Saturday, April 7, 2012

Easter Taxidermy

John 20:1-18 Easter B – Easter Taxidermy 4/8/12
(The underlining is just to help me preach it.)

How would you feel if I put the stuffed bunny on the altar? - Maybe peaking out from behind the cross…?
It just feels wrong to have the bunny in Easter Sunday worship, doesn’t it?
It seems Sacrilegious because a ‘stuffed bunny’ is as much like the characters in our Easter story as this ‘Jesus action figure’ is like the real Jesus.
Just as this stuffed Lion is NOTHING like the real thing. (Children’s comments:      )
Certainly we wouldn’t leave our children with a real Lion, but we’d gladly give this one away to make someone happy.
(In fact, I got this LION out of our nursery.)

The stuffed version of anything can’t compare to the original
And we are usually quite glad they do not equal their ferocious equivalents. We can turn our backs on a stuffed Lion and then put him up on the shelf when we are done.
Just like a toy Jesus can be put away to play with another day . . . Unlike the real Jesus, who demands our attention . . .
Yet, often it is the "stuffed Jesus" that we prefer – because he is safer, much safer – and easier to deal with.
-   you know what I mean, don’t you?
-   We love the Jesus that stares at us from the wall with those big brown eyes. He always listens and never makes demands on our time.
-   Sometimes we feel a little guilty and attend another church service or set aside a little more for the offering or a special emphasis like disaster relief.
-   But the ‘safe’ Jesus is easy to walk away from when life gets too busy to think.

But I can’t remember any gospels stories about the ‘safe Jesus’. I don’t recall any times when he gathered his disciples together, gave them a hi-five, and went down to the corner to just hang out with the guys.  (Perhaps those stories just didn’t make the final cut of any of the gospels.)

Actually, I’m pretty sure that there was nothing safe about hanging with Jesus.
Maybe we should call the real Jesus, the ‘ferocious Jesus’ or the ‘dangerous Jesus’ to make the distinction between the one up on the shelf who gets set out on Sundays and the real thing,
because the ‘real Jesus’ IS dangerous.

It is easy to tell them apart. The Real Jesus is the one who got in trouble and was executed by the state. The ‘dangerous Jesus’ seems to want US to get in trouble too.
This Jesus won’t stay up on the shelf. He is the one who was raised on the 3rd day and began a WORLD of trouble – it’s the Dangerous Jesus’ Resurrection that we celebrate today.
            (The real Jesus is alive and loose in the world. )

It never was safe to be part of the Jesus’ Way. Maybe that is why so many sinners applied for the role. His followers were often confused by his outrageous behavior and confusion continued to the 3rd morning after he was crucified. Did you notice that the first friends to arrive at the empty tomb get the explanation all wrong?

Mary Magdalene, is out in the dark before dawn (when only troublemakers are around) and gets close enough to see the stone has been removed from the tomb. She runs off and tells other disciples, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb and we do not know where they’ve put him.” - "She was wrong, she couldn’t see the radical truth."
But she knew the dangerous Jesus. She loved and trusted him.

Mary's story in John is not a historical report, it tells of relationship and of dawning faith.[i]
Like many of John's stories, Mary's is a story following and later seeing clearly. Even tho she understood so much about Jesus before his death, she still had to learn to see the new Jesus on that morning - for he wasn’t brought BACK to the life she knew, he was raised (by God) to a new order of being.[ii]
And resurrection brought a new kind of danger to the world.

. . But for Mary, everything came together when Jesus called her name . . .
It’s not the imagined voice of a stuffed person on a shelf she hears, but a real person whom she knows and has risked loving . .

Mary's meeting with Jesus is just what we need to replace our stuffed, safe Jesus with the real thing.
She even helps our rational minds from making Christianity into an intellectual endeavor[iii] that dissolves into arguments about what doctrines to believe.

In order to SEE the ‘real Jesus’
·      We - like Mary, need to hear the sound of his voice.
Truly, We long to be known by God - as scary as it can be.  "We want to be seen for who we are in the most intimate, far-reaching corners of our interior lives.."[iv]
·      When we listen THRU our experiences, we can hear Jesus call our names because he really does know each of his ‘sheep’ by name.
·      We need to hold onto the experiences where we see & walk with him because holding onto a ‘stuffed Jesus’ just won’t do.

Mary’s experience in the garden was enough to keep Jesus alive long after he ascended and she was no longer able walk beside him in the garden.
To know the REAL Jesus, we need the personal experiences that come when we risk living the dangerous life he demanded of his followers.
We need the Easter morning surprise to stay with us so we don’t replace him with a stuffed version or fall back into the despair of Saturday, before he was raised.

Story –from The Orthodox Heretic
I read a story about a group of unknown disciples of Jesus who packed their belongings on the day after Jesus was crucified and left for a distant shore. They couldn’t bear to stay another moment in the place where their Messiah had just been executed.
            “Weighed down with sorrow, they left that place, never to return. Instead they traveled a great distance in search of a land that they could call home.
After months of difficult travel, they finally happened upon an isolated area that was ideal for setting up a new community. Here they found fertile ground, clean water, and a nearby forest from which to harvest material to build shelters. So they settled and founded a community far from Jerusalem, a community where they vowed to keep the memory of Christ ALIVE. They would live in simplicity, love, and forgiveness, just as he had taught them.
            The members of this community lived in great solitude for over a hundred years, reflecting on the [very real] life of Jesus and attempting to remain faithful to his ways. And they did all this despite the overwhelming sorrow that remained at their core.”

            “But their isolation was broken when, a small band of missionaries reached the settlement. These missionaries were amazed at the community they found. What was most startling to them was that these people had no knowledge of the resurrection of Christ, for their founders had left Jerusalem before he was raised by God on the third day.
            Without hesitation, the missionaries gathered all the community members and recounted what had occurred after the crucifixion of their Lord.
            (as you can imagine) That evening there was a great festival in the settlement as people celebrated the good news the missionaries brought.
Yet, as the night progressed, one of the missionaries noticed that the leader of the community was absent. This bothered the young woman, so she set out to look for this respected elder.
            She found him crouched low in a hut - praying and weeping.             “Why are you in such sorrow?” she asked in amazement. “Today is a time to celebrate the resurrection!”
            “It may indeed be a day for great celebration, but this is also a day of sorrow,” replied the elder.
“Since the founding of this community
1.   we have followed the ways taught to us by Christ.
2.   We have been faithful even though it cost us dearly, and
3.   we remained resolute despite the belief that death had defeated Jesus and would one day defeat us also.”

            The elder slowly got to his feet and looked the young woman in the eye.
“Each day we have forsaken our very lives for him because we judged him wholly worthy of the sacrifice, wholly worthy of our being.            
But now, following your news, I am concerned that my children and my children’s children may follow him, not because of his radical life and supreme sacrifice, but selfishly, because his sacrifice will ensure their personal salvation and eternal life.”
            (The elder turned and left the hut to go to the celebration  and left the young missionary stayed crouched on the floor of the hut in tears. . .)[v]

Community Keeps Jesus Alive
These solitary Jesus’ followers knew the ‘dangerous Jesus’ and they kept his ways in spite of the cost.
They never domesticated him into the safe-stuffed Jesus who, with non-threatening smiles, offers US eternal life.
For too many people today, Easter’s resurrection story is simply a guarantee of eternal life – without the dangerous personal relationship that challenges our day to day living.

We need the REAL experience of the Living Lord and our world needs his resurrected presence, not a stuffed replica.

In order for the world to MEET and truly ENCOUNTER the Living Lord, the Dangerous Jesus, WE HAVE TO BE THE TESTIMONY TO HIS PRESENCE.
  • It is IN OUR LIVES, that the “resurrection is made manifest.” 

The thing is - we need encouragement too.
We need to be reminded of the personal relationship we have so we can risk living the way Jesus requires.
Encouragement is why we come here, to today to hear the story again.

"We do not come to church simply to remind our conscious minds that Jesus lives."[vi]
We come to be prodded to take ‘safe Jesus’ off the shelf.
We come for the courage to go with ‘dangerous Jesus’ into the world and to BE HIS LIVING PRESENCE TODAY.
(put away stuffed animals)
We do not worship a stuffed Jesus & we don’t need stuffed reminders him.
We worship the Risen Lord, raised to a new order of being and who gives us new life; life to be lived right now with all its danger and risk.

‘Dangerous Jesus’ is alive and loose in the world!
We proclaim him when we say,
the Lord is risen...he is risen indeed.

[i] Boring and Craddock New Testament Commentary  (Louisville: WJK 2004?)356
[ii] ibid
[iii] Serene Jones, feasting on the Word –theo (Louisville:WJK 2008) 376
[iv] ibid serene jones p. 378
[v] Peter Rollins The Orthodox Heretic (Brewster, MA:Paraclete Press 2009) ch.12
[vi] (s.Jones 380)


Purple said...

Nancy, thank you, thank you.

"For too many people today, Easter’s resurrection story is simply a guarantee of eternal life –" ... the real Jesus is so much more...

Blessings as you preach

Terri said...

Wonderful, potent images. Thank you.