By: Rev. Gene Dyszlewski
Easter Sunday is a day of celebration and wonder.
Today we might see the resurrection was a statement of victory or vindication of the life and teaching of Jesus. But clearly to the disciples that first Easter, it was frightening and confusing. In all the Gospels Easter morning has the disciples, Jesus’ followers and friends, incredulous and mystified.
In today’s reading of John’s Gospel, we are told that Mary Magdalene was, not only, the first disciple to discover the empty tomb, but also, the first one to have discovered what had happened. After all, this flies in the face of common sense. While Peter went away trying to wrap his brain around what was beyond his understanding, Mary sat in the garden broken hearted, and wept. Leading me to opine that Christ can best be known through the heart. The first reading we heard this morning is one of Peter’s Easter sermons from some later year. He eventually figured it out. Perhaps Mary clued him in.
There is no question that the Resurrection is counter intuitive. It makes no sense as a stand alone. Borrowing form Peter’s sermon, the resurrection is perhaps best appreciated as moment in a process. And that process makes sense when standing on the inside and trying to understand with your heart.
Jesus was a wisdom teacher. That means his teaching was experiential not didactic; his teaching was perceptive not informational. Jesus taught by example. Jesus lived out his message. He encouraged his disciples to become aware of the world differently. He encouraged his disciples to live in the world… to be in the world, differently. Jesus’ message was full of paradoxical and counterintuitive elements. Jesus’ message conflicts with many of the common sense conclusions we may come to from our everyday experiences. For example, Jesus taught that in spite of what you see around you, love, not greed, love is the greatest power in the universe.
Jesus, as the Christ, was a non-ordinary being. He was genuinely compassionate, wastefully generous and universally affirming of other people. He was an awakened being in whom the disciples saw the face of God…the presence of God. He saw the face of God, the presence of the sacred, in everybody. And, he constantly gave example of this in the way he treated others, especially the sick and oppressed. Jesus was explosively openhearted and he invited everyone to be like him. His being genuine and charismatic in this way built trust in him.
Most of his teaching was by example. Sometimes someone would ask him a question and he would respond, explaining what he was doing. If he wasn’t asked the question, “Why do you and your disciples pick grain on the Sabbath,” we might never have known why. In addition, he never said, “Pay no attention to the holiness code in Leviticus.” However, although he was a devout Jew, he didn’t let religious observance interfere with spirituality. He wasn’t being oppositional; he was being openhearted. Jesus never said he was replacing the law. (Although, it looks like he did.) He said he was fulfilling the law, which I think means if you view life in his openhearted compassionate way, the old rules and restrictions just fall away.
The closest to didactic teaching he got was the sermon on the mount, in which he gave us “the Beatitudes.” He didn’t say, “Be Merciful.” What he said was “Fortunate are those who are merciful.” Again he was inviting us to take the view that Mercy is the way to relate to all people. Mercy is an attitude. Mercy is a way of relating. “Blessed are the innocent, the pure in heart.”
The Gospel writer has these teachings at the core of the sermon on the mount; as if, they supersede the 10 Commandments, which were given on a different mountain. The 10 Commandments are basically the “do-no-harm” rules. Jesus didn’t mentioned them. Why? Well, if you live a life of mercy, innocence, humility and vulnerability, then murder, theft and avarice have no appeal to you. You spontaneously relate differently. You burst into goodness.
Jesus constantly invited his disciples to perceive the world in the same transformed way in which he perceived the world. We generally tend to agree with Jesus that these virtues are valuable. Forgiveness, mercy and generosity are good things but common sense teaches me that these things must be done in moderation. The trouble is common sense is merely the conclusions I come to from my own experience. What is familiar to me is what I think is normal. What if that’s not true?
In fact, it seems that common sense to Jesus was different. He didn’t seem to have these protective restrictions. He freely forgave; he was wastefully generous. So, how do we get there?
How do we view the world with the lens of mercy or innocent vulnerability?
So, just exactly what was it that Jesus said that will allow me to open my heart so I could perceive the sacredness in everybody? The short answer is, “nothing.” There is nothing, no one thing, that Jesus said to get me to make that transition. And, I don’t know what to say either.
However, there is something Jesus gave us to do. If common sense is rooted in experience, then becoming openhearted must be an experience. It’s a “do” not a “think.” Only you can open your heart. Jesus left us an exercise in communality, in mutuality. He gave us a parable, a metaphor we can participate in. That metaphor is the service of Holy Communion. Shortly, we’re going to do the same thing he did with his disciples, only separated by 2,000 years.
Holy Communion is an invitation an opportunity for us to see that there is something of the sacred in every heart. It is the basic sameness that we all are inside that is important. Whatever ways we might be different is irrelevant. We are all invited to God’s table because in God’s eyes we are somehow sufficient as we are. No one is less precious. To take that view…to be in that view as we share the bread and the cup is to perceive the world in a transformed way, the very way Christ saw it. This is a transformative process wherein we become the change that we want to see. The process, the means is the end in the making.
Easter isn’t just about an empty tomb. It is a celebration of the entire life and message of Christ. It is about our transformation…our awakening to seeing the world imbued with the sacred. It is not just knowing but firmly understanding in our heart of hearts that love is the greatest power in the universe. It’s just common sense.