Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Easter Sunday: The Spirituality of the Defiant Conjunction

Have you ever noticed how a person’s spirituality tends to align itself with one of the major holy days in the church year? In other words, some of us are like Christmas, celebrating God’s presence in one another and in the world around us. Folks with this spiritual orientation find God in such diverse places as the beauty of a spring flower, a delicately crafted sonnet, and the compassion of a loving caregiver at the hospital beside. Maybe you are a Christmas person.

Some of us are like Pentecost, finding new life and vigor and vitality through the indwelling of God’s Spirit. Pentecost Christians see God at work in the world about us… in the miracle of healing (even if it happens under the care of the physician), in being guided to a parking space at a crowded shopping center, and in the church getting enough money in the offering plate to pay the monthly bills. In all these things and more, Pentecost people know that God is good. Can I get an “Amen” from the Pentecost people here today?

Some of us are like the Ascension, believing that God did impressive things back in the Bible, but now Jesus is in heaven and we are left here to carry on His work. And there is plenty of work to be done: eradicate poverty and world hunger, confront ecological challenges, overcome human ignorance and prejudice through quality education… you get the idea. Ascension people get involved, so if you are active in more than two parish ministries, then you might just be a Christian whose spiritual life is oriented toward the Ascension.

Some of people are Good Friday Christians. These are the folks who are keenly aware of all that is wrong with the world. In some Christian traditions, Good Friday preachers focus of the evils of card playing, dancing, and rock music. A more mainline perspective would highlight the pervasive affects of our secular culture. Either way, Good Friday Christians are in tune with how sin lurks in every nook and cranny of life.

Weather forecasters, it seems to me, are Good Friday type people. Either there is too much rain or too little. Either it is too hot for this time of year or it is too cold. If the day is perfect, then forecast always highlights a ‘dramatic’ change that is coming. And, of course, the approaching hurricane season is always going to be one of the worst on record.

People in the news business also strike me as being Good Friday people. You know the old saying, “If it bleeds, it leads.” If the daily news was the only tool you had to gauge the health and well-being of the world, you would conclude that everything is broken or falling apart.

There is a reason why we warm up to foul weather reports and rubberneck for negative news stories. At our very core we are strongly attracted to Good Friday spirituality. The brokenness of the world is plain to see everywhere we turn. We sense that the great enemy – death – is always nearby. We see and hear our story in the brokenness of life and in the finality of death. The Good Friday story makes sense of our experience and we are drawn to it in a deeply spiritual way.

I think St. Luke had Good Friday spirituality in mind when he wrote his Gospel. Unlike the other Gospel writers, his account is peppered with the defiant conjunction ‘but’. “But on the first day of the week at early dawn,” Luke says, “the women came to the tomb with the spices they had prepared.” In Matthew’s telling of the resurrection, this word shows up once; in Mark, twice; and in Luke the defiant conjunction shows up six times. It is as if Luke is taking direct aim at Good Friday-‘the end is the end”-spirituality. Sure, he says, Jesus dies, His body is laid in a tomb, and the tomb is sealed with a stone.

But! But! But! Wait a minute. Don’t close the book. You may think that the story of Jesus ends here like every other story we know. What is broken stays broken. What is dead never regains life. Right? Well, says Luke, until Jesus, yes, but… not now! There is more to this story. The tomb is empty. Angles proclaim resurrection. Jesus is risen.

Luke tells us that upon finding the empty tomb the women become confused. They have not yet had time to orient their spirituality to the Easter story of new life, of healing, of reconciliation, of Jesus’ triumph over death and hatred. So they rush to tell the disciples what has happened. Luke tells us that the men did not believe the women’s report because their words seemed like nonsense.

Easter spirituality can be a tough thing to grasp. But the power of Easter is the power to grab hold of us in a way that transforms Good Friday spirituality into a firm belief in the power of God to make all things new.

Such an experience came to a Lutheran pastor by the name of John Vannorsdall. Perhaps you will identify with this story he wrote about in a magazine article:

"In the forty years of my ministry I have never found the road to Damascus. I have never been blinded by the heavenly light or heard my name spoken by God. I have never seen a burning bush which was not consumed. And where I have served, the walls of the church building have trembled with age but never at the voice of God…

[And then] on an evening walk last summer – a lazy walk through back alleys near the railroad track – my wife and I came across a surprising garden and talked as best we could with the elderly man who spoke mostly Italian.

The railroad embankment was a disaster of broken bottles and empty cans, weed trees and brambles. Good Friday’s land. But twenty-five feet wide from alley to tracks it was terraced and neatly rowed with beans, leaf lettuce, tomatoes, and other growing things. Good Friday’s land, wounded and sacred, became Easter’s garden where the trains still rattled as evening strollers paused before evidence of reversal and healing."

That garden is a wonderful image for us who are a people of the defiant conjunction. We are Easter people. Where we find the littered, scrubby embankments of life we plant a garden. Where we find brokenness we bring reconciliation; where there is hostility we bring peace; where there is hatred, we bring love. Yes, we live in a Good Friday world. But! But! But! Alleluia, the Lord is risen and we are Easter people.

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