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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Having the Gall to Hope: An Easter Reflection

So, broadly speaking, 2016 really sucked, 2017 was a constant struggle, and (updated one year later) 2018 is looking to be just as rough. Tragedy seems (accurately or inaccurately) to be on the increase and the world's politics are (with a few exceptions) trending authoritarian in remarkably troubling ways. Add to that the ongoing social and religious tensions in my own, western, corner of the globe and everything stacked up for a remarkably powerful lent.

Since lent is the season where Christians engage in reflection, and repentance, the fact that my attention was already on the many broken parts of the world, made it far easier than normal for me to reflect on my own role in the world and to take a serious look at how I could be living a life which contributed more to the good goal I believe Jesus has for this world, and less to the ultimately destructive destination we seem so hell bent on dashing towards as a species. That isn't to suggest that people haven't been suffering or that there haven't been tragedies and injustices for millennia—I know that there have been—it is just that they were far harder to ignore this year.

So, yeah, lent worked for me this year.

And that meant that Easter—the resurrection—caught me almost entirely off guard in the best possible way.

Today we celebrate the utter victory of God over death, over injustice, over the broken and destructive systems of the world. For Christians, this weekend marks the celebration of the time God, having entered into the full experience of Humanity, allowed all the the power systems of the world to fall squarely on himself and then he defeated them without using a single one of those tools. Jesus has already rejected the opportunity to use religious or political power to fix things. He rejected violence, he rejected nationalism. And then he allowed all of those powers to sentence him to death. He let them bring the full weight of their force and scorn (what Greg Boyd refers to as power over) and they killed him.

They achieved their ultimate end.

What more is there to do to your enemy once you have alienated him from his friends, tortured and broken his body, and killed him. Jesus didn't just die, he died and outcast, abandoned by his closest friends, deemed a heretic and blasphemer by the religious leaders, designated treasonous by both the political empire and the rebellion against the empire. He was the scapegoat that both factions used to ease the tension between themselves for a time. In dying, Jesus exposed all of these systems for what they were. He unmasked them as the price for his death. They could not bring their full force to bear on the god-man without showing themselves in their full brokenness. So they were exposed, and he died.

Which is why there is a good bit of despair built into Good Friday. The forces, powers, and systems of the world had killed the man who identified as Love and as Truth, and in doing so they had shown themselves to be evil. And that seemed to leave us without Love, without Truth, and without the ability to pretend that the powers which took them from us are anything but perverse. God and Humanity died that day. Our powers, the systems we built, killed the best of us. So if our best could lead to nothing but death for the best among us, what could there be for us but death?

And then, on Easter morning, dawn broke, and Love, Hope, and Faith—the Truth, the very Logic of being inextricably, incomprehensibly bound up with humanity, Life himself—came storming out of grave. And death, empire, nationalism, religion, oppression, injustice was defeated. What is there but defeat when your enemy can unmake your very best without recourse to anything of yours?

And it is too good to believe. In fact it is galling.

This cornerstone of Christian faith is that Jesus defeated the greatest power structures of the world without using a single one of them. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had said that there was a better way to be human, and on this weekend, he proved that this new way—this way of Love, of Peace, of Meekness, of Humility, of Suffering, and of Joy—is ultimately triumphant.

So today we were in church singing Up from the Grave He Arose
Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior, waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord! 
Up from the grave he arose; with a mighty triumph o'er his foes; he arose a victor from the dark domain, and he lives forever, with his saints to reign. He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose! 
Vainly they watch his bed, Jesus my Savior, vainly they seal the dead, Jesus my Lord! 
Death cannot keep its prey, Jesus my Savior; he tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord!  
a pretty darned traditional Easter hymn, and I was struck by the nerve. Here Turkey is in the middle of a referendum to turn itself into a dictatorship, the country which bills itself as the defender of freedom and human rights just dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in human history, petty tyrants and dictators are killing their own people in horrific ways and testing nuclear technology; Chechnya has started up concentration camps for gay men, more than 3/4 of a billion people don't have access to clean water, and the list goes on and on... death is still throwing its weight around, power, destruction, tribalism, and hate are still running strong. And Christians around the world today are declaring our belief that these forces cannot win in the end, that resurrection—not death—marks the next chapter in the human story. That takes some serious nerve.

At the risk of stealing a book title from our recent president, we have audacious hope. Not just hope that the story of humanity will somehow end well, but that it can end well at all. Easter is our feast day for celebrating the victory of God's way of being over our own violent, tribal, hierarchical solutions. Today we have the unmitigated gall to declare the suffering, love, peacemaking, faithfulness, and seemingly irrational hope, are not in vain but must ultimately win.

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