The Resurrection of Our Lord April 11, 2004.
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15:19-26 or Acts 10:34-43
John 20:1-18 or Luke 24:1-12
Preaching the resurrection reminds me of the time I was talking to my husband Fred on the telephone while he was in the middle of making apple crisp. The recipe instructed him to "cut in" the shortening for the crumble topping; Fred did not know what to do. I tried to explain what to do, but it didn't go well. You can use all the words you want, but I defy you to tell someone who's never seen or done this before what it means to "cut in" without using your hands, without showing them.
Of course, we can use our hands when we preach these texts. Easter is nothing if it isn't show-and-tell time. The tricky part comes in trying to show and tell others about something none of us alive has experienced as Jesus experienced it. We often rely on metaphor and symbol to pull this off: using the familiar to help us understand, to point to, what an unknown thing is like. The tricky part comes in avoiding what John Updike called "Mocking God with Metaphor" in his poem Seven Stanzas at Easter. The tricky part comes in going beyond the surface of the traditional expressions of new life, to an experience of resurrection.
Fortunately, we're not the first ones to have to attempt this. Our texts for the Resurrection of our Lord gift us with the faithful endeavors of those who have gone before us to bear witness to and make real the experience of new life in the crucified and risen One. Barbara Rossing has noted that the First Lessons for the season of Easter come from the book of Acts rather than the Old Testament in order to bring us into Acts' immediate post-Easter goal to "see and proclaim Christ as alive in the world and the church today." Could this be our preaching mission in a nutshell?
The reading from Acts offers the example of Peter's Easter new life. Peter witnesses to the power of Christ's resurrection to broaden his experience. Christ's resurrection has cracked him open. We, too, can expect this from the Easter experience. Christ's resurrection "will hatch us to new life," as my preaching group says. Peter's sermon is a simple one for the newly hatched: (1) God came to us preaching peace; (2) Jesus went about healing and doing good; (3) they (?) put Jesus to death, but God raised him; (4) we are witnesses, and it's really true; and (5) in Jesus' name God grants forgiveness to those who believe.
Or we could choose Isaiah's witness to the new heaven and new earth. Isaiah takes past, painful, life-ending, life-deadening experiences for Israel and says "this won't happen again"--the past pain will be replaced by joy and gladness. "The serpent is there, but in its place." "Easter here, looks like peace." "Our hoped-for harvest is not cut off in its prime through accidents and illness, but in the new heaven/new earth true fruitfulness will result in harvest abundant."
Paul's resurrection sermon to the Corinthian church responds to doubts about the power we have in Christ to defeat death's ultimate authority and rule. Paul uses a familiar typology of Adam/Christ and images of first fruits of harvest: Christ's resurrection is a "down payment on our getting out of the cemetery some day. But we have to wait our turn."
We wondered how we, as believers, share in Christ's resurrection now and forever. The preaching group's answer was that "we live life certain that this is a preparation for what's coming." But what would we say to skeptics? If those skeptics came from the community of believers to which I belong, we would point to the life and death of Ken Phillips. We all saw Ken raised to new life first out of drug addiction, then out of a painful divorce. Ken lived his whole life in a way that made an impact, until it was cut short by an aneurysm. While we felt cheated and robbed by the enemy of death, even in this no one could walk away from Ken's funeral unconvinced that Ken lived and lives ... in Christ, in the lives of all he touched with his words, his song, and his example of spirited, graced living. You don't know Ken. But you know someone like him, beloved of the community, whose life and death has borne witness to the resurrection, whose power of life in Christ has been able to triumph precisely through death.
In the Gospel of John there is a garden, and with it, more new-life suggestions of fruitfulness and growth, echoes of Paradise and perhaps even the garden of the beloved in the Song of Solomon. But when it came to a story told so that we would come to believe, and, believing, have life in Jesus' name, none of these images was as gripping to our Bible study members as the flesh-and-blood story of Mary Magdalene.
"What was she expecting? With that stone, did she really think she'd be able to get in there? see the body? use the spices? Was she just going to stay outside and grieve? Did she know in her heart she'd find him? When none of it was as she could have imagined, why was she weeping? Was it because the body was stolen? or because she'd never be able to see it, or take care of it properly?"
In the commentaries, Mary represents a community that searches for the beloved, longing for an ongoing, intimate relationship that sustains life. I tried to get the group to find resonance in the community as "orphaned," weeping outside the tomb of their Lord. But Norma reminded me that this was Easter Sunday. "Pastor, when I come to the tomb on Easter Sunday, I feel joyful." It's true. I tend to come at Easter from Good Friday and need to be reminded about the shock of joy! "So how do we express that?" I asked. "How do you see us as the community at the tomb?" I asked them to find a way to help me "not mock God with metaphor ... making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded credulity of earlier ages" but to let us "walk through the door," as Updike suggests.
My group sent me to visit three women. Sue, snatched from the brink of death, back for her first day as Postmaster since receiving the news that she was cancer free for the first time in five years. She says she feels like Lazarus, out of the tomb. When I ask what Lazarus is feeling, she says: "Blessed. Amazed. Wondering how it is that I could be chosen for this miracle, and wondering what it is that God wants of this new life." They sent me to the tomb with Ester, Ken's mother, who, like Mary in the face of death and the power of grief and loss, had wept, turned, and announced the resurrection. And finally they sent me to Stella, Sue's mother, in the nursing home, who longs to be with Jesus and who greets the sight of our eucharistic minister each week with unbounded joy. With her, we walk through the door ... and it's Easter.
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|Title Annotation:||Preaching Helps|
|Publication:||Currents in Theology and Mission|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2004|
|Previous Article:||The Resurrection of Our Lord--the Holy Trinity, Series C.|
|Next Article:||Second Sunday of Easter April 18, 2004.|