Wednesday, April 14, 2010

04-04-2010: Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday
Acts of the Apostles 10:37-43 / Psalm 118 / Colossians 3:1-4 / Victimae Paschali Laudes / John 20:1-9
One of the most convincing arguments against the truth of Christianity is the one that suggests things haven’t changed much for the better since Jesus of Nazareth was supposed to have risen from the dead, redeeming the world as we Christians claim. Matter of fact you could make a good argument that things have gotten considerably worse over the course of the twenty centuries since Peter and John claimed to have found the tomb empty that first Easter Sunday morning - just look back at the last century with its two world wars and the sheer magnitude of misery and horror that hatred and terror produced. It’s a pretty tough sell because, if indeed Jesus has redeemed the world (including creation and history) then, at least, the shape of things as we experience them here and now isn’t what we might expect or even hope for.

Apropos of things to expect regarding the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection, I’m reminded of the story of the famous British soldier-turned-archaeologist, General Charles Gordon (the Gordon Pasha of Khartoum fame). Back in the nineteenth century, while in Jerusalem, Gordon claimed to have found the real tomb of Jesus -- as opposed to the traditional site of Jesus’ tomb in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Today you can visit Gordon’s Garden Tomb, as it’s called, and you will immediately want it to be the actual place where Jesus was buried. It’s just like you imagined it to be, just what you expected: a hole cut in the rock with a large circular stone rolled to the side. It’s set in a peaceful and meditative English-style garden where groups of young people come and play guitars and sing melodious hymns while pious pilgrims kneel quaintly saying their prayers. Meanwhile, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional site of Jesus’ tomb, the Armenian monks are usually cursing out the Franciscan Friars and the Greek Orthodox thumb their noses at just about everybody else. One group of pilgrims shouts their prayers louder than the next; there’s a cacophony of chaos, and violence is not an unusual occurrence. (When I arranged to say Mass there some years ago I inadvertently stepped onto the Armenian side of the chapel causing a commotion that almost ended in a brawl). If you had your druthers, as a believing Christian, you’d prefer Jesus’ tomb to be back where Gordon said it was.

That’s just it though: Gordon’s Garden Tomb is lovely, but it’s a fake - and we know that for sure. The authentic tomb, the real place, is the least prayerful, the least attractive, rather ugly, dark and dingy, and in need of some significant housecleaning. The reality wouldn’t and just doesn’t meet your expectation. Matter of fact, in this case, the real deal - the cacophonous and chaotic Church of the Holy Sepulchre - is what you’d least expect or desire.

Maybe, in a similar vein, that’s the way we need to approach the gospel claim of resurrection and universal redemption. Just because it doesn’t seem so, just because the present state of affairs isn’t what we’d like it to be – doesn’t mean the claim is any less true. Christians believe that redemption, because of Jesus’ resurrection, has occurred once and for all. It may not seem so, it may not be what you’d expect, but maybe that shock of unmet expectations is God’s way to move us to act. Perhaps the misery that so many still experience, these many centuries after Jesus’ resurrection, is an invitation – a demand, really – for you and me to pitch-in in this divine work of redemption, to lend a hand and help finish what Jesus started: building the kingdom of heaven here on earth - in this redeemed but unfinished world.

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