Thursday, April 8, 2010

We Have Met the Resurrection and It is Us

Easter Year C 2010
Luke 24:1-12
We Have Met the Resurrection and It is Us
By Rich Gamble

This is Easter, the most important day of the year for Christians. It is also April 4 one of the most important days of the year for Americans. The Convergence of the two makes this day a powerful one indeed.

You probably know the Easter story. Jesus, following his calling to speak truth to power, goes to Jerusalem. There he confronts the rulers of his part of the world. He challenges the Jewish leaders of the Temple who served the empire of Rome. And he received what he expected, he was executed by the Roman military, in a fashion all too familiar to Palestinian Jews of the time: as a dissident prosecuted for resisting the “occupying authority.” He was crucified, a slow, painful, humiliating, public execution. The means by which the Roman Empire sought to terrorize its subjects into submission. Jesus died.

Jesus’ death led to the death of the dreams of those who saw him as the messiah. They had hoped that he would raise up an army of the faithful, who, supported by the power of God, would crush their Roman occupiers and secure the borders of Israel against all invaders forever.

Jesus’ followers had lost their dreams, lost their leader, and were now fugitives from the authorities. In the midst of this loss, the women, having waited until after the Sabbath to tend to Jesus’ body, come back reporting that the body is gone. This leads to confusion and fear, but eventually the followers of Jesus believe that Jesus was resurrected, meaning that through God he had been moved beyond the power of death.

April 4th is the anniversary of two of the most important events in American history. The first is the 1967 speech made by Martin Luther King Jr. in the Riverside Church in New York City. Rev. King had become a household word for his heroic non-violent struggle against racism in the United States. He had gained the support of many powerful people, including the president of the United States, Lyndon Johnson. But Rev. King’s vision was broader than this one cause. He saw in the Vietnam War, an evil which was consuming the resources and the soul of his nation and he felt compelled to speak out against it.

He was warned by his supporters that speaking out against the war would put him on the wrong side of many of his supporters. He would make an enemy of the president, he would cost his organization much of their financial support, he would incur the wrath of the corporate media which had largely been supportive of his work, and he would stand out against his nation in a time of war. Parents, wives, and children of soldiers want to believe that their children are risking their lives for a noble and important cause. To denounce that cause is question the meaning of their sacrifice.

Rev. King was strongly encouraged not to get involved in the issue of the war and yet he could not ignore the evil he saw in that struggle. On April 4 1967 he gave a powerful argument against the war in Vietnam and a powerful denunciation of the Powers which ruled the nation.

Early in his speech he said

As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.

He then went on to make a clear sighted denunciation not only of the war but also of the political, economic and social direction taken by his nation. He called on the people of the nation to turn to the better angels of their nature and participate in a revolution of values.

As expected, he was denounced by the media, but he was also denounced by members of his own organization. His popularity ratings plummeted. Even Walter Fauntroy, his loyal Washington representative, called King a “ spent force. ” That previous fall King’s literary agent had been unable to find a single magazine to excerpt his latest book.

But Rev. King did not stop. In May 1967, he told workers in New York City that the movement needed a second phase, an effort to change not just racial laws, but the unjust allocation of national resources that upheld poverty and economic division. Throughout 1967 he worked on planning a poor people’s march and encampment in Washington DC in which he hoped to push for that more just allocation of resources.

On April 4, 1968 one year to the day, after he gave his speech which challenged the military and economic agenda of the nation’s leadership, Martin Luther King was shot on a motel balcony in Memphis Tennessee.

Jesus challenged the rulers of his day and he was crucified on that first Good Friday. Rev. King challenged the rulers of his day and he was shot on April 4. But this April 4th is Easter and the story has changed from Friday. Friday Jesus was crucified, dead. Sunday, he is among the living and that is the heart of the story and the heart of our faith.

Resurrection means different things to different people. For some it is a myth about a man rising from the dead. For many it is proof that Jesus was the Son of God and proof that through his death they will have eternal life. But resurrection is not confined to a past event; it is an active principle.

Remember that Jesus put himself into the hands of a violent empire, with only the thinnest of hopes that anyone would understand why. His followers continually proved that they did not understand what he was talking about. They continued to interpret his life through the lens of domination, which sees power in terms of violence and wealth in terms of greed. And if his followers who had been with him day and night did not understand how could he hope that strangers would? If we believe that Jesus was fully human, then we are called to see how he risked torture and death with little or no visible sign that he would be understood or his sacrifice remembered.

The Powers that Be believe that if they shout a lie long enough it will become truth, if they offer someone enough money they will go along, and if they cannot bribe or intimidate someone then death will shut them up permanently.

But on Easter morning we celebrate that the power of self giving love, the power of God’s truth, the power of compassion and justice will not be silenced. Resurrection is the promise that against all odds, with not one shred of evidence on our side, with the power of those who rule the state, the economy, the media and even religion against us, with public opinion against us, that in some way we cannot predict or even understand our efforts to embody the love of God will not be lost to the world.

The disciples on that Easter morning did not know what the resurrection meant but they knew that the truth that Jesus lived and died for was not locked away in a tomb. The stone of force and ignorance was rolled away and power of love and justice had triumphed over the imperial might of Rome and the even over the System of lies upon which Rome and the hopes of those who sought to overturn Rome rested. The disciples didn’t yet know the meaning but they knew that their ideas about everything were overturned with the stone that sealed the tomb of Christ.

When they did awaken to the meaning of Jesus’ life and teachings and the power of the resurrection the followers of Christ went on to follow Jesus’ example and spread the truth over the known world. Centuries passed and when the power of Rome failed to frighten these followers, Rome enticed Christians with power and wealth.

The truth of Jesus was twisted and turned to meet the needs of those who seek to dominate and exploit. The image of Jesus became a gentle endorser of the whims of mighty. Cornel West cause it the “santiclausifcation” of Jesus.

For most of the world, today is not a celebration of a vision which overturns the Powers that Be, but a vindication of their religion, nation, race and class. Rev. King too, is not remembered for his call to do away with the evils of militarism, materialism and racism. He too has been santiclausified to be a smiling endorser of American values, a man with a nice dream, and an antiquated notion about the power of non-violence. President Obama in praising King went on to say that Rev. King’s notions of non-violence were not practical in today’s world.

Once again the thin thread of hope is strained. The truth of Jesus embodied by Rev. King rests in the hands of misunderstanding world.

If the truth of the vision of a world where all are loved, all are housed and fed, educated, cared for, where all have medical care, and opportunities to contribute and thrive; if the truth of the vision of world without the violence of war, and pollution, where all are free from oppression, if the truth of the vision which claimed the lives of Rev. King, and Jesus is to be a living force, then we now must be a part of the miracle of resurrection. The truth of the vision, the power of self-giving love lives or dies with us.

We are the thin thread upon which the God places this hope. That the spirit which moves through the universe would be so vulnerable as to place this most precious vision in our hands is as incomprehensible as the resurrection of Christ. And both are sign of the unique power of God: power that brings life from death, power in vulnerability.

If Christ (not the Santa Clause version but the world changing savior) is risen then it is in us, when we choose to roll away the stone of fear and greed and reach out in love and justice.

We are called to see in the vision of man nailed to a cross, a vision of the power of God. As Jesus loved in the face of ridicule and forgave those who tortured him to death; as the truth of Jesus hung on the thin thread of his confused followers, so we glimpse the amazing power of God. This day is not the celebration of long ago event but the celebration of life changing world changing vision entrusted into our hands. It is an awesome calling and shockingly overwhelming, we are the resurrection of Christ and it is good news.

No comments: