Monday, April 09, 2007

Easter Day - Year C

Recently, a book about atheism has topped the best-seller lists: The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins. In it he comes up with reason after reason why one does not have to believe in God.

In his case, he thinks science has the answers as to how we got here, why we human beings are sometimes so awful and sometimes so wonderful. And those scientific answers, he figures, should be enough, both to satisfy any spiritual desire we might have and to debunk religion entirely.

But as a reviewer of his work notes, Dawkins doesn't understand the impulse to faith at all. Faith comes not from a search for answers of process, but answers of meaning. “How?” is not the most important question to religion; science is very good at answering that one. The most important question to religion is “why?” and science hardly touches on that one.

“Faith in the modern era...comes from...the need to see the world and our place in it as substantive, as meaningful, from the point of view of the universe.” (George Steiner; Walrus review, April '07)

Atheism generally fails to provide answers as to our purpose in the world. Atheists don’t believe in God, but what do they believe in?

If Dawkins really wants to displace religion, he needs to provide the purpose, the rituals, the character formation that faith does. He needs to provide hope for a hurting world, and comfort for anxious souls. Without that, he’s just shouting into the wind.

Where Dawkins has it right is noting religion's failure to always provide answers with depth to them. This has happened with a sometimes superficial teaching of the resurrection. Like Jesus' disciples hearing the women's story of the empty tomb and abandoned grave clothes, it “seems to us an idle tale.” Pie in the sky when we die, as it were.

Too often the resurrection has been a way to deny the value of this life. So sometimes it has been taught this life might as well be rotten, because, after all, there'll be another one after, and that's the only one that really counts. If we expect to have another life and another world, then why make this world any better?

The extreme of that can be seen in Canadian author Miriam Toews work. She grew up in a devout Mennonite community in southern Manitoba, and when her dad became depressed, he had to live that out in what she calls “that freaky, austere place where this world isn't good enough and admission into the next one, the perfect one, means everything, where every word and deed gets you closer to or farther away from eternal life” (Dropped Threads, p. 195).

This was also evident in the Cold War when some people argued, why try to prevent a nuclear war, since that would just bring the end of the world closer, and, presumably, God's new world as well. They had the arrogance to believe they could force God's hand, by abandoning this world that God created and loved. And they would destroy this world, to what end? Pie in the sky, yet again.

We all see it the way some Christians oppose the environmental movement, saying the earth is deposable, something we can destroy then throw away, because, they say, our REAL home is in heaven, as if God had made the earth as a temporary play toy.

But that is not what the resurrection is supposed to mean. Resurrection is a new form of life, a new creation, not a return to Eden, and not leaving this world for a heavenly one. After all, what does it say in Isaiah but that God is about to create new heavens and a new earth (v.17). Resurrection does not mean our heavenly souls are freed from our earthly bodies to begin a spiritual existence – that's greek philosophy, Plato and Aristotle, not biblical faith.

Resurrection is not about returning to that first moment, standing there out of newly made dirt, pure and sinless, to start life again.

But resurrection is when God's spirit comes alive in us in even deeper ways than we can presently imagine. The breath of God stirs within us, so that not even death can hold us down.

Some of you may have seen the movie Groundhog Day. Bill Murray plays a weather forecaster trying to claw his way up to the top, whose only purpose in life is more: money, sex, fun, fame. He is required to go report on Groundhog Day in Puxatawny, Pennsylvania, when he hates everything about it: small town life, creepy little animals, and silly celebrations.

Yet when a blizzard hits, he wakes up the next day, only to find it is...Groundhog Day yet again. And he is forced to live through the same day over and over again. Nothing he does makes any difference. It is always, eternally, groundhog day. After initially freaking out, he decides to take advantage of this seeming eternal life: he eats fatty foods, gets drunk, sleeps with anyone he can, robs a bank to buy whatever he wants.

Yet all of these activities eventually grow empty, and he hates his life. So he tries to kill himself, and after dying a horrific death, he wakes up the next day... to Groundhog Day, yet again. For Bill Murray's character, eternal life is another boring day in Puxatawny.

That is NOT what Resurrection is.

Yet eventually resurrection does begin for this character. He realizes that there is nothing he really loves about life; although he finds some folks amusing or pretty or both, he lacks the capacity to love another. And so he begins to learn to love: to love music, for a start. And maybe to love helping others. And maybe to love another human being, too. Even though everyday there is no opportunity for him to be able to receive love from another, he learns there is value in loving others. When that happens, the curse magically lifts, and he can start the rest of his life.

That's the resurrection, or at least a taste of it: to have God's spirit come alive in us, in ways we cannot fathom, and, eventually, in a way that not even death can hold us down. It is not just to become alive again, but alive in Christ, as Paul puts it in his letter to the Corinthians.

Life after death isn't a bonus, or a reward, or the only life that really counts: life after death is a continuation in bolder and broader strokes of the Spirit of God that breathes within us even now.

Not pie in the sky when we die, but the love of pies, and pie-making, and pie-sharing, that inspires us even now to plant an apple tree, to learn to make a good pie crust, and to drop off a pie for a new neighbour or an old enemy or a grieving friend or the families at the shelter.

That's why the early Christians saw resurrection all around them: in baptism they were raised with Christ. Christ's resurrected body is the bread of Holy Communion. And if you want to see the body of Christ moving and speaking and living, you don't go searching for some first-century tomb; you go to church on Sunday, where people are trying to live out the resurrection the only ways they know how. where the body of Christ is alive. (based on Gail Ramshaw, Treasures Old and New). That's the resurrection.

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed.



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