Posts Tagged ‘resurrection’

Somewhere in the middle of lunch, as a part of some conversation about who knows what, my mother-in-law announced that she never dresses up for Easter. I asked her why not.

When she grew up as a child, her family were not Christians. They never were. All they knew was that her brother shouldn’t play ball in the front yard on Sunday mornings. This was a part of the same social mores that kept stores closed and moved families inside on Sundays. So her brother moved to the back yard to toss his ball against the wall. But that was the extent of their knowledge about all things Christian.

It was only later, after marriage and invitation to actually explore the Christian faith, that she discovered some the basics of the Christian story and practice. One day she was reading the New Testament for the first time and she discovered something absolutely shocking. Jesus, it seems, was raised from dead. Surely she somehow misread it.  She immediately called a friend and asked if she was understanding the story correctly. Yes, the friend said, she was.

So that is what Easter is about? Resurrection? For her whole life she thought Easter was a time in Spring when everyone bought new dresses and hats and showed them off. She had no other frame of reference. From the outside that’s the only conclusion she drew as she observed the cyclical wardrobe changes of the Easter fashion show.

“And so,” she said without a hint of condescension, “I never dress up for Easter. I wear exactly what I would wear any other Sunday. Because I don’t want to send a message that might be misunderstood, that it’s about the clothes.”

I wonder what other messages we unintentionally send. When do our prevailing culture values and practices become indistinguishable from the real message of the faith? Are we merely reflectors of the culture around us? How, we might ask, are Christians identifiable within the predominant culture of which they are a part?

Do we dress up in the values and accouterments of our culture to such an extent that hardly anyone could know what Jesus has to do with it?

 

As we explored the resurrection appearance texts taken from the Gospel of John this Easter morning I noted how John’s stories reveal 1st century competing narratives, leaders and traditions – all vying for preeminence. What tradition and which leaders should be viewed as authoritative? For John, a tension existed between Peter of the Jerusalem community, the “beloved disciple” of the Damascus community, and the Mary Magdalene community. He didn’t even touch on Paul’s missionary churches and his Gospel re-fitted for the Gentiles. All of these movements – and many more – existed simultaneously in an incredibly diverse tapestry of Jesus followers.

Following this earliest generation, the diversity continued. There never existed anything like a homogeneous church. There were always movements of Jesus people. This continued until empire eventually established uniformity in creed, Bible and leaders and defined what was and was not orthodox. Then non-dominant groups came to be labeled as heretical and persecuted with abandon.

That simple knowledge of the first generation of Jesus people corrects a false impression that we in the 21st century are the only ones who have ever waded through incredible theological diversity, competing Christian claims and multiple movements. That is not true. It has been that way from the beginning. In our own time and place – in a context of religious freedom, mass communication, wide cultural immigration – the American ethos is incredibly religiously diverse. But not unique.

Of special interest to one of my friends in attendance was the influence of Mary Magdalene, her leadership and community that was systematically suppressed. She was part of the inner circle of Jesus, the first to witness the resurrection, and the one who would share the Gospel first-person authority:

“Mary Magdalene gives me extra enthusiasm and inspiration. Thank you for reminding me of her important role. It’s all very mind boggling but exciting and hopeful!”

Happy Easter. May you find in the empty tomb not emptiness at all. May you find the presence of something absent, a mystery haunting the world, the spirit of life that prowls the cosmos and the hearts of those who dare receive it.