Easter 4 2019 – Sunday 12th May 2019
What’s it all about? What difference does it make that we celebrate Easter for 50 days? Because it’s not over ‘til Pentecost! Is it just the Church making the party last longer than most people expect? Maybe. But we are trying to learn to live differently, and that takes practice at certain skills we committed to during Lent, like forgiveness and generosity, living boldly. The “oomph” behind our boldness is resurrection—the resurrection is what makes us even think it’s possible to live differently, that there is hope. The Scriptures for today are powerful stories to fund our imaginations as we explore our way along the Easter path.
To engage life skillfully, we need to think differently, and that is why we have 50 days of Easter: to change the way we think. I have read it takes up to three years for people to automatically go along a new route after there has been a change, say in traffic patterns. Immediately after the change we think first of the old way, we perhaps struggle a bit to remember the new way before—happily or unhappily—we set off. But after three years, for most of us, the change is settled, and we forget the old way. Three years—it isn’t automatic.
In the Acts of the Apostles we hear the story of Tabitha or Dorcas being raised by Peter from the dead. Actually, raised by God, using Peter. It is the godly power of Jesus who raised Lazarus from the dead. The story of Resurrection, the reality of it, is passed on to new generations as we hear this morning. Resurrection is a real thing, it is a power, it has ramifications for each of us as followers of Jesus Christ. Perhaps people are being raised from the dead, literally speaking, these days, but I haven’t heard of it. No, what is filling my ears, eyes and heart are the stories of people who have been raised from the grave of addiction, fear, despair, loneliness—all of those near-death experiences, or experiences that make us wish we were dead at any rate. Grave after grave is opened when the saints call out to the despairing, lend a hand, share a story, roll back the sense of impossibility and hopelessness. Stretch out your hand and say “Tabitha (insert name of the suffering person near you), arise.” That hand-held out is the grip of solidarity. Your presence is the pledge of companionship along the road of destiny. The story from Acts burns in my mind. Do I dare to “go there” with others—getting up close and personal with the Tabitha’s of this world? Do I dare disturb the universe? as T. S. Eliot asks, upsetting the perceived normal of winners and losers, vituperative punditry, internecine social media postings, cynicism about the environment or the power of any of us to make a difference? Do I dare say “arise,” “come with me” for new life awaits? Do you dare? Sit with these Scriptures and you may find you have no choice! They will burn in your heart and inspire your imagination.
The Gospel connects our lives and work with a larger purpose. We are part of a flock that is known and protected by a loving shepherd. Not only is he with us in the sheepfold, the place of protection, safety and security. But this good shepherd leads us into new pastures—sometimes taking us along dangerous pathways. But he is always with us. We are not to stay huddled in the sheepfold, but to go out of it, with him, into the world. We go as a people, marching, marching as to Zion. Collectively we can force the powers of darkness to pull back. Together we can witness to the dangers of species extinction—and do something about it! Together we can hear and discern the new ways we should go as a people. When we try to go it alone, the shepherd will chase us down and bring us back to our senses, to our place in the community.
This is not about forced conformity; it is about the exercise of resurrection power. It is given to the Church, but not simply to the hierarchy. It is given to all of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ—and even those who aren’t too sure, as Jesus claims sheep that aren’t of this fold, but still know his voice! The leaders among us need to be careful of inflated self-importance, their own spiritual deafness that blocks out the cries of the marginalized, the poor in favor of harmony and pleasing an adversary.
Listening to the voice of Jesus, listening to each other can crack open the Scriptures. Jesus can give a name to a feeling we carry in ourselves that we don’t have a name for. But when we learn what it is, we can begin to learn about it, share it, discover the grace of it. This is the story of many young gay people. It is the story of people recovering from an addiction. It is the story of people who live as a minority in their society, it is the story of people who have suffered from systemic oppression, like women over the centuries. Whence cometh the idea that things could be different for them, for each of us? It comes from the Lord! It is the resurrection agitating our hearts and brains. Barriers are perceived as permeable. Death has no lasting power to define how we live except to accentuate the sweetness and preciousness of life and as the threshold experience to the promised joy hereafter.
Fifty days of Easter are probably not enough to radicalize us, but seeds can be planted, powerful stories told. Open your ears of Christian people! Open your ears and hear God’s word!