April 3, 2016
Second Sunday of Easter
One of the reasons I appreciate a connection with Facebook is I often discover great articles, written by noteworthy people, that I would otherwise miss. And this past week I was pleased to discover a great article that Eric Beresford was sharing with his Facebook friends.. The title of this article is ‘The resurrection isn’t an Argument. It’s the Christian Word for Defiance.’ The author of this piece, the Reverend Dr. Giles Fraser, is a priest in the Church of Eng.
Giles Fraser is the priest-in-charge of a small parish in one of London’s poorest neighbourhoods and he is intimately familiar with struggle and controversy. Once I read his article (which I’ll get to in a minute) I googled him to get a better sense of the context out of which he writes. Apparently, he was – at one time - a Canon of Saint Paul’s Cathedral but resigned when the Dean of the Cathedral called the police to remove ‘Occupy London’ protesters from the Cathedral grounds. (This was an anti-capitalist protest in London, England, and an offshoot of the occupy movement, which was a response to the financial and subprime mortgage crisis...)
In this article, in an attempt to guard again the common tendency to try to explain the resurrection, Dr. Fraser writes these words: 'The resurrection is not an argument, still less a philosophical argument. . . . The resurrection is more an identity than an argument. . . . It is who we are --- our word for how we go on in the face of overwhelming odds. It’s the Christian term for defiance.' We often talk about ‘defying the odds’... Well, I think what the author is saying here, is that Jesus defied the odds by challenging the authorities of his time, dying on the cross and rising to new life, and we are called to defy the odds by challenging unjust people and systems of our day so that we may be channels through which the resurrection of new hope is made known to others.
Later he describes how his parish opens itself up to the homeless, offering a safe place for people to sleep and enjoy breakfast. He writes: 'Do I believe in resurrection? Of course I do. And I believe in it by frying bacon and refusing to give up. This Easter rising is not just some fancy intellectual idea, it’s a way of life.' In other words, just as Jesus rose from the dead and offered new life and new hope to those who were terrified and broken, that same risen Jesus offers hope and comfort (and sustenance) to those who would otherwise be hungry and sleeping on the streets. Those who fry the bacon and serve the meal are channels through which the resurrection is made known to those who would otherwise be hungry, cold, tired and forgotten.
On Easter morning, almost two thousand years ago, a group of frightened and confused people defied the authorities and gathered together; in the midst of their fears and grief, they discovered and found new hope in the risen Jesus. Rumours about Jesus of Nazareth were circulating, and all those who were present that first Easter morning knew that the discovery of the risen Jesus would put them in danger. So, later that same evening, they huddled together with the doors shut tight for fear of further persecution, when the unexpected happened: Jesus (risen from the dead) showed up and the world was never the same again.
When Jesus breathes on them and empowers them (gives them the extraordinary power) to both forgive sins, and retain them, we need to understand that in John's gospel, sin is not so much a moral but a theological category. To sin, in John’s gospel, is to not recognize what God is doing in the ministry of Jesus. It is a form of blindness to the possibility that God, in Jesus, is doing a new thing, unanticipated by traditional religious teachings. The Messiah was supposed to come in mighty power, restoring the power of the Israelite people; so this Messiah, Jesus, is deeply confusing as his crown is a crown of thorns; his throne a cross; whose very life is one of sacrifice and suffering which for the rest of time allows him to be found in those places of suffering and struggle.
And then he breathes on them. Throughout Scripture, God’s breath is identified with a new creation: In the moment of creation itself, God breathes over the waters and the world is born. In Genesis 2.7 God breathes into human nostrils his own breath, the breath of life, and humankind becomes alive, alive with God’s life.
Now, in this new creation, born through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the restoring life of God is breathed out through Jesus, making new people of the disciples, and through them, offering this new life to the world. Through Jesus God's restorative plan has been accomplished; through his followers it shall be implemented. “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”
Sin here is understood as a refusal to acknowledge God’s actions in the teaching and healing ministry that Jesus has undertaken for the past three years; and to refuse the new creation born through his death and resurrection and breathed into his followers.
So, as today’s Gospel unfolds it seems that the gathered community of Jesus’ disciples take this understood state of sin seriously, and are doing what they can to help their friend Thomas, work past his own state of sin, as he seems rather blind to this new thing that God is doing in and through Jesus. And they bring him into their midst on this Sunday, one week after their own experience of the risen Christ. Thomas is released of this blindness as he offers his powerful affirmation of Christ: ‘My Lord and my God!’ (John 20.28) According to legend, Thomas leaves Jerusalem behind and travels to the east beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire. To this day an entire community of Christians who live along the south-western coast of India call themselves ‘Thomas Christians’ after the one who brought the good news to them. “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”
Those first disciples were terrified, grief stricken; some were (I’m sure) filled with shame, but in defiance of this broken state, in defiance of the surrounding authorities who could very well persecute them as well, they chose to believe in the power of the risen Jesus, which is why I like Giles Fraser’s description of belief in the resurrection as defiance.
Christian defiance means doing justice, even when injustice may be more convenient and self-interested. As a resurrection people, rising out of our rootedness in Jesus' own death and resurrection, we are called to defy the injustices of our day so that individuals, the church, the world may experience this great resurrection gift. Recently we celebrated the anniversary of the execution of Sophia Scholl, who was a German student and anti-Nazi political activist, active within the White Rose non-violent resistance group in Nazi Germany. She was convicted of high treason after having been found distributing anti-war leaflets at the University of Munich with her brother Hans. As a result, they were both executed by guillotine. While others were staying silent as countless lives were being lost, people like Sophie Scholl and Dietrich Bonhoeffer defied the authorities and were channels through which resurrection was made known to the world.
Christian defiance means loving kindness, even when this may mean going beyond our ‘comfort zones’ to reach out to people whose needs are far greater than our own and who are easily ignored; Sponsoring refugees fleeing from war torn countries comes to mind. Reaching out and finding homes and new beginnings for people whose lives are inflicted with war and hunger and refugee status... these are resurrection stories... defying oppressive circumstances and offering people hope for new possibilities.
Yesterday I was reading in the Globe and Mail an article on Canada's current Minister of Justice, Jody Wilson-Raybould, who is a member of the We Wai Kai Nation, has served as regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations... On the one hand she comes from a place of privilege, unlike many of our aboriginal brothers and sisters, on the other hand though, her very roots are with the First Nations... and she has worked tirelessly defying colonialism... at times putting her own future at risk as she has spoken out publicly and boldly. She says one of the main reasons she became involved in mainstream politics was she could help achieve true reconciliation with Canada’s Aboriginal peoples, both socially and economically. I think hers is a resurrection story... out of the ashes of residential schools which were born out of colonialism rises this defiant politician, committed to equality and justice.
Christian defiance means walking humbly with God, even when this may mean sacrificing privileges and aspirations in order to serve God’s purposes. The Rev. Dr. Giles Fraser, author of ‘Resurrection as a Christian Word for Defiance’, held a pretty impressive position of honour as Canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral, but he sacrificed that privilege when he disagreed with what he perceived as the Cathedral’s failure to stand with those who were victims to an unjust system. Maybe he was right. Maybe he was wrong. But bottom line: he had the courage of his convictions.
I appreciate this idea of resurrection as defiance because I think that we live in a world where decay and death fill our daily news. Rarely do we hear of the various acts of defiance by good and faithful people throughout the world, such as Muslims who help Christians in those parts of the world where oppression of minorities is widespread. Just this past week I read the story of Irena Sendlerowa who saved 2,500 Jewish babies and children from the Nazi death camps and placed them with Polish families. This is a resurrection story, where God's love rises out of the death and decay of evil such as the Hitler regime.
This past week I heard about a retired musician who visits hospice and palliative care centres, offering the gift of music to people who are dying and their loved ones. I'm sure there are many other ways in which this man could be spending his time, but he chooses to share his time and his talent in this way. This is a resurrection story.
Through Jesus’ death and resurrection he defied the unjust authorities of his day; baptized as his followers we are called to live such defiant lives through which the resurrection of new hope is made known to a broken world. Resurrection is living a life that affirms these words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu: ‘Goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death; victory is ours through Jesus who loved us.’ (Archbishop Desmond Tutu as quoted in Morley, Bread for the Journey) This defines the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection; and by extension these words are what must define the way we are called to live as his followers. Contrary to popular thinking, living the resurrection as defiance is never futile. It is like water dripping on a stone; it is the stone that shall be shaped by the water, no matter how long it takes.