Yesterday’s sermon from Christ Church, New Haven. . .
Acts 10:34-43/Ps 118:14-29/Colossians 3:1-4 /John 20:1-18
March 23, 2008
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is.
In the name of God Almighty: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — Amen.
Waiting and sadness have the capacity to stretch time out unbearably; and it has been a long time in the hearts of disciples since Friday noon. Indeed, it has been a long Lent of self-denial and fasting. It has been a long year since last Easter: a year of ordinary time, as we used to call it, a year of overtime and debts and carpools and mortgages, and a year out in the bustling world can weigh on you, press you down. Cares grind away the exquisite details of the image of God in which we’re created; fretting and busy-ness bleach the sumptuous colors of sunset and blossom out of our lives. Stress, worry, doubt, all the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, these sand us down, wear us out, dull us until we get flatter and flatter and flatter.
World-weary flatness actually works out well in many spheres of our lives. “Flat” can be cozy, comfortable; with a flatter range of options, we face fewer troubling choices. Flat is predictable. You can live with flat.
In care-worn world of labor and toil, flat people fit in better. The flat way of the systems around us, the systems we work with, the systems we depend on, these generally try to smooth out any bumps we might bring with us. The flat world can assign us to market niches, shrink the cubicles we work in. Flat people don’t take up as much space. Flat people line up nicely. They don’t make trouble, don’t tip over unpredictably, don’t unbalance the stack. Flat people deal with the complexities of life in predictable ways, so that flat leaders can more effectively package themselves as attractively two-dimensional heroes. After days, weeks, years of pressure, we ourselves can fall into the habit of recognizing only the flatness of the world. We can get so used to a flat life that we have a hard time remembering that we have more possibilities than two dimensions. Maybe we, like the courtiers in Alice in Wonderland, amount to nothing but a pack of cards. Maybe the weight of responsibility, of seriousness, of gravity wins out.
Life looked pretty flat indeed for Mary Magdalene. Once, she had seen Jesus, had seen the promise of something deeper than an everyday routine. She had looked over the edge of flatness, had glimpsed the dizzying heights of the wisdom to which God lifts us up, she had peered into the endless compassion with which God loves us, she had begun to sense another whole dimension to their lives?—?and she had seen that hope tortured and flattened on a cross, pinned down flat by Roman nails. Death’s fearful finality engenders that bleak flatness: when the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails, because all must go to their eternal home, and the mourners will go about the streets; when the silver cord is snapped, and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it.
So if Mary got a message saying, “Wait — don’t lose heart; the promise you reached out for has not been taken away,” if she heard an angel’s voice saying, “Hope is still alive,” I can see where she might be disoriented. The thrill of hope may be overshadowed with the reluctance to feel those hammer-blows again. Better flat and safe than hopefully to raise your head above the horizon line of flat expeªations, only to be steam-rollered again.
Maybe so. Maybe the flat world is right to shy away from the risk of hope and truth. Maybe we should just keep our secret?—?the secret that you may already know, the secret you may have caught on to weeks or year ago, or maybe just this morning: the secret, the promise, the good news that this church is no flatland, for Christ our Lord is risen today! And since Christ is risen, we set our minds on things that are above, not clinging to flat feet, but allowing our understanding to ascend with him.
Rising with Christ above flat mortality, we nourish your odd lumps and twists. The Scriptures we revere, the litany of the saints, the very walls and windows round us teem with peculiar characters: Eve, Jacob, Moses, Samson, Abigail and David, Huldah the prophetess, Jehu, Ezekiel, Peter, Mary Magdalene, Paul, Agnes?—?peculiar characters all, and none more unusual than their Author, who makes occasional cameo appearances in our story and even writes a peculiar divine role into this tragi-comico-dramatic script.
And here among these rough-hewn characters, here we welcome sisters and brothers with more than two dimensions. Here at Christ Church we have specially designed chairs with attention for a vast array of human hinder parts, so as to be equally uncomfortable to all. Here, we have ascetically austere kneelers to make sure we know we’re on our knees. Flat efficiency and fitting-in aren’t the church’s job; our job, our calling, is to raise to God a song of thanksgiving, to glorify our Author by playing well the complex and unpredictable roles we’ve been assigned, with angels, archangels, the blessed communion of saints, and all the company of heaven as witnesses. We truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation, every shape and color, whoever fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
This is newness of life, not that we start from scratch, eradicating history, annihilating all the work we’ve put into our characters thus far. No, God gives new life as our selves grow into new dimensions of life, new dimensions of truth, that we had hardly even guessed at before. This is new life: that God transforms our characters from the flatness of workaday business to the fullness, the grandeur of Difference by which we speak the glory of the Author whose very identity entails the mystery of differentiated Unity.
So, rise! Even though we improvise our way through this intricate opera of truth, the Spirit prompts us with heavenly cues. We can see how this play goes, we can pick up our best lines by learning well from the characters we love, we can in our own lives fulfill the Scriptures by cobbling together a godly, three-dimensional identity in a communion where the greatest miracle of all is that this inconceivably various congregation comes to life, pops into depth, through our sharing in the depths of God’s life. Flat people may fit in well at an efficient modern system, but in this great church we need all the length and breadth and depth and width that we can muster, even to begin to sing the praise of our unfathomable God.
So if you have been raised with Christ, rise! Our Author doesn’t ask us to be greater than the gifts apportioned to us, but God calls us to be ourselves in all our dimensions, straining forward to what lies ahead, pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Rise, ye racing apostles at the tomb, and heartbroken Mary in the garden! Jesus chose your lumps and oddities to add spice and savor to our omnium-gatherum, our patchwork quilt, our stone soup, our outrageously joyous, harmonious polyphony of faith.
Rise! The God who brought you here this morning applauds you, encourages you, to grow fuller and rounder.
Rise—because we have not been created for flatness. We’re no mere deck of cards: I see more than four kinds of suits out there, and we come in more than four colors, but the whole variegated spectrum from black to brown to copper to gold to pink. We aren’t constrained to thirteen ranks, from low to high; we’re all wild cards, graced with possibilities that rise above the rules of the game, that overrun our own imagination of our lives.
Rise, because as we have been united with Christ, no obstacle can stand between you and heights for which you were created; the seas will part, the dry bones will take on flesh and walk, death will give way to life. In the power of the Spirit of Life, we unfold into our full and abundant life, and no Red Sea better try to stop us.
Rise, because this brilliant Easter morning, even if we are came in here wrung flat by years of care and oppression, God can raise us up as children of Abraham. God has spoken a Word that set us free from flatness, and no one can unspeak it. God has spoken a Word of breadth and length and depth and height, and no one can deny it. God has spoken a word of Life, and from Easter morning through all worlds, no one dies flat, but all are called into life together in the full stature of Christ, ascending with him to glory, from before time to eternity, Easter without end.