April 22, 2012
Luke 24: 36-48
So Easter is over. Now that the sugar-rush has worn off from all those chocolate eggs and Cadbury Eastery bunnies with their butts bitten off … now what? We go back to the work-a-day routine, fighting traffic on the road, fighting stress at work … and how does the Resurrection figure into all this? Does it matter whether Christ rose from the dead? Or is He really dead and gone? And is the answer to any of these questions going to result in my bills getting paid on time or my waistline getting trimmer?
Americans are very practical critters. If faith doesn’t pay our bills, trim our bodies, or give us multiple orgasms, we can’t really be bothered with it. So why should we?
Americans, if nothing else, identify themselves as savvy (if harried) Individuals. From Alexis de Toqueville (Democracy in America) to Robert Bellah (Habits of the Heart), observers have pointed out that the driving force behind the American economy, American institutions and even American faith is the notion that everything begins and ends with the Individual and his/her unique viewpoint and inherent rights (not to mention money headaches and physical quirks). De Toqueville commented that, in America, “Individualism is a calm and considered feeling which disposes each citizen to isolate himself from the mass of his fellows and withdraw into the circle of family and friends; with this little society formed to his taste, he gladly leave the greater society to look after itself” (1969, 506).
The problem with being an Individual, however, is that as Individuals, we become easy prey. When we are oppressed, silenced, trivialized or ignored, we are oppressed individually, in our own spheres of home, work, and the travel in between. We are super-exploited, over-worked, then laid off – all while drowning in debt and housing costs. In the private sphere of home, women negotiate an emotional landscape that is often stressful at best (as working single mothers) or violent at worst. We are bullied to death at school (as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered youth), we can be strip-searched for minor infractions, and we can be shot at in gated “communities” for being the wrong color. It is only when people band together – as Civil Rights protestors, as enraged women, as any community that refuses to be silenced – that our rights are recognized, encoded into law and respected. When this does not happen, we as Individuals are left to the whims of the Crowd, who applaud totalitarian displays of might, elect cynical demagogues that play to their most base instincts, bullying, lynching … all while gleefully shouting “Crucify Him!”
The story of Jesus is the story of the mightiest entity – God, the Abba – self-manifesting as the most powerless of Individuals: a child born of a poor, unwed mother in a territory occupied by a totalitarian power. The most powerful of entities became one of us at our most powerless to be “as one” (com une – the root of “community”) with humanity. When Jesus was crucified, He was crucified as a helpless Individual – excoriated by His own community, abandoned by His Disciples, and tortured to death by a totalitarian state. This story tells us that – at our most helpless and in our deepest aloneness – God has been where we are. We are not alone.
When the Resurrected Jesus appeared again to the Disciples, He was said to have appeared to them in community. (Of course, there was one notable exception – see Margaret Starbird for a fascinating exploration of the role of Mary Magdalene.) In the Gospel reading for this week, Jesus appears, resurrected, to the community of Disciples and says, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24: 38-39). Jesus breaks bread with the Disciples in community, and they recognize Him. This fact is no accident. It is in community that we are re-created, re-membered, and Resurrected. It is in community that our voices are heard and our rights are respected. When people have risen up as the Body of Christ – in Polish Solidarity movement, in the United States Civil Rights movement, in Central America in the 1980s – the world has paid attention.
April 19 was Holocaust Remembrance Day – or Yom Ha Shoah (Ha Shoah in Hebrew means “the burning”). It was also the anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh. When we re-member these events in community, we are in turn re-membered and renewed. As we come together, our wounds bind together and – while they never go away – they begin to heal. As religious blogger David Henson says: “The promise of the resurrection is not the assurance of a life without wounds but a life in which our wounds, even if they define us as they do Jesus, do not bleed us. The promise of the resurrection is that, eventually, after the bleeding stops, our wounds, while they won’t ever heal, might just begin to heal others” (“The Resurrection and Wounds that Won’t Heal“). Let us pray that in the midst of our busy lives that we do not forget to seek the risen Christ in community, so that we may be renewed – and to pray and work for the Resurrection and renewal of those who are oppressed.