Christ is Risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! During the Easter season we punctuate our celebration of resurrection by declaring that, “Christ is risen!” and sometimes I wonder if our liturgical utterances of resurrection are in danger of becoming the last gasps of a Church that is all but dead. Are we who gather in churches on a Sunday morning members of a church that is the living body of the risen Christ or are we mourners at the funeral of a religion that died in the last century because it did not have the stamina for 21st century?
As congregations shrink, churches close, and the few mourners who are left insist upon preserving what’s left of the corpse, the season of Easter, designed to celebrate resurrection, is in danger of becoming the church’s final attempt at denying the corpse of Christianity. Generations to come may look back upon this critical time in the church’s life and pronounce that resurrection itself was the cause of the church’s death. While worshipers remained fixated upon the physical resuscitation of Jesus’ corpse determined to defend the doctrines of the church, the life-blood of the body of Christ slipped away, no longer able to congeal around the idea of a deity so small that “HE” could only be worshipped by those who could narrow their thinking so that it could fit into the boxes created by the need to suspend everything they have learned about the nature of reality.
Gathering around the ancient stories of resurrection, those who sought to save the church could not agree on the treatment necessary to save the church. While some insisted that a good dose of biblical literalism was the only way to save Christianity, others advocated for a more radical treatment, one that took on board all that we have learned about the cosmos and what it means to be human. Still others looked to more nuanced forms of treatment and reached into the long traditions of the church which have always worked wonders in the past; traditions that honoured the human need for reason while they still managed to encompass the unfolding mysteries of the cosmos. While the theologians, priests, laypeople, hierarchy’s, would be evangelists, charlatans, worshippers, seekers, and philosophers, tended to the perceived needs of the church, the members of the Body slipped away to seek nourishment and healing elsewhere; leaving the patient to die a slow and laborious death. Oh there are a faithful few, huddling around the corpse doing their damnedest to resuscitate the corpse of Christianity. But life has long since left the patient. All that is left are the mourners who simply cannot believe that their beloved is dead. But like all deaths, life goes on, and the world scarcely notices all that has been lost. Some of us, hang around, finding solace in one another, remembering the good old days, longing for the future we had hoped to see.
When some folk return from the empty tomb that the church became, to tell us that Christ is not there, that Christ is risen. Dare we even begin to imagine that the one place we expected to find Christ is empty? Can it be true? Can Christ have escaped the empty tomb we call the church? Or, is this just one more idle tale?
Those who insist that Christ is risen, tell us that all that remains in the tomb are the tattered grave-clothes; the very doctrines that Christ was dressed in when Christ hung dying upon the cross we exalted. Original sin, virgin birth, theories of atonement that cast God as judge and executioner, physical resuscitation of a corpse, individual salvation, triumphalism, violence, greed, misogyny, doctrines, and dogma all lying there in the empty tomb that the church became; nothing left but the discarded grave-clothes.
The grave is empty. They have taken our beloved away, and we do not know where they have laid our beloved. There’s talk that Christ lives, despite the evidence to the contrary. Some say they have seen Christ alive, in the streets, among the poor, I think I may have caught a glimpse or two of the risen Christ, but I’m not sure. Perhaps I was only seeing what I wanted to see. I don’t know. I do know that the cosmos is vast and my knowledge is minuscule when compared to the wonders of creation. I suspect that the Creator of this vast universe is so much bigger and more complex than I can ever begin to imagine. I long to know the One who is the Source of my being.
The Christ I heard tell of in the very Bible that the Empire kept trying to swat me with, that Christ was always present. Some said that the very phrase, “the Christ” is church code for the potency and grace of Jesus carrying on after his death. But there are others who see beyond Jesus and insist that the very word Christ is Christian code for reality. They point to Jesus and say, look in the life of Jesus we can see a statement about the very nature of reality. Birth, life, death, resurrection. Look at the cosmos, nothing ever dies. Transformation is the very nature of reality. Birth, life, death, resurrection, is written in our DNA.
Look to Jesus, look at the LOVE that cannot be overcome by death. Transformation is the key. Christ is alive. Jesus embodies the Christ. Believe what you want about the resuscitation of a corpse, the corpse is not the point of the story. Transformation is where you will find meaning. Transformation is the stuff of life. Do not look for the living among the dead. Christ is not there. Christ is risen from the dead. The good news is the LOVE that lies at the very heart of reality. The good news is that try as we might we cannot kill the LOVE in which we live, and breathe, and have our being. The good news is that even if the church dies, we are the people of resurrection, and LOVE lives, in, with, through, and beyond us.
When we look to those who followed Christ in the first century we see people who continued to experience Christ long after Jesus died upon the cross the Empire executed him upon. We see people who grieved the death of Jesus their beloved and went back to their lives only to encounter Christ in their midst. Jesus embodied Christ and lived and breathed and had being in the LOVE that is the source of all. Jesus embodied LOVE in ways that pointed beyond himself to the ONE in whom we all have our being.
Jesus understood that he and his Creator, his Abba, were ONE. Jesus lived and taught a way of being in the world that embodied LOVE. This is the reason that those who encountered Jesus grew to understand Jesus as the Christ, the aspect of God that has always been and will always be present reaching out as LOVE in the world.
Christ is not Jesus’ last name. Jesus embodied the Christ, but Christ is so much more than Jesus. Jesus never said, “worship me.” Jesus said, “follow me.” Follow me and engage in the stuff that I’m engaged in, be passionate about the things I am passionate about. Help me to usher in the reign of God, the peace that comes not through violence, but through justice. Follow me and be LOVE in the world.
Empires can do their worst, but they cannot destroy LOVE, for LOVE is the source of our being. Christ is alive when and where LOVE is on the loose, turning over tables in the temples we have built, demanding justice for the oppressed, feeding the hungry, transforming systems of oppression into justice seeking, peace-making communities of LOVE. Resurrection is so much bigger than the resuscitation of a corpse. Resurrection is the transformation of a people, one person at a time. Over a meal, in the breaking of bread together, simple companionship. Companion, from the French pain, for bread, comp, with. Bread with, for when we break bread together LOVE is nourished. Over meals together we can be transformed into people who can lean to tell our stories of resurrection in ways that transform us into followers of Jesus who embody a way of being in the world that can nourish, ground, and sustain the kind of peace that the world years for. Our ancestors, in the midst of their grief over the death of their beloved, understood. They went back to their lives and there, in the midst of their lives they experienced the risen Christ in the breaking of the bread. Companionship is where we meet the risen Christ.
Companionship, simple hospitality between friends, or basic hospitality between strangers, and even courageous hospitality between enemies. Let us break bread together. Humans exchanging nourishment one with another, it is here that LOVE is born over and over again, it is here were Christ is risen. Resurrection is real, it’s just so much simpler and yet so much more complex than you ever imagined. Let the transformation of resurrection continue in us, now, and always. Let the people of God say: “Amen!!!”
You can listen to a version of this sermon preached in April of 2016 here