St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church

Vancouver, B.C.

Phone: 604-877-1788

E-mail: office@stmarymags.ca


The Anglican Parish of St. Mary Magdalene

2950 Laurel Street at West 14th Avenue

Vancouver, BC, V5Z  3T3

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Diocese of New Westminster Anglican Church of Canada

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Sermon

April 12th Easter 2020


As we approach the Triduum, standing before Good Friday, The Great Vigil and The Celebration of the Resurrection, we need to understand that these liturgical occasions need, as with religion itself, to be interpreted. There is no room for literalists or the new atheists who in ham fisted ways remove nuance, flatten subtlety, at times confusing poetic proclamation with historical fact or delusory debris best disposed.¹ Holy week and religion itself require love, the hermeneutics of love, a delicate art of interpretation, possessing the right touch, a learned wisdom to navigate treacherous waters.


In an effort to be clear, praying I won’t be misunderstood, may I say there is an excess of theopoetic responses to whatever is astir within resurrection narratives, an excess not dispelling what is shared here…


What follows here is not the final word, certainly not the only word…


As for what happens after death, I don’t know and, if you are honest, you don’t either; at best, you have a hope, a prayer, perhaps expressing a faith, pointing to a story with which there are no certainties, , no guarantees …


I will go only this far, beyond death is a mystery yet perhaps exceeding whatever we can ask or imagine…


One final note…


I am largely silent about the afterlife because orthodox language concerning the afterlife is, if I may borrow a phrase from Tillich, mythological and half-blasphemous. Truth to tell, as madness seizes me, I will go so far as to say, orthodoxy is often heresy, a particular form of heresy in which the wolf is among us in sheep’s clothing!²

~


We begin with the wisdom of a contemporary Sadducee, the memorable words of Woody Allen:³


I don’t want to live on in my children. I don’t want to live on in my works. I want to live on in my apartment!”.                                                                                                                                                                                     

As we continue, in an effort not to get lost in a pietistic haze, carried aloft on a supernatural, metaphysical cloud of glory, let’s ask:


What is the origin of the concept of the resurrection?


Historically, holding at a bay an orthodox tsunami, resurrection is grounded in an insurrection…


In 167 BCE Antiochus IV attacked Jerusalem, defiled the temple, suppressed Jewish religious practice, mercilessly slaughtered men, women and children, defeating, crushing the hopes and dreams of the Maccabees. This was not supposed to happen; it was not part of the deal; after all, wasn’t god on the side of the Maccabees?


Enter Daniel or the pseudonymous author or authors of the apocalypse, with something entirely new, redefining loss, resituating what winning means:


 Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (see Daniel 12:2, more broadly 12:1-4)


The contract between god and god’s people is now rewritten: the blessed, the just will never die, the others, collaborators, ruing the day they ever turned their backs on god.


Everlasting life was known to Jews – Egyptians worshipped their dead - but heretofore it was heresy, idolatry, until it wasn’t, tragedy calling forth an alternative response…


Yet…


Perhaps life immortal should be reconsidered leaving the excesses of Daniel to imaginative screen writers and their conceptions of the super heroic and other fanciful conceptions


Perhaps instead of expanding divine powers to include resurrecting the dead, they could have asked what does defeat say about our understanding god?


Perhaps, instead of fanciful, supernatural notions concerning that which no one can know, they could have opened to a completely different story, in which that which we name as god is astir within defeat, hope within horror, life within death.


So let’s dare to rethink – please remember to breathe - opening to alternative theological voices, resituating an ancient symbol, not dismissing it as a pietistic delusion, not treating it as history in which the symbol is drained of life rendering it inert, reading a symbolic, deeply mythic story not as a newspaper report but as a narrative stirring hearts and minds, firing the imagination as to life’s possibilities in a manner in which Hamlet inspires as story, a story in which we quite readily sideline concerns about the veracity of ghosts, not entertaining questions about how his dead father could speak to him.⁶


So yes…


Jesus lives…


Yes, the dead do live on, although probably not in their apartments (sorry Woody) …


The dead do rise again, not in an Greco- Gentile sense of some mythological sense of immortality – heavenly streets of gold in which I stroll along with my beloved grandmother – but in the sense of the genuine glory of justice, love and compassion, wherever, whenever these things are shared.


Could it be that resurrection is to speak of a figure of hope, a body of hope in which, as Craig Keen says,


victory comes here not instead of defeat but in defeat,” in a “tale of martyrs, who wait, despite all evidence, for a coming redemption.”⁷


Perhaps resurrection is insurrection – yes, let us honour the Maccabean insurrection - a response, resistance to injustice, to ignoble acts expressing the worst parts of ourselves. The risen body an expression of jubilee time, a body of justice, a prophetic body, a voice raised in support of the subjugated, the despised, the impoverished, those excluded for reasons too numerous to count.


Perhaps the resurrection of Jesus is a figure, a symbol of a triumph of his vision – the insurrection of life against death in all of its forms.


Resurrection is not a function of crucifixion, not a divine response to crucifixion, the glory of release from death with a celestial ascendance into the everlasting...


Resurrection is about life astir within death, within defeat, life dreaming of new life, life where god reigns, where the least among us is cared for…


The cross is a witness, Jesus’ witness (martyros) to life, to the promise of life in and under the reign of god, Jesus’ witness to his kingdom-like forgiveness, a witness to god’s solidarity with an unjustly condemned man who proclaimed and lived the values of god’s reign.


They killed him but he did not stay dead; he kept getting back up, continuing to walk the roads of Galilee, meeting up with disciples, followers in hearts and minds, in memories and meals shared, in the dangerous memory of those for whom it made no sense to seek the living among the dead. The crucifixion could not reach as far, as deep, as the haunting face of Jesus. As John Caputo says, “That is the resurrection. Life in death, victory in defeat, glory in ignominy, something emerging from where there seemed to be nothing.”⁸


They killed him but a way was made out of no way, in insurrections of hope stretching through time, in faithful resistance to evil and injustice bubbling within history, in compassionate calls astir within life, luring new life, perhaps our life…


In defeat his haunting face, his teachings, his memorable life and death are magnified, living on within hearts and minds, within lives lived in response to justice calls, the calling of compassion and reconciliation.


Perhaps, if we are to honour our contemporary sensibilities, we can dare to imagine resurrection not as transcendent, the metaphysical transport of life beyond immanence, a celestial supernatural ascent in which death is not so much defeated as denied, but as what the Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas said is a transascendent, in which life is lived within the world, lived referring to ones laid low but not forgotten, remembered, ones stirring, astir, their faces calling, their lives insisting, their visage, their faces invisible though they be, calling, calling us to shoulder the work of the cross, honouring the poem of the reign of god…


These faces are an expression of life’s ‘YES’  in the face of death, that yes haunting us, Yeshua’s face rising above Roman swords, black faces rising higher than Mississippi mobs, holocaust faces uncontained by the gas chamber and horror, Emmett Till’s beaten face stirring a movement, First Nation faces exceeding reservation restrictions and humiliations…


Perhaps resurrection reinscribed is realizing that Rosa Parks rose to heights unimagined when she sat down, that the civil rights movement rose up in response to being beaten down, that a solitary individual was never so tall as when he stood before a tank in Tiananmen square, that those abused never rose so high as when they break silence, that our community was never so faithful as when we rise above flaws expressing faith, hope and love…


Perhaps resurrection, theopoetically understood, is a response to these faces, their memories, their hopes, for the bodies of the persecuted call us, dare I say accuse us, in their accusation refusing to die, calling us to make all things new in which a messianic hope is fulfilled, or at least risked…


After the death of Yeshua, that which is known as Christianity is the memory of Yeshua “whose theopoetic resurrection inspires insurrection against the powers that be… [an insurrection] that issues from the face of the nothings and nobodies of the world!”


To be an Easter people, to live a resurrection faith, is to live in the space between memory and promise, the memory and the promise of Yeshua…


To be an Easter people, to live a resurrection faith, is to respond to the elegies of those before, shaping, reshaping life now…


Within the resurrection, theopoetically understood, the poem of god’s reign lives on…


So, let’s go up to Jerusalem, up the holy hill, rising up to where Yeshua was lifted up, drawing all people, dare I say the nothings and nobodies of the world, perhaps even us¹⁰…

~


Resurrection does not refer to a supernatural spirit but the spirit of a man who could not be defeated by the people who killed him, which is what…is getting expressed in the Easter and post-Easter stories. His ‘victory’ does not have to wait until Easter morning; it already takes place on the cross when the authors of the gospel narratives have him ‘forgive’ the brutal Roman soldiers who are crucifying him, which lifts him high above their business and cruelty… Christ is the name that is given to Yeshua when Yeshua is entered into a theopoetic space after his death.

John Caputo

Cross and Cosmos

   p. 134-135




¹ An example of new atheists would be the work of Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens.

 ² To the accusation that I have gone too far, I will say, that the chink in my armour is my tendency to take heresy seriously.

 ³ Sadducees, a Jewish religious group at the time of Jesus, expressed grave doubts about resurrection.

 ⁴ To be fair to Daniel, this life immortal was not lived in the heavenly realms but here on earth where god would establish god’s rule. The heavenly realms had to wait for Greek metaphysical concerns with time and eternity, the good and the beautiful, the young and the restless. Oops, that last one is a soap opera!

 ⁵ I am not saying that speaking of resurrection was an error on Daniel’s part rather it suffered from an apocalyptic excess. Consequently, the concept of resurrection needs to be reinscribed not rejected.

 ⁶ The gospel is good news, a witness, a proclamation, a story, a parable of life and hope, a song, a spiritual sung dreaming, yearning, envisioning, working for a new day, a different day exceeding the mendacities of today.

 ⁷ Craig Keen, After Crucifixion: The Promise of Theology (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2015) p.150

 ⁸ John Caputo, Cross and Cosmos: A Theology of Difficult Glory, (Indiana University Press, 2019) p.116

 ⁹ See Caputo, Cross and Cosmos, p.117.

 ¹⁰ In speaking of going up to Jerusalem I am not making a geographic statement but a theopoetic statement.