Isaiah 25:69; Psalm 118: 12, 1424; 1 Corinthians 15:111; John 20:118
Today, this Easter Sunday, we are the hearers of a great, life changing story. It is the story of Christ’s victory over death; the empowering story of the Easter resurrection.
The core story about Jesus that we know is that he was a REAL person. The ancient Roman Historian, Josephus made reference to that fact in his history of the Roman Empire. We know that in his lifetime Jesus was extravagant in his love for all people regardless of whom they were, what they had done, or what their physical or emotional health was.
We know that Jesus directed most of his life’s ministry to the poor, the marginalized and the outcast. We know that Jesus lived his life continually affirming that non-violence, always trumped violence. If there ever was anyone who believed in second chances, it was Jesus! History records that he was unlike any other person that lived during the oral and then recorded history of his time. He was a man who was seen by many as possessing the unparalleled qualities of both God and man. And he transformed lives with his phenomenal presence, and his learned teaching. His story telling and teaching were often woven into parables. And his ability to heal the sick and re-new broken and lost souls was legend. Those who knew him often would say, “Truly he must be a Son of God.” He was executed by crucifixion on the hard wood of the cross on the charge leveled by others of claiming to be a King. These are the facts, and are at the core of the story of who Jesus was. Other stories about Jesus in the Gospels have been embellished by the memory of ancient story tellers; additions and elements that had come through many years of “passed down” oral tradition before the story of Jesus was actually written down.
The broad Easter story that we tell today, the great story of Christ’s victory over death and his resurrection, the defining core of Christian theology was a story eventually written down by the Apostle Paul who authored his first “letter” to the Church in Corinth some years after the date of Jesus’ crucifixion. In truth the detailed story of Jesus’ resurrection was not a part of the early Christian community’s life for the first thirty or so years of its existence. The actual writing down of the oral tradition of Christ’s resurrection was not a fact until the writing of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and the Acts of the Apostles, dated somewhere between 85–100 AD.
Often, this lapse of time between oral tradition and then the writing down of that tradition can make the accounts of the core story somewhat contradictory and confusing. As an exercise someday, read the four Gospels and then Paul’s theology about Christ’s life, death and resurrection! They are not the stories of eyewitnesses who were actually present at Christ’s crucifixion. If we were to rely solely on the literal translation of Holy Scripture as our definitive sources of understanding about the resurrection, we would be a bit mystified because each New Testament account varies somewhat from the others. Given the limited historical background and the conflicting and often mythical qualities associated with story telling and oral tradition, how are we to understand the resurrection of Jesus and our celebration of Easter today?
The oral tradition surrounding the resurrection experience of Easter eventually had a profound effect upon the early Jewish/Christian community. Like the great stories of human intimacy, historical facts become intertwined with the interpretation and embellishment of oral tradition. Those whose lives were changed forever by their personal encounter with Jesus began to tell others their stories of transformation. Jesus was real! People through story telling, embellished as these stories had become, could still say unequivocally, “This man TRULY was the Son of God. And for that truth, the Easter story is the proclamation that Jesus is God’s Son, fully God and fully human. And as such not even death could end the power of his presence in the lives of the faithful.
The timeless story of Jesus, unaffected by the many layers of oral tradition, tell of a ministry and mission dedicated to non-violence, unconditional love and uncompromising forgiveness qualities sought reconciliation between parties at enmity with one another and with God.
The core story of Jesus, his victory over death on the cross and his resurrection is centered in the holy city of Jerusalem. And today for Christians throughout the world it is impossible for us to celebrate the resurrection story of Jesus without coming to terms FINALLY with what is happening in Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
How can there be an Easter when a city sanctified and venerated by Jews, Christians and Muslims continues to experience the hatred and violence that daily destroys the children of Abraham and separates them into warring factions; factions that fight over land, power and ethnic memories fueled by oral and then eventually written histories instead of being religious communities fueled by tolerance and reconciliation with one another and with God; religious communities aggressively seeking a peace that will pass all understanding.
Within this past week, Muslims celebrated Eid Al Mawled Al Nabawi or the birthday of the great prophet, Muhammad. Jews celebrate the Passover and today we celebrate Easter. Each of these great celebrations provides Muslims, Jews and Christians with their unique identity and define the important stories that also amplify their relationship with God; the same God all three share and that has given each their birthright. Yet these three great Abrahamic faiths have failed miserably to be agents of productive negotiation and seekers of a universal peace because they have not been able to be truly respectful and open to each others oral traditions and written stories that describe their individual relationships with God. If they continue to choose not to listen to each other’s stories and histories respectfully and learn how they embrace their similar relationships and differences to the unifying God of all three, the Holy Land, Jerusalem and in truth the entire Middle East will continue to be a battleground where thousands more will die, and where the miracle of the Passover, the resurrection of Jesus and the prophetic teaching of the prophet Mohammed will continue to violently compete for whose story has greater credibility and a higher truth.
It is imperative that reputable leaders of Judaism, Christianity and Islam begin to do what our own American Government, Hamas, the PLO and the Israeli government have been unwilling and unable to do; to seek the common thread of peace and reconciliation that are at the heart of each faith tradition’s story. As the sordid and obscene conflict between Israel and Palestine continues, and as Christians continue to flee the Holy Land and Jerusalem in droves, this Easter must be a time when the brothers and sisters of Abraham say ENOUGH! Together they must now write a new story, unadorned by old oral traditions, prejudices and hegemony. And their new shared story must forcefully say “enough” to our political leaders here in this country, in Israel and in Palestine who have failed to understand the common connection between the holy and life giving stories that define Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and in their failure to understand, have allowed politics to trump the life changing possibilities of inter-faith engagement and action.
It is now time to demand from our country the political will and leadership that is needed to bring Israel and Palestine and their legitimately elected governments to the table to earnestly begin negotiations and reconciliation between all parties. It is now time for Christians who celebrate the resurrection of Jesus to re-claim the core story of his life and live it in ways that will end the horrors of security walls, economic segregation, suicide bombings, and indiscriminate human rights violations that define the sad state of life in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Not to do so is to demean the Easter Story of Christ’s resurrection. Lest we forget, Jesus in the 23rd Chapter of Matthew lamented, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left desolate.”
Easter is a timeless story of the triumph of good over evil, of life over death, of forgiveness over condemnation, of love over hate, of truth over falsehood, of non-violence over violence, of evolution over revolution, of God’s abundance over man’s scarcity, of faith over doubt, of surrender over victory. As Christians we have a responsibility to bring these Easter gifts to a very troubled, cynical and broken world.
Easter is a timeless concept. It cannot be understood by reading the stories of history alone, a history often embellished by myth and biblical literalism. It can only be understood by taking the risk of living into it by Faith. We must now take a great leap of faith and through Christ’s resurrection be willing to encounter the real presence of the living God in our lives. If we are truly living in the new life of the resurrected Jesus then we are an Easter people 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Death has no claim on us, and our lives are fully empowered to heal those whose lives are marginalized by violence, oppression and degradation. It is now time for all of us who believe that Easter can make a difference in the life of the world to walk a new journey of reconciliation, being seekers of peace and players on the world stage empowered by a God who commands us to make a difference by actively working and not just talking about the wholeness of all His people.
In Jesus’ death on the cross, and His victory over death through the Easter resurrection, you and I have been given a new identity. We have become Jesus’ hands, feet, eyes, ears and heart. There is not a minute to waste! For Easter is a day of new beginnings that can only be realized when we walk with Jesus out the front doors of this cathedral and physically work beyond the paralysis of rhetoric to do what Christ actually commanded us to do through the core stories of the Gospels; “love one another as I have loved.”