What to Make of the Risen Christ

resurrection_htmWhen it comes to speaking of the Resurrection of Christ in this Easter season, we often become preoccupied with the question of whether it “really happened” in the way the gospels describe it.  It is a question which, for me, is ultimately meaningless, because we can never get “inside” the experience of those first women and men who came to believe that Christ, though crucified, was still available and present to them.  Instead of pursuing this question, I would like to invite you to make a space in yourself that is able to acknowledge at least this: that the first followers of Jesus experienced him as somehow continuing to be present and available to them following his death; that they named this experience resurrection; and that out of this experience, they were able to proclaim confidently the existence of a Risen Christ. And, I invite you to also acknowledge that their lives were transformed and redirected in the light of this experience.

If we can hold this sort of space open within ourselves, then we can move to what is, I think, the much more important question: what does this mean for us?

One of the things that confounds us about the resurrection is that, in the dualistic way in which we normally think, life and death occupy entirely different categories. Our dualistic mind insists that either one is alive or one is dead, and our normal experience of life seems to confirm this. When it comes to the Risen Christ, we are talking about a dead man who is somehow still occupying the category of “alive-ness.” Let’s be as clear as possible: Jesus of Nazereth is dead. The man who was born somewhere around the year 3 B.C.E. and who was murdered by crucifixion somewhere around 30 C.E., and who was named Jesus, no longer exists. His life came to an end on that cross. Resurrection is not the same as resuscitation, and when we are speaking of the Risen Christ, we are not saying that the body of Jesus of Nazereth was reanimated, got up out of his grave and resumed his life. What we have when we speak of the Risen Christ is a dead man who is alive. In other words, we have someone who is — at one and the same time — both dead and alive. And our dualistic perspective cannot accommodate that. And so one of the first things that the Risen Christ does for us is short-circuit our dualism.

By blowing our dualistic mind, the proclamation of the resurrection is pushing our hearts out of our small self (the domain of the ego, dominated by dualistic thinking) and into our larger self (that deeper, more spacious place where we encounter God in ourselves and ourselves in God).  For it is only in the center of the larger self that we can live with the paradox of a dead man who is alive. As we contemplate this dead man who is alive, we begin to question the nature of death itself. Our dualistic mind sees in death the ultimate limit beyond which we cannot go. The things that support the identity of the small self — wealth, work, reputation — are all things that death overtakes. Consequently, the small self cannot see death in any way other than as extinction. As the mystery of the Risen Christ short circuits our dualistic mind, however, and drops our heart into the larger self, we can begin to perceive that death is not what the small self thinks it is. We begin to perceive that who we are in God, and who God is in us, transcends this limit we call death. We begin to see that while everything that constitutes the identity of the small self does indeed pass away, there is something deeper in us that remains untouched by this phenonmenon that we call death.

And it is that something deeper — the larger self, the “immortal diamond” as Richard Rohr call it: who we are in God and who God is in us — that the disciples saw shining forth when they beheld the Risen Christ. That larger self in which Jesus’ heart was centered, that place of deep intimacy, communion, and oneness with God that established the peace with which Jesus passed through the crucifixion — that is the self that continued beyond the limit of death, untouched and untouchable by death.

And in the Risen Christ we see also our larger self, our deep identity in God that, like Christ, continues beyond the limit of death, untouched and untouchable by death. This is where the good news of the Risen Christ becomes our good news, as well.

Subverting the Status Quo

crucifixionOne of my favorite stories in the gospels is one in which Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  The disciples give him all the gossip, what other people are saying about him.  Then Jesus asks the more important question:  “But who do YOU say that I am?”   Peter, always seeking to be the “A” student, blurts out, “You are the Messiah, the Christ.”   Jesus affirms that Peter is right.  But Peter has no idea what this means — and, in many ways, the Christian journey for each of us is to wrestle with this question, “Who do I say Jesus is?  What does ‘messiah’ even mean?”

As we enter the Great Triduum — the Great Three Days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter — this question raises itself again for me.  And, this year, I am struck by a particular answer:  Jesus is the One who comes to subvert the status quo, to tell us that what we take to be “normal” is actually a twisting and distortion of God’s dream for humanity.

Jesus does this in a couple of ways.

First, he indicts the culture of his time and the ways in which it victimized and marginalized people whom it defined as “the Other”.   Jesus declares the accepted ways of treating the poor, the diseased, women, and foreigners null and void.  He says that the religious and cultural traditions that say these accepted ways are okay are human traditions, developed to accommodate the discomfort of the privileged and the powerful.  They are not, he says, of God.

Second, he subverts the expectations of people like Peter who are ready to call him Messiah.  Those expectations revolved around a kind of religious and cultural nationalism that focused on the desire to end Roman oppression of the Jewish people.  The messiah was supposed to be a general, a king, someone who would reassert and reestablish the Davidic kingdom.  But this was not what Jesus was about.  He was not interested in a political revolution that would reestablish a national identity, but rather in a revolution of the human heart and spirit that would root people firmly in God’s vision for humanity, one in which there is no room for nationalistic and tribal concerns.

Jesus’ double-subversion of the status quo and traditional expectations is what led him to the cross.  The privileged and powerful voices of empire and tradition could not embrace the vision of which Jesus was the bearer and sign.  They lacked both divine imagination and courage.  And so they resorted to the remedy that the powerful and the privileged always resort to when nothing else is working:  they set out to violently suppress what Jesus represented by killing him.  And, in the process, they convinced the people who were at the center of Jesus’ vision to cooperate in his destruction.  The crowds that cheered Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem would call for his crucifixion just days later.  Authority convinced them to act against their own best interest, and to participate in trying to kill the dream of God.

But God in Christ continued to subvert the status quo, and the expectations of tradition.  In the Resurrection, God declares that the divine dream for humanity cannot be killed off or suppressed.  It will always find a way to confront the privileged and powerful, and to continue to call the human heart and soul into the transformed life of the kingdom of God.  The revolution of the human spirit goes on, even in those moments when it seems least possible — especially in those moments.

As we enter these Great Three Days, let us consider what is our participation in the status quo.  How is God confronting us?  How is God seeking to call us lovingly into a new life?  Will we find the imagination and courage to say “Yes”?

The Practice of Hate

teach-girls-end-world-povertyI have never in my life known a time when hatred has been so acceptable.

I cannot remember a time when politics and hatred have had such a close relationship.

Hate has become acceptable in America, even fashionable.

And Christianity has been co-opted to validate much of that hatred.

I don’t think I’m telling you anything you don’t already know.  Wherever you get your news, there you will find ample testimony to the well-spring of hatred in our society.  There is no shortage of people from politicians to pundits to pastors who will tell you who you should be hating, who you should be blaming for whatever it is you are angry about.  And there is some recent evidence that all of this hate-speak is fomenting an increasing level of violence in our society, directed against those who are the targets of this venom.

No, this isn’t anything you don’t already know.  The question is, What are we going to do about it?

Fr. Gregory Boyle, the well-known Jesuit priest who founded Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles to help people escape gang violence, talks a lot about the importance of kinship.  The development of kinship is, in fact, what he says lies at the heart of Homeboy Industries, the largest and most emulated program of its kind in the nation.  Without kinship, he says, there cannot be peace and there cannot be justice.   Indeed, he says, “If kinship was our goal, we would no longer be promoting justice, we would be celebrating it.”  His insight is simple yet profound:  it is only when we recognize our kinship or intimate connection to others that we can truly become interested in their well-being, including whether or not they are being treated fairly.

It seems to me that when Fr. Boyle talks about kinship, he is talking about what Jesus was talking about when he emphasized the importance of loving our neighbor as ourselves.  Very often, I have understood this teaching to speak of a connection between the way I regard myself and the way I regard others.  But Fr. Boyle adds another dimension to this teaching, which suggests that we are meant to see a kinship between ourselves and others.  It is not a kinship that is only to be extended to our family and friends, to those who love us and who are similar to us.  As Jesus said, everybody does that.  But we are to extend our kinship to the whole human family, to everyone we encounter.   That is the way we become interested and invested in the lives of others, and that is the way we truly develop a genuine desire for their well-being.  It is from this kinship that peace and justice truly flow.

We need to stop listening and giving privilege to those voices around us that seek to pull us away from any sense of kinship with others.  Those of us who are people of faith need to insist that our traditions stop being used to justify these voices that seek to prevent us from developing kinship with one another, for these voices are out of tune with the traditions they seek to co-opt.   We must dedicate ourselves to practices that nurture kinship with one another.   For whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, the reality is that we all live together or we perish together.  Let us begin to say “No” to the voices that would seek to plant hatred in our hearts and souls, and begin to say “Yes” to the divine voice that points us toward the sacred kinship we share with one another.

In the end, I am convinced that this is the only path that will save us from the hatred that swirls in our midst.