Mid Week Faith Lift
April 23, 2014
Easter Sunday- And Still I Rise
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
As we have journeyed this week with Jesus we come now to what seems like the end of the road. And yet here we are at this whole new place. Jesus isn’t just “Jesus” any more, no there is something much more to the story. In the practical aspects or elements of the story, what has happened is that the body of Jesus was taken off the cross and put into a cave with a heavy stone rolled in front of the opening. Now pause and realize that for a Jewish man, there are many rituals required for a proper burial, and because he had died on a Friday afternoon, just before the start of the Jewish Sabbath, these could not be completed, so they put his body in the equivalent of a Jewish holding tank donated by a wealthy man, Joseph of Aramathea. The plan was to get back to him on Sunday, after the Sabbath, and deal with his remains properly. And then when they got there with the sacred oils and spices, there was no body to anoint! Oy!
It is hard to imagine what first century Jews would have thought and felt about this turn of events. They would have certainly been dumbfounded and upset and perhaps somewhat frightened. They would have spent time and energy talking about it, and about their fears and what if the Romans now come after us. What if we, as followers of Jesus, become the next target of the wrath of the Scribes and Pharisees and the High Council within the Jewish Hierarchy? So what DOES all this mean, and now what do we do? Where do we go from here? Those are questions the followers of Jesus are left with….and they are really questions that we are left with too.
It is easy to imagine that those who were waving palm branches at hanging out at the edge of the crowd earlier in the week on Palm Sunday have now said to one another, “Well that was a loser…..we can’t pin our hopes on Jesus, that’s for sure!” But those closest to Jesus, those who had stepped into that energy field of love, well they had to be just devastated and really confused. They had said yes, they will follow, and now there is no one to follow.
We should note that while all four Gospels give an account of this crucifixion, death and resurrection story, there are no eyewitness accounts, no BREAKING NEWS headlines and videos to give us an on the scene report of events. There is actually no historical record of these events, and the four Gospels were written long after Jesus was gone. Whatever we read in these four accounts is written with a specific purpose and intention in telling the Jesus story. And one thing we do know about Jewish story-telling, or Midrash, is that the “reporting of facts” is not the point. The point is to emphasize what the writer wants the reader to learn or truly understand from the story, much like Aesop’s fables. That is how we are to understand the Gospel stories of the Passion of Jesus, not as literal history, but as stories written to help us “get” what Jesus was all about. Especially the Holy Week stories!
So what are the Big Lessons we need to get from this? At the start of Holy Week, last week, we considered it an invitation to move into a journey to wholeness, a journey where we learn how to live into our true Christ nature so that we are 100% human and 100% divine, as Jesus was. It is a tall order! It is during the events of Holy Week that we learn from the examples of Jesus and his disciples what this really means—examples of when we don’t and when we do live into the wholeness of our Christ nature. In the version of events in the Gospel of John, it is John Shelby Spong’s conviction that Jesus is best described as a Jewish Mystic and that his experiences are all intended to serve as powerful windows into the nature of the Divine. And all the characters in the story are illustrations of the facets of our human condition, our human experience! Sounds like metaphysical interpretation to me! Wow!
So who are these characters….well there is Peter who has a constant struggle with what he really believes and how he feels about all this Jesus business. He tells Jesus at one point during holy week events that he is so faithful he is willing to die for Jesus. And yet a few days later, when Jesus is arrested, Peter is asked by three different people if he is one of the followers of Jesus, and each time he says no, he doesn’t even know the man, after which a cock crows, reminding Peter of the exact prediction that Jesus had made earlier….and now it had happened. We know Peter felt terrible about himself, because he is reported to have wept bitterly at this point.
Haven’t we all been at that break point, where our divine/human selves were in a powerful struggle and we have set a strong intention to say yes to our higher self, to our Christ energy, only to say nothing, to not speak up when we needed to, to not show up truly living more completely into our divine nature. When we really want to do the right thing, we back away, and sometimes we are just like Peter, we don’t even realize that we are backing away until after the fact. Like Peter, we lack clarity about what it really means to live into this new way of being human. We all have that split second decision when we are caught up in our survival driven life….the drive to survive in our present human form takes hold of us, and we fail to act, to speak up, paralyzed with indecision or fear. What we need to notice here is that while Jesus predicts that this will happen, he doesn’t condemn Peter for it, nor does Jesus withhold his love or approval.
And then Peter sees the empty tomb, he sees evidence that the body of Jesus is no longer there. He is with another disciple, the one called “the beloved disciple” and it is said of this disciple that “he believed.” Peter did not, he did not quite get it that there is a dimension to life that is larger than life, a spiritual dimension that death or a tomb cannot hold. For Peter, in his struggle, “Easter dawns as an experience of a rising and unresolved tension, a conflict between human yearning and a lived reality; it is an experience of a struggle to believe, of an attempt, usually unsuccessful, to see meaning beyond the limits inside which life seems to be bound.” There is nothing here to help Peter, no angels, no visons, nothing to support his struggling faith…what does he give his heart to now? He has no answer….much like us when we have prayed and prayed with no apparent answer.
In truth, the resurrection of Jesus is the most powerful affirmation that we can have as an affirmation of faith, of our conviction of things not yet seen, or conviction of the Reality of things that our intellect cannot yet grasp. Of the Holy Mystery that we can only experience. It is this incredible paradox that death is a doorway into Life. All the thousands of deaths of our ego that we experience daily offer us a doorway into a new way of living into our divinity. In his very public death and the aftermath, Jesus demonstrated that paradoxical Reality in the most powerful way possible, by walking through and beyond one of our deepest human fears, the fear of death. It is demonstration of the power of Faith and the power of Love that has remained with us in the story for lo these 2000 + years.
What does it mean for Peter? It means that the Reality of the power and Presence of God in all life is what is trying to break through to his awareness, and he is very slow to get it, to catch on and to live into it. Jesus demonstrated the ultimate power of non-resistance in a culture where justice was established by retribution, Jesus demonstrated a powerful restorative justice that brings us back into harmony and Oneness with the Father, with God. He demonstrated that the Power of God is greater than the power of anything else despite all appearances to the contrary.
Jesus appears to all the Disciples who are gathered together and Mary Magdelene and in John 20:19-21 he says to them, “Peace be upon you…as the Father has sent me, even so, I send you.” This resurrection experience is not to convince them of Jesus being raised from the dead, it is intended to convince them that they have a responsibility to fill. They are awakened to the call to live into the Reality of the Power and Presence of God, a power and Presence that is real beyond anything they might experience in this world. The call is to live into this Spirit, into this Divine dimension of Being, no matter how many times we fall short….no matter how many times the cock crows ….we are to LIVE the Resurrection….and Still I Rise….again and again….and Still I Rise!
I want to leave you with a poem I received from Rev. Kent McCusick, the senior minister at the UU Fellowship in Ames. It is by a famous Japanese artist, and it is the only poem he ever wrote.
Hokusai says look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing
He says look forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just get more who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat
yourself as long as it is interesting.
He says keep doing what you love.
He says keep praying.
He says every one of us is a child,
every one of us is ancient
every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find
a way to live with fear.
He says everything is alive —
shells, buildings, people, fish,
mountains, trees, wood is alive.
Water is alive.
Everything has its own life.
Everything lives inside us.
He says live with the world inside you.
He says it doesn’t matter if you draw,
or write books. It doesn’t matter
ifyou saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn’t matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your veranda
or the shadows of the trees
and grasses in your garden.
It matters that you care.
It matters that you feel.
It matters that you notice.
It matters that life lives through you.
Contentment is life living through you.
Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength
is life living through you.
He says don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.
Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.
Let life live through you.
– Roger Keyes
Peace be with you and Happy Easter!