Monday, April 12, 2010

Alleluia, Christ is risen! Now what?

One of the interesting things about the lectionary (cycle of readings) in Eastertide is that we take a temporary break from the Old Testament in favor of readings from the Book of Acts, the earliest history of the church. Yesterday, we began with the testimony of the disciples to the authorities of the day--stating unequivocally "we must obey God rather than any human authority" in response to an order to not to teach in Jesus' name. The authorities note that the disciples have "filled Jerusalem with [their] teaching."

What a difference two-thousand years makes! Today, we have many voices claiming the moniker of Christianity, from a variety of social and political viewpoints. Yet, author Katherine Tyler Scott, in a recent book (Transforming Leadership) and an even more recent Washington Post article, says this about the Episcopal Church in this cacophany of voices:

At its core, the Episcopal Church believes in the compatibility of tradition and reform, the partnership of faith and reason. If the church can remember and reclaim this charism, it will help those who follow to navigate the present currents of complexity, chaos and change with reasoned and mature judgment and action. It will enable the church, and all of us, to exhibit the courage to move from the margin, to stand in the gap, to hold the tension of the opposites together, and to take the risk to tell our truths in the world--a world that desperately needs to shed itself of the tendency to demonize differences.

That is perhaps what I like most about my often-conflicted church: at our best we hold that tension between opposing views, forces, and paradigms.  The challenge facing us as a church is to present that tension-holding not as lack of decisiveness or a failure of nerve (assuming it is not), but as a gift to the church and to the world. Perhaps "training for tension" might be an apt description of the Episcopal Church's divine task: teaching people how to hold the center without being torn apart in the process.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

St. Thomas and Practicing Resurrection

Tomorrow, the first Sunday following Easter Day, is traditionally the day we read the Gospel account of Jesus appearing to Thomas "the doubter." I identify strongly with Thomas, for three reasons. First, his name. Second, I was priested (ordained to the priesthood) on St. Thomas Day (December 21). Third, and most important, Thomas has a refreshing "show me!" spirit about him. I really like that. He isn't willing to take Jesus' resurrection "on faith," especially faith in the word of his fellow disciples! Nope, he wants some hard evidence. Such a demand has been derided and demeaned for centuries with the label "the doubter." In an age in which the word of the institutional church has less and less credibility, such a Thomas-like demand is what more and more seekers are echoing. My colleague Frank Logue addresses the question "How do we know that Jesus' resurrection was real?" in this post on his blog.

Jesus doesn't spend lots of time chiding Thomas for his unbelief. Rather, he presents his wounded hands, feet, and side for Thomas to touch, eliciting perhaps the first post-resurrection Statement of Faith: "My Lord and my God!" Recall that it is Thomas that says, in response to the disciples' fear of going to Jerusalem with Jesus to (it turns out) raise Lazarus: "Let us also go, that we may die with him." (John 11:16b). Thomas isn't afraid to make the hard call and to put his life on the line (as he and most of the rest of the disciples would later do) in response to Jesus' call. In some ways, I like to think of Thomas as the first post-modern Christian: he doesn't want just words, he wants the experience of the risen Christ.

Don't we all want that? Don't we all want a fresh, vivid experience of resurrection life? Sometimes, if we're very fortunate, we get a vision or a spiritual experience of the resurrected Jesus. More often, though, we experience resurrection in the midst of everyday life. There is even post on a Spirituality and Practice site that discusses how to practice resurrection as a spiritual discipline. Because, frankly, we are the body of Christ, even (and perhaps especially) with all of our wounds and shortcomings. When we reach out in love and care to another person, we both do so to Christ and do so as Jesus' hands and feet in the world. The miracle of Easter is not simply the miracle of Jesus' resurrection from the dead, important as that is, but the miracle that resurrection happens each and every day, in ways large and small and, yes, in the midst of death and despair. Just as Jesus appeared to Thomas and offered him and experience of resurrection life, Jesus also appears to and through us with the same offer. The question is, will we recognize Jesus when we see him and will we take the offer?