Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Day of the Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Easter Day has dawned clear and crisp. The sun is rising. I'm second-guessing my sermon. Nothing new there.

It is my custom to follow that of many eastern Orthodox churches and read out St. John Chrysostom's Easter homily, with brief commentary afterward.

It has nothing to do with the world in which we live. It has nothing to do with the everday lives of the people. It is, for most of those who attend this morning, the only time I have with them all year to tell them that Jesus' resurrection is for them.

What I won't tell them is this, which came to me yesterday morning:

The eastern tradition is that in death Christ harrowed hell - that is, Christ descended to hell, broke down its gates, smashed all the chains and released all hell's captives, beginning with Adam and Eve, the two who brought sin into the world in the first place.

Yesterday, I thought to write only this: After Adam and Eve, the next soul lifted out of hell was hell's newest prize - Judas, who had only just committed suicide after his betrayal of Jesus.

Christ is risen, everyone. He is risen and he has raised you with him. Christ is risen. Alleluia!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Faith, Belief, Practice

Please click on this link and read Mark Harris's essay on Preludium. Then return here for my comment.

Today we enter again that season of great mystery, Holy Week. The triumphant procession that begins today's worship ends with the passion of our Lord. For the rest of the week we remember that last week of Jesus's life here on earth, particularly the last supper before his arrest, his trial, and his execution.

In the end, that execution is not the end. The tomb is empty. There will be appearances of the Lord Jesus, that great mystery of resurrection of the body.

Meanwhile, we Christians will continue judging one another's faith, one another's beliefs, and even one another's practice. Are you a Christian or not? we ask. You made a speech and never once mentioned the Lord Jesus Christ, therefore you must not be a Christian. You don't believe that God required that Jesus die a bloody and terrible death in order to save us from ourselves and therefore you must not be a Christian. You have alternate ways of understanding the great mystery of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and you publish them abroad. You are not only a Christian but an apostate priest or bishop or presiding bishop. This group or another has the only correct understanding, faith, belief, practice and no one who strays from that way can possibly be holy, Christian, saved unless they repent and return to the correct way.

When I hear Christians speaking or writing or teaching in this way, I say, my God, Jesus wasted his life. He died in vain. He died to free us from fear. Instead, we visit fear on others in the name of Jesus, and call it salvation. For, if salvation is in any way conditional on us getting something, anything right, then there is no difference between the world before and the world after Jesus' death and resurrection.

I have written this before. I have endured comments couched in oh so condescending terms to tell me I have misunderstood, I have got it wrong, and here, we will set you straight. And still, I hear the call to freedom - freedom from being afraid of getting it wrong and, having not repented of my wrongful understanding, counter to the teachings of the church, of being damned for all time.

I do not understand what it is in us humans that so desires the death of another. I do not understand what it is in others that says, "This is what the scriptures say, this is what the church teaches, this is the faith once delivered for all time and it does not ever change and our faith, belief, understanding and practice must not ever, ever change without repenting of it and returning to right belief or we are damned." I do not understand that. Is God really like that?

For the thousandth time, I write of my conversion. I was lost in this life. My life was despair. One night I cried out, "No one loves me" and cutting through my thoughts the words, "Jesus loves you". And I replied, yes, but Jesus can't hold me when I'm alone.

My ungracious rejection of that love continued, while at the same time I tested It to see if It was real, if It meant it. Over the time of a year, I was less despairing, less self-destructive, less and less isolated from those around me. At some point I realized that even though much of my anti-social behavior had not changed, that love was still there. I understood from It that It would still love me, that I would still be acceptable, just as I was, even if I never made any changes in my life or repented or anything else at all. I would still be part of that Love that had calmly assured me of its presence that night long ago.

Over time, I had to come to terms of the implications of what I was experiencing and thinking. What about the perpetrator in my life? Well, said Love, he, too, is safe in me. And yes, that was the implication - if I was safe in Christ, so was that person.

This journey has taken me to places which some of my fellow faithful Christians would say are unChristian. They may be right. I no longer believe, for instance, that baptism confers salvation in the way I was taught - that salvation is available only to the baptized. Instead, I believe that baptism makes the baptized part of God's work in Christ to convey salvation to the world, by binding the baptized to being the unconditional love of God in Christ in the world, by the power of the Holy Spirit. That is definitely not the same as baptism confers salvation only on the baptized.

Regardless of how one reads the scriptures, and I take scripture very seriously, the journey to God is a mystery. God's way with us is a mystery. God in Christ is a mystery. The incarnation, the life, passion, death and resurrection are a mystery. If we are not free to explore that mystery freely, to get it wrong, to teach wrongly, to believe and practice wrongly and decide the next day to change our mind, or not, then I fear Jesus died in vain.

But for me, his death was not in vain. I discovered that God's love has no strings, no conditions, but just is. My work, as a baptized person as well as an ordained priest, is to make real, to the best of my frail ability, that love in the world. I fail at it miserably. It is that for which I repent, not my thoughts, or my beliefs or my faith or even my teaching, but for my failure to love as God has loved me. And still, I am loved. And so are you, loved equally to me, saved, hidden in the heart of God and in Christ's wounded side. This is the faith once delivered to the saints, that God in Christ is love.