Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Easter is an altogether different kind of fact.

We’re pushing 5 weeks of Easter now, almost to the end. We’ve gotten through the empty tomb, “side wound Sunday” with Thomas, and eating fish on the beach.  This past Sunday, the raising of Tabitha in Acts for this Sunday and Jesus talking about his sheep hearing his voice.  All kinds of encounter with Jesus trampling down death.  All kinds of truths, all kinds of people trying to figure it out for themselves.

In my vacation week after Easter, I visited the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art, where an exhibition of the artist Walid Raad who, the ICA tells us, “informed by his upbringing in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war (1975–1990), has spent the past 25 years exploring the ways we represent, remember, and make sense of history.”  The exhibit is full of things that are “true” in different ways—in a conventionally factual sense maybe or maybe not, but still true. It also holds a not un-pointed critique of American naiveté, which the Boston Globe’s art critic Sebastian Smee grapples with brilliantly in this review.

In all of my preaching this Holy Week I felt confronted by the wideness of the view of our new stations of the cross, as I wrote here in March. The Raad exhibit asks a similar question. How much are we willing to see? What lives, in the words of writer Judith Butler, in her book Precarious Life, are actually “grievable?” The crucifixion of Jesus only, or also that of the criminals on either side? We can have all kinds of lovely ideas about Jesus and compassion and justice, but if we don’t see those put to death next to him, that’s a pretty thin participation in God’s love.   Any metric of our faith depends more on those criminals and on those in our world now than on Jesus himself.   Too often, we don’t see them, and the American tendency toward tidy narratives and easy answers is literally fatal to those who fall in the cross hairs of our foreign policy.  One of the series of photographs is of shell casings Raad found as a child growing up during the civil war in Lebanon. My kids find Easter eggs; the world that he grew up in is plainly un-imaginable to them. 

In the middle of the Raad exhibit there’s a wall of images where visitors can leave their own categorizations of facts as tending toward one of three categories—emotional, aesthetic, or historical. Easter, it occurred to me, is a different kind of fact altogether.  Factually, the tomb was empty. We can offer explanations about what happened, conjecture about resuscitation or body theft or, even, true resurrection. But the empty tomb is only understood in confrontation with that space of death, at the same time confronting how it becomes a space of life. That transformation, though, doesn’t happen in our heads: the tomb can be empty or not empty, the body stolen by grave robbers or raised by the almighty power of the living God.  The transformation happens in our lives, in our own lives and that of our communities.

I’m not persuaded intellectually that “Christ is raised from the dead and that death no longer has dominion” (Rom 6:9). I have come to believe, day by day and week by week, in what I have experienced and seen of the risen Christ. I don’t believe because I’m afraid of the alternative, of heaven vs hell or joy vs some cartoon of eternal punishment, I believe because I have tasted it and heard it and walked with the truth of the resurrection and I know that that dead don’t always stay dead.   (My sermon about Tabitha is here). It’s not a historical fact or an aesthetic fact or an emotional one. It melts the categories and then knits a scarf out of them.

Just as, or even more powerful than any belief in resurrection, though, is the invitation toward resurrection. I am doing the Mother’s Day Walk for Peace through Dorchester to stand with victims of violence and to go, bodily, in my part of the risen body of Christ to be one with the risen body of Christ of the city.  I am writing Governor Charlie Baker to advocate for full inclusion of transgendered people because the risen body of Christ is a female body and a male body, and a neither, both, between body. All of these encounters with the world are encounters, also of the peculiar kind of truth that Easter is.

So there it is, again—more questions than answers, more labyrinthine steps than journeys  completed. Thanks for reading.