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Easter Day, Year B

Have you ever had a moment when watching a movie when you really, really wanted to shout out to one of the characters, because: a) you just KNEW what was going to happen, given the genre conventions and other information at your disposal, though not necessarily at the characters'; and b) you also just KNEW that what the character was about to do was not going to fit well with what you knew about how the universe of that story worked?

It happens in romantic comedies: you just KNOW about two-thirds of the the way through the movie that if only the hero would come clean to his beloved (or maybe the genders are the other way around in the particular story you're watching) about that silly lie/stupid game/what-have you s/he'd been playing when they met, the beloved could handle it. You know that's what's going to have to happen to get to that happy ending you anticipate; the hero (or heroine) doesn't.

It happens in horror films. I wish I had $5 for every movie in which some character who would be perfectly sensible in real life I'm sure responded to some other character's disappearance/mysterious rending and slurping noise outside/etc. by traipsing outside (usually in some really flimsy clothing) to investigate, when we ALL know that this is precisely what you are NOT supposed to do in the genre.

I'm convinced that genre is important in terms of how we see our life stories as well. What I've been talking about -- that business of you as audience knowing something that the characters don't know and SHOULD know to make things right as you both understand it -- is called dramatic irony, and I think that in a lot of ways Easter is the biggest injector of it into the stories of our lives.

We all have heard and in many cases have internalized stories of how the world works, of what our lives are about. I once knew a woman who told her life story -- and more importantly, lived it out -- as if it were a tragedy. She started with so much potential, but every moment thwarted her. Now she was in a position where she might actually graduate from college, and she was dating someone she was convinced was her true love ... and that made her all the more convinced that something was about to go horribly, horribly wrong. She or her beloved would die in a car crash, or something equally tragic was going to happen. The possibility drove her to distraction -- literally, with respect to her studies, and soon her extensions in courses were lapsing to 'Incomplete' marks which lapsed to F's. But what if she saw her life as a comedy -- starting the story with challenges, and finishing it with love and wholeness? Might that help her make decisions and find courage to live her story out that way?

At 3:00 a.m. on Easter Sunday, Jesus' followers faced a story they knew all too well. Poor people meet someone who says that they working together can make a real difference in the world, see that much more of God's kingdom come and God's will done on earth as it is in heaven. These stories are dangerous to people in power, and it's amazing how quickly people in power -- people who are quick to dismiss such stories in their earliest stages as the musings or wishful thinking of religious crackpots and ne'er-do-wells -- will crack down on the storytellers and the chief actors.

Judas the Galilean, Theudas in Egypt -- these were just a couple of the people whose stories were familiar to various factions of the hopeful in Roman-occupied Palestine, and the end of such stories was all-too-familiar too. The empire strikes back, but with no grand episode to follow: the would-be hero, "our only hope," dies in some particularly shameful way, and the crowds following scatter. The empire continues, and sensible people give up any idea that the story of the world is an epic or a romantic comedy, and start thinking more like Macbeth did in his worst moments: it's a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury (why can't they at least let us sleep, if we're not going to hope?), signifying nothing. It's like Waiting for Godot without the humor, and maybe with some annoyingly obvious super-title as a kind of Cliff Note on the play in progress: HE'S NOT GOING TO COME, YOU IDIOT, AND IF HE DID, IT WOULD MAKE NO DIFFERENCE.

And all the landlords and factory owners chime in:

So get back to work, you louts. Just get back to work.

I suspect that Good Friday and Holy Saturday were as hard as they were for Jesus' closest followers at least as much because of the ways it fit so very, very well into stories they'd internalized as The Way Things Are as they were filled with any kind of shock. Perhaps they'd entertained hope that things would really be different with Jesus. That "perhaps" became a "what if?" so very, very strong that women and men left their homes, their families, every kind of security and respectability they knew to gamble it on the possibility they imagined when they looked at Jesus:

That maybe -- just maybe -- the world is headed for the destiny for which God made it. Maybe the world was made by a good God, who cares -- not as an inventor who hopes that his machine runs as planned, though he long ago moved his attention on to other projects, but as a lover or a parent lives with the one s/he loves, intimately involved and constantly encouraging and empowering the beloved on to something more beautiful and joyous and faithful and whole. Maybe the universe really does arc toward the justice for which it aches.

And what if that's so? Why buy stock in a dying empire? Why pour heart and soul and precious hours and energy into relationships that are all about capital and its uses, about master and servant, about the countless iternations of being around one another without being WITH anyone? Why spend another instant on anything other than that for which you and I and the whole world was born?

That's a dreamer's talk. We know that; I'm sure any one of us could remember parents or teachers or friends or lovers or bosses or co-workers saying as much. If the dream is just dreaming from which responsible people eventually wake up, then trying to stay in the dream is just a recipe for stasis or loss in terms of the world's measures of achievement and heartbreak in terms of what happens when a dream meets disappointment.

Judas the Galilean died. Theudas the Egyptian died. Martin Luther King's words may live forever, but his body died from a bullet before I was born. And so what?

So what? Here's a what if:

What if the universe really does arc toward justice, toward wholeness and reconciliation and life?

Jesus died. That much is true, and no Christian should say otherwise. (This, by the way, is why the Gospel of Judas is a big deal to historians, but not to Christians; to Christians it's just another attempt for people who don't want to believe there is such a thing as death for anyone good to believe that a figure as powerful in the imagination as Jesus taught them as much. He didn't.) Jesus died, and it wasn't pretty. Jesus got the worst of what the world and all its empires and armies -- plus all its pettiness and personal betrayals -- have to dish out. If we've entered fully into Holy Week, we've entered into that experience, and of God's full, involved, passionate presence with all who suffer.

Jesus died. As far as Pontius Pilate was concerned, that was the end of the story -- a story as familiar as it was unimportant, of one peasant among countless dying in the way that it's an uppity peasant's lot to die. Not even a tragedy -- that would give the story too much dignity. Just a very short story that even then wasn't over quickly enough.

And the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, the very Creator of the universe and inspirer of every true prophet, raised this Jesus from the dead.

This was not the happy ending, and I love, love, love how the writer of the Gospel According to Mark gets it across to us, because Jesus' resurrection is SO not the end of the story, of the Good News that we have for the world.

Because Jesus' resurrection is not just about Jesus.

It's about God. Jesus didn't raise himself, you know -- at least, that's not what the scriptures in our canon say. God raised Jesus. Jesus had the nerve not only to hang out, break bread with, and bless and forgive the dregs of society, but to say that GOD did the same. Lots of good fathers and mothers taught their children what kind of end would find someone who tried that kind of stunt, someone who tried to insinuate that the God of the universe was the same kind of indiscriminate deadbeat he was, and respectable society breathed a huge sigh of relief when Jesus met the death they all said he was headed for. Work hard, pay your taxes, and don't cause trouble, and you could take over the family business; follow someone like Jesus, and you'll end up just where he did. The cross. Game over, and it wasn't all that fun for anyone.

But that is nothing like the story we have to tell. The story we have to tell is that the very Creator of the universe raised Jesus as a righteous Son of God from the dead, and that means that God is every bit as ridiculously, incomprehensibly loving and merciful as Jesus made God out to be. So the story of Jesus' resurrection is a story about God.

It's also a story about the world.

The Creator of the world raised Jesus, vindicated what he said -- and, more importantly, how he lived. So if Jesus was right about God, then maybe God wasn't joshing when, looking at the world and at humanity in it, God said, "It is very good." Maybe God means to make good on God's word.

Actually, no maybe about it. Jesus' resurrection confirms for us that those wild-eyed prophets -- all the way down to Jesus, and on to Jesus' followers -- are right when they say that the world really is good, and the God who made is really and truly and absolutely tirelessly is about redeeming it from anything that tries to say or make it otherwise. The might of the world's mightiest empire couldn't stop Jesus or his followers; not death or Satan or any kind of power can't either.

The Creator of the universe, the Lord of all that was, is, or ever will be, is redeeming all that there is, and as a witness to Jesus' resurrection, I would not dare to bet against this God.

So what if the world really is headed for justice, for freedom, for peace, for love, for wholeness?

I'll close with an image from my youth in southern California, where I loved to surf. It's a common misconception that surfing is about paddling hard enough to propel yourself along the surface of the wave. Not so. Surfing is really more like well-planned falling. The wave rises up, and if you're at the top of it and pointed downward on a surfboard that floats on the surface, the board will be propelled down by gravity, while being held up by the water beneath. The trick of surfing isn't to paddle hard enough to get to where you want to be -- it's to align yourself with the wave and the shore such that the simple force of falling down with gravity's power and the simple fact that on a smooth and buoyant surfboard pointed in alignment with the wave and the short, the path of least resistance downward will be parallel to the shore. That's how you get a long, exhilarating ride.

So what if God raised Jesus from the dead? What does that say about the world, about our place in it?

Mark does a wonderful thing with this. Mark 16:8, the last verse of the book, is pretty much a half-sentence in an obviously interrupted train of thought. Later Christian writers tried to finish it in centuries to come with things that made sense to them -- appearances of the risen Jesus who gives detailed instructions on what to do until the end of the world itself. But Mark did something different, and brilliant.

Mark ends the movie where it's obvious the story isn't over. He says that a mysterious young man greeted the women at the tomb, told them to tell Jesus' other followers that Jesus isn't in the tomb, that he has gone ahead of them. The women leave.

And it is SO not the end of the story. Coming centuries later, there are things we figure happened next: the women told the men. The men probably didn't believe them at first, but eventually (hopefully not as slowly as men came to believe women's witness about things like ordination) came around. Jesus' followers and Jesus' liberating word did go to Galilee, and Samaria, and Rome, and Egypt, and Spain, and even unto Los Angeles and El Paso and the Falklands and Auckland -- you get the idea.

Well, you get the idea if you use your imagination.

That's what the non-ending "ending" of Mark's gospel compels us to do. Use our imagination.

And that's a very good thing to do, because there are still messengers who can tell us reliably that Jesus has gone, is going, will go ahead of us, to places and contexts we haven't dreamed about yet.

In other words, I doubt this movie is even two-thirds over. Jesus is risen! What if that's so? What if God is really redeeming the universe? What if Jesus isn't just here, but has gone ahead of us, is waiting to meet us? For Pete's sake -- the original St. Pete, whose nickname when his friends wanted to rib him must have been Peter "Surely Not" Cephas, for all the times he couldn't believe what was in front of him until he got his board aligned with it and let it carry him along.

Jesus' resurrection tells us that, contrary to what those who fancy themselves the Powers That Be in this world might say, Jesus' way is worth betting your life, your world, the whole world on, because the Maker and Lover of the whole world is behind the movement. Jesus' resurrection tells us that God's way isn't the undertow that will leave us cold and alone, but is THE wave -- the most exhilarating ride there is, if we're willing to align ourselves with it.

Jesus' resurrection tells us that the Creator of the universe is bring the universe to LIFE, and you can bet your life on it -- with God, with Jesus, with us.

Surf's up!  The Lord is risen!

And thanks be to God.

April 15, 2006 in Acts, Easter, Isaiah, Mark, Redemption, Resurrection, Year B | Permalink

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Comments

I like it: "the non-ending ending." Reminding me of "The Never Ending Story."

The Lord is risen indeed! alleluia!

Posted by: Rick+ | Apr 15, 2006 5:02:59 PM

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Dylan's lectionary blog: Easter Day, Year B

« Good Friday, Year B | Main | Second Sunday of Easter, Year B »

Easter Day, Year B

Have you ever had a moment when watching a movie when you really, really wanted to shout out to one of the characters, because: a) you just KNEW what was going to happen, given the genre conventions and other information at your disposal, though not necessarily at the characters'; and b) you also just KNEW that what the character was about to do was not going to fit well with what you knew about how the universe of that story worked?

It happens in romantic comedies: you just KNOW about two-thirds of the the way through the movie that if only the hero would come clean to his beloved (or maybe the genders are the other way around in the particular story you're watching) about that silly lie/stupid game/what-have you s/he'd been playing when they met, the beloved could handle it. You know that's what's going to have to happen to get to that happy ending you anticipate; the hero (or heroine) doesn't.

It happens in horror films. I wish I had $5 for every movie in which some character who would be perfectly sensible in real life I'm sure responded to some other character's disappearance/mysterious rending and slurping noise outside/etc. by traipsing outside (usually in some really flimsy clothing) to investigate, when we ALL know that this is precisely what you are NOT supposed to do in the genre.

I'm convinced that genre is important in terms of how we see our life stories as well. What I've been talking about -- that business of you as audience knowing something that the characters don't know and SHOULD know to make things right as you both understand it -- is called dramatic irony, and I think that in a lot of ways Easter is the biggest injector of it into the stories of our lives.

We all have heard and in many cases have internalized stories of how the world works, of what our lives are about. I once knew a woman who told her life story -- and more importantly, lived it out -- as if it were a tragedy. She started with so much potential, but every moment thwarted her. Now she was in a position where she might actually graduate from college, and she was dating someone she was convinced was her true love ... and that made her all the more convinced that something was about to go horribly, horribly wrong. She or her beloved would die in a car crash, or something equally tragic was going to happen. The possibility drove her to distraction -- literally, with respect to her studies, and soon her extensions in courses were lapsing to 'Incomplete' marks which lapsed to F's. But what if she saw her life as a comedy -- starting the story with challenges, and finishing it with love and wholeness? Might that help her make decisions and find courage to live her story out that way?

At 3:00 a.m. on Easter Sunday, Jesus' followers faced a story they knew all too well. Poor people meet someone who says that they working together can make a real difference in the world, see that much more of God's kingdom come and God's will done on earth as it is in heaven. These stories are dangerous to people in power, and it's amazing how quickly people in power -- people who are quick to dismiss such stories in their earliest stages as the musings or wishful thinking of religious crackpots and ne'er-do-wells -- will crack down on the storytellers and the chief actors.

Judas the Galilean, Theudas in Egypt -- these were just a couple of the people whose stories were familiar to various factions of the hopeful in Roman-occupied Palestine, and the end of such stories was all-too-familiar too. The empire strikes back, but with no grand episode to follow: the would-be hero, "our only hope," dies in some particularly shameful way, and the crowds following scatter. The empire continues, and sensible people give up any idea that the story of the world is an epic or a romantic comedy, and start thinking more like Macbeth did in his worst moments: it's a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury (why can't they at least let us sleep, if we're not going to hope?), signifying nothing. It's like Waiting for Godot without the humor, and maybe with some annoyingly obvious super-title as a kind of Cliff Note on the play in progress: HE'S NOT GOING TO COME, YOU IDIOT, AND IF HE DID, IT WOULD MAKE NO DIFFERENCE.

And all the landlords and factory owners chime in:

So get back to work, you louts. Just get back to work.

I suspect that Good Friday and Holy Saturday were as hard as they were for Jesus' closest followers at least as much because of the ways it fit so very, very well into stories they'd internalized as The Way Things Are as they were filled with any kind of shock. Perhaps they'd entertained hope that things would really be different with Jesus. That "perhaps" became a "what if?" so very, very strong that women and men left their homes, their families, every kind of security and respectability they knew to gamble it on the possibility they imagined when they looked at Jesus:

That maybe -- just maybe -- the world is headed for the destiny for which God made it. Maybe the world was made by a good God, who cares -- not as an inventor who hopes that his machine runs as planned, though he long ago moved his attention on to other projects, but as a lover or a parent lives with the one s/he loves, intimately involved and constantly encouraging and empowering the beloved on to something more beautiful and joyous and faithful and whole. Maybe the universe really does arc toward the justice for which it aches.

And what if that's so? Why buy stock in a dying empire? Why pour heart and soul and precious hours and energy into relationships that are all about capital and its uses, about master and servant, about the countless iternations of being around one another without being WITH anyone? Why spend another instant on anything other than that for which you and I and the whole world was born?

That's a dreamer's talk. We know that; I'm sure any one of us could remember parents or teachers or friends or lovers or bosses or co-workers saying as much. If the dream is just dreaming from which responsible people eventually wake up, then trying to stay in the dream is just a recipe for stasis or loss in terms of the world's measures of achievement and heartbreak in terms of what happens when a dream meets disappointment.

Judas the Galilean died. Theudas the Egyptian died. Martin Luther King's words may live forever, but his body died from a bullet before I was born. And so what?

So what? Here's a what if:

What if the universe really does arc toward justice, toward wholeness and reconciliation and life?

Jesus died. That much is true, and no Christian should say otherwise. (This, by the way, is why the Gospel of Judas is a big deal to historians, but not to Christians; to Christians it's just another attempt for people who don't want to believe there is such a thing as death for anyone good to believe that a figure as powerful in the imagination as Jesus taught them as much. He didn't.) Jesus died, and it wasn't pretty. Jesus got the worst of what the world and all its empires and armies -- plus all its pettiness and personal betrayals -- have to dish out. If we've entered fully into Holy Week, we've entered into that experience, and of God's full, involved, passionate presence with all who suffer.

Jesus died. As far as Pontius Pilate was concerned, that was the end of the story -- a story as familiar as it was unimportant, of one peasant among countless dying in the way that it's an uppity peasant's lot to die. Not even a tragedy -- that would give the story too much dignity. Just a very short story that even then wasn't over quickly enough.

And the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, the very Creator of the universe and inspirer of every true prophet, raised this Jesus from the dead.

This was not the happy ending, and I love, love, love how the writer of the Gospel According to Mark gets it across to us, because Jesus' resurrection is SO not the end of the story, of the Good News that we have for the world.

Because Jesus' resurrection is not just about Jesus.

It's about God. Jesus didn't raise himself, you know -- at least, that's not what the scriptures in our canon say. God raised Jesus. Jesus had the nerve not only to hang out, break bread with, and bless and forgive the dregs of society, but to say that GOD did the same. Lots of good fathers and mothers taught their children what kind of end would find someone who tried that kind of stunt, someone who tried to insinuate that the God of the universe was the same kind of indiscriminate deadbeat he was, and respectable society breathed a huge sigh of relief when Jesus met the death they all said he was headed for. Work hard, pay your taxes, and don't cause trouble, and you could take over the family business; follow someone like Jesus, and you'll end up just where he did. The cross. Game over, and it wasn't all that fun for anyone.

But that is nothing like the story we have to tell. The story we have to tell is that the very Creator of the universe raised Jesus as a righteous Son of God from the dead, and that means that God is every bit as ridiculously, incomprehensibly loving and merciful as Jesus made God out to be. So the story of Jesus' resurrection is a story about God.

It's also a story about the world.

The Creator of the world raised Jesus, vindicated what he said -- and, more importantly, how he lived. So if Jesus was right about God, then maybe God wasn't joshing when, looking at the world and at humanity in it, God said, "It is very good." Maybe God means to make good on God's word.

Actually, no maybe about it. Jesus' resurrection confirms for us that those wild-eyed prophets -- all the way down to Jesus, and on to Jesus' followers -- are right when they say that the world really is good, and the God who made is really and truly and absolutely tirelessly is about redeeming it from anything that tries to say or make it otherwise. The might of the world's mightiest empire couldn't stop Jesus or his followers; not death or Satan or any kind of power can't either.

The Creator of the universe, the Lord of all that was, is, or ever will be, is redeeming all that there is, and as a witness to Jesus' resurrection, I would not dare to bet against this God.

So what if the world really is headed for justice, for freedom, for peace, for love, for wholeness?

I'll close with an image from my youth in southern California, where I loved to surf. It's a common misconception that surfing is about paddling hard enough to propel yourself along the surface of the wave. Not so. Surfing is really more like well-planned falling. The wave rises up, and if you're at the top of it and pointed downward on a surfboard that floats on the surface, the board will be propelled down by gravity, while being held up by the water beneath. The trick of surfing isn't to paddle hard enough to get to where you want to be -- it's to align yourself with the wave and the shore such that the simple force of falling down with gravity's power and the simple fact that on a smooth and buoyant surfboard pointed in alignment with the wave and the short, the path of least resistance downward will be parallel to the shore. That's how you get a long, exhilarating ride.

So what if God raised Jesus from the dead? What does that say about the world, about our place in it?

Mark does a wonderful thing with this. Mark 16:8, the last verse of the book, is pretty much a half-sentence in an obviously interrupted train of thought. Later Christian writers tried to finish it in centuries to come with things that made sense to them -- appearances of the risen Jesus who gives detailed instructions on what to do until the end of the world itself. But Mark did something different, and brilliant.

Mark ends the movie where it's obvious the story isn't over. He says that a mysterious young man greeted the women at the tomb, told them to tell Jesus' other followers that Jesus isn't in the tomb, that he has gone ahead of them. The women leave.

And it is SO not the end of the story. Coming centuries later, there are things we figure happened next: the women told the men. The men probably didn't believe them at first, but eventually (hopefully not as slowly as men came to believe women's witness about things like ordination) came around. Jesus' followers and Jesus' liberating word did go to Galilee, and Samaria, and Rome, and Egypt, and Spain, and even unto Los Angeles and El Paso and the Falklands and Auckland -- you get the idea.

Well, you get the idea if you use your imagination.

That's what the non-ending "ending" of Mark's gospel compels us to do. Use our imagination.

And that's a very good thing to do, because there are still messengers who can tell us reliably that Jesus has gone, is going, will go ahead of us, to places and contexts we haven't dreamed about yet.

In other words, I doubt this movie is even two-thirds over. Jesus is risen! What if that's so? What if God is really redeeming the universe? What if Jesus isn't just here, but has gone ahead of us, is waiting to meet us? For Pete's sake -- the original St. Pete, whose nickname when his friends wanted to rib him must have been Peter "Surely Not" Cephas, for all the times he couldn't believe what was in front of him until he got his board aligned with it and let it carry him along.

Jesus' resurrection tells us that, contrary to what those who fancy themselves the Powers That Be in this world might say, Jesus' way is worth betting your life, your world, the whole world on, because the Maker and Lover of the whole world is behind the movement. Jesus' resurrection tells us that God's way isn't the undertow that will leave us cold and alone, but is THE wave -- the most exhilarating ride there is, if we're willing to align ourselves with it.

Jesus' resurrection tells us that the Creator of the universe is bring the universe to LIFE, and you can bet your life on it -- with God, with Jesus, with us.

Surf's up!  The Lord is risen!

And thanks be to God.

April 15, 2006 in Acts, Easter, Isaiah, Mark, Redemption, Resurrection, Year B | Permalink

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