23 March 2008

What say you about the resurrection?

John 20: 11-23; Luke 24: 1-27; Mark 16: 1-19; Matthew 28: 1-20

These are the parallel stories of "the first Easter." I write them here as part of my meditation on them, as I have volunteered to do an Easter Bible study for my small, mostly liberal meeting.

It is a challenge for me to do so. Up to this year, I have not even attended Firstday worship on most Easters, being involved with travel to various family destinations. This year is our family's first where my husband and I are the eldest members of our family (being in our 50s). So I had the freedom to choose how to spend my easter.

When I was a presbyterian, some 27 years ago and preceding, I found great weight and depth in the events culminating in Easter. I realized over my years as a Friend that it was not so much that I believed in the Resurrection and Ascenscion, it was that they moved me, from that deep beyond understanding hidden place. So throughout Lent, and particularly from Maundy Thursday forward, I would spend many hours in church in worship and particularly in prayer (that kind of waiting silence I have grown to love so much in unprogrammed meeting). It was the source of my deepest religious experience.

My inability to relate to the modern Presbyterian church caused me to leave it, not any issue with God. Though I cannot even today say what I believe or don't believe about the resurrected Christ. So who am I to teach this Bible study anyway?

I think what qualifies me best, is that I, like Fox and so many others, have struggled with the emptiness of the rituals and sacrament of the church. I experience God's presence in such an immediate way, that not only do I not understand the need for outward sacraments, I do not often even consider what they mean to my life as a Quaker and Christian.

I know I have met and conversed with the indwelling God, but is that Christ? This is a disconnect for me. I just am not sure. So here my exploration of the resurrection and ascension becomes an uncharted journey for me. I am like the apostles, told by Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary, mother of James, who believed the words of the angels to be true, that Jesus had risen. The apostles believed this to be an idle tale, and did not even recognize Jesus as he came and walked among them. Here Christ, as he is called, points out to them how foolish they are not to believe the prophecies that he would suffer and enter into his glory. (I use the Johannine version here.)

I feel a little foolish even as I write this. I'm glad the apostles were able to overcome their unbelief. Following this, Jesus commissions the disciples to go forth and do his work. In the Lukan and Johannine versions of the story he "breathes the life of the holy spirit into them." They are sent forth to deliver his message.

So what's the message? "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things." (Luke 24, 46-48)

"Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you...if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven, if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." (John 20: 21-23)

It is only fair to mention that Matthew and Mark's versions do talk about going out and baptizing all as believers, and even speaks to the idea that those who do not believe will be condemned. This is the Scripture I have struggled with all my life. I simply accept that a loving god would not condemn in this way. In my worshipful life, communing with the indwelling Light, I have found this to be truth.

There is so much that follows this in the Acts, and the letters of Paul, about how the disciples went out to teach this, that it is hard to stay in this one moment. But bear with me as we return to the versions put forth in Luke and John:

Does it say anything that we all must believe in one way, pray in one way, practice in one way?

Does it in fact say that there is anything but forgiveness of sins to be had from this?

Can we stay in the moment of today. If this day marks the celebration of the resurrection, what does it say to my life today? What would new life, free of all sins mean to me personally?

How would it change the ways in which I act from here forward, or would it? Would it open me to the experience of the indwelling Christ, were I to act as if I had received the message?

What would it mean to me if I carried forward from this day a sense of being loved despite my flaws? Or a sense of loving others despite theirs?

What would it mean if I forgave in the manner that Jesus directed the disciples to? If I saw my forgiveness as forgiveness in the name of the Lord?

Of course I am not saying I have never had the experience of unconditional love or forgiveness of another, or of myself by another. But it is more a condition of circumstance than a breath that lives in me. I do believe that the holy spirit dwells within me. But so often I experience the conditions of my life as shaping my reactions to situations around me more strongly than my experience of the indwelling light.

So I realize as I write and meditate here, that the transforming power of the resurrection is for me found in the light breathed into me by the risen Christ. This metaphor has meaning for me. Jesus lives the life of example, rabbi, sacrificial lamb. He is crucified, put to death and buried; the victim of those who were threatened by his existence. When the women who loved him and served him so freely go to the tomb, they find he is gone, but a messenger of God tells them he did not really die. He lives to make himself visible to the believers, and to breathe the Spirit of God into them, so that they can go forth and live in his image. This is what I am called to do. This is what I feel should shape my personal, moment-to-moment actions. The message is not just that I am forgiven, it is that I must forgive and love in the manner of God's example sent through Christ.