Monday, April 16, 2012

Taking the Leap
Jn. 20:1-18[1]
In the season leading up to Easter, we usually talk about the various aspects of our faith as a way of re-examining our own lives. There is so much about our faith that is beautiful and comforting and reassuring. To know that the very light that surrounds us is a sign of God’s love constantly filling our lives with mercy and compassion and grace is something that gives us great joy. To believe that Jesus gave his life for us so that we can find new life is humbling and moving. To hold onto the hope that God is working to transform us all into people of compassion is encouraging in the midst of the struggle that life can be.
But when it comes to Easter, I think we run into a wall. Most people can accept that Jesus was born. And that Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross. But when it comes to Easter, it’s a different matter altogether. Even many who have identified themselves as Christians all their lives have a hard time really embracing faith in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. That means Jesus was dead. He was really dead. He was so dead that he was buried. And somehow he was raised to life.
It’s one of those aspects of our faith that moves us beyond the normal realm of our experience. For most of us, we live our lives based on what we can see and touch. But when you believe that all you have to go on is what your eyes can see or what you can touch with your hands, you have not necessarily rejected faith; you’ve simply embraced a different kind of faith. It is a kind of faith that believes that our future rests entirely on what we can do for ourselves.
But the good news of Easter is that God does not operate within the limits of what we can see! Easter faith in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead points us in hope to the possibility that God really is working to make all things new. That sounds attractive, but it’s still not easy. As one of my favorite philosophers puts it, our faith moves us beyond the realm in which we can understand and manage things.[2] It moves us into “the sphere of the impossible,” where “only the great passions of faith and love and hope will see us through.”[3]
I think, in part, that means that it’s not enough just to “believe” our faith intellectually. Rather, the miracle of Easter calls us to trust God with all that we are, to entrust ourselves and our actual everyday lives completely to something we cannot see. For some of us that comes fairly naturally—like John the beloved disciple from our Gospel lesson for today. Scholars speculate about why he was so quick to believe.[4] It seems to me that he was one of those people who simply have a natural tendency toward faith.[5] I guess in some respects I’m like that. When I think about the great questions of faith, in the depth of my being, in that place where all pretense is stripped away, the hope and faith that there is a God who loves us all, who is working to restore and renew everything and everyone, simply rings true. From that perspective, everything makes sense; without it nothing makes sense.
For others, Easter faith not so automatic, like Mary. When she came face-to-face with the risen Christ, she thought she was talking to a gardener who may have removed Jesus’ body. It was only when Jesus broke through her sorrow and her suspicion by calling her name, “Mary,” that she recognized him.[6] For some of us, it takes an experience like that to break through the walls we put up to protect our hearts. And there are many who have had such experiences—in one way or another, at one time or another in their lives, we have felt that we experienced the presence of God in our lives in a unique and profound way.[7] I think many of us put our faith in Jesus because an experience like that puts us in touch with the love and the hope and the joy and the life that is at the heart of all things, and therefore calls forth the best within us.
But how do we encounter this presence of Christ? It’s one thing for Mary to meet Jesus in the garden. It’s another thing for you or me to encounter him now. I think there are many answers to this question. For me, I find myself experiencing God’s love calling me by name through the presence of Christ in the community of faith. I experience the presence of Christ through the love and support and affirmation I receive from other people who have experienced that life and that love and have come away from that experience transformed.
Faith enables us to move beyond believing only what we can see to entrusting our lives to the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead. It is a different path, a whole new way of life that sees the possibility of new life in every death, sees the light shining in the deepest darkness, and sees hope in the midst of despair. But it is not an easy path. At the end of the day, it takes something of a leap for all of us to really entrust our lives to the kind of hope that God awakened in the resurrection of Jesus on that first Easter morning. When we take that leap of faith, it can be frightening, because we are taking a risk, and that makes us vulnerable. But that’s how we open ourselves to the new life God brings. The leap is frightening, but when we make that leap, we find ourselves moving from a life that we have to manage and control into the arms of the God who continually offers us grace and peace and mercy and love and life.

[1] © 2012 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 4/8/12 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.
[2] Cf. John Caputo, On Religion, 9: he says that religion moves us “past the manageable prospects of the present, beyond the sphere in which we have some mastery, beyond the domain of sensible possibilities that we can get our hands on.”
[3] Cf. Caputo, On Religion, 8; Cf. also Keith Ward, God: A Guide for the Perplexed, 204; see further Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember, 29-30.
[4] Cf. Raymond Brown, “The Resurrection in John 20: A Series of Diverse Reactions,” in Worship 64 no 3 (May 1990):194-98.
[5] Cf. Brendan Byrne, “The Faith of the Beloved Disciple and the Community in John 20,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 23 (1985):86.
[6] Cf. Frank J. Matera, “John 20:1-18,” Interpretation 43 (Oct 1989):404. He says, “Resurrection faith is a gift. It occurs when God speaks to the hearts of believers, calling them by name.”
[7] Cf. J├╝rgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 257, where he says that what we experience here and now of the new life points us both toward Jesus’ resurrection and to the completion of the work of “making all things new” that began on the first Easter.

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