Sunday, April 22, 2007

Beginning with the Resurrection: Homily for 3 Easter

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” Amen. (Rev. 5:12)

During these great fifty days of Easter we enter deeply into the mystery of the Resurrection, joining the heavenly chorus singing praises to Jesus, the Lamb that was slaughtered. The vision of Revelation, like the encounters of Paul and Peter with the Risen Christ, remind us that the Lamb that was slain is somehow still a living presence and no mere pious memory. In the words of Archbishop Rowan Williams: “The Church is not ‘founded’ by Jesus of Nazareth as an institution to preserve the recollection of his deeds and words; it is the community of those who meet him as risen and the place where all the world may meet him as risen.”[i]

All of Christian faith and life begins and finds its meaning in the encounter with the Risen Christ. We must begin with the Resurrection, for it is Jesus Crucified and Risen who gives us the means to know and accept ourselves, to make some sense of ourselves and of our world, to tell our story in a way that is coherent and hopeful. It is the Risen Christ who is the source of creative transformation that gives us a new self and a new creation, a new birth, a new way of being human.

But be warned: the encounter with the Risen Christ is not all sweetness and light. Jesus does not come to us as a dead friend, a comforting memory, but as a living stranger: unrecognizable, disconcerting, as one who undoes us and remakes us.[ii] The Resurrection blinds us like Paul, renders us uncomprehending like Peter. In other words, the Risen Christ does not come to us on our terms, subject to our control, in order to affirm us as we are. We undergo the experience of encountering the Risen Christ in spite of ourselves, resisting being drawn into the sphere of the Resurrection’s transformative power.

We see something of the form and power of the Resurrection, and our resistance to it, in a compelling scene from the movie, Blood Diamond. Dia Vandy, a ten-year old boy in Sierra Leone, has been kidnapped and pressed into being a child soldier by Revolutionary United Front rebels. After unimaginable brutalization, including torture and addiction to drugs and alcohol, he is brainwashed into become a machine gun-brandishing killer. He becomes complicit in a terrible regime of violence and death.

Dia Vandy has forgotten who he is. For all intents and purposes, his family is dead and he can no longer discern in himself the traces of the identity they had given him; he is unable to see himself as the object of love, as the vulnerable, precious human being that he is. The well of love within him has dried up. What is left is an unfeeling, self-destructive and terrified shadow of his true self.

What he does not know is that his father, Solomon, is still alive and has not forgotten him. Against all odds and at great risk to himself, Solomon refuses to abandon his son to this terrible fate. He searches tirelessly for his son, daring to enter the rebel camp by night to reveal himself to Dia and bring him home.

At first, Dia refuses to recognize his father, so enslaved has he become to the world of violence he now inhabits. He cries out, “Traitor, traitor,” betraying his father to the rebel leaders. Solomon grabs his son and attempts to escape with him. Dia resists, and in the climactic moment of the film, turns a gun on his father. Solomon looks at Dia directly in the eye, and tells him, “You are Dia Vandy, son of Solomon Vandy. You are a good boy. Your mother misses you and is waiting for you. It is time to come home.”

Then, and only then, there is a flash of recognition: Dia is able to see Solomon for who he is; not one come to condemn him, but to forgive him. And even more important, through this experience of forgiveness, Dia is able to begin to truly recognize who he is: he is not the addict, the unfeeling slave he has become, but rather the good boy that he was created to be, loved beyond his wildest imaging.

This is the form taken by the encounter with the Risen Christ: the form of the forgiving victim, betrayed, abandoned, persecuted, who comes to liberate our desire for life and love from its bondage to fear and shame. As we undergo this encounter, this experience of forgiveness and acceptance, we become able to acknowledge the reality of our life and our world as it is; our hearts our broken. But in that breaking of the heart, the possibility of becoming someone more than we thought we were emerges; someone far more true to the image of God in which we were created.

When Dia recognizes Solomon, he bursts into tears. The full weight of what he has become can finally be acknowledged because it can be forgiven. What has been lost can be grieved because something new is coming into being. The bonds are breaking, his heart is expanding, and the desire for relationship so long denied is now bursting forth. His tears are the sign that he is alive again to his own humanity.

That is what it is like to recognize the Risen Christ. The fear of dying and the shame of being alive that bind our hearts, constricting our life and our capacity to love, are seen for the lie that they are. We are not what we have become. We are so much more, and we can see that “more” reflected back to us in the gaze of the forgiving victim.

I believe that it is fear and shame that blind us to the encounter with Jesus Crucified and Risen. We resist this encounter because it will require us to change and grow in ways we can not imagine or control. As Sebastian Moore says, “We fear the unknown. Especially we fear becoming someone we do not yet know. To liberate the desire for this becoming is to come into the perfect love that casts out fear. I have discerned in myself – and have found others in agreement – the curious fact that I dread not needing the things I now think I can’t live without, more than I dread actually losing those things. Any takers? If you agree here, you have an excellent example of our fear of spiritual growth – a fear stronger than the fear of deprivation. Who really wants to feel like Jesus?”[iii]

This is the fear of the child dreading not needing the night-light even more than turning it off. This is the fear of the alcoholic who dreads not needing alcohol even more than not drinking it. It is the fear of the woman who dreads not needing her lover even more than the end of the relationship. It is the fear of the end-stage cancer patient who dreads not needing to live even more than dying. We cling to those things that define our identity, making us feel safe and secure, even as they stifle our growth and prolong our suffering.

This is what makes Dia initially unwilling to recognize his father: having adapted to survive as a child soldier, he is terrified of the transformation necessary to allow him to both acknowledge his past and transcend it. It is rather like the disciples in John’s Gospel, who after the Crucifixion of Jesus, go back to Galilee to take up fishing again. The suffering that real transformation entails is too much for them, so they go back to what they know, settling for who they have been rather than undergo their heart being broken to become someone new.

Of course, Jesus will not leave them alone, any more than Solomon could leave Dia alone. He comes to forgive them and so empower them to become more than what they are willing to settle for. So Jesus questions Peter, “Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?” Are you willing to be transformed by the relationship that I desire to have with you even if it brings you to your own cross? Are you ready to grow into someone far greater than you think you are?

Our encounter with the Risen Christ does not leave us unchanged. It liberates our desire to become who we are truly meant to be: to become Christ. Jesus tells Peter, “If you love me, then feed my sheep. Become the Good Shepard that I am. Become me. You are not who you think you have become, a disloyal coward, trapped in your fishing nets. You are the rock upon which I will build my church.”

Just as Dia was invited to grow up to become like Solomon, so we are invited to grow up into the fullness of Christ, to be united with the mystery in which we are given our true identity. And like Solomon, our mission is to seek out the Dia’s of the world, to hold open for them the possibility of forgiveness and to invite them home. Are you willing to accept this invitation? Are you ready to have your heart broken open? Do you trust the person God is creating you to be enough to grow into that identity?

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” Amen. (Rev. 5:12)

[i] Rowan Williams, Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel, p. 74.

[ii] Paraphrasing Williams, p. 74.

[iii] Sebastian Moore, Jesus the Liberator of Desire, p. 19.

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