When I was growing up, there was a Clairol commercial that focused in on a lovely, vibrant woman with great hair, and “the hook” was, “Does she, or doesn’t she?” Does she color her hair, or is that her natural hair color? And, the answer was that, if she used Clairol products, “only her hairdresser knows for sure.”
The implication was that one should only color–or dye–one’s hair discreetly. You wouldn’t want people to know that that wasn’t your own natural, beautiful hair. Of course, things have changed. When our son Alex was a teen-ager, I was absolutely relieved to know that he dyed his hair, because, dear God, if that electric blue color was his own natural color, we had a far bigger problem than adolescent self-expression!
“Does she, or doesn’t she?” “Did he, or didn’t he?” That’s the question that has been asked over and over on Easter Sundays throughout the centuries. Did Jesus physically rise from the dead, or didn’t he? Or Did somebody actually steal the body? or Was it just in the imagination of his followers, or was it just a metaphor, or did he rise in some other body? You can spin yourself dizzy pondering those questions, and you’re welcome to do that.
But, as Fr. Richard Rohr writes, “Up to now, it has been common, with little skin off anyone’s back, to intellectually argue or religiously believe that Jesus’ physical body could really ‘resurrect.’ That was much easier than to ask whether we could really change or resurrect. It got us off the hook–the hook of growing up, of taking the search for our True Selves seriously.” (Rohr, Immortal Diamond, p. ix) So, rather than asking, “Did he, or didn’t he?” it might be more important to ask, “Are we, or aren’t we?” Or even, “Is he, or isn’t he?” Is Christ still being raised today, in our world? Have you seen Him?
Matthew says that when the Risen Christ appeared to the women, they took hold of his feet and worshipped him. There is a bronze sculpture of a homeless Christ, created by the Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz. The only U.S.statue is in Davidson, NC, in front of St. Albans Episcopal Church. Jesus is depicted as a vagrant, “huddled under a blanket, his face and hands obscured; only the crucifixion wounds on his uncovered feet give him away.” (John Burnett, NPR) St. Albans Church is in a fairly wealthy neighborhood, and one lady actually called the police the first time she saw it while driving by–there was a man sleeping on a bench out in front of the church! Scandal! Another neighbor, who lives down the block from the church, wrote a letter to the editor, saying the statue “creeps him out.”
The sculptor took a miniature version of the statue to the Vatican to see if they might be interested in having the sculpture there. Pope Francis immediately put his hands on the knees of Jesus the Homeless, closed his eyes, and prayed. Not surprisingly, there will be an installation of the statue on the avenue leading up to St. Peter’s Basilica.
Meanwhile, back in Davidson, the rector says that, despite those few negative reactions, “It is now common to see people come, sit on the bench, rest their hand on the bronze feet and pray.”
The question isn’t “Did he or didn’t he?” but rather “Is he, or isn’t he” being raised and appearing in the midst of our world today, even, as he said, in the guise of those who live on the margins? Do we have eyes to see him here and now? Is he or isn’t he being raised in your life? If, as Fr. Rohr contends, the Risen Christ is an icon–a charged image– of full consciousness, the resurrection of our True Selves, then just as the Christ Risen in formerly fearful and dense disciples became a threat to the empire, so the Christ Risen in us, as our True Selves, may be a risk and threat to the world as we’ve constructed it. “After any ‘raising up’ of our True Selves,’ [he writes] we will no longer fit into many groups [like our families or former groups of friends], even much of religious society.” (X-xi.)
Taking our own growth seriously is a threat to others who haven’t made that decision for themselves. What do you mean, you don’t want to…. whatever–have another beer or joint, you don’t want to hang out with so and so, Are you too good for us now? Who do you think you are? We’d rather have your old self back, not this new “True Self.” Those are Good Friday words.
“We know how to live in a Good Friday world,” one writer says, “where innocent people get killed and the weak get stepped on, but to live in a world where love is victorious over hate, where hope is stronger than despair, is difficult, a challenge to conventional wisdom.” (Joseph S. Harvard, Journal for Preachers, Easter 2014, p 4) We live in a Good Friday world of inevitable climate change and loss of species. We live in a Good Friday world of money equaling power, let alone speech, and where fewer and fewer people have most of the money and therefore most of the power. We live in a Good Friday world where bad news is the only news.
And the news is grim every day–this senseless act of violence here, that tale of human negligence or weakness or stupidity or depravity there, this ecosystem poisoned and doomed, those children weakened with hunger and disease. Or closer to home, this ongoing struggle with addiction, a family torn apart by abuse and dysfunction, my own failures and sorrows. We get the stuff that leads to Good Friday.
But the Good News of Easter is that Easter “is utter newness,” as Walter Brueggemann says. And the really good news is that “It does not depend on us, not even on our expectation. It is given to us….[and] Given our culture of deep and honest despair that is bereft of expectation, the news of Jesus is both urgent and credible.” [Brueggemann, Journal for Preachers, Easter 2014, p. 2)
Utter newness. It sure seems like the same old same old. Our eyes and ears have grown dim to the really Real, so accustomed we are to the air-brushing and smoke and mirrors and spin. But Easter “does not depend on us, not even on our expectation. It is given to us.” So we must not close our eyes and ears to the new life that even now is emerging from the most unlikely places. Keep your heart open to the softening that God’s melody and love seek to sing in you.
Listen to the words of a woman whose broken heart has become fertile soil for new life. Leigh Knauert endured the unspeakable tragedy of losing her husband to illness and then a brief time later her 14-year-old son Peter committed suicide. Talk about your Good Friday. At Peter’s memorial service, Leigh spoke of the power of her faith and her community of faith.
…I stand here today to tell you that even in the unspeakable awfulness of what has happened to Peter, death will not have the final word, not in my house and not in my family. Horrific images and haunting questions of why will not be my focus, even if they manage to creep in sometimes. Darkness and evil and horror and sadness and guilt and pain will not be the last thing left at the end of the day. I will continue to tell them that they have no place in a life and in a family that has been won over by Jesus’ message of triumphant love. That love will triumph over everything, even this.
‘Where, O Death, is your sting?’ That I can answer. The sting of death has been and will continue to be a big part of my life experience. However, I can also answer the question asked next to that one in I Corinthians 15: Where, O Death, is your victory?’ And my answer is, ‘Not here.’ I hope that you as my community can keep answering this question with me this way. Death will have to find another place to settle in. We will keep choosing life together, and we will move ahead in our faith in the One that will, one day, banish all death forever, the day when we meet Peter again face to face and see that beaming smile and know that all of this is behind us, and love has won once and for all.
[Journal of Preachers, Easter 2014, pp. 39-40]
You don’t get to such a place overnight. You don’t get to such a place alone. You need a community. You have to train your eyes and ears and heart to perceive this kind of new life emerging from the dry, painful places. You have to practice this kind of resurrection.
So, here, in closing, are “Twelve Ways to Practice Resurrection Now,” again from Fr. Richard Rohr–
1. Refuse to identify with negative, blaming, antagonistic, or fearful thoughts (you cannot stop ‘having’ them).
2. Apologize when you hurt another person or situation.
3. Undo your mistakes by some positive action toward the offended person or situation.
4. Do not indulge or believe your False Self–that which is concocted by your mind and society’s expectations.
5. Choose your True Self–your radical union with God–as often as possible throughout the day.
6. Always seek to change yourself before trying to change others.
7. Choose as much as possible to serve rather than be served.
8. Whenever possible, seek the common good over your mere private good.
9. Give preference to those in pain, excluded, or disabled in any way
10. Seek just systems and policies over mere charity.
11. Make sure your medium is the same as your message.
12. Never doubt that it is all about love in the end.
Did he or didn’t he rise from the dead? Is he or isn’t he still being raised in our midst, in our world, in us? Are we or aren’t we being raised to new life right now? It takes practice, but ultimately, thank God, it’s not up to us. God is the Resurrecting One, appearing all around us, lying on park benches, in lives that refuse to give death the last word, in the growing number of people who know their lives are connected to the earth, in your life and in mine. Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark