April 4, 2010
The Rev. Brian C. Taylor
One of the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, a 19th-century British Jesuit, was “The Wreck of the Deutchland.” It includes the verse “Let him Easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us.” Here, the word Easter is not a noun; it is a verb. “Let him Easter in us.”
The earliest Christians understood this. On the one hand, they knew that Easter was a noun, an event, an historical thing that had happened to their friend Jesus. You could paint a picture of it. But much more importantly, they also knew that Easter was happening in them, in the here and now. Easter was a verb. And that’s how they portrayed themselves when they wrote the New Testament.
Bishop N.T. Wright once said that the resurrection stories in the gospels do not say Jesus is raised; therefore we’re going to heaven. They say Jesus is raised; therefore, God’s new creation has begun and we’ve got a job to do.
During his brief 3 years of ministry, Jesus tried to teach his friends about one thing more than anything else: the kingdom of God. Jesus not only talked about it; he showed it to them by how he lived, all the time.
For Jesus, the kingdom of God was an alternate, parallel reality, which anyone can step into at any time. In this reality, the God of love is close at hand, ready to understand and guide, ready to give peace to anyone who turns to him in faith. It is a reality where we are all equal as God’s children, and we treat each other that way; the last become first and the first become last. It is a reality where there is no shame about the past and no fear of the future, for God fills both with love.
Most people think that because everyone doesn’t behave this way, that they cannot live in this way in the world. It’s unrealistic. They relegate it to the paradise of heaven. In the sweet by-and-by, we might live in harmony, peace, and love, but in this world, we slog through the mud with blood, sweat, and tears.
But all along, Jesus said that the kingdom of God begins now, if you want it to, and it extends into the next life. It’s a matter of how we choose to live, how we choose to view things. And he not only talked about it: he showed people what he was talking about; he gave them an experience of it by creating this kind of community around him. He reached from earth into heaven, attempting to tear down the barrier between them.
But Jesus’ disciples still didn’t get it. They said “yes, but…” and held themselves back from the invitation, choosing to trust more in the kingdom of this world than the kingdom of God. In the end they denied, betrayed, and deserted him.
But then the end came, which turned out to be a beginning. That’s when the lid blew off. On Good Friday, Jesus was killed and buried, and was dead for 3 days. He then came back again from the afterlife, crossing the boundary again. But because he crossed it from the other direction, this time he really got their attention.
It finally dawned on them: this is what he’s been talking about! There is no barrier between this world and the next. Paradise is not limited to heaven. The kingdom of God is a hidden dimension of this life, extending into the next. It begins now, if we want it.
He had Eastered in them. They said Jesus is raised; therefore, God’s new creation has begun and we’ve got a job to do. The resurrection turbo-charged the movement. These new citizens of God’s kingdom began to change how they lived, and they began to change the world around them.
They stopped worrying about money and security and status and power, and paid a lot more attention to the God of love, healing, and wonder who they now knew to be so close at hand. They shared freely with those in need, holding on to nothing in this life. They worshiped and partied with clean and unclean, rich and poor, slave and free. They lived without shame or fear, and refused to judge others. And ever since, those who have allowed Christ to Easter in them have done the same.
What might it be like for Christ to Easter in you, and how might you let it happen?
It begins, I believe, with a genuine need to look for the kingdom of God in our midst, for a different perspective. We may be caught up in the kingdom of this world; we may feel trapped by our preoccupation with it; and yet we know there must be more.
Some of you have been deeply affected by the economic recession. There have been real consequences to your sense of security. It has caused you no small amount of anxiety. You have little control over your future, and that is disturbing.
Some others of you, no doubt, are carrying a worry about someone you love. Will they get well, will they figure out how to stop being so self-defeating, will they overcome their avoidance of deep relationships?
For still others, the stress of your work and your lifestyle is just getting to be too much. How can you change the sense that you’re wasting your life on a treadmill?
And all of us, watching the news – the spectacle of immature politics, violent tribalism, and the impenetrable resistance to change – we sometimes despair that this world is beyond hope.
This, we tell ourselves, is the world we live in: insecurity, friends in trouble, life under pressure, and a world that may be on a path of self-destruction. This is reality.
But we also live in another world, at the same time. There is another reality, and it is the kingdom of God. And if we look for it, if we seek, we will find it. Right here. There is no need to wait for heaven. It begins now, if you want it to.
The sun always comes up in the morning and makes the leaves on the bush outside your window sparkle. Your breath goes in and out, and with it, the Spirit of God. You and all of your loved ones are held in the palm of God, no matter what happens. You can always love others for no reason at all, whether or not they deserve it or return it. The world is filled with much more kindness and beauty than it is with ugliness and pain. None of this can be taken away from you.
It is in our power to choose which reality we will live in. It is in our power to let heaven break into earth, even now.
You’ve probably heard the Native American story of the boy talking to his grandfather about two wolves living inside him. One was good, harmless, in harmony with others; the other was angry, fearful, aggressive. The two wolves fought for the soul of the boy. In great consternation, he asked “Which one will win?” His grandfather replied “The one that you feed.”
If we want to live in the kingdom of God, we must feed it. We must place our trust in it, by believing what we believe. We must live as if it is true.
This is what the earliest Christians did after the resurrection. In the risen Christ they glimpsed the power and love of God that cannot be stopped by anything that this world dishes out. But they did more than glimpse it in a transcendent moment of glory that happened to Jesus. They placed their trust in it and began to live as if it were the truest, the most real thing for them, and this changed everything.
Today Christ wants to Easter in you. God’s new creation has begun, and you’ve got a job to do.