Monday, April 6, 2015

Easter: We Laugh Through Our Tears



            The text at Emmanuel Church in Boston for the Gospel reading came from Mark. The minister in the church I go to on Easter, and (unfortunately) hardly ever else, practices what the study of literature calls textual analysis. The four gospels, of which is Mark is the earliest written, are the primary "canon"books in the Christian or 'New' Testament. I think the word canon was invented to describe what the early church did in saying 'these books are our story' (and we're sticking to it) and some other books arent't. I'm told the term 'canon' comes from the Greek κανών, meaning "rule" or "measuring stick." And so these books somehow "measured up."
            Literature studies (where I'm more at home) long ago borrowed the term canon to describe the essential books of a given language's literature tradition. It's not an official list. One scholar's literary canon won't include all the same books as another scholar's.
            But even if, like the Christian church, you have a fixed canon, you can discuss forever how to interpret it, take its meaning, explicate the issues and problems of various texts, argue over why differences exist in the texts -- in the case of the New Testament, for instance, among four accounts of the same event, occasion, or 'story.' Basically, you go on making the story -- making it new; making it live -- from texts that, paradoxically, your religion has established as fixed, forever, and in some sense a truth 'revealed' to humankind by God.  

            When we come to the Easter story, the story of what happened on resurrection morning, we have four 'authorized' versions, each differing in rather significant details Even if there were only one canonical account, we could discuss the meaning of this apparent miracle of resurrection forever. With four, the playing field is stunningly wide.  
           This year, as mentioned, Emmanuel Church picked (and picked on) Mark. It's the shortest by far, as Reverend Pam Werntz told us, of the four accounts: "No fluff." Also the most problematic for any 'easy' understanding of the resurrection. In the other gospel accounts Jesus not only leaves the tomb but appears to the disciples and others in (so to speak) the flesh. Or perhaps appears to appear, if you want to get all metaphysical about it.
            But not in Mark. Nobody sees Jesus after his body is laid in the tomb. The three women who go to the tomb the following morning with oils to prepare the corpse for a proper burial discover a young man dressed in white -- an angel is the usual interpretation -- who tells them that Jesus is not here, but they are to tell the disciples to go to the Galilee region where he will be waiting for them. That's it. End of the Gospel. Here's one translation of the end of Mark's gospel:
"But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing     
            Well, Pam concluded, eventually they must have told someone something. The bigger point, according to the sermon she gave in 2007 is "...it’s important to say on Easter Sunday that resurrection is not resuscitation of a corpse – it is a new kind of life. It’s not the old life back or the old life unnaturally or supernaturally extended. It is some new kind of life where death has no power.  Death has done its worst – it has done its destruction. Death and destruction have no power over resurrected life."
            To repeat, resurrection is a new kind of life. If "death and destruction" have no power over the life you're living -- then fear, force, coercion and suffering can never be the last word. Death be not proud. The death of the body? Yes, coming up, only a matter of time. The death of a resurrected life: won't happen. 
            This isn't a matter of resurrection having the last laugh, but the longest one. The truest one. Pam quotes theologian Jürgen Moltmann: “Easter morning is the Sunrise of the coming of God and the morning of new life and the beginning of the future of the world. The laughter of the universe is God’s delight. It is the universal Easter laughter in heaven and earth.” 
            Pam did not use these same words in her sermon this year, Easter Sunday 2015. Perhaps she was not even making the same point. As noted above, we may start from an authorized canon, but we're the ones who are keeping the story. Both keeping it up and making it up as we go. 
           This year on Easter Sunday Pam spoke of Mark's Gospel as an injunction to find the meaning of the resurrection in going forward: "He is going before you to Galilee," she quoted. She also interpreted the meaning of sacrifice and the suffering of the crucifixion in Jesus' story (and in all human lives) as the need for commitment to ease the suffering of the oppressed and the possibility of redemption through love.
            However you put the question, Rev. Werntz said -- or at least this is what I heard -- "the answer is love." 


[Note: While writing this, the music I listened to included "Searching for Home" from an album called "Living for Eden," "Surrender" from "Peace of Heaven" by Solomon Kael, "Two Souls" by Philip Wesley, "Summer" by Peter Kater, and "Sacred Nature" by Paul Cardall, among many other pieces whose appeal I can't easily characterize, all of which ended up on the same playlist. It's hard to see this as purely coincidence.]