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The Easter Gauntlet

by Rev. M. Gayle MacDonald
(note: the Moderator referred to is Bill Phipps) A friend of mine recently “threw down the Easter gauntlet”. “What I want to know,” she said” “is: ‘Did the resurrection really happen’?” I didn’t have a great deal to say and so I let others do the two-step around questions about what “resurrection” might really mean. “That’s not good enough?” she said. “As a person sitting in the pews, I want to know what I can expect when I die. I want to know about resurrection.” Well, I couldn’t get my thoughts out then--they were just sort of swirling around trying to grasp her need and answer the questions. Often on Easter morning, I have been content to read the stories and let the stories do the preaching for me. But sometimes it isn’t enough. As the stories are examined and scutinized under the light of science and historical and literary scholarship, they become harder and harder to comprehend. Sometimes it seems as though the rug is being pulled out from under Christians sitting in the pews. This is particularly so in our denomination because a recent interview with our Moderator has brought our questions out of the closet and into the light. And now people want them answered. All I can say in the confusion that reigns is that our answer is not found in test-tube science or text-book analyses, but in faith. I cannot speak for the entire United Church, nor can any one person do so. I cannot speak for you, nor you for me. But I can speak for myself and hope that what I say provides some food for thought which will help you on your journey. I can tell you what I know or don’t know and what that might mean. First of all I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That’s not an “I know” statement, but an “I believe” statement. While that seems to say a lot--it really says very little. Some denominations of the Christian faith believe in bodily resurrection. To my knowledge, we have never been taught that in the United Church and many Chrisitian denominations follow us on this. Because of this, we cannot speak for or against those who believe it. I believe that resurrection is a possibility because too much in my life experience and the experience of those with whom I speak tells me that while our physical bodies die, something in us goes on. I believe that the disciples, who were a grieving and defeated group of people, found something which breathed new life into them and the following of Jesus of Nazareth was resurrected in a manner which made it the foremost religion in Western Civilization for 2000 years--something it could not be if it was based on false promises and false ideas. I also know, from my reading, that resurrection is not a concept unique to Christianity. In the Jewish tradition of Jesus day the Pharisees believed in resurrection; the Saducees did not. That was one of their main points of contention. There was something akin to a belief in resurrection in ancient Egyptian cults and in Zorastorism. To this day, the Moselm religion of Islam believes in a Judgement Day in which there will be a bodily resurrection of the righteous. Some of our Christian brothers and sisters believe in this manner of resurrection--not individually, but all together on a judgement day. I, personally, believe judgement to be individual and, so, therefore, is my belief in resurrection. After these few notions, I have to admit we are into mystery--the unknown, the unexplainable. If I was to tell you that I knew for certain that we were resurrected, that I knew what that meant in terms of our bodies and our souls--I would not be being honest. I cannot know what I have not experienced. For me it remains a matter of chosing to believe what many faiths believe and testify to. For me, bodily resurrection doesn’t matter, that is a detail I leave up to God for whom all things are possible. What matters is that life goes one in one form or another and that God, the Creator, is at the centre of our lives in all its forms and manifestations. For me, what matters as a Christian is not “the resurrection” per se, because resurrection is not unique to Christianity--what matters to me is the love and faith that goes on and on and on--the love and faith in Jesus who is our Christ--the love and faith that could not be destroyed by a cross or burial in a tomb. Jesus lives. I know that. I cannot make you know that. I cannot teach it to you or argue it with you--but by the same token you cannot make me unknow it and you cannot present an argument which can change my mind--because my mind is made up through love and faith and through experience. Yet I would not have come to that experience had I not chosen to open my heart and my mind to its possibility. After my brother’s death, when he was 23 and I was 20, I went into a bit of a slump. I didn’t see any point in struggling to do the good thing, the right thing, if our lives could just be snatched away in an instant. I spent a few years unsuccessfully trying atheism--but it didn’t sit well. So I tried being agnostic--believing in God, but not having any fixed address (so to speak) where I could see and understand what God was about. Then one day, after a dream, I opened the tomb of a disappointed and disillusioned heart just a crack to allow the possibility of God as revealed in Christ. Well, this dull heart began, bit by bit to be filled with life, began to see, began to understand the reality of a life that was full and alive and had meaning that reached far beyond our physical bodies, but which, for now is lived out in a world we can touch and feel. For the light that was opening my heart to really shine, I had to, to use the words of an old hymn, “put oil in my lamp”. To grow the light that was opening the door to my personal tomb. I had to practice the faith that was handed to me as a gift for life. Resurrection--I have no doubt about it. Can I answer all your questions on how, in what form, when and in what way? No I can’t. Each of you must come to those answers for yourself--because to answer the question of resurrection for yourself is to come face to face with your own life and death, to learn about your own capacity for love and faith--and that is a journey you make on your own--though as you make it, you may find that you do not journey alone. Easter is the crux, the crossroad, the crucial point in our Christian faith -- but not because it answers once and for all our nitty, gritty questions about just exactly what resurrection is like in a tactile world--in the world we can touch and feel. Easter is the crux of our faith because it speaks the word “resurrection” very loudly, and in a way that cannot be ignored-- and that word, “resurrection”, asks us a crucial question--and that question is: “In the face of Easter morning, at the door to the tomb, what will you chose as your final reality--death or resurrection?”

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