorical continuation of the presence of Christ in the world...The truth of the resurrection is powerful. Believing that true transformation of dead things into alive things is beyond what most people can handle.

The stories we have of the resurrection accounts as well as Paul’s testimony are very clear. To proclaim resurrection is not a simple celebration of the coming of spring or a seed becoming a flower. It is a powerful way of speaking about God’s ability to transform, even the worst of our world into something gloriously redemptive. Gloriously Alive.

In the Easter story, we read of Mary and the women going to the tomb, ready to prepare a body for burial and put to rest all of their dreams. They thought they had met the Messiah. They thought they were living into something new. This Jesus was just beginning to make sense to them. But now it is just barely morning. The women bring spices and ointments to show respect for this Jesus whom they loved. But look the stone is moved. An angel of God says to them: He is not here, he is risen. Why do you seek the living among the dead.
God’s love transformed that morning of grief and despair into Joy.

We are witnessing, a story of women who lives were resurrected by the rebirth of their faith in this man called Jesus. God’s love did overcome violence. Grief does turn to joy. Mourning does turn into dancing.

When we read of the disciples holed up in a locked room for fear of their lives. And then we read of them going out into the world and preaching the gospel to every creature. We are not reading about the courage of a group of men and women who suddenly found a cause.

We are witnessing the rebirth and recommitment they were given through the Spirit’s work within them. Even though they abandoned Jesus and denied Jesus and fell asleep when Jesus needed them the most, the resurrected Jesus came to them and proclaimed forgiveness.
God’s love overcame their unfaithfulness.
These disciples these women were transformed into people who are very different from their pre-Easter selves. These fearful, unfaithful, scared, men and women were transformed into people who became followers of Jesus. True followers, who were willing to not only stand by Jesus, but live like Jesus taught them to live. Love like Jesus taught them to love. Be like Jesus taught them to be. They were now even willing to die for the way Jesus taught them to be. This was not a new cause, this was a whole new way of life.

The new testament community didn’t simply say that they believed in some kind of myth about a resurrected body, like some kind of good story or fable which could comfort them when they were scared or teach them some kind of moral lesson they could pass on to their children.

They lived as those who were transformed by the experience of the power of the resurrection.
Yesterday I spent time in my garden. The roses are showing signs of new growth. It is wonderful. But this is not resurrection.
Resurrection would be, if my roses that are meant for this climate changed over the horrible winter we just experienced into bougainvillea. Bougainvillea, a flower that only survives in temperate climates! Resurrection is changing roses into something they would never be without radical change happening in their very core of being. Resurrection is changing lives of fear into lives of hope and life and and meaning.

And we, each day of our lives are invited to experience the power of the resurrection.
(Resurrection happens in our lives when that person we can’t stand walks into our space and we find ourselves greeting them with the genuine love of person that can only come from God, for example)

We can share in the mission of Mary and the other women, the disciples, Peter, Thomas, Paul, and Stephen. We can share in their mission proclaiming the resurrection credible by living as the resurrected body, bearing Jesus' spirit to the places of death and allowing transformation to work through us so that the world can see the power of the cross.

We can be people who are being saved.

St. Symeon wrote of this transformation:

We awaken in Christ's body
as Christ awakens our bodies,
and my poor hand is Christ.
He enters my foot, and is infinitely me.
I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
I move my foot, and at once
He appears like a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous?
NO? Then open your heart to Him
and let yourself receive the one
who is opening up to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
we wake up inside Christ's body
from St. Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022). Translation by Stephen Mitchell.

For us, this is not just a good spring story, this is the story of the power of God’s love in the world, in our world. As God moves and lives within us, the resurrection becomes true each day. The power of the cross, the power of love overcoming violence and hatred and sin and unfaithfulness. This is Resurrection.

As God moves and lives within us the world is transformed given new shape and new birth.. All of this for the glory of God.

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed.

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