Saudade: through the absence we feel the presence. – Easter Sermon

This time last year I was in Belfast. Many of you know that I lived in Belfast when I was a child. When I visit Belfast, I always stay in the part of the city that is known as the Cathedral District. From there you easily get around to most of the attractions that Belfast has to offer. Sure, there are plenty of tourist attractions in the Cathedral District but the real attractions are the pubs in this splendid part of Belfast. Trust me I’ve walked, some would say crawled, to some of the best pubs in Belfast. Which is not surprising because you see, I do come from a long line of pub-crawlers. My Grandad was a legendary pub-crawler. Grandda loved a wee dander about, as long as that dander took him to either a pub to the dogs. Fortunately, for Grandda there was always a pub at or near the dog racing tracks. So, when I wander the streets of Belfast city, I do so haunted by images of my Grandda all done up in his best, walking with such purpose and determination at first and then with a little less of a sense of direction as he crawled the pubs. Grandda has been dead for almost 40 years but in Belfast I can still see him in all his old haunts. So, when I’m in Belfast, every pub I go into, I enter with expectation and  I wonder what it must have been like when me Grandda came in here. Sometimes I actually see my me Grandda. I know he is long dead and gone. I know that he can’t possibly be there. But I can’t help myself, the feelings are so overwhelming.

We don’t really have a word in the English language that captures the emotion that I feel when I walk the streets of Belfast. There is a word that I learned a long time ago, it is a Portuguese word: “saudade.” Saudade doesn’t actually translate into English. The best translation of saudade that I have ever come across is, the presence of an absence….the presence through absence. It doesn’t appear to make any sense. How can you experience presence through absence? Something is either present or it is absent. And yet, if you speak to anyone who has ever lost someone they love and they will tell you that that person’s absence is so intense that they can actually feel them, right here, deep inside.

When a mother loses a child, the pain of that absence is so intense that she can feel the child she carried in her belly right here, inside. When a lover loses their beloved, the pain of that loss is so intense that the lost love is felt here, right her deep inside. When someone we love is gone, they are still here. We see them here there and everywhere. We catch glimpses of them on the streets. Sometimes we shake our heads knowing that what we see can’t be real, and yet we know it’s real. A loved one’s absence can be very present. Saudade, through the absence we feel a presence. Saudade.

Now I suspect that some of you are thinking and why wouldn’t you, it is Easter after all, so some of you are thinking,  “Aha, I get it…this is this progressive preacher’s way of explaining the resurrection.” Pretty good ha??? Well know, there might have been a time when I would have tried to explain the anonymous gospel-story-tellers’ accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. I am after all a progressive Christian pastor, and you are all enlightened 21 century people, with a pretty clear understanding of reality. There may be one or two of you who believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead. But I’m guessing that most of us don’t hang our Christianity on the concept of the physical resuscitation of a corpse.

As for this preacher, I’m with the Apostle Paul when it comes to the resurrection. Questions about the nature of the resurrection were annoying to Paul. So much so that the Apostle Paul used pretty strong language in his letter to the church at Corinth, Perhaps someone will ask, “How are the dead to be raised up? What kind of body will they have?  What a stupid question!” Like the Apostle Paul, my faith in the reality of resurrection does not hinge on the physical resuscitation of a corpse. “The sun has one kind of brightness, the moon another, and the stars another. And star differs from star in brightness. So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is a perishable body, what is raised is incorruptible. What is sown is ignoble, what is raised is glorious. Weakness is sown, strength is raised up. A natural body is sown, and a spiritual body is raised up. If there is a natural body, then there is also a spiritual body.” So says the earliest explanation we have of Jesus’ resurrection.

Saudade is not my way of trying to explain the stories of Jesus resurrection. Saudade is my way of describing what it feels like to be a progressive Christian during Holy Week. After abandoning the notion that the DIVINE source of all that IS is actually some sort of far-away person in the heavens, who orchestrated the life and the execution of a person purported to be “His only begotten Son, begotten not made,” via an execution so vile that we shouldn’t even begin to contemplate it lest we tremble, tremble, tremble; well once you come out of the closet as a 21stcentury progressive Christian, Holy Week is like a saudade festival! Continue reading

I Plead Guilty to the Charge of Denying the Resurrection – But I ain’t leaving!!!

I am reposting this particular post because it remains the most visited post of this blog.  It first appeared during  my first months of blogging and I am often asked about this post. Its contents continue to invoke the wrath of some and the appreciation of many. I offer it here, mindful that in the intervening tree years since I first posted it, I have had the opportunity to explore progressive and evolutionary theologies which have nourished me in my efforts to proclaim the Easter story in ways that move beyond the tired debate over the physical resuscitation of a corpse toward an understanding of resurrection that permeates my daily quest to know the unknowable ONE who lies at the heart of reality. 

Peter Callesen's Papercut Resurrection

Peter Callesen’s Papercut Resurrection

Blogging is sometimes a very strange medium and I must say that I am overwhelmed by the responses to my recent posts about resurrection.  While many have emailed or posted their ardent “amens” others have been scathing and some hostile to my remarks.  I am grateful to everyone who has responded.  All of your comments help me as I continue to ponder the theological and practical implications of the Easter story.  For those of you who have suggested that I have no business calling myself a Christian or a pastor and have suggested that I ought to consider leaving the church, I offer the following.

A while back, I got together with clergy colleagues to talk about the challenges of preaching during Holy Week. When the subject of the crucifixion and the resurrection came up, the conversation became very lively as the traditionalists challenged the progressives. Toward the end of our conversation, it became clear that because I was unwilling to concede to the notion that Jesus corpse was physically resuscitated; I stood accused of having denied the resurrection.

Some colleagues rose to my defense and insisted that I wasn’t saying anything different than what we all learned in seminary. But they also insisted that most lay-people simply don’t want to hear it. So, I asked them if they were going to preach about what they had learned in seminary and beyond and the general consensus was that there are too many guests on Easter Sunday to tackle theology.

Some said, they were simply too afraid of the fundamentalists in their congregations to ever even attempt to preach what they knew. A few confessed that they were working up to it; but not on Easter Sunday.

The traditionalists in the group were disgusted. One colleague went so far as to insist that I had no business being in the church because my very presence puts the beliefs of the faithful at risk. He wondered aloud, “Why do you stay in the church if you don’t believe?  If the church’s theology no longer works for you, why don’t you just leave?” Continue reading