Saturday, April 2, 2016

Resurrection as Defiance: Reflections on John 20.19-31 (Easter 2C 3 April 2016)

Resurrection as Defiance
Reflections on John 20.19-31

RCL Easter 2C
3 April 2016

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church

         On Easter Monday I began my day as I often do.  I turn on my iPad and browse the BBC and Guardian on-line news services.  As I scanned the Guardian, the title of an op-ed piece immediately caught my eye:  ‘The resurrection isn’t an argument.  It’s the Christian word for defiance.’  The author of this piece, published in the Guardian on Thursday the 31st of March, is the Rev’d Giles Fraser, a priest of the Church of England.
         Dr Fraser is the priest-in-charge of a small parish in one of London’s poorest neighbourhoods and he is no stranger to controversy.  He was a Canon of Saint Paul’s Cathedral but resigned when the Dean of the Cathedral called the police to remove ‘Occupy London’ protesters from the Cathedral grounds.  In his op-ed piece Dr Fraser wrote these words:  'The resurrection is not an argument, still less a philosophical argument. . . . The resurrection is more an identity than an argument. . . . It is who we are --- our word for how we go on in the face of overwhelming odds.  It’s the Christian term for defiance.'
         Later he describes how his parish opens itself up to the homeless, offering a safe place to sleep and breakfast.  I loved how he summed this up:  'Do I believe in resurrection?  Of course I do.  And I believe in it by frying bacon and refusing to give up.  This Easter rising is not just some fancy intellectual idea, it’s a form of praxis.'
         On Easter morning, almost two thousand years ago, a group of frightened and confused people defied the authorities and gathered together.  Rumours about Jesus of Nazareth were circulating, but all those who were present that morning knew that they were in danger.  Proclaiming that a dead Jewish rabbi, accused of sedition and executed by the Roman authorities with the cooperation of the Jewish leadership, was not a wise thing to do.  So they huddled together and probably were discussing their options when the unexpected happened:  Jesus showed up and the world was never the same again.
         When Jesus breathes on them and empowers them to loose and bind sin, we need to be very clear about two things.  First, in John’s gospel, sin is not a moral but a theological category.  To sin, in John’s gospel, is to fail to recognize what God is doing in the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.  It is a form of blindness to the possibility that God, in Jesus of Nazareth, is doing a new thing, unanticipated by traditional religious teachings.  It is a refusal to acknowledge God’s actions in the teaching and healing ministry that Jesus has undertaken for the past three years.  To loose people’s sins means to proclaim the good news of God in Jesus of Nazareth wherever we are and with whomever we share our lives.  To bind is not to condemn other people; it is to entrust them to God and to continue our own work of proclamation.
         The other thing we need to know is that this ministry of loosening and binding is not limited to those who exercise ordained leadership in the Christian community.  Proclaiming the good news of God is a baptismal ministry.  Every person who has been baptized promises to ‘proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ’. [1]  Each time we witness a baptism we reaffirm this promise.  Each time we recite the Apostles’ Creed we proclaim the faith into which we were baptized.
         In today’s gospel the gathered community of Jesus’ disciples do exactly what Jesus commissioned them to do.  They do not abandoned their ‘bound’ friend, Thomas, but bring him into their midst on this Sunday, one week after their own experience of the risen Christ.  Thomas’ bonds are loosened and he offers the most powerful affirmation of Christ:  ‘My Lord and my God!’ (John 20.28)  According to legend, Thomas leaves Jerusalem behind and travels to the east beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire.  To this day an entire community of Christians who live along the south-western coast of India call themselves ‘Thomas Christians’ after the one who brought the good news to them.
         I like Giles Fraser’s description of belief in the resurrection as defiance.  Christian defiance means doing justice, even when injustice may be more convenient and self-interested.  Christian defiance means loving kindness, even when this may mean going beyond our ‘comfort zones’ to reach out to people whose needs are far greater than our own and who are easily ignored.  Christian defiance means walking humbly with God, even when this may mean sacrificing privileges and aspirations in order to serve God’s purposes.
         I like talking about the resurrection as defiance because I think that we live in a world where decay and death fill our daily news.  Rarely do we hear of the various acts of defiance by good and faithful people throughout the world, such as Muslims who help Christians in those parts of the world where oppression of minorities is widespread.  Resurrection is living a life that affirms words that have become my Easter mantra:  ‘Goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death; victory is ours through Jesus who loved us.’ (Archbishop Desmond Tutu as quoted in Morley, Bread for the Journey)
         Contrary to popular thinking, living the resurrection as defiance is never futile.  It is like water dripping on a stone; it is the stone that shall be shaped by the water, no matter how long it takes.

[1] The Book of Alternative Services (1985), 159.

No comments: