It's a New Life | April 4, 2021 Easter Sunday Message by Rev. Dr. Blake
(Editor's note - This week's written reflection may also be watched as a recorded version delivered from the sanctuary of Fellowship Church - below)
It's a New Life
O Mary, you know as only a mother’s heart knows, that something is wrong with your baby, now grown. Some wound you now experience in longing for this child of your womb – a wound that cannot be healed, a void that cannot be filled, an abyss that cannot be traversed. Memories and anguish pervade your mind. The soul is plunged into despair. The baby cries now become anguished as the man-child confronts Jerusalem. Trees he loved so much filled his and your world with oxygen, life, breath. Now one stripped of life lends its strength to death. The joy his baby steps produced in your soul! The same feet with so many miles travelled among dusty paths, fields, barren places are now to be nailed to a tree where so much pain will be exacted. His head where so many questions were born and imagination took flight shall be pierced mockingly by a crown of thorns.
During your pregnancy, you magnified the Creator of your life and the life of your child. You spoke of the child assisting the God of Life, the Lord, The Eternal, in bringing down nullifying oppressive leaders and uplifting the poor. No, you did not know that premature death of your son would be the price. How could you know? How could any mother know, or believe that such torturous pain would convulse such a pure body and soul?
O Mary, O Mary, our hearts are with you, your pain is our pain. I share with you the words of Howard Thurman:
For a Time of Sorrow
I share with you the agony of your grief, The anguish of your heart finds echo in my own. I know I cannot enter all you feel Nor bear with you the burden of your pain;
I can but offer what my love does give: The strength of caring, The warmth of one who seeks to understand The silent storm-swept barrenness of so great a loss.
This I do in quiet ways, That on your lonely path You may not walk alone.
And yes, Mary, something’s wrong in Jerusalem.
And, something is wrong with much of the interpretation of what happened on that cross that Friday. We used to sing in our Baptist Church with great reverence: “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins; and sinners, plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains.” The inference is that the blood is somehow good. That it washes away our guilt and filth. No, the blood does not redeem. It sanctions the oppressive system and those who control it. What are the stains – race, sex, gender, religion, nationality, levels of ability-disability, poverty? The blood does not redeem. It is a result of death dealing policies and decisions of the powerful against the outsider. It is execution. It is the death penalty for going against the state, for not rendering unto Caesar what does not belong to Caesar. Certainly, it is not the will of God.
Let’s think of Mary and of God, the Father, according to Jesus’ understanding. What loving parents would cause, support, or will the death of their child in order to redeem someone years later? No, the crucifixion must be seen for what it was, the imposition of the death penalty on Jesus for his encroachment on their power, for his challenging the legitimacy of the Roman Empire. In their desperation to hold on to their power and control they committed the ultimate sin and crime.
We must not romanticize what happened. What occurred was cruel! No, the blood of the Crusades did not redeem. The blood of war after war did not and does not redeem. The blood of the growing list of those killed by gun violence from private individuals or policing authorities has not redeemed and will not redeem.
Jesus was killed not to redeem but as a consequence of his living, living that threatened the continuation of the imperial system and its internalization by those crushed under its weight. When Jesus was questioned by John disciples about his credentials, he responded: “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear and the dead are raised.”
These are mighty works, indeed; yet the Empire could handle those. What the Empire could not handle that had to be squashed was what such actions portended for its continued domination. The internalization of being a nobody was washed away. The eyes of the blind were opened so that they could see, see all around them, about them, understanding the oppression that had stunted their development as embodiments of the living and constantly creating God. The deaf could hear what Dr. Thurman called “the sound of the genuine.” Lepers were no longer outcasts from their communities, having always to warn others of their approach as the “unclean.” The lame walked together into freedom, that great camp meeting they never imagined, no longer weary. In other words, the disinherited would no longer be contained or remain disinherited, caged. The conditions that defined them as outsiders and “less than” no longer had any power over them. Fear, that great hound of hell, no longer controlled who they were, what they envisioned becoming. They could now develop a blueprint for getting there. When they saw Jesus, they saw a free, liberated person and exclaimed: Hosannah, He speaks with authority. There was something true, authentic, inspiring about him resulting in their coming alive, living abundantly, sensing that they were indeed somebody.
This new consciousness that Jesus instilled in them was the problem. And, authorities had to stop this growing consciousness, this more abundant, self-confident, transformed, energized living before it became contagious and lethal to its reign.
God did not put Jesus on the cross. That was not God’s intention or plan. Jesus’ crucifixion was not something ordained from birth. All along the way, he had to choose when, where, and how he would stand in his truth. He made the decision to go south to Jerusalem and warned his disciples what would happen there, his death and resurrection. Those decisions and choices led to the cross of Calvary. What he overcame and transmuted was fear of death as the end of his life. He refused to relinquish the moral center of his life, the inner sanctuary of his soul, the trysting place with the Eternal. He had mastered fear. He could not give into the demands of Rome without sacrificing, abandoning, desecrating his loyalty to God. He just could not do that. He just couldn’t! He was driven to do the will of God, the liberating, uplifting, transformative, good news. He had yielded his spirit to the spirit of God, his will to the will of God. He was now with and in God. This was the place of his trust, his security. He was in God and God was in him. Nothing, absolutely nothing would break or even weaken this love divine, all excelling.
Easter, the day Christians dedicate to the resurrection of Jesus, falls this year on the same day as the final day of the Jewish Passover, a celebration of emancipation and liberation from slavery. Today, April 4 is also a day to pause to remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was assassinated, crucified, April 4, 1968. His state sanctioned execution occurred exactly one year after he delivered his great speech: "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” In that speech he indicted his own country, the United States, as the biggest purveyor of violence in the world. Did the blood shed by the 58,220 US military personnel, the 1,100,000 Vietnamese soldiers and 2,000,000 civilians on both sides redeem anyone? “Surely this madness must cease. It must stop now” King implored. He too developed a new heightened, inspired consciousness in the people of the necessity and possibility of Beloved Community becoming real.
But, the madness continues around the world and at home in Boulder, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Rochester, Ferguson, Parkland, Louisville, and so many other cities. Where is the redemption?
Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas states in Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God: “The cross they erected to destroy Jesus epitomizes human opposition to all that God stands for as one who gives life. As such, it symbolizes the depth of human sin, and thus the height of human evil.” She quotes Dr. Delores Williams as saying in Sisters in the Wilderness, “The cross represents historical evil trying to defeat good.”
Dr. Douglas writes regarding the resurrection:
“The resurrection is God’s definitive victory over crucifying powers of evil. Ironically, the power that attempts to destroy Jesus on the cross is actually itself destroyed by the cross. The cross represents the power that denigrates human bodies, destroys life, and preys on the most vulnerable in society. As the cross is defeated, so too is that power. The impressive factor is how it is defeated. It is defeated by a life-giving rather than a life-negating force. God’s power . . . is not a power that diminishes the life of another so that others might live. God’s power respects the integrity of all human bodies and the sanctity of all life. This is a resurrecting power. Therefore, God’s power never expresses itself through the humiliation or denigration of another. It does not triumph over life. It conquers death by resurrecting life. The force of God is a death-negating, life-affirming force.”
This is why the disciples needed the resurrection, to be affirmed anew. They had cowered beneath the threat of a violent end to their own lives. While Jesus was being led to Pontius Pilate, they fled to hiding places. While Jesus carried the old rugged cross, they carried themselves out of sight. After the dastardly deed had been completed, they were ashamed of themselves. How could they have denied the one who had brought them from ignorance into the ways of the spirit and presence God. Although they had struggled with some of the things he had said, they did not struggle with the fact that there was a presence about him, that they had been changed, given a new paradigm for living. Who they were becoming could not be contained in old structures and ways of being. New wine needed new wineskins. A new future for them needed new human beings, alternate lifestyles and communities.
Sometimes students (disciples) can become so mesmerized by a teacher or what is being taught that they can’t fully come into themselves. They often with good reason prefer to just keep reading, listening, hearing, absorbing, shaking their heads in amazement at the profound thoughts pouring forth that they neglect taking responsibility of their own lives, their own talents and obligations, their own purpose for living, for their own incarnation as progeny of God. Often their own growth does not occur until after the final bell has rung and they are in a sense thrown into carving their own paths. The crucifixion was the ringing of the last bell for the disciples, Jesus’ students.
The resurrection created a new future for them. They realized that while the physical body of Jesus was no more, the embodied body of his teaching resurrected their souls and lives. They could proclaim that he arose in their living, that he lived still, speaking and instructing them, challenging and giving them wisdom for the facing of the new hour, the new day, the new era proclaiming the time of the Lord favor as now.
Jesus was killed on the cross of calvary. But, God was not!
Jesus, as extraordinary an exemplar of God as he was, was not God. He was an incredible messenger of God, but not God. God was that grounding, that reality that gave him the fortitude to be true to himself, his anointing, his commitment.
The immanence or presence, the indwelling of God in Jesus had to become immanent, present in the disciples so that they were no longer merely Jesus’ disciples, but they were also Peter, James, John, Mary, themselves the creative, and unique embodiments of God.
Martin Buber shared that before he died Rabbi Zusya said: "In the coming world, they will not ask me: 'Why were you not Moses?' They will ask me: 'Why were you not Zusya?”
Nikos Kazantzakis wrote: True teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create their own.”
O Mary, indeed, something is wrong in Jerusalem, your son and others are crucified. Something is right in Jerusalem also. A new spirit is coming to the students, the people. One that shall not perish but have everlasting life, a spirit and consciousness defying fear and death, a new consciousness that will animate generations to come to carry forth the work of your beloved even unto the ends or the conclusion of time. Amen.
As you move more trustingly into the mystery of creation, of God, of the All-Pervading Presence, may that always deepening and ever evolving resurrection be with you, among you and in the world through you. Amen.