Sunday, May 27, 2012

Resurrection Power: A Prayer for Pentecost

Pentecost, El Greco, 1600, Madrid
Today in our church we’ll celebrate Pentecost with a reading from Acts 2 in as many languages as we can muster: French, Spanish, German, Mandarin, Greek, maybe an African dialect or two. We’ll have a big birthday cake, reminding us and our kids that Pentecost is the birthday of the church. And we’ll pause to wonder, at least some of us will, why the power displayed at Pentecost shows up so rarely in our corporate gatherings.

At least we celebrate. The church of my childhood never mentioned Pentecost at all.

Reflecting these past few weeks on the implications of the resurrection, it’s occurred to me that the full power of the resurrection wasn’t revealed until the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In his last extended conversation with his friends, described in John 14-16, Jesus made some stunning promises: They would do what he had been doing. They would be able to pray with new authority and expectation. They would be partners in the work of demonstrating God’s glory – through healing miracles, proclamation, teaching. They would experience God’s joy in a new way.

These things would happen through the agency of “the advocate,” or paraklete, the Spirit of truth, as a demonstration of love, God’s love for his people, their love for him and each other, and in the context of unity, the unity of Christ’s followers with him, with his Spirit, with each other.

Fifty days later, on Pentecost morning, those promises came true in a rush of wind, mysterious flames of fire, and a sudden burst of understanding and courage. The followers who had been hiding out, waiting, wondering, unsure of the next step, were suddenly speaking with passion and power in languages they didn’t know, in a public space where anyone could hear them.

Were they drunk? Crazy? Superstitious weirdos?

Peter, the same Peter who denied Jesus three times and put his foot in his mouth every time he opened it, explained the situation with the clarity and courage that were themselves demonstrations of the Holy Spirit’s presence:

“Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 
Pentecost, Keiko Muira, stained glass, Seattle

“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy."

The next chapters of Acts describe a radical change in the people involved, and a new vision of what it means to walk with God and his people. Miraculous healings, unprecedented provision for human need, impassioned historical, spiritual discussion by unprepared fishermen, and a sense of love, unrestrained love, sweeping through the community, drawing men and women in ever growing numbers into a new way of life.

Did it happen?

The fact that the Christian church appeared, in force, on scattered continents within a few centuries of the Acts of the Apostles argues for the truth of Luke’s narrative. So do the consistent reports from early historians, who recorded the way Christians cared for the sick, fed widows and orphans, befriended outsiders, offered new rights and protections to women and slaves. No other religion had insisted on love as the basis of human interaction; no other religion had extended care so insistently to those who didn’t already share the same faith. The love of the early Christians was winsome, noteworthy, and contagious.

I grew up in a tradition that believed, completely, in the work of the Spirit in the book of Acts, and believed, as completely, that such things no longer happen. Yet any unbiased reading of historical record will yield extensive evidence of the Holy Spirit at work, motivating public repentance for wrongs done others, courageous care for the sick, extravagant acts of generosity, supernatural healing, unexplained provision, dissolving of barriers between races, classes, genders.

In A.D. 185 Irenaeus wrote about the continued visible work of the Holy Spirit:
"Some drive out demons really and truly, so that often those cleansed from evil spirits believe and become members of the Church; some have foreknowledge of the future, visions, and prophetic utterances; others, by the laying-on of hands, heal the sick and restore them to health; and before now, as I said, dead men have actually been raised and have remained with us for many years. In fact, it is impossible to enumerate the gifts which throughout the world the Church has received from God and in the name of Jesus Christ . . . "
Augustine of Hippo (354- 430 AD) originally taught that miracles had been unique to the age of the early apostles. He changed his mind near the end of his life, as he encountered miraculous healing and financial provision. As bishop of Hippo in North Africa, he recorded in his City of God the many miracles he himself witnessed, as well as reports from reliable witnesses.

The Venerable Bede, (672/673 - 735), considered the most reliable historian of the Anglo-Saxon period,  Bernard of Clairvaux,  Hildegard of Bingen, Francis of Assisi, Anthony of Padua,, Clare of Montefalco,, Bridget of Sweden, Vincent Ferrer, Martin Luther and John Wesley are a just a few of the Christian leaders across the centuries who recorded miracles observed as they sought to follow Christ's call to be like him, to do the things he did.

Peter Heals the Lame Beggar, Gustave Doré, 1865, France
A recent Christianity Today cover story, Tim Stafford’s Miracles in Mozambique: How Mama Heidi Reaches the Abandoned describes the work of Heidi and Rolland Baker, Americans who have lived since 1995 among the poor of Mozambique. They began by caring for a handful of orphans, but their work quickly spread to include miracles that bring to mind the first chapters of Acts: thousands of healings, outrageous generosity, an explosion of faith. The Bakers have been involved in training leaders for 7,000 churches, oversee a national Bible College and now provide for over 5,000 children at their centers.

Do I believe it?  A study published in the Southern Medical Journal offers documentation of some of the cases where deaf individuals, prayed for by the Bakers and pastors they’ve trained,  have become able to hear, and where the blind have received improved vision. The work in Mozambique is also discussed in Craig Keener’s scholarly, carefully researched two volume work Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts  (2011),

But my reasons for believing are more personal, as is the case for the other “hundreds of millions of people” Keener suggests have experienced and witnessed miracles: I’ve experienced the power of the Holy Spirit myself, in emotional healing, in surprising words of wisdom, in sudden courage to step into difficult situations. And I’ve seen that power at work in others: in sudden gifts of faith, physical and emotional healing, needs met in ways far beyond coincidence, spiritual growth beyond what circumstances would warrant.

Yet, I sometimes feel that I live in a spiritually dead zone. I picture God’s people, in the places where I travel, standing with crossed arms, clenched fists, closed hearts, almost daring God to intervene. Heidi Baker has noted that God has healed almost every deaf person she and colleagues have encountered in Mozambique. In the US? Not so much. Are we too busy explaining away the Holy Spirit’s work? Are we lacking in faith?

Or are we lacking in love? The work in Mozambique is driven by love: love for the poor, the orphans, the physically broken. Heidi Baker, in almost every interview or article, says “Love looks like something.” She believes that love demands practical, physical demonstration: feeding the hungry, healing the sick. She insists that any follower of Christ needs to “stop for the one,” needs to look intently at the needs of individuals, and ask God for the power to meet those needs.

untitled, Anna Kocher, 2000
That’s a costly form of love. A risky form of faith.

Do we dare open our arms to embrace it?

It reminds me of Peter and John, who stopped to look intently at the paralyzed man on the steps of the temple, offered him healing, then were jailed and threatened for sharing their faith and upending the status quo.

Noting the threats, aware of the cost, still they chose to pray for a fuller experience of Pentecostal power:

"Enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.  Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus."

To that prayer, I add my own: "Help us love in the way you love. Make us willing to hear, receive, obey the call to be like you. And give us the power we need to do that."

This is the last in a series about the resurrection:
Risen Indeed: The Hermaneutic Community 
The Great Reversal: A Resurrection People 
Earth Day Shalom: Ripples of Resurrection  
Resurrection Challenge: Feed My Sheep
Resurrection Laughter 
Resurrection Women: Happy Mother's Day
          Reconciling Righteousness 

Other posts about Pentecost
         Waiting for Pentecost
         An Altogether Different Language

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome. Click on the ___comments link below to see comments and to post your own.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Reconciling Righteousness

"You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers. You will have to live them out - perhaps a little at a time."
"And how long is that going to take?"
"I don't know. As long as you live, perhaps."
"That could be a long time."
"I will tell you a further mystery," he said. 'It may take longer."
— Wendell Berry (Jayber Crow)
We live in a divided world and the divisions seem deeper by the day. Are you friend or foe?  One of us, or one of them?  We keep our checklists handy: check the wrong box on any one of fifty issues and the walls go up, alarms sound. Dialogue is over.

The world Jesus walked in was surely as divided. Romans and Jews, Pharisees and Sadducees, men afraid to speak with or acknowledge women, lepers and other “unclean” living in isolation out on the margins.

Read through the accounts of Jesus’ trials and watch the deceit and manipulation as each group maneuvered toward preservation of power, with Jesus, the blameless one, propelled toward his death. He didn’t fit, wouldn’t affirm the checklists of any party. His very silence threatened those committed to their own authority. The solution was obvious: make the silence permanent.
The Baptism of Cornelius the Centurian
Francesco Travisani, 1709

The resurrection is the great rebuttal to that attempted silencing, to those confident in their own power, to those dependent on their own divisive categories. From the Acts of the Apostles to John’s Revelation, the New Testament shows the followers of Christ struggling to explain and live out the profound implications of his unexpected return, not just for themselves, but for the opposing groups around them, for the nations beyond their borders, for the earth itself, groaning under the weight of human folly.

Christ’s followers found themselves living into mysteries beyond their understanding. We read through their writing, looking for bits that are easy to remember, that line up neatly with our own preferred positions. But much of what they had to say, lived out across a backdrop of miraculous events, unexpected alliances, frightening persecution, leaves us baffled. We shrug, and go on with our own agendas.

Here’s one of those passages I’ve been puzzling over:
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:14-21)
The Christian faith is often presented as a simple, personal transaction. If we say we believe in Christ, God forgives our sins, gives us eternal life, and all is well. No worries.

But this passage draws us into a net of relationship – not just with God, but with others, a wide mix of unsorted others. According to the Apostle Paul, this resurrection life demands our alignment with Christ in his love, in his death, and in his role as reconciler. He took our place on the cross, so now we take his place as ambassadors, agents of reconciliation.

But Paul goes further than that: as people of the resurrection, we are agents of God’s reconciling purpose, but even more: “we become the righteousness of God.”

St. Philip Baptizing the Eunuch
Theodore Chasseriau
That’s a startling statement. Most theologians take one look and head off into discussions of “imputed righteousness.” In fact, this passage about reconciliation and righteousness has itself become a point of less-than-righteous division: what exactly did Paul mean? Does your interpretation line up with mine?

I’m not sure Paul is talking theology here. To me, he’s concerned with a day-to-day, walk- it-out practical question: What does it mean to live as resurrection people in the broken, battered right-now world? How do we show God’s glory in these imperfect jars of clay? How do we live God’s power when we’re so worn down we have trouble standing?

And if Paul is using the term "God's righteousness" in a way that reflects his study of Torah, he's talking about relationships: How do we engage in consistently redemptive relationships that show, in action, the steadfast love and faithfulness of God himself? (For insight into translation difficulties check section 4 in this challenging discussion).

Miroslav Volf is a theologian who has inhabited these questions for decades. A Croatian who grew up in Serbia under Communist rule, a Pentecostal whose theological studies were interrupted by forced military service in Yugoslavia, he has struggled personally with the challenge of reconciliation, of forgiveness, and the call to love in a way that reflects God’s faithfulness. In Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation, Volf reflects on this passage in Corinthians:
"'So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.' When God comes, God brings a whole new world. The Spirit of God breaks through the self-enclosed worlds we inhabit; the Spirit re-creates us and sets us on the road toward becoming what I like to call a “catholic personality,” a personal microcosm of the eschatological new creation. A catholic personality is a personality enriched by otherness, a personality which is what it is only because multiple others have been reflected in it in a particular way. The distance from my own culture that results from being born by the Spirit creates a fissure in me through which others can come in. The Spirit unlatches the doors of my heart saying: 'You are not only you; others belong to you too.'"(51)
Volf talks about becoming selves capable of including and forgiving others, not just tolerating those with different ideas, cultures, values, but embracing them:
"Inscribed on the very heart of God’s grace is the rule that we can be its recipients only if we do not resist being made into its agents; what happens to us must be done by us. Having been embraced by God, we must make space for others in ourselves and invite them in - even our enemies" (129)
Is Volf right? Is our experience of God’s grace shaped by our willingness to extend it to others?

The resurrection men and women of the New Testament lived God’s embrace in a way that broke down century-old barriers between ethnic groups, that dissolved ancient hatreds between nations, that drew the most marginalized into the heart of community. Their faithfulness as agents of reconciliation shook the Roman empire, radiated across continents, rearranged social constructs and left a heritage of hope that still echoes across the globe.

Where does Christ’s love compel us today?  What new selves are we called to be? What will it cost us to make space for others?

We Are All One in Jesus Christ, Soichi Watanabe, 2009, Japan

This is the sixth in a series about the resurrection:

Risen Indeed: The Hermaneutic Community 
The Great Reversal: A Resurrection People 
Earth Day Shalom: Ripples of Resurrection  
Resurrection Challenge: Feed My Sheep
Resurrection Laughter 
Resurrection Women: Happy Mother's Da

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome. Click on the ___comments link below to see comments and to post your own.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Resurrection Women – Happy Mother’s Day

For me, a strong signpost of the resurrection is the record of the first encounters at the empty tomb. According to all four gospels, the women were the first to see evidence that Jesus was risen; three of the gospels record that women were the first to speak with Jesus; all say they were the first to spread the good news of the resurrection.
Women at the Tomb, Jesus Mafa

You can pass this over as just a small detail in a fast-paced story. Or you can count is as one more hallucinatory scene in a mythical retelling that has little to do with actual fact.

Or you can wonder, as so many have: why would anyone trying to gain credibility for a strange new faith trust the story to the mouths of women?

As N.T. Wright, Anglican Bishop of Durham and leading New Testament scholar, has noted in sermons, lectures, and books, the role of women in the resurrection story is itself part of the great reversal of Easter morning:
"And who is it that carries this stupendous message, this primal announcement of new creation, this heraldic proclamation of the king of kings and his imminent enthronement? It is Mary from Magdala. . . she is someone who has been cured of terrible multiple demon-possession. But the real shock is not Mary’s character. It is her gender. This is perhaps the most astonishing thing about the resurrection narratives, granted the universal beliefs of the time in the unreliability of women in a lawcourt or almost anywhere else. It is one of the things which absolutely guarantees that the early Christians did not invent these stories. They would never, ever, ever have invented the idea that it was a woman – a woman with a known background of emotional instability, but the main point is that it was a woman – to whom had been entrusted the earth-shattering message that Jesus was alive again, that he was on the way to being enthroned as Lord of the World, and that – this is the significance of the emphatic ‘my Father and your Father, my God and your God’ – he was opening to his followers, as a result of his victory over death itself, that same intimacy with the Father of all that he had enjoyed throughout his earthly life. It is Mary: not Peter, not John, not James the brother of the Lord, but Mary, who becomes the apostle to the apostles, the primary Christian witness, the first Christian evangelist. This is so striking, so unexpected, so embarrassing to some early Christians – Origen had to refute pagan sneers on this very point – that it cannot be accidental. It cannot be accidental for John and the other writers. And I dare to say it cannot be accidental in the purposes of God.
Mary Announces the Resurrection, Mary Charles McGough
"Something has happened in the renewal of creation through the death and resurrection of Jesus which has the result, as one of its multiple spin-offs, that whereas before Jesus only ever sent out men, now – now of all moments! – he sends out a woman. And though the church has often struggled – to put it mildly – with the idea of women being called to genuine apostolic ministry, the record is clear and unambiguous. "

In the great resurrection reversal, we are all set free from the second-place status ascribed to us by tradition, culture, or patriarchal law. Jesus said “the truth will set you free,” and across the centuries resurrection people have experienced that reality in the face of prejudice and unjust laws and every voice that continues to insist freedom is for those born in the right place, with the right skin, the right body.

I first saw this resurrection life in my grandmother, Elda Meech Capra. Born in Oklahoma in 1912 to a poor family with too many daughters, she attended two days of ninth grade then quit, ashamed of her one hand-me-down dress. She left home at thirteen, was married weeks after she turned seventeen to a man ten years older, a man who preferred she stay quiet and do what she was told.

In her late twenties she encountered the resurrection on a street corner in Enid, Oklahoma, where an itinerate preacher led her to Christ and gave her a Bible. He told her “start with the gospel of John,” and she did. When she got to John 8, it was as though Jesus himself was speaking to her: “ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

I have her old Bible, pages falling out, tiny notes scribbled in the margins. John 8:31 is underlined, with little check marks in the margin. And just down the column, the verse she repeated often: “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”

That freedom blossomed in many ways, but without the encouragement or blessing of any church. A network of strong women, missionaries and teachers, helped Elda learn her way through scripture, pointed her to useful resources, discussed and prayed and invited her to test her gifts leading small group Bible studies. I grew up in my grandmother’s home, watching her study her Bible early every morning, listening to those treasured conversations with missionary friends home on furlough.

Noli Me Tangere, Maurice Denis, 1896, France
Those missionary women planted churches in countries I could only imagine, cast out demons, witnessed miraculous healings, and held us spellbound in Sunday school with their stories of God’s work. But they couldn’t speak from the pulpit.

Over the years, my grandmother shared the resurrection with many people, but was never permitted, in her church, to teach men, or teen boys, or speak in any public way. When a group of women she’d led to Christ asked her to explain the Christian faith to their husbands, she agreed to do so in someone’s home. When the husbands asked if she’d lead a weekly Bible study, she again agreed, in someone’s home. When that study grew and divided, she found herself teaching two nights a week, invited often to other homes to meet other seekers, to lead yet others to Christ. Marriages were healed, parents and adult children were reconciled, new life sprang up in visible ways that drew even more to the good news of resurrection.

Elda encouraged all of those new believers to find churches, to worship regularly, to find their way into households of faith. But she never invited them to her own church, and that new resurrection life never became part of her own local congregation.


Despite all the declarations of freedom, unity, new life in Christ, many church leaders, then as now, allowed two puzzling passages to determine the roles of women: 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, which says “women should remain silent in the churches,” and 1 Timothy 2:11-15: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”

I’m not sure what my grandmother made of those two passages. In her Bible, there’s no note or mark on the Corinthian passage, while many parts before and after are underlined. In Timothy, while the rest of the letter is riddled with small notes and references, that one passage is bracketed, with a short indecipherable note in the margin.

What I do know is that my grandmother believed firmly in the priesthood of all believers: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God.”

Matin de Pâques, Maurice Denis, 1893, France
In her Bible, the whole passage is underlined, with “priesthood of believers” heavily, repeatedly underscored.

New Testament scholars have spent much time, and ink, exploring the passages about silent women, and trying to understand how those passages fit with Jesus' interactions with women, New and Old Testament descriptions of women in ministry and leadership, and instructions to us all to be more and more like Christ. I list some links below.

But here’s the question that has troubled me since childhood:

What happens to the message of freedom when the church says “That’s for men. The rest of you, stay quiet”?

What happens to the message of unity when the church says “We’re all one, but some of us more than others”?

What happens to the call to witness, to use our gifts, to be like Christ in every way, when as soon as we start, someone says “um, well, no, that gift isn’t for you,” or “you can witness over here, but you can’t speak over there,” or “Jesus wasn’t really talking to you when he said that. But we need someone to serve coffee.”

What stirs our hope in the resurrection, and makes our faith strong?

What stands in the way of faith, and feeds our cynicism and doubt?

I began this series on resurrection with this reflection:
"Those who have seen, experienced, become part of a living community convinced of resurrection power begin to live that power in their own lives, to share it with others, in ways that build hope, and faith, and deepen love. As walls fall down between rich and poor, educated and illiterate, racially and ethnically divided, as God’s people demonstrate the freedom that comes from full forgiveness and the compassion that springs up from the knowledge that all that’s needed is provided, as gifts are affirmed in women, children, the marginalized, the previously ignored, resurrection becomes visible, inescapable.
"If the truth of the resurrection is held in doubt, it’s not our apologetics that needs attention, but our lives together as visible community of love."
What does the resurrection say to women? And to those who love and want the best for women?

Maybe it’s time to go visit the empty tomb, and hear what Jesus has to say.

Jesus Appearing to Mary, Jesus Mafa

For more on the role of women in the church:

Christians for Biblical Equality

N. T. Wright: Women's Service in the Church
Scot McKnight: The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible and Junia is Not Alone

This is the sixth in a series about the resurrection:
Risen Indeed: The Hermaneutic Community 
The Great Reversal: A Resurrection People 
Earth Day Shalom: Ripples of Resurrection  
Resurrection Challenge: Feed My Sheep
Resurrection Laughter
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome. Click on the ___comments link below to see comments and to post your own.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Resurrection Laughter

We live in the middle of the story. Sometimes it feels like a page-turner, hurrying toward a terrifying end with no way to slow it down. Other times it feels like the story has stalled, and here we are, trapped mid-chapter, wishing something would change. Blindsided by betrayal, grieving unimagined loss, frustrated by the sense of hope deferred, we sink into discouragement, doubt, dull depression.

Open Book and Spectacles, William T. Howell Allchin
mid-19th century, UK
Yet the resurrection reminds us: the story is not over, and just when we think the worst has come, Christ’s great reversal reminds us that our deepest loss can be the avenue to deepest joy.

Frederick Buechner, accomplished storyteller and gifted cartographer of that place where sorrow and hope meet, speaks of laughter and tears in his account of his own conversion to Christianity. Living alone in Manhattan, he went on a whim to hear a famous preacher:
“And then with his head bobbing up and down so that his glasses glittered, he said in his odd, sandy voice, the voice of an old nurse, that the coronation of Jesus took place among confession and tears and then, as God was and is my witness, great laughter, he said. Jesus is crowned among confession and tears and great laughter, and at the phrase great laughter, for reasons that I have never satisfactorily understood, the great wall of China crumbled and Atlantis rose up out of the sea, and on Madison Avenue, at 73rd Street, tears leapt from my eyes as though I had been struck across the face.—The Alphabet of Grace
I thought of tears and laughter today while attending the funeral of a young man of twenty-five. Tears were flowing, yet laughter wasn’t far away: a person in great pain is now far beyond the darkness with which he struggled.

As the minister read at the close of his sermon:
If I say,“Surely the darkness will hide me
   and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
   the night will shine like the day,
   for darkness is as light to you. . .
when I awake, I am still with you (Psalm 139)
Buechner, continuing to explore laughter in the Christian faith, wrote:
"The worst isn't the last thing about the world. It's the next to the last thing. The last thing is the best. It's the power from on high that comes down into the world, that wells up from the rock-bottom worst of the world like a hidden spring. Can you believe it? The last, best thing is the laughing deep in the hearts of the saints, sometimes our hearts even. Yes. You are terribly loved and forgiven. Yes. You are healed. All is well.” (The Final Beast)
For years, a friend asked me to pray for chronic sorrows: aches and pains, lingering depression, a sense of pointlessness. One day the time was right to ask: is there something behind all this? Is there some heavy guilt you’re carrying? Did something happen to make you doubt God’s love?

The tears were immediate, the story emerged more slowly. Yes, something had happened. She was sure forgiveness wasn’t possible, sure God couldn’t love her. Sure, once the story was told, even those closest to her would turn their backs and walk away.

I don’t remember what I said, or prayed, but I do know I reminded her of the forgiveness possible through Christ’s death and resurrection, and of the promise that our story isn’t over, that whatever we’ve done, lost, broken, suffered, Jesus died to free us.

Freedom Dance, John and Eli Milan, US
At some point her tears turned to sobs, and then, surprise, to great gasps of laughter. When she finally caught her breath, she said, with a wide, bright smile, face still wet with tears, “I feel free. Like a huge weight is gone. Like I can finally breathe.”
Multiply that story. Treasure the laughter, described in records of revivals, autobiographies, stories of conversion.  Jonathan Edwards, in his autobiographical Narrative, wrote:
“It was very wonderful to see how persons’ affections were sometimes moved — when God did, as it were, suddenly open their eyes, and let into their minds a sense of the greatness of His grace, the fullness of Christ, and His readiness to save, after having been broken with apprehension of divine wrath and sunk unto an abyss, under a sense of guilt which they were ready to think was beyond the mercy of God. Their joyful surprise has caused their hearts, as it were, to leap, so they have been ready to break forth in laughter, tears often at the same time issuing like a flood.” 
A.B. Simpson, founder of the Christian Missionary Society, wrote that of a “fullness of Joy" that "does not depend on circumstances, but fills the spirit with holy laughter in the midst of the most trying surroundings" (Days of Heaven on Earth). Oswald Chambers, author of My Utmost for His Highest, wrote in his diary on April 19, 1907, “Last night we had a blessed time. I was called down by the teachers to pray and anoint a lady who wanted healing, and as we were doing it God came so near that upon my word we were laughing as well as praying! How utterly stilted we are in our approach to God. Oh that we lived more up to the light of all our glorious privileges.”

In his much quoted poem, "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front," Wendell Berry counsels:
Listen to carrion — put your ear close,
and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable.
Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.
The poem ends with these words:
Practice resurrection.
Part of practicing resurrection is learning to see, and hear, from another angle. Learning to listen past the realities of death to the stirrings of the songs that are to come.  Learning to look past the end of the world as we know it to a world redeemed and healed.

Daring to trust God’s goodness, even when we don’t see it.

Daring to believe we are loved with a love so expansive and forgiving we dissolve in delight when we slow down enough to savor it.

We don’t know the punch line to this story we are living, but we’ve had hints: if the resurrection is a preview, it's going to be a good one. So, even now, while we wait to hear the great laughter of the heavens, we practice resurrection.

Laugh out loud.

This is the fifth in a series about the resurrection:
Risen Indeed: The Hermaneutic Community 
The Great Reserval: A Resurrection People 
Earth Day Shalom: Ripples of Resurrection  
         Resurrection Challenge: Feed My Sheep 

         Resurrection Women - Happy Mother's Day!

It's also part of the May Synchroblog – Lighten Up: The Art of Laughter, Joy & Letting Go. Visit some of these other blogs for some other perspectives on laughter in the life of faith.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome. Click on the   __ comments link below to post.