“…so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
And If this Good News is true, how do we respond to this two thousand year old tale with roots stretching back another thousand years. If it is true, how can we live it out today in our own lives. If Christ is alive then how can we rise up to live more like him today?
This morning I want to share a model of how we might continually respond to a God made, God met, God mended world with three somewhat fanciful images I’ve cherished and carried along for over twenty-five years to make sense, open my heart and keep me going on the Christian path at least most days. They are the images of a table, a journey and a breath of fresh air. Let me explain.
First, as human beings, we are builders, fabricators, mapmakers; that’s in our DNA. We build maps of the world with words and deeds and wood and stone and steel; and I believe a lot of us build a life-size map in the shape of a table in the very middle of our heads. It works like this for me: we each have - let’s say 12 - people seated around a table in the middle of our brains: they all think it’s a board of directors meeting, and they should be in charge, so it gets noisy. They’re making roles and rules and definitions for all the places and purposes in our lives: for models and mentors and friends and family, for success and failure, good and bad, right and wrong. They’re getting the signposts up, adding directional signals, deciding what goes with where and with whom. This isn’t bad: for in this we join the God who creates the universe from nothing, for we take the chaos on a new world and turn it into a cosmos, an ordered reality: that’s our turn in the naming game God shares with Adam in the first part of Genesis! Now that sounds simple, but it gets complex: and the temptation is to avoid the task by taking a shortcut, using other peoples ideas, maybe buying retail or downloading from online.
But the task, the responsibility of naming the world is what it means to be human, not just individuals, but families, countries, civilisations too. You find it throughout the Hebrew Scripture: tables furnished with psalms, songs and poetry, with laws and liturgy and love stories, war records, histories, mysteries, myths and memories made smooth by hundreds of years of retelling ‘round campfires wherever we find ourselves: everybody builds tables!
So here’s a question to consider this Eastertide: what 12 people sit at the table in the middle of your head, what blessings do they offer, what curses do they convey, and who would you really like to live there? That’s image number one.
The second image is more dynamic; to be a human is to take an individual journey without a plan to survive. You reach a point in your journey where you see a turn in the road ahead and you don’t see how to get through: that’s the essential way of being human. Some of us love that sort of challenge and some us dread it, and it scares the daylight out of the table, which has worked hard to create order from disorder, to build a cosmos from chaos. So the table and the journey are at cross-purposes here — the table fearing that it is incomplete and the pilgrims rejoicing that the road is unfinished. You can see the tension between these two ways on both an individual and a corporate level: Jerusalem kills its prophets and Rome crucifies everyone who does not worship Caesar.
But they cant stop the flow of prophets and poets, people hungry for new life, exploring the wilderness, turning wandering into pilgrimage and pilgrimage into new homecoming. And one of the ways Jesus makes sense is as the pioneer and perfecter of this unfinished path. He follows the human journey and meets all the meanness and mercy and wonder and pain that comes with being flesh and blood,and he shares it all with us!
Her’s a second question: name twelve journeys that have changed you beyond belief, opened you to a new way of being in a different world, shown you a new road forward. And how did the old table handle it?
So you can almost forecast trouble when Jesus travels into new definitions of friend and foe, insider and outsider, justice and mercy. Do you remember that great scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” when Indiana Jones has to walk across a blank space, a chasm, where the ground only shows up when you put your foot out in open air? Do you wonder why the table is scared to death of the journey?
Listen to this, for here's where the crux comes. Jack Kornfield, a modern Buddhist writer, says in the end there are just two kinds of people: those who aren’t afraid to kill and those who aren’t afraid to be killed. Most of us would avoid that sort of black and white thinking, but I fear it still may be close to what we see on Good Friday when Jesus Christ is murdered by the mob, which I fear may be most of us on a really bad day.
In his book called “The Crucified Jesus is No Stranger,” Sebastian Moore writes that when we see Jesus, this man of love and light, we see our all our shadows and our shortcuts, see where we have come close, taken part in evil. And in reaction to that unwelcome light we push him to the dark, pin him down to death, because we would rather kill him than where see we are already dying in our separation and sin.
But we realise, in the light of His love, that we are killing the best picture of what we look like, an icon of the life we are born to live; and so we move from being the crucifier to seeing ourselves crucified: from a living death — protecting our property, our table, the life we know — to a dying life, giving ourselves over to a future we cannot conceive. We let ourselves die so that a larger love may live. And by God’s grace resurrection happens.
We are here this morning because a handful of people, Mary, Joanna, Peter, later Paul, woke up to find that Jesus was not with their dead, had awakened to new and larger life, and was willing to share the journey with them. We’re here because people like Thomas, with all his questionable doubts, kept coming back. We’re here because a people keep telling their friends and compatriots, and this continues changing the world for almost two thousand years — that love is bigger than hate, life is bigger than death, God is bigger than the world we know — but how can we live that out? How can we get from there to here and now?
It is simple but not easy. The third image is simply a breath of fresh air: the art and practice of stopping to breathe, to pray, to begin again. When I ask people to name the table and the journeys it can get complex, but when I ask them to name twelve places where the air gets fresh I have to stand back because they want to share their lists. To awaken to the awareness we are breathed by the spirit that makes and meets and mends the world means we are built for a bigger life and a greater purpose than we know; that the rhythm of dying and rising, the very life of Jesus, is rich in our very blood. That Christ is risen from the dead and we are called to let him come to our table and feed us with the bread of heaven, the cup of salvation, so that we can exchange our stable tables for his faithful and mysterious journey, our living death for his dying life in every breath we take from here on.
And how do we get there from here?
One of the joys of being a retired priest, with no regular obligations, is that I have free time to meet with people who want to consider the table, the journey, the fresh air of the new life we are called to share with God. To discuss who’s noisy at the table, where the journey calls us to change and grow, and ways where we can find the fresh air here and now. It’s a place to build your own creed, your own map, your renewed roles and rules of life in Christ. I offer that to each of you as my own participation, my shared ministry, in this new life, this post-Easter mystery to which we are all called.
For Christ is risen from the grave. Alleluia!