Sunday, April 18, 2021

In the Flesh

A piece of broiled fish, which he took and ate. An ordinary meal, an ordinary act, done every minute of every day all over the globe. And yet, it is a sign. The risen Jesus took food, and ate, ate like any man: put it to his lips, in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed. And thus, the sign: Jesus is risen, truly, in reality, in the flesh. It is the fulfillment of the incarnation revealed: God has united to humanity in all its fullness, walking, breathing, eating, sleeping, in all ways human.

An artist friend of mine was once commissioned to paint Jesus “in the act of resurrecting.” We had a good chuckle over the image immediately brought to mind, of Jesus shoving aside the shroud and sitting up as if he were about to get out of bed and go to breakfast. I do not think one can so capture the miracle itself, and no gospel says a thing about it: the most we have is the story from Matthew of the earthquake and of the angel rolling away the stone. The miracle is and must remain a mystery, unseen in the tomb, unexplained in words, uncomprehended by the human mind. And yet, her patron was on the right track, in a way, for what he wanted to see, in the frame, was the resurrection not as a symbol or metaphor or myth; he wanted to see it in the flesh. And that is what today's reading provides: a Jesus who can be touched, whose flesh is still marked by the wounds he suffered, who breathes and eats and drinks and walks and speaks like any other human being. No ghost, no vision: he is still material, though transformed and raised, not just to life, but to a new life which transcends the old. His bodily being is what the old Adam was intended to be, but more, and when the first heaven and the first earth are passed away, and all things are made new in the new heaven and new earth, we too shall become what he already is: the new flesh of the new covenant, made suitable for the life everlasting to come. And not only our flesh, but our hearts, our souls, our minds, for as Jesus opened the disciples' minds, so ours too are taught, through them, through their writings and those of the church after them. We do not understand everything, but we know what is crucial:

Christ has died;

Christ is risen;

Christ will come again.

And thus we proclaim to all humanity repentance and forgiveness of sins, and we go out baptizing in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so that all may be joined into the resurrected flesh of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to who be power and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

In the Wreckage

This night, we look upon what, for all the world, looks to be the wreckage of the divine plan. The angel said to Mary, “the Lord God will give to him the the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And where is that throne this night? Where is that kingdom? Mary said to Elizabeth, “He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imaginations of their hearts.” And where slept Pilate, and the priests, on that night, while the body of the incarnate God lay cold in the tomb? “He has put down the might from their thrones, and have exalted those of low degree.” Truly?

How did it come to this? Who was the guilty? Who was it despised him? Well, the authorities of course: the priests and the Pharisees, Pontius Pilate and Herod Antipas—and their guards and soldiers. Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him directly, and the rest of the disciples, who fled into the night. The mob of Jerusalem, crying for his death. Here we have just heard the story of their collective treachery, as John tells it, though his version is not so very different from that of the other three evangelists.

And yet, does not the story range further? Who was the guilty? Who was it despised him? Was it their treachery alone, and not our own as well? No! Alas, my treason has also undone him—mine, and ours, and all of humanity. When he was hungry, and we did not feed him, or thirsty and did not give him drink, or naked and did not clothe him, or a stranger and did not welcome him, or a prisoner and did not visit him, we betrayed him; when we prayed, “we thank you, God, that we are not like those over there,” we betrayed him; when we made the dollar large and the measure small, we betrayed him. He carried all our sins, for in sinning against God, we sinned against his incarnation. We denied him; we crucified him, we and the whole fallen world.

And so, seemingly, the world got what it wanted: God made man, tortured to death. All was well with the world, again: the rich and powerful returned to their homes and slept the sleep of the self-righteous, Jesus' followers in disarray and the crowds turned away from him. The only thing left, seemingly, was for the women to return after the sabbath to finish the burial of God's revolt against his own people. But it is this seeming wreckage which is the point, for as is attested from the beginning of scripture, it is the willfulness of his creatures that made this wreckage. Our desires are warped, perverted, hateful; our hunger is greed, our will tyranny, our anger vicious. We have made a world built on exploitation, contempt, abuse, and war, and seemingly cannot stop it, except with more of the same.

And so, at the cross, the world got its way, and God did not resist, for it is this very lack of resistance through which the battle is won. Good did not triumph over evil through a show of divine force; it triumphed by making evil irrelevant. Even as sin got its way, it lost, because it could only “win” by bending creation, in all its goodness, against its creator; and Jesus did not bend, but instead laid his limbs upon the cross, transfixed in seeming helplessness against evil's force. And thus he lifted all with him, as he was lifted up to die. We too are are helpless in the face of evil, both its victims and its perpetrators, and we cannot combat it on its own terms; but in faith, now, that is a different story. But faith means trust in the weakness of Jesus on Calvary, in this world, and faith means directing our actions towards the care of our fellows, friends, family, and foes alike, but also trusting in God for our salvation. And it is that faith, made real through our works, that will bring us, on that last day, into the joy of the resurrection into which we are baptized, when all evil is wiped away for eternity, and when the new Jerusalem is founded forever on the wreckage of the old, dead world of sin.