Saturday 22 March 2008

Resurrection Yes or No? That's the wrong question!

Easter Sermon 2008
The Easter story is very simple – Jesus suffered, died, was buried in the tomb, rose on the third day and lives today. Hallelujah!

That is of course a very stark and simplistic outline of the central event of our faith. It doesn’t really do it or Jesus justice and yet most times that is a reflection of how we consider the Resurrection. It happened! – You either believe it or you don’t! If you do you’re a Christian, If you don’t you’re not! The Resurrection has become a historical litmus test of faith – a box you tick if you want to be a part of the Christian Church. As such it has become something defined and finite, something which must be apprehended by the faithful follower of Jesus.

And therein lies a problem: The Resurrection is not something that can be contained in creedal statements, it is not something that we can nail down! It is an experience that changes and transforms our world and the possibilities of our lives. It is not something which has a yes or a no answer. To reduce it to a historical event (albeit the most significant historical event in human history) is to curtail and to cut off its potential. The Resurrection is a continuing experience, not simply in our belief in a life beyond physical death but also a life before death. Resurrection is not simply about personal Salvation but about the triumph of God’s Justice on Earth. The Kingdom of God as a present reality.

This in itself is not a new departure. We need to constantly remind ourselves of the context in which Jesus lived and died. As Harvey Cox recently wrote: “We misunderstand him badly if we remove him from the ongoing saga of his people” In this Jewish context Resurrection was seen as an expression of God’s justice at the end of history. Again as Cox observes, the Resurrection is not something thing Jesus does, but something that God does! The Resurrection is in-fact a continuation of the Exodus story which declares that God wills his people to be free and so as Cox comments many Christians have called Easter a 2nd Exodus.

In our fixation with a selfish notion of individual salvation we have lost touch with the community dimension that was so much a part of the Exodus story. Jesus was a teacher of Jewish law who the night before he died celebrated the Passover liturgy, once again emphasising the continuity with the Exodus tradition.

Another dimension that often escapes our celebration of Easter is the significance of the nature of Jesus’ death. It is not simply a case of Jesus dying and coming back to life which would obviously call his mortality into question, but as Harvey Cox observes: “to restore a crucified man to life means to strike an equally decisive blow at the system that caused his wrongful death, and the death systems that continue to cause the suffering and fatality of millions in what the Latin American theologian Jon Sobrino calls a “world of crosses”.
The Resurrection story is not then just about the conquering of death, but of God’s prevailing over even the most appaling deeds of human cruelty.

So if the Resurrection is not a yes or no question how do we approach it?
I mentioned earlier the notion of experience, Resurrection as something we do not intellectually assent to but something that we experience, something that we share in without possessing, something that we partake of without owning but something that apprehends us and which we can see in our lives if our eyes of faith are open.

I have seldom heard it more beautifully described than in the experience of a contemporary Christian thinker and activist, Shane Claiborne. He tells of his experiences working with Mother Teresa in Calcutta:
“I fell in love with the Home for the Destitute and Dying and spent most days there. I helped folks eat, massaged muscles, gave baths, and basically tried to spoil people who really deserved it. Each day folks would die and each day we would go out onto the streets and bring in new people.
The goal was not to keep people alive (we had very few supplies for doing that) but to allow people to die with dignity, with someone loving them, singing, laughing, so they were not alone…… As Mother Teresa would say “we are called not to be successful but faithful”! ….and “we can do no great things, just small things with great love. It is not how much you do but how much love you put into doing it”…..I heard many a volunteer scolded for not putting enough gravy on the rice, since the plate was being served to Jesus himself.

Khalighat is one of the places that showed me resurrection, that life is more powerful than death, that light can pierce darkness. Those dying people were some of the most vibrant people I have ever met. There is a morgue in the home for the dying. As you walk into it, a sign on the wall reads: “I’m on my way to Heaven.” And when you turn around to walk out, another sign says: “Thanks for helping me get there.”…..As I looked into the eyes of the dying I felt like I was meeting God. ….Over and over the dying and the lepers would whisper the mystical word namaste in my ear. We really don’t have a word like it in English….They explained to me that namaste means: “I honour the Holy One who lives in you”

That to me is Resurrection – triumphing against impossible odds and bringing joy out of the depths of suffering and depravity. That is certainly what Jesus did but that was not the end! We are still living in the Resurrection and can still experience moments in which we are lifted up and out of and beyond situations which challenge our very will to live. The Resurrection changes everything – It allows us to look on our lives and our world and to hope and believe that things can change that things will be better. It allows us to go on when all the signs around us tell us there is no way forward. It frees us from a captivity to fate and fatalism and allows us to truly live, not simply to exist. The Resurrection is what allows people to laugh in the face of death. The Resurrection is this promise: “He is going ahead of you to Gallilee; there you will see him” Matt 28:7 WE TOO WILL SEE HIM!

Since posting this sermon I have been made aware of some very disturbing information about Mother Teresa which seems to be from very reputable sources. Fellow Blogger Bock the Robber has this and Wikipedia this!  Does this invalidate the whole point of the sermon - I'm not sure but I think perhaps it illustrates how sometimes God works despite us as well as through us.  


Bock the Robber said...

Nice new look to the site, Stephen.

Pity Mother Teresa's millions were lodged in the Vatican Bank instead of helping the poor as claimed by the old crook.

Stephen Neill said...

Thanks Bock - I had quite a few people having difficulty with the white on blue so have gone for clarity and simplicity - just like me really ;-)

Re Mother T? Not doubting you but interested in where there is some detail on this? Bit late to bring her before Mahon ;-)

Bock the Robber said...

Yeah. I found it a bit hard to read as well. This is much more relaxed: you can almost hear the soothing organ music in the background.

Regarding Mother T, you could start with this and Google onwards from there.

Stephen Neill said...

Ouch - that is very bizarre - a very complex (and obviously seriously flawed) individual and yet simultaneously seen as a modern day Saint! Can she be both or am I in denial?

Bock the Robber said...

You're in denial.

Search for Mother T's connections with baby Doc Duvalier.

Have a look at the scale of lodgements to the Vatican Bank derived from charitable donations. Look into how much was spent on building convents. Compare that with the actual funds spent on poor sick people.

You should also search for references to the nuns' ambulances in Calcutta, and also have a look at what the genuine charities in Calcutta and across India think of Mother T's Order.

Follow the money trail.

Stephen Neill said...

That is a very disturbing eye-opener - The volume of evidence backs up your position - I like many have swallowed the lie!
As to my original post - the only thing I can say is that whatever good came of/from her organisation was despite her and not because of her!

Bock the Robber said...

It's very easy to make decent people swallow a lie. That's why they're decent people.

Bock the Robber said...

Furthermore, would a living saint do this?

Stephen Neill said...

Classic ;-)