First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Dr. Jane Florence
April 1, 2018 – Easter Sunday
Scripture: John 16: 16-22
Sermon: “Mystical Body of Christ”
It is recognized in European and Western countries, but no one agrees on the origin. There are speculations that it goes back as far as the 14th century. A commemoration is shared across continents and centuries and no one understands what it’s all about. You know that I’m not talking about Easter, right? It’s April Fool’s Day. Perhaps that’s the real joke, making fun on April 1 of all the Fools who know not that they are the joke.
Now it is not often that April’s Fool’s day falls on Easter, but maybe it is appropriate, after all early Christians were thought to be foolish by some. The Apostle Paul recognized that a dead “savior” sounds pretty foolish indeed. Jesus couldn’t even save himself; how’s he supposed to save us? The early church had to address the question. Paul writes to the church in Corinth: 1Corinthians 1:18 “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who don’t get it, but to us who are believers, it is the power of God.”
It took hundreds of years for the church to write doctrines and creeds to try and make following Jesus more logical. Only they muddied the waters the harder they tried, and the more dogma they insisted was truth.
Our scripture we just heard is from Jesus last night with his disciples as told in the Gospel of John. Written about sixty years after the crucifixion, and without the technology of selfies, Instagram or iPhone videos, it reflects six decades of rumors and legends wrestling with the Jesus event trying to make sense out of it all. John is blatantly honest: Jesus says, “Now you see me, but soon you won’t, then you will.”
The disciples respond, “What does he mean? We don’t know what he’s talking about?” That’s the most honest statement disciples ever made. We don’t know what he’s talking about? The most honest statement we can make is, “we don’t get it.”
Jesus continued speaking to his disciples in a familiar image, one we heard at Christmas. You are like a woman giving birth, he says. I wonder how his male disciples felt about that metaphor? Perhaps his female disciples nodded their heads, but I’m guessing Peter, James and Johnny shook theirs in great confusion. Jesus tells them, “Right now, as I prepare to leave you, you will feel the pain. You will weep and mourn as a woman does in labor. But when her child is born, when they put a human being birthed from her body in her arms, all the pain is overwhelmed by joy.” The disciples are told they will be midwives that will make visible the Kingdom of God’s dream on earth. This Jesus event is birthing a whole new level of intimacy between the human and the divine. So it was. Our scriptures contain a variety of stories where the disciples encounter Jesus following his crucifixion. As Jesus predicted, a new level of intimacy crosses human boundaries and sorrow is overwhelmed in joy.
The Apostle Paul tells the first Easter story, but there is no body of Jesus at all in his story. No sunrise visit to an empty tomb, no angels or weeping women, no stone rolled away. Those accounts came several more decades later. Paul simply said, “Jesus was raised and has appeared to many.” Paul said he “saw” the Lord, but all he saw was a blinding light. That Christ Light made Paul a different man. His pain and anger was transformed into joy. The gospels report, several more decades later, that Jesus continued to be experienced after his death, and he is experienced in a radically new way in each one.
Mary Magdalene knows Jesus well. She anointed his feet with costly perfume six days earlier. She knows the arch of his shoulders; the shape of his hands; the way his eyes crinkle up at the corners. Yet, when she goes to the place where they laid his body, she finds it gone and has a conversation with a man in the garden. It is not until he calls her name, “Mary” that she turns and cries out in recognition “Rabboni!” Her grief was transformed into joy.
Later that evening, he appears to the disciples who have locked themselves behind doors fearing for their lives and suddenly Jesus is in the room with them having materialized behind locked doors breathing peace into their fear.
Then a week later, he appears again. Again the house is all locked up , and Jesus is suddenly with them. Walking through walls yet he has a body with wounds on hands to show Thomas and his doubt was turned to assurance.
Luke’s gospel tells of two disciples leaving Jerusalem heartbroken after Jesus is crucified. They meet a stranger while walking down the road. They tell him all-out their teacher and friend, Jesus and what happened to them. He shares wisdom of scripture. They spent at least half a day with this man even had him stay for supper. When he broke bread, they realized it was Jesus and he vanishes. Their confusion was turned to understanding.
The resurrection stories in the scriptures are a foolish mystery to our enlightened minds. Jesus appears to people after his death in a variety of forms. Sometimes he has body, but a different kind of body, one not bound by gravity or map or clock. Cynthia Bourgeault suggests that Jesus appears in form as was necessary to meet his disciples where they were. She writes the “Wisdom Walk with Jesus is a recognition drama.” It is about the eyes of our heart learning to see Jesus, and learning that the ‘walls between realms are paper thin, permeable by love.” (133)
Living with an open heart, a loving heart reaching across realms, is not easy.
I went to Ireland in 2014 for a three-month sabbatical. While I was there, I spent time in sacred places and I spent time in ordinary places. I spent a few weeks at pottery studios- one of them was ordinary. One was sacred. Geoffrey’s website said “objects carry energy. I make pots to carry healing energy. I aim to broaden your consciousness and change your perception.” I wanted to learn more. I practiced my pottery skills that week and I walked around some stones and he did some hocus pocus, hippy-dippy woo-woo stuff- as some may call it. That afternoon, I drove to Wicklow mountains. While walking the mountains, I gently touched the lake’s water and I knew I was touching the water of creation which also filled the cells of my body. I asked the trees permission to touch their rough bark and I knew their skin shared the elements of my own. I rounded a curve on the road and there was a vista of green fields and blue ocean and mountains and my breath caught at the sight of the beauty and tears filled my eyes. “Is this what it means to live with your heart open?” I wondered. We are on a wisdom walk learning to recognize the Christ Divine all about us.
Two months after I got back from Ireland, I traveled with our mission team to Jamaica. We held lapfuls of small children living at an orphanage. We talked to young girls in ‘school’ after we crossed behind razor wire fences which kept them in. We visited the ‘infirmary’ where the elderly lay in vast rows of beds in an open-air buildings without walls. I walked out of the big room past the vat of sheets soaking in a galvanized tub.
To my right were the cruise ship docks. To my left were shacks built of sheet metal patched with corrugated cardboard. Behind me were rows of withering brown bodies singing about Jesus. Blue Caribbean waters stretched out before me. “How can one live with heart open with all this suffering and inequity in the world?” I wondered. Our lives are wisdom walks learning to recognize the Christ Divine in each place – the beautiful and the sorrowful.
That is the Jesus story we seldom hear. Not the story that the third and fourth century priests came up with to make following Jesus more logical. Not Jesus crucified and risen to pay for your sins – or appease a blood-thirsty God, but Jesus, the Word made flesh to hold as one all the suffering and the pains it takes to birth our consciousness into awareness and us to new life. The World made Flesh to embody all that suffering and transform it in a love that permeates the whole universe with holy presence. The Word Made Flesh to bring suffering and joy so close together that one swallows the other and the entire cosmos becomes saturated with the only element remaining: Pure Love.
This Divine Transformed Love can walk through locked doors and open closed hearts, can conquer doubts and ease grief-filled torment. This Divine Love can end racism and poverty. This Divine Love can let the oppressed go free and let all of us who are blind see it again.
This Divine Love can lead students to march for a chance to go to school and simply live. These young people are willing to fight against the most powerful lobby in this country – as foolish as that sounds.
We see the Resurrection, the resurrection of human decency, care and compassion through their actions and in every resistance to injustice where hope is born through suffering. This Divine Love holds all together as one body you and me, your best friend and worst enemy, strangers and lovers, young and old, past, present, and future; lakes, rivers, trees; bodies, minds, spirits.
In those sacred moments when we can recognize the Body of Christ meeting us where we are and opening our hearts to Love Lavishly, we, holy fools, become the Mystical Body of Christ alive this day to birth God’s Dream of Love.
Christ is Alive, Alleluia. Amen.