Window view of the Tuscan hills near Volterra and Montecatini.
John 20: 1-20
******** United Church of Christ
April 4, 2010 – Easter Sunday/Resurrection Day
Paul Tillich, 20th century German theologian and philosopher, introduced the radical notion of transparency. We have many ways, rituals, sources of authority, written works that illustrate the divine but these are not the divine itself. They are transparent to the divine, to the ultimate reality. They may point the way to God but they are not God.
An illustration of this would be a large picture window, in a home built in, say, the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. The people who live in the house have invited you into their home to look out this large window. What do you see? Big blue sky. Peaks and hills overlapping like ocean waves. Or clouds heavy with moisture sinking into the valleys and shrouding the green hills. Perhaps you might catch an eagle or a hawk in flight. Or see an oncoming thunderstorm in the distance. Whatever you see, it would indeed be an awesome view.
However, there is one thing you would not see, even though it is the nearest object in your line of sight. You would not say you see the window because the window is transparent. The purpose of a window is to see through it, to the view beyond.
The Bible and other holy texts are windows. Religious art is a window. Worship, communion, baptism, marriage, even death—all these are windows that provide us with a view of the divine. What is radical about Tillich’s notion of transparency is that Jesus is a window. He is a transparent being through whom the divine can be seen clearly. We may think of Jesus as the view through the window, but time and again, Jesus pointed beyond himself to God and to God’s kingdom.
When Mary Magdalene remains at the grave, weeping at the window of despair, she does not recognize Jesus. “Whom do you seek?” Jesus asks her. What do you see through the window? She is afraid that she has lost her beloved friend for good, that even Jesus’ body is not left for her to anoint and to mourn. Jesus says to her “Mary!” as if to wake her and clear her vision that she may see through the window of resurrection, the window of a changed life, the window of God’s “yes” to Jesus and to love.
Mary wants to hold onto Jesus, to cling to what she thinks is the awesome view, and it is, this Jesus who defies the powers of domination and death, who heals and raises the dead, who feasts with tax collectors, lifts up the lowly and preaches peace through justice. But Jesus stops her, saying “Do not hold onto me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Here again Jesus points away from himself toward the One who sent him, the One who makes the Way of love visible and clear through Jesus. And not only that, but Jesus points to the One who works through us and sends us as well: his Father and our Father, his God and our God.
You and I are also called to be transparent, to be a window through which the love of God shines. The more we focus on the view through Jesus, the more transparent we become. Through us, God’s Easter people, God’s vision of rebirth and hope and justice has the power to change lives, change systems and communities, change laws and policies, indeed change the world.
Imagine if God had not raised Jesus from the dead; what would the window look like then? What kind of view would there be? What if God had not said “no” to violence, oppression, poverty, and injustice, and death was the last word? As it is, God said “yes” to Jesus, to his Way of compassion, grace, forgiveness, and peace through justice that the view would be one of hope rather than despair.
******** United Church of Christ, in your newly-born purpose statement, you have declared that, like a window, you dare to reveal God’s unconditional love by welcoming and accepting all people, through your joyful and creative worship, faithful service and spiritual growth. What a window! What a view!
But do not cling to that which is only the window. Rather, be willing to go to wherever Jesus’ brothers and sisters are, and who are Jesus’ brothers and sisters? Any who live out the love of God in their lives, those who are becoming transparent to the divine, and tell them what you have seen. Ask them to tell you what they have seen. Share the view. Amen.
(Much of the inspiration for this Easter meditation belongs to author Kate Braestrup, chapter 12 of her new book Marriage and Other Acts of Charity, New York: Little, Brown Co., 2010. I hope I have used enough of my own inspiration to keep her from suing me.)