Sunday, April 19, 2015

Resurrection & Reality

The Business of Eternal Life

Part I-Beginning with Reality

Clergy often take a break after Easter. And so my wife and I went to see our son Joshua who recently moved to Charlotte, to see my brother and his wife and their daughter, and to see friends at St Mark's Church, in Saint Albans WV. We covered quite a bit of territory. 

While we were at St Mark's we met up with Chris and his beloved and their daughter. What a joy that was. As a parish priest, I had been through some good times and bad times with Chris. But then one day I reminded him that his name "Christopher" means, literally, "Christ Carrier". I am so proud of what Chris is doing with his life. He has chosen the way that leads to life.

Chris had told me of two friends who OD's on heroin on Easter day, leaving three children motherless and fatherless. They were good people. They were friends but they made some bad choices. And then they died. Their bad choices led to the way that leads to death.

This is precisely what I had preached on Easter Day. The Early Church taught that there are only two ways; the way that leads to life and the way that leads to death.

This is reality.

When we speak of Eternal Life and Resurrection, which I plan to do in the weeks to come, let us always begin with Reality. This is the only place for spirituality to begin. In the REAL.

Reality. The present world clouds any hope we have of seeing eternal life or resurrection.  We live in a world filled with warfare and terror, inequality and injustice, religious fundamentalism and extremism which justifies violence in the name of God. We live in a world that is so secularized that we ourselves have our doubts of the Easter proclamation. We find ourselves often sympathizing with Thomas. “Not till I see it with my own eyes, not till I touch it with my own hands, will I believe it.”

We live between two realities; there is a way that leads to life and a way that leads to death. The Way that Leads to Life is the Easter Reality and the Way that Leads to Death is the given reality of the world we are born into. This is why the Church teaches that we must undergo a Baptism to a second birth so that we can die to sin and rise again to newness of life.

This is such an urgently vital teaching. It is a matter of life and death, and particularly of the many millions of us whose lives are so vulnerable.

How can we even begin to talk about eternal life and the resurrection of Jesus in such a world? 

Lets try Easter on as a Reality too! Peter claims to have been a witness to it as do the other disciples in today's first lesson. 

In today’s Gospel, we have an account of Jesus’ resurrection. He begins with these words; “Peace be with you”. A startling beginning! In the reality of the disciples’ experience there had been so much turmoil; from the jarring moments when Jesus entered the Temple precincts to overturn the tables of the money changers, to his trial and crucifixion; and then to the reports that the women brought to his rising again and then this: his first resurrection appearance! In the midst of all this overwhelming intensity of inner wonder and amazement, Jesus comes and stands in their very midst and says to them “Peace be with you!” Shhh, Peace, be still and know that I am God, as the Psalmist puts it. ~Psalm 46:10.

This is the second Reality. There is the Reality you and I live with every day. Then, there is the Easter Reality. I wondered how I would approach the Easter reality since the reality we live with every day is so much at dissonance with who Jesus is for us and for the sake of the world we live in. The Gospel’s mandate is that we proclaim forgiveness of sins to all nations beginning with Jerusalem. And I wondered, how well are we doing with that job?

Therefore I am preparing a series of reflections on the Reality of the world we live in as well as the Reality of the Resurrection of Jesus. I will be sharing these reflections with you in the coming weeks.

But let me begin with the simplicity of my own experience of resurrection and eternal of life.

What is Eternal Life?

For me, it is a life focused on the care and love of the I-Thou relationship within and among us all.

What I mean by that is precisely this; when I pray I become aware of the Other within me. The "Thou" within my heart. It is what the 12 Step programs call the “Higher Power”. It is what I call God. 

When I pray I become aware of a Peace that is within me, I become aware of the fact that I am not alone but that there are many with me who also pray near and far away.

But more immediately, I become aware of the I-Thou relationship within me. And then of course by extrapolation that I-Thou relationship is not only within me but also among us all. 

Eternal Life then for me is a focus on the care and love of the I-Thou within and the I-Thou among us all.

It is indeed the Way, the Truth, and the Life. It is an indicator of Eternal Life and Resurrection. 

The Love of God, the I-Thou within and the love of all our neighbors, and the love of the I-Thou among us all.

We are, in this way connected to the All in All and forever by reaching out our hands and hearts to one another in  every small and significant way we can find or discover. 

This is the All in All forever.

This is how I begin to think of Eternal Life. It is alive within us now as we dare to Love. Love God, Love our neighbors, and love ourselves as God loves us. 

But the problem is that I still find myself living in the first Reality, where warfare, terror, disease, inequality, and oppression still exist and exist with a vengeance. 

And I find myself quite vulnerable in this Reality. That vulnerability makes me doubt the Easter Reality to tell you the truth. I know what Jesus says of all the conflict, violence and vulnerability we experience as a matter of daily truth. How can I love my enemy? How can I turn the cheek when he or she so violently strikes me on the first. Even more urgently how can I stand by when we face Genocide among Armenians, the Holocaust of the Jews, starvation among the millions of our brothers and sisters near and far away, or a thousand other indignities inflicted upon humankind by the agency of Evil. 

How can I stand by and watch Greed go hog wild, or the planet we live on be put to death by our own self indulgent appetites? How can I stand by and watch those I love die to the inevitability of one disease after another. And how can I stand by and live with my own vulnerability knowing where that ultimately goes to?

So we begin with the first Reality. It is there. It will not go away.

But there is Easter. There is the way that leads to Life just as there is the way that leads to death. This is serious business. Easter is a matter of urgency. The survival of humanity depends on it as does the survival of the planet as does the survival of young people or older people caught up in the snare of violence, despair, drugs, disease and depression.

Reality is with us but there is not just the first reality.

We have Easter too. We have the Resurrection of Jesus and Eternal Life. We are known down through history as the Easter people because we know this; Alleluia, Christ is Risen. Christ is Risen indeed, Alleluia!

And now may the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore. Amen.

Fr Paul

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