Now, to be clear, this is not an anti-intellectual edict. No, this is intended to discourage talkative tour guides from disturbing the church’s prayerful ambiance with their loud explanations of things that can only be apprehended in the silence of the heart.
Now we don’t have a similar sign outside our church for many reasons including the desire to embrace intellectual rigor. However, today I have no intention of explaining the resurrection to you. Resurrection is not something we talk ourselves into. It is not even a theological position. No, resurrection and commitment to resurrection hope, like faith, is caught not taught. It is infectious, a communicable belief, a trustful posture to life that rubs off on others, something apprehended by the imagination more than the intellect.
And it is that hope gone viral that I want to talk about today.
All through Lent we have been walking the paths of the dark wood. And I did not need to explain to you that that was a metaphor. You just got it because you know the spiritual geography of the dark wood in life, that place in the landscape of our life in which we are uncertain, lost, disoriented… Our mythical imagination can grasp the concept and it speaks not to the science, or history of our life, but to the soul of it, the spiritual essence of it. The dark wood speaks to the heart of what we are going through.
Well this is resurrection day and we open up that same part of ourselves, our mythical imagination that we might take in the hope of the day. And I have chosen for my text this Easter an unusual Easter text: the grand vision from the book of Revelation of the ultimate resolution of all things, the ultimate end to which the arch of our spiritual universe bends.
Generally speaking people are scared of the book of Revelation. True, it is full of wild images of many headed beasts , tribulations, secret books and seals. It sounds more like some kind of fantasy book by JK Rowling, or that Stephen Spielberg would make into a horror movie. Which is exactly what the author wanted the outsider to think. Wild. Weird. Generally harmless. But really, this is Christian Guerrilla literature, sent out on the underground mail intended to inspire Christian resistance. Let me explain.
The author of Revelation was a guy named John, a bishop at the beginning of the second century, and he had seven churches under his watch. This was during the time of Emperor Domitian, a particularly nasty Emperor who insisted people call him God, and launched a brutal persecution of Christians who refused, instead pledging faithfulness to Christ. Which, if you are a narcissistic maniac like Domitian, is kind of irritating, especially if it looks like a growing movement. So John was the pastor to these seven churches filled with people who daily wondered as they went out to work if they would make it home at the end of the day. Tough times to be a Christian.
Well, the Romans caught up with John and in a moment of mercy, didn’t kill him, but sent him into exile on the island of Patmos. There, cut off from his churches, longing to offer them encouragement, but daring not to write a letter that could be found by the Romans, would identify them as Christians and would bring on even more persecution on them, he wrote his “revelation.” Believe it or not, Revelation is a pastoral letter in cryptic code. And if you can crack the code- no easy thing, you discover a wicked critique of the Emperor and the Empire, and a powerful underground message of hope, courage, and the ultimate victory of love over any kind of domination.
And what we have in the 21st chapter, is a picture of that ultimate victory. It’s a picture of resurrection hope, written in code, passed along on an underground network to people who needed resurrection hope.
Think about how that must have felt if you lived in fear every day. All hell was breaking lose around you, and there was no solution in sight. And then one of your Christian friends slides you a snippet of a letter from your beloved pastor that had been secreted off his prison island and circulated underground all over Asia Minor. And it finally makes it to you. And you read that no matter what happens today, or tomorrow, or next week, no matter what happens in your life, the one who raised Jesus from the dead is aware of your plight. That your life is in the tender hands of God. That in the end, all that has gone wrong will be made right because the world is not in the emperor’s hands, or the Roman’s hands but rather is in God’s hands. And this is what that looks like:
“… a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first have passed away the chaotic sea buffeting your life is no more…” It looks like “a holy city, a new Jerusalem prepared like a royal wedding. And the lamb, the peaceful one, the one who is nothing but peace has taken the throne of power and is speaking saying:
See, God is alive, is with you, will always be with you, and will wipe every tear from your eyes. Death will be no more. Suffering, mourning, crying… no more, for these current struggles, they are over.”
Can you imagine how that message would give courage to people who are powerless to change the circumstances of their lives? Can you imagine how it would embolden them to face whatever they needed to face? It is the hope of resurrection, the conviction that your life is not just random and irrelevant but held in loving hands- that God is alive, among us, present, our beginning and our ending. So we can stand up. We can rise to face the day.
The message of the resurrection is the message of rising up. We are called to rise and by the grace of God we rise. Ultimately, we will rise. Yes, we live in troubled times. God knows in Sri Lanka we live in troubled time. God knows in Christchurch we live in troubled times. God knows in this earth, this beautiful fragile planet, we live in troubled time. But that’s just it. God knows. God is alive in the world and by the grace of God we will rise. Trust it in your heart, live with courage, and rise. Amen.
Reflection by Rev. Will Sparks
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