Posted by ParishAdmin on April 26, 2012 under Sermons |
I have been surprised how much the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic has been front stage and centre in the media over the past few weeks.
There is a cynical part of me that wants to shout out: “She sank. Get over it!” After all, don’t we have more important issues to focus on? And haven’t we had other and at times more horrendous disasters since April 15, 1912? Isn’t the current hype just an elitist, sentimental, and escapist fallacy, which ignores the reality of the world in all its injustice, pain, and darkness?
Well, this is true…
But the harshness of this judgement condemns the reality of people’s feelings and it overlooks that the sinking of the Titanic did have a massive impact on our society. It was a defining moment in the age of industrialization, imperialism, and colonialism, when European and American Empires with their white supremacist tendencies and industrial advances thought of themselves as indestructible, as unsinkable. The impact of the sinking of the Titanic on its contemporaries was akin to the impact of the assassination of John F. Kennedy on boomers, the impact of the Challenger Catastrophe on GenX-ers, and the impact of 9/11 on Millenialists. Together with the Titanic generational hopes, dreams, and securities were swallowed up for ever, and I am not sure it is purely speculative to ponder the fact that within just over 3 years the world was on fire with the devastation of World War I. So, there is another side of me, which realises that the sinking of the Titanic indeed was a global event.
It is, therefore, no surprise that we are still talking about it. And we are talking about it through all kinds of stories, both true stories and stories that are mere hyperbole, metaphors, and products of the imagination. It has been quite mind-boggling to see how many stories have been told connected to the sinking of the Titanic. And even 100 years later we discover new insights and new angles to this tragedy.
In a recent newspaper article in the Vancouver Sun, for example, former parishioner Scott Larsen shared the story of his grandfather, who was a passenger on the Titanic. And I wonder, how many people think of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio when people mention the Titanic: “I am the king of the World!”
Now, we can all smile at this. But the movie and all these stories serve a purpose. It is not just pure entertainment. As we share these stories, which at times can be fictional, and even cheesy, we retell an event. Does this make the event itself untrue and unreal? No, not at all! In fact, it makes the event even more real, as it colours it in ways that make sense to our sensibilities and imaginations.
And this is true for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, too.
The oldest account of the Resurrection is actually not found in any of the four Gospels. But it is found in the letters of the apostle Paul. This is intriguing as Paul was not there on that morning that changed the cosmos for ever. All that Paul could rely on was the oral witness of the early church and his own encounters with the risen One a couple of decades after the event itself. And the bare essentials and the basic truth revealed by this early church witness and by Paul’s encounters is this: Jesus Christ, who was crucified and died, lives! Jesus is risen from the grave.
Everything else is story. And the purpose of these stories, especially those recorded in the Gospels, is to retell this event in ways that make sense and that colour it, so that it can be grasped by the addressee of the Gospel, the community to which the Gospel was proclaimed. The Resurrection-stories in Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John emphasize theological and cosmological perspectives specific to the author. And they make no claim of historical accuracy.
This is why at times these accounts don’t quite line up. The differences among the Gospels in chronology and geographical locality of the post-Easter Jesus are really hard to harmonise. And neither should we try to. What the Gospels want to proclaim and reveal is this: The one who was dead is alive. All the other details, such as who was first to reach the empty grave, or how many angels were present, all these are additive devices that help proclaim the truth within a particular context. And this is not to say this is all rubbish, invented by the authors of the Gospels, whoever they were and who we know as the four Evangelists. Rather, the Spirit used the Evangelists to proclaim and reveal particular aspects of and certain insights into the Resurrection event.
So, when we look at the Resurrection as recorded in the Gospel according to Luke, we must remember Luke’s issues, Luke’s theology, Luke’s passions and convictions, and Luke’s circumstances. And Luke’s particular issue is to reveal God’s kingdom, which is brought about by Jesus Christ, as an upside down kingdom. Luke’s passion is the restoration and healing in body, mind, and soul of all humanity to the beauty that God intends for us.
This includes in Luke a radical challenge to the structures, hierarchies, and injustices brought about by powers of this world. And this includes a particular focus on the marginalised and on those neglected by society. Remember, Luke is the one who, right at the beginning of his Gospel, let’s Mary sing: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour … The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name. … [God] has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” Then, in his second chapter, Luke proclaims how God is revealed not as a mighty prince in a palace among the rich and famous shining as bright as the sun. But God comes to us in the baby Jesus, born of a young, unwed virgin, in a stable, among ox and ass, worshiped by shepherds in the middle of the night. And later in the Gospel, Jesus feeds 5000 men, plus unnumbered women and children, who hunger not just for truth, but who also hunger physically: They need food.
The Lukan Resurrection story continues this focus. It not only reveals that God’s incarnate love cannot be stuffed into a dark grave for ever and that death and darkness will not have the final word. But the Lukan Resurrection story also reveals that the risen Christ Jesus, despite his now-revealed glory, still seeks to restore all to their rightful place at the table in every aspect of the lives, regardless of who or what they are or where they find themselves on the journey.
I believe that there are four elements in today’s story supporting this focus.
- Today’s Resurrection account is set not around a tomb, but around a table. Yes, the Resurrection is the place where sins are forgiven and death, darkness, and the devil are overcome. But the Resurrection also occurs around the table, where Jesus shares food among equals and thus defies elitism and oppression. To this table all disciples are invited. Around this table all disciples are welcome. At this table all the disciples are restored to their rightful, equal place. And from this table all are sent into the world to feed, heal, clothe, restore, and house.
- The first sentence spoken by Jesus in today’s Gospel is “Peace be with you!” This sentence does not speak of condemnation or judgment, which would have been justified after his disciples deserted Jesus at the cross. Neither does the sentence order or demand. But Jesus’ first words in today’s Gospel are words that we hear over and over and over again in Holy Scripture. God’s offer of peace is like a golden threat weaving itself through the sacred pages of our Bible. Yet, the divine peace offered in Jesus is not a one-dimensional peace. It restores us both to union with God and to union with those around us. God’s peace overcomes personal sins, our fears, and any sense of inadequacy we might harbour. And God’s peace also overcomes the sins so present in the warmongering, in the injustices, and in the environmental disregard of our global reality.
- Luke insists that Jesus is no ghost. The Resurrection does not happen in some ghostly reality. But the Resurrection impacts the body. Luke wants to affirm in his own words what is at the heart of the Resurrection: The grave is empty. And this is not just a spiritual event. In the risen Jesus God also establishes a religion that in sensual, bodily, and real ways is concerned with the welfare of who we are as human beings in the entirety of our existence. Ghosts cannot impact this world anymore. The risen Jesus, however, still challenges and overcomes the darkness of this world and embraces us with life in every single aspect of who and what we are.
- Finally, we need to notice the time of the day: This story happens in the evening. To be more exact: It happens in the evening after the day of Resurrection. However, we must remember that in the Jewish tradition a day started not at midnight or at the rising of the sun, but it started at sunset. So, as the disciples gather around the table, the second day of the Resurrection starts at dawn, and with it a new reality for the disciples and for all of us. On the first day, Jesus rose triumphantly overcoming death and sin. But on the second day, the risen Jesus forms the Community of the Resurrection, a community that welcomes all, a community that invites all, a community that celebrates the peace of God for all aspects of our lives, and a community that is not just spiritual, but that is also decisively religious as it brings about resurrection life in this world.
I started this sermon by saying that stories are often used to clarify a larger truth, regardless of their historicity. I don’t know if the risen Jesus really ate broiled fish with his disciples at the second day. And it is otiose to engage in any speculations about the historicity of the passage. But, I do believe that the story reveals a larger truth: Jesus is risen, and we are all welcomed and invited into his resurrection to die once and for all to sin and death, and to become agents of his peace and justice in the world.
And to this I only know one response, which is the Easter shout: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!