6 Easter, Year C
The Rev. Deacon Carol Howser,
5/5/13, Trinity Episcopal Church
In the name of the living God: who is and was and is to come…. Amen.
Once, a few years back, my spiritual director threw up her hands in frustrations and let me know in no uncertain terms that I have a very strong ego. I didn’t like that because having a strong ego was pretty much at odds in my mind with being a humble person, letting God direct my life: with becoming a faithful disciple, which, of course, was what I was trying to become. But she was right. I do have a strong ego, much to my chagrin.
Ego is that part of us that develops from the time when, as babies, we can focus our eyes enough to make out a face peering down at us: probably a parent, hopefully smiling and cooing warmly, that tells us we are wanted and loved. We begin to develop our little baby egos from that moment, an idea of ourselves. We discover our own personal power as a two year old saying, “no” to every possible thing , and eventually we include our talents, tendencies, and idiosyncrasies so that we develop a pretty clear idea of who we think we are and how other people see us. This ego, underscores and interprets all we think and do and become in the world.
But we are spiritual beings too. There is an ancient memory in us that pulls us from inside and up toward God and beyond here and now. While we yearn to live in that place deep inside, the ego part of us that wants to be successful and safe in the world gets a little jumpy. That was the “me” the spiritual director was dealing with: my spiritual self at odds with the part of me that is so immersed in the world. And so she challenged me with “what happens if you let go of everything and just … go there? Just lean over into this spiritual place and go there. Without thinking I blurted out, “I might lose myself.” It felt like standing on the edge of a precipice and hurling myself off into the unknown. It felt like chaos. It felt like giving myself up to the madness of poets, of mystics, of people like John of Patmos who wrote the book of Revelation. I thought, “if I let go of myself, my ego, what will I hang on to? It’s so much more “real” this world I can touch and smell and see and taste. Can I trust what I cannot understand? Like Pilate: What is truth? Am I strong enough to hope, really hope, really believe: give myself and my heart. And most of all, “if I fall, who will catch me?”
The disciples had been in this place while Jesus was with them. Their very strong egos really guided them and in many ways interfered with them hearing what Jesus was saying. They were fishermen and tax collectors, men with families, just men. Their understanding of what Jesus was talking about, he was and why there doing this and what the end would be was frightening. It didn’t make sense to them in the context of what they felt was truth, of what was safe, of what was good for them and the world they lived in.
But everything is different now. Jesus had died and after the despair and horror of that, something beyond their experience of the world has happened. Jesus, who they knew was dead, has appeared to them. They have seen him, touched him, eaten with him. He is alive. Their baby eyes have opened to something entirely new. The shock of it gets their attention and they begin to listen with their spirits. The scales fall from their eyes and from their egos too. Jesus tells them who he really is, who they really are, and that the world, the kingdom of God is so much more than what their senses tell them it is. And this time they begin to allow themselves to believe it.
Then just when they think they have him back he tells them he must leave again “I have said these things to you while I am still with you,” he says. “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” “I am going away AND I am coming to you.” Strange.
Still as time went by they found that they themselves had changed. They had strength they had not had before, they began to heal people, different things mattered now: not what they owned: they gave it all away. They did not build up bank accounts or fill their pantries. They had what they wore, the shoes on their feet and a cloak. They didn’t worry about what was going to happen tomorrow or the next day. Life now meant so much more and whatever happened, even death would not separate them from God in Christ. Because of their experience of the risen Christ, they were able now to focus, really focus on, count on what they believed, no……what they knew now to be true….. even unto death.
What did they know? They knew what we must know before we can even begin to believe this. ( I owe the following thoughts to a sermon Rev. Anne preached many years ago. I kept it, feeling it was very important and should certainly be said again. The thoughts are hers though it is not a direct quote) . First of all, they knew that Jesus did really die, that he was not just in a coma, laid in a tomb but then woke up. His friends, mostly the women had seen him die, anointed his dead body. His death was real.
Next they knew that Jesus was fully human, he was not a god walking about in human flesh, imperishable. Death was not merely discarding the human costume. They experienced his sorrow, his anger, his weariness. He ate, he drank, he slept. He was fully human, born of a woman they knew, was crucified, died, and was buried. All of this was not some divine magic trick.
They also knew that his death was not just some resuscitation. Jesus had raised people from the dead, Jairus’ daughter, Lazarus, his friend. They came back to life to live out the rest of their days…. then to die again. Jesus… in his resurrected body was not constrained by the workings of the material world at all. He appeared at will and left as abruptly, sometimes he appeared in two places at the same time. He materialized through doors. Sometimes he was recognized right off the bat and sometimes not until he spoke or performed some act and then. But he was not a ghost. They touched his wounds. He fixed breakfast for them on the beach. Everything was transformed in this resurrected life. He told them to not be afraid. I am myself, he told them. And now he was leaving… not dying again… leaving. In Jesus, death was defeated and a whole new creation effected. Now they knew their message, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
So they set out to become part of the great creative force that is the Kingdom of God. They set out to Samothrace, and Philippi, and eventually to Rome. And as promised, the Spirit went before them, hearts were opened, their numbers grew. They found people who needed their message of hope and love. We know there were setbacks and failures ahead, there was disagreement, persecution and eventually death, but for some reason what they now knew was enough to give them courage and focus and determination. Even when they didn’t know all the answers. They had faith now that God truly was leading them. That everything would be brought to fruition in time.
Time: The Book of Revelation brings it all together: this reconciliation….in time. We are used to time. But what we think of as time is Chronos: time measure by duration, by clocks and watches, years and centuries. St. John uses that word but he also uses the word Kairos which is time measured in opportunity. God’s time. More than present, it’s presence. It’s being. Only in Kairos can we lose ourselves and also find ourselves: in the quiet center past our own darkness, in a future that is not really a future but a past and present also. Eugene Petersen says in his book Reversed Thunder … “Only by the means of Kairos can we commprehend and participate in Christ’s coming… It is primarily a meeting, an arrival which is already in process of taking place.” In Kairos God is and was and is to come all at the same instance. What has always been with God will continue to be and still is. It’s confusing to us when we are so anchored to our egos, focused on Chronos. Clock time. But Kairos is where the holy city is: this city of the Lord which Revelation speaks of. Where Jesus establishes himself both at the beginning and at the end. As lamb and as Lord. Where there is no darkness, only clarity and light and life. Where the lines we have drawn between us disappear, when evil has been purged and cast away. Where there is no suffering, or tears. And it’s not just perpetual future, it’s perpetual presence too. We are both in the kingdom and participating in the new creation.
That, I think is what the disciples began to know. Perhaps in seeing the risen Christ they were given a glimpse of eternity. Perhaps seeing him transformed they knew they would be transformed as well. Perhaps they knew that the transformation was now about everyone and everything, and all of time from the beginning to the end of things: from Alpha to Omega. Christ the bridge, the purifier, the Word, still speaking, the light that shines in the darkness to reconcile, to restore all of creation to what it was intended to be.
It is a mystery.. one better understood in our imagining. There are many mysteries that surround the Incarnation and the Resurrection. We doubt and yet, doubt is one of the great things about the Christian faith. Of course, we doubt. We can’t prove any of this except by faith. If we could prove it, then we would have no choice but to believe it. And as soon as we had no choice we would no longer be free. Our love of God would be forced upon us. Love must live in freedom or it is not love at all. But we are limited in what we can understand now. Who knows what we will understand when that great moment arrives and we slip through to our own eternity, our own experience of God’s time when all things will be revealed. I have an idea it will be so beautifully clear and simple that we will marvel at all the stress and worrying we’ve done trying to figure it out.
The gifts of Easter: of Christ’s resurrection are reconciliation, healing, love and finally peace. This gospel is Jesus’ love letter to his disciples and to us.
He said and continues to say: PEACE I LEAVE WITH YOU. He would have used the word Shalom. Not just the absence of war, but completeness, quietness, wholeness. When things come together for us in God’s good way.
Jesus says: MY SHALOM I GIVE TO YOU. I DO NOT GIVE TO YOU AS THE WORLD GIVES. DO NOT LET YOUR HEARTS BE TROUBLED AND DO NOT LET THEM BE AFRAID. ” I am going away, AND I am coming to you.” Or, I am going away SO I may come to you. We are not alone. It is God in Christ that will catch us whenever we stumble, whenever we fall, when we die. (And our ego? Well, if we allow it, God can use those too.) The resurrected Christ is in our midst. Thanks be to God. Alleluia and Shalom. Amen