Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Opposite of Resignation

5 April 2015 (Year B)

Mark 16:1-8

            What is the opposite of resurrection?

            For a long time, I assumed death was the opposite of resurrection. It seems fairly clear- someone was dead, now they’re now… (ta-da!) resurrection! Yet the more I grieve people who have gone to their rest- Pastor John, Les, Inger, Sandy, and other- the more I rely on the truth that they are resting in God’s eternal light… the more that I hope that  the world can still change, that peace is still possible, that justice will rule, that love will win…

            The more I ponder all these things… the more I come to realize that death is not the opposite of resurrection. Resurrection incorporates wholeness, renewal, breath, movement, liveliness, forgiveness, grace, and hope. The opposite of resurrection, then, would necessarily be about brokenness, sameness, stagnancy, dullness, listlessness, hardened hearts, resentment, and despair. That’s not death. That’s resignation- believing there no change is possible. Resignation is the opposite of resurrection.

            Resignation is what the women felt as they trudged out from Jerusalem to the place of the tombs. Resignation is what they felt as they gathered their spices and ointments, quietly the day before. Resignation is the look they saw in each other’s eyes as they met each other on the road- Mary Magdalene, Salome, and the other Mary. Resignation is the sound of their sandals in the dust. Re-signed. Re-signed. He is dead. He is dead. Re-signed. Re-signed. We had hoped. We had hoped.

            Resignation is the opposite of resurrection. If death were the opposite, they would have left the tomb, rejoicing. We thought A, but now B is true! Instead, they leave in confusion and fear. Do they dare to hope? What does it mean? Why did this happen? How?

            Resignation is a habit. It comes from days, months, and years of the same stories, the same oppression, the same fights, the same fears, the same lies. Habits are hard to break. Thus, the women leave the tomb- spices and ointments still in their hands- wondering, “What do we do now?” The habit of a lifetime does not change in an instant.
            Resignation is our habit as well. Many of you may have worked through Lent to try to instill new habits in your life- stopping something that was unhelpful, taking up something that was needed in your life. Forty days is a hard slog, but new habits take work. We have to wear them- learn them with our muscle memory, our reach and grasp, our head and our hearts. No matter how well your Lenten discipline worked out (if you had one), the season of Easter provides a chance to embrace a new habit.

            Resurrection is a habit. Resurrection thoughts, resurrection hopes, resurrection actions are habits. They cannot exist in the same space with resignation. Thus, on this day, on this day of forgiveness, of new life, of realized hope, of daring to dream… on this day we begin the setting aside of all our resignations.

            We are not resigned to physical death being the end of life. We are not resigned to religious terrorism having a permanent place in the world. We are not resigned to the idea that our jails must be full. We are not resigned to inequality and inequity between different races. We are not resigned to rejection and exclusion of sexual minorities. We are not resigned to the fading away of creation. We are not resigned to Jerusalem as a city torn apart. We are not resigned to rape and incest being the fault of the victims. We are not resigned to political systems ruled by money and power. We are not resigned to believing nothing will ever change.

            Either the death of Jesus Christ- as a blasphemer and political prisoner- and God’s raising him from the dead as the ultimate trump to the powers of this world means something or it doesn’t. If it meant something then, then it means now as much as it ever did.

            We cannot be resigned to the idea that the very life blood of Jesus was shed so that we could ignore our neighbors and the situations close by us and focus on the sweet by-and-by or what comes next. The empty tomb echoes back to us the sighs of resignation. It echoes them back until we realization that hollow sound is not our answer. And it cannot be our habit.

            We are Easter people. We are people who have been saved from the fear of death, from the fear of separation from the love of God, from the fear of being unable to be good enough for anything. We are people who have been loved enough to die for. That knowledge sets fire to the edges of resignation and out of those ashes is born our new habit- resurrection.

            The women walked away from the tomb, silent, confused, afraid. They did not tell anyone. Ever? Somehow the news got out. They had to work on their new habit- the habit of resurrection. The habit of saying “He lives”. The habit of saying “God is greater”. The habit of saying “We believe”. The habit of saying “We have seen the Lord”. The habit of telling what they knew to be true about God in the world- no matter how anything looked. They had to live into the power of the resurrection habit… a week, two weeks, 30 days, 50 days… and so on.

            Easter is a season, not just a day. It goes on even longer than Lent. It goes on because we need the time to develop the resurrection habit and to see how it shapes our lives. A resurrection habit says a prayer of hope in the face of a depressing news story. A resurrection habit offers to have coffee with someone who has a different political opinion. A resurrection habit takes a short walk, even with great effort, because that’s the path to healing. A resurrection habit picks up the phone and calls a long-time acquaintance. A resurrection habit forgives, loves, hopes, trusts, and keeps moving forward.

            The women at the tomb were resigned to bodies staying dead, being unsure if Jesus was the Messiah for whom they had hoped. They were resigned to Roman oppression, to inter-religious fighting, and to wondering if God would ever act in the world in the way God had done in the time of their ancestors. Slowly, they developed the resurrection habit and all they knew, all they experienced, all they trusted was transformed. Through that, so was the world transformed as more and more people came to know the story of Jesus and to walk the Way, in the habit of resurrection.

            Grace is true. God reigns. Christ lives. The Spirit moves. Nothing is outside of God’s power to transform, to heal, to redeem, to forgive, to restore. The Easter truth is not just a platitude, something nice to say. It is something that we live into- developing our spiritual muscles, voices, and abilities. The Easter truth, the reality of resurrection, is to be the habit of people of faith in Christ. We are not resigned to fear, to despair, or to stagnation. 

The opposite of resignation is…resurrection. This I believe. 

The opposite of resignation is…resurrectionThis is our habit.


I'm Asking

Nearly every Sunday of my youth, my family drove to church together in our minivan. All six of us- parents in the front, brothers in the middle, girls in the back. Somewhere in the first few miles, my dad would usually begin the ritual. Speaking so all could hear, he would say, "I apologize for anything I did this week that hurt, upset, or offended anyone. Please forgive me." Sometimes there were personal apologies made after this general statement. We all then responded, "I forgive you." And so it went around the car, everyone taking a turn admitting and being released. 

Despite having a wide variety of feelings about this at the time, it remains a powerful image in my mind. 

So on this holy Saturday, I humbly apologize for anything I've done or said or forgot that hurt, offended, or grieved you. I am truly sorry. I ask your forgiveness. I pray for peace to be between us. 


Into Thy Hands

Good Friday 
Seventh Word

         I’m going to begin a prayer and you help me finish the first couple lines

Our Father, who art…
The Lord is my shepherd…
Now I lay me down to sleep…

            Most of us do not remember learning these words. They stir up from out minds almost automatically. The words feel like a part of us and they slide out of our mouths as easily as breath.

            “Into thy hands, I commit my spirit” was a child’s bedtime prayer in the time of Jesus. It is likely that Mary would sit down next to a young Yeshua, settling down for sleep on his bed of rushes in the family room. They might have sung a soft song or recited the Sh’ma (Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one). She might have spoken a soft prayer or blessing over him. Then she would have reminded him of the last prayer of the night. The last words for each child (and adult to speak) before falling asleep were a quotation of Psalm 31:5,  “Into your hands, I commit my spirit.”

            These words, believed to be of David- shepherd boy and powerful King- were the last prayer of the night, the prayer of trust and expressed hope before surrendering to the oblivion of sleep, which must have seemed like a kind of death. Praying as the psalmist gave parents a way to teach their children about trusting in God- a Creator and Redeemer who was with them in a way that even their own parents could not be.

            Thus, young Jesus would have uttered this prayer every day of his life. He would likely never remember having learned it. He might remember his mother helping him pray it. Or remember hearing Joseph whisper it at the end of a day’s labors. Jesus might have prayed it in the night with other children in his family- as they piled in together for sleep, exhausted after play, worship, and work.

            When Jesus prays this from the cross, he is no longer a child. He no longer retained the innocence of one who has not seen evil. He had been betrayed, denied, rejected, beaten, and crucified. His humanity had been stretched to its breaking point and that same humanness was about to experience the end of earthly human experience- death. Yet, in this moment, he is still the Son, still God’s anointed, still Emmanuel- God with us. Even as he experiences, he teaches. Even as he teaches, he saves. Even as he saves, he transforms.

            Jesus utters this prayer, “Into thy hands, I commit my spirit” and transforms it for his own self on the cross and for all who would pray it after him. By adding the word “Father”, Jesus reveals his nature as the pioneer of our faith- leading us into a new kind of intimacy and familial relationship with God, with himself, and with one another. Jesus prays the words just as he has thousands of times, but this time, we are able to hear that he is not David. He is not just another claimant to the title of Messiah. He is not a failed political revolutionary. He is not a rejected king.

            Only one who knows the heart of God would dare to address the Ground of All Being as “Father”. The only one would could truly know the heart of the Holy Parent is one who was of that heart, was of the same being, understood the same things, and had the same desires since before the beginning of creation. Only the Living Word would dare to pray with such familiarity and deep trust, trust that came not of hope, but out of knowledge.

            Only Jesus would pray a children’s bedtime prayer in the moment of his death to teach all who hear and all who follow how to live and how to die with true faith- born out of concrete expectation in God’s faithfulness.

            Every prayer of Jesus is a model for us, a way to pray- as children of faith, as children of light, as children of adoption by the Holy Spirit. In his last words, Jesus teaches us how to pray in the hour of death. Since most of us do not know that hour, we are therefore empowered to pray in this way every day of our lives, every moment of our lives. When driving, before sleeping, in choosing a daily intention, in our hobbies, in our relationship, we can and should ask God to shape our will, our actions, and our prayers to God’s own will, actions, and plans. We do this in the imitation of Christ’s last words, in letting this be the prayer we know by heart, “Father, into thy hands, I commit my spirit.”