Resurrection Chapel National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

When Worlds Collide

Easter marks a change in the world, a visitation, a reaching into this universe from beyond its borders.  It is a visitation that changes the world we know so well.  Some moderns object that the world as we see it in the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus is fundamentally different from the world we know today, and their implication is that if it’s different it must not have relevance to the world we know.  Let’s look at that claim.

On Palm Sunday, Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, we see a quaint celebration, within the context of the world we know so well.  A popular leader joins his people in a celebration that is both a religious and a national holiday.  He is well received, the crowds hang on his every word, and there is a sense of excitement and hope about him.  We’ve been in such crowds, and hoped such hopes.  It is the world we know. 

By Monday his visit has gotten even more interesting - he enters the city once again, and takes the Temple by storm, overturning the tables of dishonest money changers, setting free the overpriced sacrificial lambs and goats, cows and pigeons.  And still he addresses the crowd, which is beginning to divide for him and against him.  That is the world we know. 

By Tuesday Jesus attacks the pretensions of the religious authorities, and even some of his friends begin to wonder if he’s going a bit too far.  It’s the world we know, and things are starting to turn ugly. 

He stays at a friend’s house on Wednesday, returning to the city on Thursday for a final meal with his disciples, one of whom betrays him to the authorities.  It is the world we know.

On Friday he endures humiliation and suffering beyond words, as false witnesses accuse him, and truthful witnesses are pressed to corroborate half truths; politicians, and representatives of the Roman occupation seek the expedient solution - deadly enemies rush the process, and Sunday’s adoring crowd clamors for his blood; in the end he dies at the combined hands of all of them.  Reflections of the world we know.

By Saturday the tomb’s been sealed, the grieving followers are in despair, trying to decide how to get on with their lives, now that their dreams have been blasted.  And that also is part of coping in the world we know so well.

Then beyond all imagining, comes the news of Sunday morning.  Greeted with disbelief, then doubt, skepticism, but finally with awe-struck wonder, this is not the world we know so well!  This is the moment when worlds are in collision, when a hand reaches out from a place where there was not supposed to be a hand, and everything we thought we knew is turned upside down.

This is precisely the point where some modern commentators tell us we need to pull back, to hedge the declaration with disclaimers; for we, after all live in the modern world.  Science has disproved miracles, including this, the most startling and radical miracle of them all.

But here we need to ask a few questions.  Which scientists proved that?  What scientific disciplines did they represent?  What experiments did they conduct to prove the point?  What were the parameters, and what sort of controls did they employ?  Which of their colleagues conducted the same experiments, and replicated their results?

The truth, of course, is that there have never been such experiments, and “science” has never proved that miracles do not take place.  Individuals who subscribe to the philosophy known as materialism have said these things, but their statements are simply declarations of confidence – a kind of faith, if you please - that nothing can happen in the world apart from the limits of their own limited philosophy.

The apostles were far more empirical than that.  They began with the same ordinary view of reality that we hold, knowing that in this world, what you see is what you get.  They had seen some odd things done by Jesus, but most likely assumed that he merely knew some things they did not.  Dead is dead, and as they laid him in the tomb, they sealed their dreams and hopes away with his broken body.  Then came the first day of the new week.  Across the board the gospel writers report the disciples’ disbelief at the first reports.  They assumed the likely explanations: that the authorities had stolen his body, or that the women had gone to the wrong tomb. 

Yet in the hours and days that followed, these very ordinary fishermen, tax collectors, pious women, harlots, merchants and others were forced by the evidence of their eyes and ears to declare that something without precedent had taken place.  Over about a month’s time they became so convinced that the wall between the worlds had been breached that they left their old lives altogether, traveled to the four corners of the world they knew, from Spain to India, from France to Ethiopia, declaring the news of Easter morning, and without exception choosing to die rather than recant.  We rejoice in the strength of their word, and give thanks for their courage in speaking it.

Christ is Risen!

Let the celebration begin!

Howard MacMullen
© April, 2012

No comments:

Post a Comment