Moving Slowly to the Truth of Resurrection
The message of Easter is powerful, life-changing, and world-shattering. It is the impossible possibility before which all other possibilities seem to be, in the words of poet W. H. Auden, “small beer.” It is the radical message of liberation from the demons that haunt you into the light of a new reality. It is the proclamation of freedom that has repercussions in all areas of life. Unless we smother it.
All churches begin in hope but usually end up in the status quo. This happens because the message of the Gospel is too difficult to enact and so the institution falls back to second-best. The height of irony is that the Church, ostensibly pledged to uphold the Gospel, often ends up taming the beast rather than accept the challenge to live it. I repent my part in any such process but there are times when you just get weary and go for second-best. A hard core of Christians always understands the primal message but, because of the incredible resistance of the world (that endures inside the church), they wear out and hold it in their hearts when they feel unable to practice it with their words and hands and feet. Smothering happens when churches, first, focus on heaven as a consolation prize beyond this earth and, second, get concerned about survival as institution. Self-preservation was not Jesus’ strong suit. He was far more gifted at changing things to meet needs than at bending people to fit patterns already in place.
On the other hand, we do have reason to rejoice in this season of the resurrection. For all the faults of the churches – and they are many – there remain instances of the resurrection in the lives of ordinary folks.
There is the intimacy of the community that can only be known by those who are part of it; the caring, the sharing, the depth of conversation about real issues and problems: all these make for a certain intimacy that you cannot find outside a community of shared truth – or faith, if you’d rather say it that way.
This intimacy is grounded in genuine forgiveness, the most dramatic and pertinent result of the resurrection. In John 20, a passage that is read in many churches on the Sunday after Easter, the risen Christ appears in the midst of the disciple band and offers his peace, which is immediately further defined as the loosing of those who are bound up in their own trespasses. The church has always understood this to be the power of forgiveness, enacted among the faithful who gather at the sign of the empty tomb. The freedom that comes with forgiveness is impossible to explain to those who have not experienced it.
St Augustine understood this freedom when he proclaimed, “Love God and do whatever you please.” Many people shrink from this. They want rules and regulations. They want someone to tell then how they are supposed to live. They want to be followers and not leaders. This precept is correct, however, if it is properly understood. If you love God, in St Augustine’s view, it surely and automatically follows that you will love others, show compassion, and aim to do the right thing. Furthermore, your genuine and good self-love leads you to close the gap between the self you know you are inside and the one you project to the world. Forgiveness points you in the direction of integrity. And this, too, is the gift of the resurrection: genuine freedom to move forward to an integrated life one step at a time.
published 16 April 10