Saturday 20 April 2019

Sunday, April 21, 2019 - Every Area Starts To Enter Renewal

Every Area Starts To Enter Renewal
Doubt and disillusionment, discouragement and despair, dread and fear are emotions that are common to all of us at some point or other in our lives. When we are confronted with the death of a loved one or loss of a job, or a life threatening illness, we are thrown into a tailspin and our hearts are filled with anxiety, dread and fear. We think that things will never be right again. Especially in the middle of the night, things seem at their very worst. We forget that there ever was a thing called hope, and all that we have learned about God’s saving grace and unconditional love is nowhere to be found. If ever we knew how to call upon God, it is now only a distant memory from a better and happier time; and even when we need God the most, we turn our backs on God and walk away.

Every step becomes a challenge, life becomes drudgery and there seems to be no point in carrying on. This is what happened to all believers on Good Friday when Jesus was nailed to the Cross. The Lord who could calm the sea and walk on water was crucified like a common criminal. The Lord who fed 5,000 with a mere 5 loaves and 2 fish, who made the dumb speak and the deaf hear, who healed paralytics and even resuscitated the dead was now in a tomb. Where was hope? Where was the promise of the resurrection? Where was the expectation of new life? Did it make sense to believe? Did it make sense to trust? Did it make sense to hope?

The story is told of a child who began to read the Gospels. Like billions before her. She quickly became charmed by Jesus. Suddenly, she ran out of her room crying hysterically. She ran into the arms of her alarmed mother and cried: "They killed him. They killed Jesus. He did no wrong. Why did they kill him? Why?" Her mother comforted her and then whispered to her, "Now go back and finish the story." The girl obeyed her mother and read about the resurrection.

Death was not the end of the story. After Jesus it can never be the end. There is one more chapter. This is the most important chapter because, as the saying goes, they who laugh last laugh best. And in the last chapter of the story we see Jesus rise from the dead in all glory and majesty. He is vindicated. His enemies are shamed and confused. Jesus regains his eternal glory with the Father. He is the Lord, who will prevail over all humankind, his enemies included. As he had told his disciples on many occasions, he was indeed raised. The empty tomb could not hold the risen Lord. The cloths that he left behind are an indication that death itself has been left behind. Jesus is raised and will die no more. He will live forever.

The Synoptics and John use two kinds of narratives to narrate the event of the resurrection. One of these is the empty episodes where Mary Magdalene (Jn 20:1) or women (Mk 16:4; Mt 28:2; Lk 24:2) go to the tomb and find the stone rolled back or away and the tomb empty. The other kind of narrative is that of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples (Jn 20:11-21:25; Mk 16:9-20; Mt 28:11-20; Lk 24:13-53). The empty tomb episodes’ assert that it was the same Jesus who was crucified, died and was buried who is not now in the tomb. These episodes thus stress continuity or sameness. The post-resurrection appearances stress otherness and difference. In these the risen Jesus appears in bodily form. This body is unlike the body he had while on earth. It can walk through closed doors (Jn 20:29,26) appear and disappear at will (Lk 24:15,31), but also break bread with them (Lk 24:30) eat a piece of broiled fish before his disciples (Lk 24:43) and prepare breakfast for his disciples (Jn 21:12). In both kinds of episodes the evangelists intend to convey that Jesus is risen and is alive in a newer and better life.

For us his followers this is good news. The story of the suffering and death of Jesus on Good Friday seemed at first glance to be the story of the triumph of falsity over truth, of injustice over justice, of evil over goodness. Easter turns the tables. Really truth has triumphed over falsity, justice over injustice and goodness over evil. Death has been conquered. Life now triumphs even over death.

One of the most wonderful things to come out of the resurrection is that we learn this about Jesus: no matter how bad things become for us, no matter where we go to hide ourselves when we are overwhelmed, even if we lose our faith for a time, Jesus will come to be with us. He will not ask for explanations, we will not have to justify our position before him, and there will be no recriminations. He will accept us where we are and who we are. With him there is only acceptance not judgement. With him there is only forgiveness and pardon.

The resurrection of Christ makes explicit the good news that Truth is immortal. We can suppress the truth, accuse it of being a lie, condemn it, torture it, kill it, bury it in a grave but on the third day Truth will rise again. We need to remember this and not give up on Truth even when everybody seems to give up on it. As disciples of Jesus, we do not give up on Truth; we do not give up on Justice. We do not give up on doing what is right. Truth will always be true. Just will always be just. Right will always be right even when the world around us would have it otherwise.

The resurrection teaches us that we must learn to believe in the sun even when it is not shining, knowing that by and by it will shine again. It teaches us that oftentimes we have to first believe in order that we might see. It teaches us that true faith does not ask for a sign. It teaches us that it is the end of the story that counts. That is why we rejoice and are glad even when we are going through very difficult times: through betrayal, unjust discrimination, lies, misrepresentations; even when the enemy seems to be winning the battle in our lives. We know that Christ has triumphed and we know that Truth has overcome falsehood, deceit and lies.

The collateral implications of this basic message are radical and comprehensive. Anticipation displaces dread. Regret gives way to equanimity. Cynicism vanishes before creativity. Self-control conquers addiction. Purpose usurps futility. Reconciliation overtakes estrangement. Inner peace calms disquiet and distraction. Creativity banishes boredom. Darkness has turned to light, fear to confidence, anxiety to calm, despair to hope and death has indeed turned to life in all its fullness. These collateral implications are something like the fulfillment of one’s deepest desires, one’s wildest dreams, one’s fondest hopes, and one’s secret wishes, only in this scenario one’s desires, dreams, hopes, and wishes originate from the heart of God rather than from the human heart curved in on itself.

The Easter message shatters and subverts conventional human wisdom. We will, in fact, cheat death. Death will not have the last word. The physical, material world is not all that exists, which is to say that spirit transcends matter, and that for all the many gifts that science has given us, it is not always the best way to know or the only way to know. As Hamlet says to his friend Horatio “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Knowledge is a gift and a pleasure and wonderful to possess, but love is more powerful still. Despite the shadows of death that darken our world, if we look carefully we see Easter resurrection breaking out everywhere. When we see a tree in full blossom, hear the laughter of a child, when we give and share and live in communion with each other, in our reaching out to those who have lost hope and communicating hope to them, in the self-sacrificial goodness of so many people the world over. Then Easter happens again and again. Magic is in the air. Easter joy, hope, peace and life are for all.

John Donne the sixteenth century poet ends his poem “Death Be Not Proud” in the following manner: “One short sleep past we wake eternally, And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”

The Easter message is also unapologetically comprehensive and universal: Jesus is "Lord of all". He was killed, died and was buried. Now he has been raised never to die again. The message that God sent in Jesus is good news about peace, not violence, and forgiveness of sin, not its condemnation. The good news in Jesus is that God loves all unconditionally and without distinction. Humanity does not have ‘to do’ anything to merit or earn God’s love, but receive it with an open heart.

In the resurrection, the dark of Good Friday gives way to the light of Easter. The Universe rejoices that death has indeed been conquered and will no longer hold sway. Limitations have been surpassed and will no longer limit. Fear has been subjugated and replaced with love. Now and because of Christ all of us will live forever. This new life that Christ brings is a never ending hope filled life, a life of happiness, delight and joy. It is a life in which Every Area Starts To Enter Renewal.

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