Monday, April 13, 2009
A resurrection insurrection
Jesus raising Adam and Eve at his Resurrection
Mark 16: 1-8
******** United Church of Christ
April 12, 2009 (Easter Sunday)
As long as there has been a systematic belief in a supreme power and a scientific method by which empirical information could be deduced, there has been a fierce battle between science and faith. Before Copernicus, the scientist who in 1530 that declared that the earth rotated on an axis and orbited around the sun, the world had believed for centuries, since before the time of the Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy, that the earth was the center of the universe and that the sun, moon and stars revolved around it. This fit with the biblical narrative and could be seen as self-evident by observing the heavens above. It was also tailor-made to the human ego.
Since Copernicus, the church and the scientific world have had words, to put it mildly. It can almost sound like a cosmic wrestling match: the Natural vs. the Supernatural. And within the past eight years, the debate has come to a head once again in areas such as evolution, prevention against disease and unwanted pregnancy, stem-cell research, and the existence of faith itself. Those at one end of the spectrum who consider themselves to be of a solely rational frame of mind regard many religious persons as deluded and irrational. And many on the other end of the spectrum who proclaim themselves as the truly faithful, desire that all decisions, private, public, and political, be made in the context of faith—their faith.
As it is, we do not live in a supernatural world or a rational universe, either. We live in a universe where nothing can move faster than the seemingly arbitrary speed of 186,000 miles per second, where rocks and feathers fall at the same rate in a vacuum, where a measurable but unexplainable force called gravity binds objects and creatures to planets and planets to stars, where this earth orbits the sun at the exact distance needed to support life.(1)
We do not question these facts, yet they also fly in the face of a famous scientific axiom—Occam’s razor—that all things being equal, the simplest explanation is probably the truth. Did the universe turn out this way because of: one, there was an intelligence that designed it that way or two, it was random occurrence? It seems more plausible that there was some sort of intelligence behind the evolution of sustainable life on a planet with gravity that orbits only so far from a sun whose light travels at a specific speed than all of this just happening randomly. And yet most of the time it is science that wins the day. We do not question the facts of gravity and the speed of light because over many centuries humankind has learned to accept them as truth. Yet their existence still defies reason and, at least within myself, inspires awe. We need both the miracle of science and the rational argument for God.
The notion of resurrection, presumably an unscientific, supernatural event, has only been around for about two thousand years, so it is no wonder that we are still trying to grasp its meaning. If the first witnesses, as recorded in Mark’s gospel, truly did run from the tomb in terror and amazement, telling no one what they had seen and heard, then there would be no church, no Body of Christ living and breathing in us.
Somehow, the resurrection did connect with individual lives and with communities of faith and their experiences of human living. It more than caught on: the resurrection created witnesses of the risen Christ, electrifying a movement of common living, sacrifice, compassion and justice. Yet it still hasn’t gained traction in such a way as to completely transform all life on this earth into the promised kingdom of God. William Sloane Coffin once said that by all appearances it is still a Good Friday world. I remain slightly more hopeful, that we live in that Saturday, that Easter Vigil, when Christ was below, messing with the powers of hell, his work not yet completed, and we wait for his rising, his full glory to show forth.
When we accept the resurrection of Christ as truth, we also accept the whole package that was Jesus: the forgiveness of all sins and not just some, the upending of the powers that be in favor of the poor, the outcast, the stranger, and the powerless, the love for enemies as well as neighbor and God, and his faithfulness even unto death. Resurrection, new life, rebirth, is a result of a life lived as an insurrection to the way things are.
The resurrection is less about a supernatural event than it is about our experience of resurrection in our lives. And perhaps we are slow to recognize it because our experience of injustice, cruelty, judgment, and oppression is dominant over that of resurrection.
In a recent article in Discover magazine, Princeton neuroscientist Sam Wang advises that if we want to change a behavior, one way we can build up our willpower is to engage our nondominant hand in routines we normally perform with our dominant hand, such as brushing our teeth or eating a meal. The theory behind this is that the new behavior is not as dominant as the old behavior we are trying to change. So we must be subversive, building strength to lead an insurrection against our self-destructive behaviors.
In order for resurrection to become our dominant experience, we need to practice resurrection, to be subversive, to daily lead an insurrection against the destructive powers that be. In the words of the poet Wendell Berry:
“[Every] day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
…Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
… Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
Resurrection does not compute, yet we can experience it any time, any place. Perhaps Mark had the women at the tomb tell no one so that we might read their story, that old, old story of Jesus and his love, that it may connect with our story, that we might know ourselves to be raised from our own death, that we would know this power in our everyday human experience. But it takes practice. We won’t always get it right. It is the risen Christ that makes it all possible. But we know what this practice, this insurrection will lead to. The real question is, are we ready for it?
May it be so. Amen.
1. Orson Scott Card, Enchantment (New York: Random House, 1999; pg. 253).