Here we are at Easter Sunday 2019. A time and place which seems out of kilter with the rest of the secular world. Yet is it really! Maybe there is a deeper truth that would resonate even with the most ardent atheist.
Recently I have been listening to a number of podcasts by Rob Bell, one of my favourite progressive preachers and writers. He has done a series of 11 podcasts on Jesus H Christ, the man, the myth, the middle initial. I love that title and I have loved the series. He has taken his listener on a journey through the life and teachings of Jesus and what they meant to those listening and participating in the 1stcentury, and what they mean to those listening and following today. Placing them in context, socially, politically and historically, but bringing them alive for the 21stcentury.
It is not until we get to the final episode that we find out what the H stands for, but by then most listeners would have worked it out. It stands for human. Jesus above all else was a human being, a man, who in his time and place revealed the God of the universe that resides in all of us. And how God’s spirit plays out in the world and in each one of us, now and always.
This was the message of the 11 episodes.
This is the message today.
Resurrection is not just a one-off event, a miraculous resuscitated body heading to the heavens. Resurrection is deeply human, and revelatory of how the universe and how the God of this universe works. Resurrection happens everyday if we look around us. It happened in the disciples, after Jesus had died and they were left to carry on, It happens within communities and countries, it can happen even within ourselves.
So let’s go on a little journey of our own this Easter.
I have returned to teaching after the summer break, back in the lab with students and cadavers, and realise again what a privilege it is to be able to see the human body in all its complexity laid out in front of us. Thanks to the generosity of those who have donated their bodies to science, and those family who have let them go.
I was thinking of giving up the teaching, it is hard to combine that with church work as a pastor, and family life etc. etc. But as I went through a general overview of what it is that makes us tick, blood vessels, muscles, nerves, organs with some first year students, I realised that the teaching brings me back to the essence of my faith.
Over the years, we have seen Christianity in many forms, much of it focussed on some other life, some other existence, without realising the existence here on earth is amazing, breathtaking, a gift to be cherished, with all its flaws and challenges. I have never ceased to be astounded, even after all these years of teaching!
It is within this gift I find God.
God, a difficult word to analyse, express, or even relate to. Sometime I don’t even want to use the term.
Yet for all my doubts, and over the years I have had many, I have always had the sense of a something more that drives life itself. Not a presence that disappears then reappears because of a sacrificial death, but a presence that is found throughout the life of the universe, and the life of all of creation and the life of every human being. Which is closer to us than our own breath but urges us to connect with one another with love and care and compassion.
Some time ago I asked a number of people to define what they mean by God, people who have been faithful ministers, and people who have just been faithful followers of Jesus and his way. If you were here on Good Friday who would have heard Marion’s.
All of them steer away from a set definition, because it is pointless. In some ways God is to be felt and experienced, rather than defined. But they have had a go.
I have, over the years, also had a go, particularly when I am grilled by atheist friends who think that I am crazy, to variously describe what I mean by God, I came across one attempt I would like to share, by Barbara Brown Taylor.…
Firstly, a picture….
“Where is God in this picture? God is all over the place. God is up there, down here, inside my skin and out. God is the web, the energy, the space, the light—not captured in them, as if any of those concepts were more real than what unites them—but revealed in that singular, vast net of relationship that animates everything that is. At this point in my thinking, it is not enough for me to proclaim that God is responsible for all this unity. Instead, I want to proclaim that God is the unity—the very energy, the very intelligence, the very elegance and passion that makes it all go. “
Rather a beautiful description!
Of course I always get a bit reflective like this at Easter time. And particularly Easter day. A time of joy and commitment but also of questions.
When we talk about this extra bit of life, this creative force, this divine presence, how do we describe it, how does it affect who we are as people? Well many, including me, would say we see this presence most clearly in Jesus.
Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was flesh and blood, who laughed and cried, prayed and suffered, who was human like us, regardless of what the church says. And who died a horrible painful death. A Jesus who confronted the powerful and paid the price. Somehow his story lives on in those that follow. A story that resounds in our own lives and the lives of everything that lives and breathes on this earth. Even in the 21stcentury.
Can I really see God in this person? Is God and Jesus one? The gospel writers think so, they write so long after his death, but with such passion and purpose. While we have varying accounts of the resurrection, some physical, some spiritual, the reality is the disciples were transformed by the events.
Somehow, I believe, as they did, that in Jesus the God presence was and is revealed most fully. Somehow Jesus touches us and activates something mysterious within us. He turns on the light. His words, limited but powerful, and the response of his followers show us how to act in faith, pointing the way. If we can become aware of the divine presence within ourselves, letting go our ego or our 21stcentury manic activity driven lives, our response will reflect Jesus’s concerns. Concern for ourselves that we can be the best people we can be, concern for others that they may be loved and cared for, and concern for the planet and all of creation. Fullness of life for everyone, means in Jesus terms, inclusion and equity and peace and justice for all. God transformed Jesus and God transforms us.
So where does that leave Easter, Good Friday, and particularly Easter Sunday, the pinnacle of the church calendar. It is here I do not want to mince words. Jesus died for the sake of others, for he reveals that the God spark is a spark for life. That is how Jesus interpreted that inner drive in our world, in the human world. Love, compassion, justice, looking after the poor and the widows and including everyone at the table.
His message challenged those with power, who supported inequality, exclusion and hate. His message challenges us daily just as it did 2,000 years ago.
So he was killed.
Do I believe Jesus rose after 3 days and now sits at the right hand of God? Well no I don’t. Not physically anyway.
Why, because God is not sitting anywhere, certainly not in the sky where we see billions of galaxies and where we have just detected gravity waves. Where is God? God is the power within, the urge to connect and commune. To love.
So where is Jesus? A mystery that’s for sure. Maybe his spirit is, like our own, somehow bonded to that which gives all of us life. The universal divine presence. I like to think that, for we are all bound to the God presence now and forever. That’s why Jesus became Jesus Christ. That’s not his surname but a revelation that his teachings and actions, and God driven life lives on. Chrsit means anointed not magical.
Maybe the gift Jesus gives us on this Easter day is his human life, his awareness of what we all can be, what we all can do. Maybe his gift is one of life, not somewhere else, but here, in the fragrant muck and marvel and misery of human existence, as Frederick Buechner puts it. For God is part of the essence of who we are. It is in ordinary everyday lives that God is fully realised. A God that drives us to new beginnings, to change and transform, and makes life worthwhile. Ordinary everyday lives like ours. We find and experience God when we love, and forgive, show compassion and seek justice, share our wealth and lend a helping hand. When as a church we stand with and for refugees, our indigenous brothers and sisters, and all those marginalised and alone. When we care for one another.
For the resurrection story is not about Jesus, and about a divine resuscitation!
it is how God works in the world, within each of us. Giving light where there is darkness, renewal where there is decay, hope where there is despair, and new life where there seems only death. Even if it takes a long time!
To fit Jesus into my God story means seeing Jesus as one of us. A gift of life. A gift of God.
I often ask myself. How do I do Easter, when I don’t believe the whole “sacrificial payment for sin” line. Or the “original sin” line, or the line about the “perfect Jesus who now sits at the right hand of God somewhere else”?
I do Easter because it reflects life in miniature.
And Jesus for me, is the ultimate guide.
To finish I would like to read a quote that has been on my pinup board for some time. It’s been there so long I don’t know where I got it from. But it sums up Easter day beautifully for me and hopefully for you,
“In the end Easter is not something to talk about, it is something to do, it is an attitude towards life and other people, it is a lifestyle. Whether what we say and sing fully represents our rational comprehension of what Easter is about, is relatively unimportant. What is important is that we are Easter people, that is, people of transformation and renewal, people of hope, people of trust, people who not only believe but know deep down within their experience that love comes again and that love makes all the difference.”
This I believe is the good news brought by Jesus to the world, for as Nev says, if the good news is not for everyone, it is not good news.
And I think, a great reason to celebrate Easter.
I want to show you what I mean by playing a video. I attended a disaster chaplaincy course a couple of weeks ago and the video was showed there. It says everything that I have been saying today, in real life, about hope that emerges out of darkness. The video is about the black Saturday fires in Victoria 10 years ago.
I love Headspace. It’s a program and app by Andy Puddicombe, where he introduces you to meditation and mindfulness with a series of 10 min sessions (can be longer), varying from ones on technique to others on how to become a more rounded and more aware person. I love his voice and I love the guided nature of the sessions, which focus on the breath as a form of awareness training and are based on his 12 years as a Buddhist monk.
It always give me a lift and helps me become aware of my activities during the day.
The practise of sitting in silence brings a peace to me, a resting of my inner thoughts and anxiety , a recognition that to be alive and breathing is a joy and a gift. It leads me to contemplate not only my life but the lives of others. In a different way. How I can live with openness and love for one another and ourselves?
But it is not Christian meditation, which I also do once a week on a Tuesday, with a few others.
We base this type of meditation on the writings of John Main and Lawrence Freeman, who formed the World Community of Christian Meditation a number of years ago.
What do I think I am doing in Christian meditation that I am not doing using my Headspace app?
When I sit in silence in Christian meditation, I drop my own ego, my own needs and wants, and busyness, and listen. Not with ears but with heart, to the energy of the universe that enriches and drives us forward, to be better than we can be, more loving, caring and compassionate.
In the silence I believe I am becoming attentive to God, or as Rupert Sheldrake says, the consciousness of God. Not a God who speaks clear words from some faraway place, but the ground of being, the Spirit of life, that speaks to us about what is life giving. In those times we may sense an inner feeling of peace and belonging. And purpose. Or in the words of Paul Tillich, what is our ultimate concern, not only for me but for all people everywhere. When I listen I become more fully alive and connected.
Does it work? I sound like I might do it pretty successfully, but that is far from the truth, often I am distracted or fall asleep!
It takes practise and not everyone is interested in following it. Others may find going for a walk or sitting by the seaside gives them a similar sense of the sacred. But it seems to help me.
But back to the question, Christian meditation or mindfulness. I think Christian meditation is more than mindfulness, or an awareness of life. It is an awareness that there is something more to this life, that can be felt, or sensed or discovered in the silence. Its opening ourselves to the spirit of God that can lead us in a new direction. It is adding an extra dimension to all the benefits gained from mindfulness activities. A deep and divine dimension
Where does that leave the beautiful Andy and the headspace app?
Well, where it was.
I still love my Headspace App and Andy, with his beautiful voice and encouragement to be in the moment and will continue to practise this as well.
I think a bit of meditation and a bit silence is good, whatever its form. I suspect God is not all that fussy!