April 12, 2009

Have you ever been to a clambake?...

...."Wait without hope," wrote TS Eliot, "for hope would be hope for the wrong thing." If you frame Easter in the terms of the perceived problem, you belittle it. Whether you think in terms of pie in the sky (at best a thoroughly subChristian concept) or a better society, all you get is a happy ending after a sad or sinful story.

And whatever Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were doing in writing the final sections of their books, they were not telling the story of Jesus's resurrection as a happy ending. They were telling it as a startling new beginning. Easter morning isn't a slow, gentle waking up after the difficult operation. It's the electric shock that brings someone back to life in a whole new way.

That's why the Easter stories tumble out in bits and pieces, with breathless chasings to and fro and garbled reports - and then, stories like nothing else before or since. As the great New Testament scholar EP Sanders put it, the writers were trying to describe an experience that does not fit a known category. They knew all about ghosts and visions, and they knew it wasn't anything like that.

Equally, they knew the risen Jesus wasn't just a resuscitated corpse, still less someone who had almost died but managed to stagger on after all. They had the puzzled air of people saying, "I know this sounds wacky, but this is truly how it was." They were stumblingly describing the birth of new creation, starting with Jesus but intended for the whole world.

It sometimes seems that the church can hardly cope with this any more than the world can. Perhaps that's why, after 40 days of Lent, many churches celebrate Easter for a few hours and then return to normality. But nothing can be "normal" after Easter. New creation has begun, and we are summoned to get on board. We should at least have an eight-day party, or even a 40-day one.

And if Easter is all about the surprise of new creation, there is every reason to suppose that it will ripple out into the world in ways we would never imagine. Gangsters and drug-dealers get radically converted and set on fire with God's love, while pale churchmen drone their disbelief and warn against extremism.

Extremism? What can be more extreme than God raising Jesus from the dead after the world has done its worst to him? Supposing the power of that event were to be released into the world, into local communities, into ordinary lives, here and now? What might that look like?...

      -- NT Wright (Link)

"That's why the Easter stories tumble out in bits and pieces, with breathless chasings to and fro and garbled reports..."  Exactly. And what does that mean? Well, for one thing it means that nobody just made the story up while sitting at a desk wondering how to get a new "religion" started. It's just too messy and even slightly comical a story. Various scholars have opined that the disciples had some sort of "spiritual" experience, and then later interpreted it as something concrete like a resurrection. Pahhh! That's just stupid. (And I know what they are up to because I used to feel the same embarrassment about Easter, and used to wish that Jesus had been more like, say, Lao Tze.)

And the thing that has always tormented gnostics—and we have more of them now than ever—is that there's nothing "spiritual" about the Passion and Resurrection. It's all so grittily real and physical, it's kind of a pie-in-the-face to all the lofty "spiritual" types. Have you ever been to a clambake?...

...When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.

Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead...

Well, Charlene and I have been there, by that very sea. Who knows, maybe on the very same spot--this picture is taken near Caperneum. It's an awesome place, but it also resembles San Diego County to a disappointing degree. And it's nothing like a Zen monastery. If you want "spiritual," go trekking in the Himalayas.

Francis and Shelley by Sea of Galilee
Our friends Fr. Francis Goode and Shelley Goodale by the Sea of Galilee...


Posted by John Weidner at April 12, 2009 5:29 AM
Weblog by John Weidner