Today we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus. Horribly executed as a common criminal in the grotesque Roman manner of crucifixion on a cross, he has been hurled by God back into the DNA of the creation, into the DNA of each of us, by God’s act of abundant delight and complete self-abandoned love. Mary Magdalene, the first witness to the Resurrection, experienced the beauty and promise of that life in her very being. As it was true for her, we discover with millions of others since that it can be true for us as well.
We have been and are being hurled, launched if you will, into a world that today longs for the possibility of a new creation. We call this the hope of Resurrection life. You see, “the great Easter truth is not that we are to live newly after death, but that we (you and I) are to be new here and now by the power of the Resurrection” (Phillips Brooks, 1893).
This search of a grieving world to be reconciled with one another is found in all people and all times throughout history. Do we not see this in the hearts of the parents and friends in Parkland, Florida after the slaughter of their children? Do they not yearn for a new heaven and a new earth? I see this longing in the eyes of returning military from Afghanistan caught in the horror of post-traumatic stress. It is evident in the wailing mother whose child was shot on a street in North Charleston; in the grieving parent who, although working, finds it difficult to provide enough food for his child and pay the rent at the same time. I wonder if you identify a place in your own heart that longs for wholeness, for reconciliation, for love, for a new possibility?
Throughout the Scriptures, the desire for a new heaven and new earth is found. From the ancient Hebrew prophets, on through St. Paul writing to the budding Corinthian Church, culminating in the Revelation to John. The hope to which it all leads is cosmic, where all of creation participates in a new reality. It points to a matrix where every relationship, even time and space itself, is reconfigured and transformed. As Stephen Hawking helped us understand, a change in space produces a change in time. In Jesus’ resurrection our linear time frame collapses and we are drawn in resurrection hope to something that is unending and eternal.
Yet the Biblical vision I am talking about here is not merely a hope for a distant, other-worldly future in heaven. As disciples of Jesus we are to seek to make it real now, on this earth and in our time – in our homes, in our neighborhoods and our relationships, in our nation, and yes, even between nations. This act of God’s great love will permeate everything, for the reconciliation of the world is the very joy of God as well as the transformed character of life in this new creation.
Is this all too ethereal, too “science-fictiony” for you? Let me paint you a picture from a real event in history.
It occurred in South Africa at the height of racial hatred as it played out in the policy of apartheid. Nelson Mandela was still in jail. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was presiding and preaching at a service of Holy Eucharist, much like today, when a group of the notorious South African Security Police burst into the church. Tutu stopped preaching and just stared at the intruders as they lined the walls of the church. Just a few weeks before they had arrested him and other church leaders and held them in jail to try and intimidate them and create a culture of fear. Looking at them directly, the Archbishop acknowledged their earthly power, but reminded them that he served an infinite power greater than their political authority. Then, in a moment that seems to embody all of which Isaiah is speaking and that God accomplishes in Jesus’ resurrection, Tutu says, “Since you have already lost, I invite you today to come and join the winning side.” He is reported to have said it with an enticing smile and genuine warmth, love if you will, from a deep place inside of him – grounded in Jesus’ victory. It took everyone’s breath away.
The congregation’s response was electric. The crowd was transformed, by love, in that very moment. From a cowering fear of the heavily armed security police, people rose to their feet and started to – do what? DANCE! They danced out of the church and met the rest of the awaiting police and security forces who, not knowing what else to do, backed up, were parted, to provide a space for the people of resurrection hope to dance for freedom in the streets of South Africa. Some remarked years later that apartheid was defeated not when Mandela was released from prison or even when he became president, but when the people of God danced that day in a sea of love.
The great theologian Aidan Kavanagh said that, “The Jesus of our faith died, rose, and became a people.” It happened on that day in South Africa. Perhaps it can happen in the young people of our country as they look to change our cultural conversation. It is what we are celebrating in Lowell’s baptism and in Brigitte being received today, as we promise one another that we, together as a community, will learn how to dance the love of God for the whole creation.
The love that transformed Jesus is the love that transforms you. It is that same love that transformed Mary Magdalene, the love that transformed Desmond Tutu and the security forces that day in the church, the love planted in every molecule of the universe, to be realized and lived now, in this life, as we allow ourselves to be awakened to it. This is the life of resurrection. What we discover most of all, is that death can never again be the end of the story. Love is. For Jesus is Risen.