we say - "Jesus Christ is risen, He is risen indeed". we say it every easter. and we profess to be - "an easter people", meaning a people of new life, risen life, a people who are free thanks to our risen Savior. this is our faith, this is our hope, that through the rising of Jesus we are part of a new creation, participants in the unfolding kingdom of God, which Jesus declared is within us. and on easter day we proclaim all this in song and prayer with boldness.
then monday comes, then tuesday, and for many of us the bold proclamations about Christ our risen Lord, and our bold assertions about being an easter people become private murmurs, and even sometimes fade with the setting sun of doubt.
why does our boldness fade and our doubt resound? if asked this to our face, most of us would proclaim again with our lips – "Christ is risen, he is risen indeed. we are an easter people". but, so long as we are not asked, not challenged, not put on the spot to profess our belief, well, for most of us, we just don’t talk about it much, and frankly don’t live it very much. i mean live as an easter people, a people rising in new life.
the symbol of the butterfly emerging from the safety of the cocoon has a long tradition in the church. it's such a perfect natural analogy for the resurrection – the ordinary caterpillar encased in a cocoon, all brown and still and seemingly lifeless; meanwhile deep within a transformation is unfolding, a miracle which no eyes can see happens in the silent darkness; than suddenly the seemingly hard shell of the cocoon is ruptured, and one of God’s most inspiring creatures ascends into the air.
but what happens to the caterpillar who remains within the seeming safety of the cocoon, who is unwilling or unable to break through? we all know what happened don’t we, the caterpillar is dead, and the cocoon – the miraculous womb of transformation - has indeed become a tomb.
sadly, just as with the caterpillar, this happens with christians too. wrapped in the seeming safety of a comfortable building, be it a home or a sanctuary, we remain unwilling to break through the boundaries, choosing instead to remain where we are, in seeming security, apart from the world, apart from each other, apart from ourselves, and even apart from God. oh we love God and we say we believe, but please don’t push me out of my comfort zone, please don’t ask me to see things in a different light, as my comfort zone is tight but seems manageable, and my eyes have become so accustomed to the dim light of my insecure faith that I dare not open myself to the light of the Spirit, lest I be moved, in particular moved out of my comfort zone and into the new day with its uncomfortable bright light.
think a moment, what if Jesus had chosen that path. imagine if lying in the cool dark tomb Jesus decided to stay put. after all, hadn’t he had just about as much as any one could take of the human race, and our double dealing and double standards? Why should he risk, again, to go back into the world and speak to hearts and heal wounds, a world who didn’t understand him, a world that was afraid of him because he challenged the world to see things in a different light? What if he decided “oh the heck with it and the heck with them, I’m staying put, its been a long and truly exhausting day and my feet hurt. nevermind my aching hands and the pain in my side.”
yeah i know, it’s a funny thought, but what if he decided to stay in the tomb. to not risk it again. after all He didn’t have to rise, in fact He didn’t have to die, or even be born. God isn’t under compulsion, God doesn’t have to do anything (even though quite a number of us think and act as if God is somehow obligated to do whatever we ask, and for some reason destined to give us more than we have already received) yet in truth, despite our grandiose assumptions, God don’t have to do nuttin’. God doesn’t have to give us life or salvation, and just because God is eternal is no reason that we have to be eternal.
yet…God chooses to do something: God chose to be born as one of us, and God chose to die with us, and God chose to rise up to new and transformed life so that through Him we may rise and be made new. and not just in some distant, or not so distant, future, but in the here and now, in this life, in this very moment, to create a new day, to proclaim as living reality a new kingdom of mercy and love, to call a people to His cross and ask us to share in His cross that we may share in His new life, to break free of the tomb of self-righteousness, and fly free and beautiful - like a butterfly.
meanwhile so many of us, His easter people, are unwilling to follow Him out of the tomb and into the glorious new light. why? why do we choose to claim Him as our Lord, yet live our lives relatively unchanged, still absorbed in our personal pursuits and our cultural bias, not willing to risk, but content to roll that stone right back over our tombs?
in john’s gospel we encounter three people willing to look into Jesus' tomb and witness the miracle that it had in fact become a womb. isn’t it interesting that of the three, which included the one Jesus loved and the one whom Jesus said “upon this rock a will build my church”, the first one Jesus appears too, the first one Jesus makes the miracle of the tomb become a womb clear too - is a woman; and not just any woman but one who had been greatly troubled, or as the scriptures read “plagued by seven evil spirits”. think about the cultural realities of that time – a woman, whom a man is not suppose to speak too, a troubled woman who had been shunned by many, this person of all people is the first Jesus chose to reveal His risen Self too. and not only reveal Himself but commission her to go forth and tell others of this great event. He stepped out of the tomb and directly into the proverbial frying pan, breaking both the chains of death and the chains of convention. nature says “all things die” Jesus says “not die, transform”. society says “propriety”, Jesus says “honesty”. nature says “it is what it is”, Jesus says “it is as the Father wills”. society says “the status quo is the way to go”, Jesus says “the status quo has got to go”.
and yet even today there are those in the church that attempt to use "tradition" as a tomb in which to kept things mummified. they say “women in the pulpit, outrageous”. yet it was a woman entrusted to be the first to proclaim the good news. it was a woman who was told ““I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”. His Father is her father, His God her God. i am reminded of another story from the Hebrew scriptures – the story of ruth and naomi, which is a story about an adoptive family. ruth, as a sign of her love and devotion to her adoptive mother, says to naomi “your people will be my people, your God my God” – a declaration of the creation of a new family. And here in john's gospel Jesus speaks to a woman, telling her the same thing ruth spoke to Naomi – you have been adopted into a new family - the family of God in Christ.
now in the book of acts, peter - the rock, so named for the rocks in his head, had a vision in which the Holy Spirit breaks open his rock head that he may perceive the great truth – that faith in the risen Christ is not the exclusive domain of the jews, or men, or a select few, but is to be witnessed to all; and all who accept the Lordship of Jesus may walk out of the tomb of self-satisfaction and into the faith that inspires a new dawn within the heart of the believer. Think about the profundity of peter speaking the truth unveiled to him by the Spirit saying “i truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him. you know the message God sent to the people of Israel…Jesus Christ – He is Lord of all…we are witnesses…chosen by God … that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through His Name.”
now peter could have remained in the tomb of his ancestors, he could have clung to the seeming safety of this cultural bias that cloaked itself as religious imperative; but prompted by the Holy Spirit he emerged from the boundaries of cultural and religious tradition, and became a free man by proclaiming the truth of the freedom that is open to all in Jesus Christ.
now the Spirit is still with us, the Spirit is still prompting us to new visions and to dream new dreams, as proclaimed by the prophets of old. will we remain unmoved in the safety of our cultural and religious cocoons. or will we take the risk, as peter did, and break out of the bonds of tradition into the new and different light of God’s unfolding kingdom? only you can answer Christ’s call to new life, only you, by surrender to the power of the Spirit, can break free of the chains that bind you and fly, as a butterfly, into the light of the new day – the day of Christ our risen Lord, and boldly live as the easter people we proclaim ourselves to be this day. and not only for today, but also for monday and tuesday and everyday of our lives, in this world and the next.
glory be to God and to our risen Savior and to the Transforming Spirit, and the easter people of God say – AMEN!
© 2011 Halley Low