The Threat of Resurrection

This morning, I would like to begin my sermon with the final words of Julia Esquivel’s poem, Threatened with Resurrection.
Accompany us on this vigil
And you will know what it is to dream!
Then you will know how marvelous it is
To live threatened with resurrection!

As I read these words for the first time a few weeks back, I had to ask what it means to be threatened with resurrection and or why the resurrection is threatening. In today’s reading from the Book of Acts, there is no doubt as Peter and the Apostle’s proclaim the risen Christ throughout the towns and villages of Judea, their message, their discussion of the resurrection is perceived as a threat to the established leaders. In fact, the religious and secular leaders of their day were so threatened by Peter and the Apostles that they had them jailed. And so you have to ask, what was it about the message of the early Christian Church that was so threatening.

Based on early first century historical data, it is certain the relationship between Rome and Jerusalem was tenuous at best. The religious leaders were charged with keeping the masses under control. If control was maintained, Rome would exempt the Jews from having to pay annual homage to the God’s of Caesar. We also know that when there were Jewish uprisings against Rome, the penalty was swift and severe. In 70 a.d. after one such uprising, the entire city of Jerusalem along with most of the temple was leveled by Roman legions.

The destructive and angry power of Rome was a clear and always present danger in the minds of the Jewish leadership, so when Caiphas and Annas decide at Jesus’ trial ” it is better for one innocent man to die rather than many others”, their concern was valid and was for the greater good of the people of Judea.

How surprised they must have been when Jesus’ death was not the end of their problems. Soon after the crucifixion, his followers started declaring Jesus alive again, and began to make treasonous statements about there being a higher authority than Caesar, that Jesus, not Caesar, was the Son of God, and how the peace of Rome was no peace at all compared to the peace of God. If this movement ever took hold, there would be no peace in the streets of Judea, the delicate status quo of Jewish/Roman life would be forever disrupted.

Based on today’s reading, there is little doubt, first century Palestine was “threatened with resurrection” as the apostle’s would not let the hope and power of the good news be lost to the status quo.

I find it interesting, that over 2000 years later, this world is still threatened by the resurrection. If we weren’t, why is it prophetic preaching continues to demonized in this country?

Just last week, the Easter message of the Rev. Dr. Leon, Rector of St. John’s Lafayette Square in Washington DC was publicly criticized for making his Easter message a political play to appease the president. At most, three sentences of a fifteen minute sermon were held up to public scrutiny and critiqued without any mention of the context in which they were spoken. The offending words had to do with Jesus telling Mary Magdelene that she could not hold on to him as we cannot hold onto the past but must allow the resurrection to embrace the possibility of the future. He then noted the days that many of our more conservative brothers and sisters refer to as a better and more moral time in American history, were only better times for a select few as blacks were forced to sit in the back of the bus, gay and lesbian people had to maintain closeted lives and women were either expected to remain at home or work for less pay than their male counter parts.

Dr. Leon’s words spoke the truth, and can be supported by factual historical data, but when used in the context of preaching the resurrection; his words for some reason threatened a certain segment of American society. This isn’t the first time a mainline preacher has been criticized out of context. Several years ago, the esteemed and highly respected Baptist pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright was accused of being ant- American when he quoted the words “God Damned America” from a popular and contemporary rap song. Again, Mr. Wright was maligned and criticized without context by the press and others as an attempt to derail President Obama’s first presidential campaign.

What is it about the resurrection that threatens so many? I believe Dr. Leon may have hit on the crux of the matter. In order to accept the resurrection we have to let go of what we know and often feel safe with, or as Julia Esquivel asks in her poem, to “Accompany us on this vigil And you will know what it is to dream! In today’s Gospel, Thomas refused to accept the testimony of his peers that Jesus, the man he saw dead and knew had been laid in a tomb, was once again alive and kicking. Thomas, we are told, was adamant that he would not believe until his saw the resurrection with his own eyes and was able to see and touch the wounds of the crucifixion.

Thomas’s issues with his fellow Apostle’s are no different than yours or mine. The ability to comprehend life transitioning into death is one thing, but to imagine or accept death transitioning to life is beyond our realm of understanding. Jesus resurrection requires us to delve into our religious imagination in order to begin to comprehend what for most of us is incomprehensible. To believe in the resurrection forces us to move from what we know. . to what is possible. . .from the concrete to the abstract.

I believe where resurrection poses the greatest threat in this community today is in the realm of education. This is not to say we have poor educators, this is not an issue of a lack of foresight and creativity among our school administrators. And I am thankful that our local school boards are not debating the merits of creationism over evolution. What I do see as a growing concern is the over emphasis and the misuse of standardized testing.

As a parent of two grown daughters, who came to Syracuse from outside New York State, I was never more frustrated than I was most parent’s nights. All I heard discussed by my children’s teachers was how my daughters were being prepared for Regents Exams. As a parent from outside the system, the Regents Exams were meaningless to me, what I was more concerned about was how my children were being encouraged to think. That discussion was not on any parent night agenda and the question was rarely welcomed when asked.

Since the “No Child Left Behind” became law under the Bush administration, our public education system is not doing a better job of educating our children. Instead, this law is creating hostile work environments for our educators whose jobs are now dependent on the artificial measures of testing. In a recent open letter of resignation, a West Hill Social Studies Teacher announced his retirement after twenty-seven years of teaching, because he felt he could no longer teach with the creativity and integrity being an educator requires. If the former Superintendent of West Genesee Schools, Dr. Rubies felt the days reserved for Regents exams was a waste of educational time, I wonder how he would feel about the twelve days reserved for testing in the month of April for primary grade students.

Standardized testing does not take into consideration the issues of poverty, or inconsistent attendance as is the case for many inner-city school children. Standardized testing does not measure the ability to analyze data, or the ability to think creatively. What standardized testing does is teach our youth how to answer a question correctly.

If you want to maintain the status quo, control the information that is taught in our schools, stifle the creative thought process and you will succeed.

It appears, just like in the days following the resurrection itself, our leaders’ maybe just as threatened by the resurrection as the leaders of old were. Because, in order to live the resurrection we must be willing to believe beyond the possible to view the world from the unlimited perspective of the Divine and never be willing to accept a status quo that allows for injustice.

I would like to end my homily with the final thoughts from Heidi Neumark’s book Breathing Space, it is her memoir of working in the Bronx during the 80’ and 90”s.

I began with the Bronx mother who raced to get a basin of water to scrub her murdered son’s blood off the street and held off the traffic until she was finished. I needed to stand vigil too, to grieve, and remember. But grief is not the end. The people I mourn and celebrate and love will not allow me to live as though have not lived. They will not let us return to business as usual. They will not let us give up – “They have threatened us with Resurrection.” Julia Esquivel ends her poem with an invitation, as I too would like to end:
Accompany us on this vigil
And you will know what it is to dream!
Then you will know how marvelous it is
To live threatened with resurrection!

How marvelous it is. How good that we are here, how marvelous indeed.

How wonderful it is to live with the resurrection and be able to see what is possible just beyond the possible.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Dorothy Pierce says:

    Way to go, Craig! Your sermon has hit home so very well! Love your words –

    Dorothy

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