__Still celebrating Resurrection; anticipating Pentecost.__
_Communion in the Round, Easter 6, Sunday, May 1, 2005.
First Congregational United Church of Christ,
an Open and Affirming Congregation, Santa Rosa, California.
The Rev. Robert F. Cramer, Eucharistic Minister._
It’s still the Easter, the resurrection, season. But soon we shall celebrate Pentecost — not just for a day, but for a whole season. For a long season, a very long season. Sometimes we call it Ordinary Time. It’s when we study the words and acts of Jesus.
We still have work to do on resurrection. Resurrection may not mean the whole world waiting for a single day at the end of time, when saints dead and alive will be given eternal life. It may mean something we can feel now, daily or even more often, enriching the now, and the future as we live into that.
As we begin, I’d like to share the first lines of a hymn used by early churches beginning at the end of the first century. These verses are addressed to Jesus Christ as a prayer:
_”O Lord, you change my mouth by your Word
and open my heart by your light.
You make your deathless life inhabit me
and let me speak the fruit of your peace
to convert souls who want to come to you
and lead captives into freedom.”_
The hymn, the tenth in a set of 42 called _Odes of Solomon,_ sounds like Isaiah having his whole being cleansed in an angelic visit. It even sounds a bit like our Christmas carol, “O, come to us, abide in us, our Lord Emanuel.” It speaks of our empowerment to carry on the work of God as Jesus said his disciples should.
Before we fully claim the power of the Spirit, we are urged to acknowledge its presence with, and within, us. Last week my friend Donel, a pastor now in hospice care while still joyously loving life as he’s always known it, shared something from Rabbi Abraham Heschel. For Heschel, as for me, eternal life will be a continuation, not a morphing of ourselves into something different. I share it because a Jewish leader says it so much better than a lot of preachers entangled in discussion of the nature of Christ.
What about our nature, and the Spirit within?
“(Our) greatest problem is not how to continue but how to exalt our existence,” according to Heschel. “The cry for a life beyond the grave is presumptuous, if there is no cry for eternal life prior to our descending to the grave.
“Eternity is not perpetual future but perpetual presence. God has planted in us the seed of eternal life. The world to come is not only a hereafter but also a herenow. . . . Death so understood will not be distorted by the craving for immortality, for this act of giving away is reciprocity on our part for God’s gift of life. For the pious . . . it is a privilege to die.”
I can understand how Donel joyfully affirms the same thing. I have been following Donel’s journal on the Internet and that is giving me fresh insight for my own life. Whatever it is I hope heaven will be, I’d better be living it now. Of course I need help! I believe, with the Man of Nazareth, that the resources for eternity already are in our possession. But we have to claim them. That takes some work, for western intellectuals like myself. So, working I am.
Thinking about life and death, I remember that I have never led a celebration of someone’s life (we used to call that a funeral), nor have I ever been present for someone’s dying, when I have failed to use the Gospel of John.
Amazing how John can be so comforting, in places at least, when to me that evangelist produces statements that fly in the face of the way Jesus speaks and acts in the other gospels. And John manages to contradict himself on the nature of Jesus. But he does assure us that Jesus has a place for us in eternity. And in the common lectionary reading for today, or part of it, John imagines Jesus preparing his disciples for the coming of the Spirit. He tells them they must adjust their sight (insight?) in order to grow into something worth teaching to others.
_”If you love me, you’ll obey my instructions. At my request the Father will provide you with yet another advocate, the authentic spirit, who will be with you forever._
_”The world is unable to accept [this spirit] because it neither perceives nor recognizes it. You recognize it because it dwells in you and will remain in you._
_”I won’t abandon you as orphans; I’ll come to you. In a little while the world won’t see me any longer, but you’ll see me because I’m alive as you will be alive. At that time you will come to know that I’m in my Father and that you’re in me and I’m in you. Those who accept my instructions and obey them — they love me.”_ (John 14:15-21a.)
The more we try to understand all this using English words and western logic, the more confused we become. The language used in the Gospel of John is poetic, spiritual, a summoning of images.
By the second half of the second century, the Gospel of Philip, part of the Nag Hammadi Library, was wrestling with claiming the image of resurrection, or rebirth, or of Christ in us.
_”Truth did not come into the world naked, but it came in types and images. One will not receive truth in any other way. There is a rebirth and an image of rebirth._
_”It is certainly necessary to be born again through the image. Which one? Resurrection. The image must rise again through the image.”_
Philip goes on to suggest that the images of father, son, and holy spirit must be formed, and formed again, if one is to be Christian. Philip even says that if “one receives them in the aromatic unction of the power of the cross,” one could be said not only to be Christian but to be a Christ. I’m sure just about everybody would consider that to be highly heretical — but I think it merits thoughtful reflection. We can certainly come to be like Jesus. Is it possible that in our own resurrection we also are anointed ones? _Are we called to act as if we’re anointed messengers of God today?_
People have fought and died over questions like that. To keep from blowing a fuse, from becoming short-circuited, we shy away from deep implications of what following Jesus Christ in, and into, the kingdom of God might mean.
The question is being discussed anew right now as 1.1 billion Roman Catholics have a new Pope.
In The New York Times yesterday (April 30, 2005), a German writer, Martin Mosebach, noticed how Benedict XVI has already moved into a pattern of observing the majesty and power of the Latin Mass. The Pope is adopting vestments similar to those used by first-century Popes.
And Mosebach wrote, “While John Paul II’s teachings centered on humanity in its God-given dignity, Pope Benedict might turn back to the nature of Jesus.”
Mosebach means “Christ,” not Jesus. Mosebach, and certainly untold numbers of other commentators, clearly see Benedict wanting to make firm belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ normative for Catholics. Both John XXIII and John Paul II gave great weight to “humanity in its God-given dignity,” as Mosebach wrote. Benedict has guarded the purity of doctrine — doctrine developed by the church, much of it obscuring the humanity of the Savior.
For now — for this moment, right now, when the meal is ready and we wait to be fed through images and feelings, not doctrine — let us be grateful for Popes and priests and people who live the life of Jesus, celebrating their own life in him. The saints surround us — saints who though human planted words of life in our mouths, beamed the light of the spirit into our hearts. _¬Come, Spirit, come._ __Amen.__