Sunday, April 16, 2017
He's Not Here
It’s a day, and a season, when some of us think about death and resurrection.
The deeper we dig into that mystery, the more we’re likely to conclude that resurrection doesn’t simply undo death. It doesn’t just restore what was there before. The one who’s resurrected isn’t even immediately recognizable by those left behind. They mistake him for the gardener (John 20:15), or for a random stranger on the road (Luke 24:16), or for someone who suggests casting the net on the other side of the boat (John 21:4). He passes through locked doors and suddenly just appears (John 20:19). Yet he’s flesh and blood, with recognizable wounds.
Maybe the stories we tell about Jesus of Nazareth also offer lessons about our relation to spiritual traditions: about clinging to them, about letting go of them, about finding ourselves opened to look in unexpected places for the presence of Life, about walking away from empty tombs.
Sometimes, to see Life when it’s in front of us, new and yet strangely familiar, the religious certainties we were handed as kids are themselves the veil over our eyes that we’ve needed to remove. Some of us have found that Christianity itself, with all its homophobic baggage, has become the empty tomb we’ve needed to walk away from, when we’ve heard the angel say, “He’s not here.”
Some of us have experienced the presence of risen Life in places the Sunday School lessons of our childhood could never have allowed us to predict: in a gay men’s Buddhist sangha; at a faerie Beltane gathering; on a massage table; paradoxically, at the bedside of a dying friend; on a dance floor; at a march on Washington; in the arms of a man who's become a lover before he’s shared his name; at the table of someone you’ve known most of your life; alone on a mountainside at sunset.
Sometimes we have to stop focusing so relentlessly on where we expected to see Life. There it is, in the background behind what we’ve been staring at. Or just a few degrees off to the side. Or in a tradition that isn’t our own, that can speak to us not because it’s more authentic than our own spiritual roots, but because it surprises us, or because we come to it without the stumbling blocks of long and sometimes painful acquaintance. The trick then is to see that what at first glance looks so different from what we’ve lost turns out to be the gracious return of what gave us life from the very beginning. To say, in response to hearts that burn within us, “Oh--it’s You again.”