Sunday, March 31, 2013

Where is Newness Needed?

Who Will Roll the Stone Away?
Hannah Varghese, 2001, Malaysia
Now is the shining fabric
    of our day
Torn open, flung apart, 
     rent wide by love.
Never again the tight,
     enclosing sky,
The blue bowl
     or star-illumined tent.
We are laid open to infinity
For Easter love has burst
     his tomb and ours.
Now nothing shelters us 
      from God's desire -
Not flesh, not sky, not stars, 
      not even sin.
Now glory waits         
so He can enter in.
Now does the dance begin.

Where is newness needed?

What are the things that trap us, trick us, hold us captive, like tightly wound grave clothes, or stones against a tomb?

What brokenness in us, in our faith, in our world, holds us in fear, whispers “this is all there is,” insists “the future you dream of is not possible”?

Where is newness needed?

The world Jesus was born to was brutal, angry, merciless.

Watching the new Bible series on the history channel, I flinch at the level of violence depicted. Yet Jesus lived in a violent time, under the rule of violent, arbitrary leaders addicted to power, willing to execute sons, brothers, wives, innocent children, to maintain control and suppress any hint of opposition.  

In a fearful, self-protective world, the church had become as fearful and self-protective. Divided, distrustful, angry: the leaders watched for any hint of opposition, aligned themselves with political power, did what was needed to maintain their own illusion of control.

Who could live in a world like that without being fearful, angry, suspicious? Every move was watched, every word was judged, every resource carefully guarded.

Jesus promised newness. In everything he said and did, he called to question the logic of his day. The poor will be rich. The weak will be strong. Those who risk their safety in acts of love will be the ones held safe in God’s eternal care.

His words made power angry. His acts defied the economics of the day. 

His promise of new hope, new freedom, a new spirit, a new way, led to the same punishment that awaited anyone who dared to challenge the order of the day: death. 

The Harrowing of Hell, icon, 1500s
A painful, public death. A sign to all watching that might is absolute, and newness, the kind Jesus promised, is a fool’s dream, nothing more.

So did the resurrection happen?

Did the same old story take an unexpected turn?

Did the newness Jesus promised, new life, new hope, new freedom, rise with him and walk free from the tomb?

Or did power, death, the established order, the accepted logic, the self-protective anger, win the day, and prove, yet again, that hope is food for fools?

Track the newness in the lives of Jesus’ followers.

New courage, new wisdom, new abilities, new compassion.

Track the newness in the spread of their story.

New communities. New worship.

New insistence on care for the poor, help for the sick, love of the enemy, a place at the table for women, outsiders, untouchables.

Track the newness, even now, in unexpected places.

New confidence among the untouchable Dalit Christians in India


New joy in small in-prison Bible studies, new hope in communities of care built on the edges of city dumps, in battered urbanneighborhoods.

Jesus promised new lives, new hope, new wisdom, a new spirit.

New unity with his father.

New unity with others who seek to follow him.

Where is that newness needed?

Where is it visible?

Do we believe it’s possible?

Or do the old kings, the old laws, the old powers, systems, priorities, still rule the day?

Controversial Irish thinker/writer/speaker Pete Robbins talks about what it means to affirm, or deny, the resurrection:
I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system. 
However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.   
For the Least of These, Soichi Watanabe2004, Japan

Is he right?

Is the newness Christ offered something personal, particular, private, just for me?

Or does it start there, like a seed, and grow into something so visible no one can miss it?

Does the newness change my heart, and nothing more, or does it change the way I love, the way I serve, the way I align myself with those left behind by the powers of the day?

Are we ready to let the old selves, the old ways die, and rejoice in this newness beyond our own achieving?

Where is newness needed?

And are we ready to embrace it?

Christ is risen!
We give thanks for the gift of Easter
     that runs beyond our explanations,
                     Beyond our categories of reason,
     even more, beyond the sinking sense of our own lives.
We know about the powers of death,
                                powers that persist among us,
                                powers that drive us from you, and
                                                                 from our neighbor, and
                                                                 from our best selves.
We know about the powers of fear and greed and anxiety,
                                                        and brutality and certitude.
                                powers before which we are helpless.
And then you….you at dawn, unquenched,
                           you in the darkness,
                           you on Saturday,
                           you who breaks the world to joy.
Yours is the kingdom….not the kingdom of death,
Yours is the power….not the glory of death.
                Yours….You….and we give thanks
                                For the newness beyond our achieving.
                                                Amen.
  ( Not the Kingdom of Death, Walter Brueggeman)