Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Monday (okay Tuesday) After Easter

This is a repost from a friend of mine who is a pastor at Sanctuary Church in Tulsa, OK. I would say enjoy, but if you're like me, it will be more challenging than enjoyable...

Early on in the second volume of Luke-Acts, Luke records an early clash between the nascent church and the ruling elite of Jerusalem over the healing of a lame man who used to beg at the Temple:

"18Then they (the Sanhedrin) called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19But Peter and John replied, 'Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. 20For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.'

21After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. 22For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.

23On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. 24When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. 'Sovereign Lord,' they said, 'you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:

'Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
26The kings of the earth take their stand
and the rulers gather together
against the Lord
and against his Messiah.'

27Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.' "

It was not long into the career of the early church that the confession and resultant way of life that issued from that confession (God raised Jesus, the one you killed, which means that a universal change of regime is underway) put the church at odds with the world (in this case, Jerusalem). Luke is quite explicit on this point. In Acts 2, the people of Jerusalem perceive the early church as an oddity. By Acts 3 they are perceived as an undeniable threat to establishment power. Something about the confession that God raised Jesus from the dead disturbed the regnant powers-that-be. That this antipathy should be understood not just a one-off historical irregularity but as the inevitable state of affairs between that group of people that confesses the Crucified One as the Living Lord and those who feel their claims to power slipping away at His displacing rule is confirmed by Luke's use of Psalm 2 as paradigmatic for the church's life in a hostile world - God reigns through his Messiah, that is, Jesus; and at this reality every other claimant to power writhes and rages. For his reign disturbs and threatens.

Christ is risen, the church declared yesterday.
He is risen indeed.

But the world knows this not. And even our very lives have yet to be redefined by the judging and saving word that the empty tomb represents. I wonder whether we're prepared to face the terror of a living Lord who reigns in and through and over our times, provoking us to newness even as he brings the present regime(s) to an end. I wonder whether we're prepared to lock eyes with the one whose fidelity exposes us even as it overcomes our own hatred of him. I wonder if we're prepared to accept the shape of the kingdom whose King calls us to new and dangerous expressions of neighborliness, mercy, justice, and community.

Christ is risen.
But are we ready for it?

I think that we are probably a lot less like the Spirit-imbued apostolic community and a lot more like the women in Mark who first encounter the empty tomb, who left in fear and silence, "trembling and bewildered" (surely this is Mark's way of provoking his own community to acknowledge their ongoing failure to embody the Resurrection reality in the world). We just aren't sure what we would do with a living Christ, or where we would put him, or how he fits in our safe little suburban ghettos, so we relegate him to the mystical and dare not talk about the material. I wonder, does the Risen one have anything substantial to say to whether or not a Christian should drive a Hummer or live in a million dollar home? Perhaps we are not ready to ask questions like that, but I think we should be honest about the fact that Resurrection is a trifle, a fairytale, a fable, a myth if we cannot ask questions like that ... if his world-subverting rule cannot call the shape of our taken-for-granted realities into question.

No, I think it would be too generous to suggest that we are like the women at the tomb in Mark 16. Rather I think it more accurate to suggest that we are like the conspirators in Matthew who sought to change the story to protect their vested interests. A risen Christ is far too troubling, too dangerous, too disturbing. Better to modify the details and mute the implications to protect the world we've erected unto ourselves than to wonder whether or not Resurrection might have something to say to, for instance, the racism and fear of the "other" that while unacknowledged still is undeniably encoded into the structures of most of our lives.

I'm just wondering this morning, the Monday after Easter, whether or not Resurrection means anything, or if it's just an empty cipher that provides us all with a sense of transcendence? I'm wondering why the populace is not threatened every year as the church makes her annual return to Golgotha and then, to the empty tomb?

Is it possible, I'm wondering...

that it's because we've turned Resurrection into an empty idea, into a Precious Moments illusion that makes us feel nice and warm inside all the while failing to provide an impetus or rationale for questioning, for example, whether a society that is sustained by a cultural ethos based on shopping can ever claim moral leadership in world affairs.

I'm just wondering.

Just wondering why Resurrection is not perceived as dangerous. Why the church's yearly return to the primal confession doesn't cause the powers to tremble...

Maybe, I'm wondering, we're missing something.

Seems to me that the news of Resurrection puts Christians in the Bible in an automatically awkward position. There are times of peace and quiet, to be sure, but more often than not wherever the news that "God raised Jesus from the dead" is announced in its thick, deep, salvation-historical, Hebraic, messianic, sociopolitical sense, Christians start dying or, at the very least, getting the living daylights beat out of them. It's arguable, I suppose, that the more morally robust a society is, the more capable it is of hearing the truth, but I hardly think that our culture is just so morally stout as to be capable of hearing the news about Resurrection and not panic... I think rather that the error lies on the side of an accomodationist Western church that knows how to say but not how to live "Jesus is Lord"; that is to say, "Caesar is NOT."

Or better yet...

Democracy is NOT
Capitalism is NOT
Consumerism is NOT
Nationalism is NOT
Militarism is NOT
America (and every other self-secured nation in the West) is NOT

For all these "powers" fall under the theological rubric provided by Psalm 2 and as such must too bend the knee to this Living Lord who judges and saves, and woe betide us if we become so safe in bed with our culture at large that we fail to maintain the theological (that is to say, prophetic) distance necessary to call these idolatrous powers into question; to be able to say, "This far you come and no further."

Christ is risen.
But are we ready for it?
Do we believe it?

It in a consumeristic, militaristic, nationalistic, narcissistic, hedonistic dogmatically pluralistic societal ethos, one wonders how Easter Sunday is still one of the most well-attended church services of the year. One might expect crowds to stay away in droves on this, the most dangerous day of the church calendar, and to attend instead during those ordinary seasons when we teach people how to be nice and have success in their careers (read: fit in in Western civilization).

This morning I am thinking that the gospel is not nice. It is not safe. And neither is the One it proclaims.

But it, and He, to quote C. S. Lewis, is good. With a goodness that so surpasses our perception of "the good" that it ought to disturb and terrify us. That it doesn't, that Monday after Easter Sunday can come and nothing is different, is an indication at least to me that the church in the West is sick, and probably dying, for we've lost the nerve to name the Name in all it's disturbing otherness, and so to challenge...

every rival Lord,
every rival politics,
every rival economics,
and every rival ethics,

that refuses to acknowledge the Resurrected one as Lord of all.

God help us.

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