Sunday, 24 April 2011

Larger Sermon from Easter Day Service

From the larger Sermon in my Easter Day Service. The Little Sermon was heard first.

A common feature of the appearances, and indeed in the developed tomb tradition in John [20, 11 - 18], is that Jesus is not recognised, that some theological point is made, often around the liturgical symbolism of food, and then Jesus is seen, after which he is gone. Here it was the fulfilment of the restoration of eternity in the Godhead. Once your eyes are opened, once you get it, he's gone, and you carry on looking ahead. Resurrection is not a story of ordinary continuance of one individual.

However, in order to have victory over death' many believers say this is the Jesus of the flesh who is resurrected, indeed he is the first of the resurrected. The world is material and bodily, and he stands at its apex. Instead of a dramatic device, they make it a history.

The stories, however, point more to the community: to its legitimacy, its means of authority, its central rituals: resurrection as a form of reaffirming by visitation; they indicate radical reordering of humanity in the Kingdom, of a once temporary early Church, where communities understood that there had been resurrection appearances and an ascension that said there would be no more of these, but there would be a rapid second coming. As time went on, and nothing dramatic happened, a more backward looking, and in the person of Jesus faith took hold, consistent with the escalation of titles given to the rabbi by early believers.

It is all liturgical first and last. The reason John's Gospel has the crucifixion a day earlier than the synoptic gospels is because it has Jesus going outside the city walls to be killed at the same time, 3 pm in the afternoon, when the Jewish priests in the Temple were killing the lambs for the Passover feast. He becomes the Lamb in a cosmic drama. And the gospels are their own liturgical theologies: John's gospel, the most advanced, has it all as a process of the completion and restoration of creation into the person of Jesus Christ himself. I think those of us of a critical eye have a right to recognise this, that is the clouding of the waters of what we call history.

To be honest, the resurrection is neither here nor there: as Mr. Sedman (who put up our sound system) said to me recently, "It is 2000 years old thinking."

Not much is achieved by getting behind the liturgy into history, if you can do it at all. We should start with our own liturgical communities anyway. Christian liturgical communities do claim continuance with those early communities that turned Jesus into a salvation figure, who focused increasingly on Jesus when Jesus had focused upon the actions of God. Now I don't think we do follow on in that resurrection liturgy. Like most Western people today, we habitually think differently, and after centuries of the Enlightenment and a subsequent technologising of ordinary thought, we have a different sociology of knowledge. Liturgies of atonement and resurrection and ascension are all miracle liturgies, connecting with food and bodies, but we think practically and about this worldly reasons and solutions: we make our culture and we evolve our biologies.

So my starting point is that we - we - are our memories and our biographies, in that, negatively, any damaged brain means the distortion or loss of personality and, with Alzheimers, means the removal of identity after the last memory flash, the final recognition, of who and what we are. Furthermore, death involves the immediate and rapid destruction of the brain: those who today, thinking technologically, arrange to be put in ice at their death in the hope that some future surgery can restore their brains and life simply do not realise the utter rapid destruction of the brain, dependent as it is on our biology.

Of course I don't believe in the resurrection of Jesus in the sense that the person who died had a continuous consciousness and memory restored afterwards in a restored body. The human being who died rotted rapidly, probably in some lime pit and gone forever, never to be identified by anyone and no body or tomb to visit. Though, I would suggest, this sort of speculation is fruitless.

Resurrection implies that the person is restored and restored into a condition of perfection. Now, actually, we don't really know what perfection is, though we might speculate that it involves an inner ethical condition. It must presumably mean personal fulfilment.

Resurrection also implies the restoration of the world - indeed the cosmos - into a condition of perfection, and therefore its fulfilment.

If who we are is so much the sum of our memories and consciousness of memories, how does this relate to the fulfilment of personality, and of the cosmos?

This all needs working out within time. Something like achieving perfection is not some given eternal, but something arrived at, if at all. It has to be in our lives, in our culture.

But time is something that varies out there objectively and is intimately connected with subjective experience. Subjective experiences of time do have objective reality. A person who travels faster will become younger than a person who travels slower; time does slow down for the traveller. Experiments have also shown that time actually does slow down for a person who is scared. It emphasises what is known in quantum physics, that the observer changes the result of external reality.

Time then is highly personal, with losses to the past and the building up of memory, and an orientation to the future to come. And resurrection points to the future. In the Christian myth, the resurrection is a time of beginning, among only a few: it is not, for example, the birth of the Church. It is more the foundations. It looks forward and little happens.

And isn't then resurrection not about measuring time, but a moment of time inverted, where something of a profound moment is every moment, where inverted time is like eternal time? Yes there is then the future to build, and hopefully built on the basis of that eternity in a moment of realised fulfilment, one that is, and yet is yet to be.

So we as individuals, and as a reinterpreting group, are involved in worship that means, in a sense, some reorientation of the self towards asking about any fulfilment of ourselves and the world. We have our own, derived, liturgical outlook.

Here is a problem of our time and thought. Resurrection as a notion defeats the law of entropy - that compulsory physics of all moving towards decay; properly, the dispersal of energy so that it can do no work, and we know that energy and material are bound together. There is to be no restoration, only a long long ending.

How about, then, fulfilment, as being something like that moment of having a good meal, or having a refreshing drink of water? How about joy being a deep, quality of experience, rather than just a surface laugh? It is the difference, is it not, between gift and exchange. Gift is profound and exchange is ordinary if necessary. How about bringing in the notion of God here, something of the depth of things in culture, in communication, in moments, to be realised liturgically?

I maintain that there was no extension of Jesus's holy contract, and no defeat of his biology, and that this is all a red herring anyway: but that here we have acquired, in a tradition, and beyond, thanks to "2000 years old thinking", the means for some profound reflection, about how our individual biographies, and our collective language capabilities, weave stories of meaning and profound moments: interweaving these with what we know about physics and biology when asking questions about fulfilment and perfection and consciousness.

Think of it like this. Perfection isn't about being perfect: it is something to be found within the most damaged of human beings, indeed the humblest of any creature. Consciousness comes in degrees, but we look for something more within that miracle of being, the profundity of being itself, being that becomes Being with a capital B.

Despite everything, despite all suffering, it is the ability to see what is special, what is worthwhile, was and is and will be all wrapped up together. In a world that distorts and trivialises, and practises evils of all kinds, finding that point of fulfilment is its own restoration, for looking back, in the present and for building a future. The present moment, or who and what we are, of our already perfection, becomes an eternal moment, in the affirmative, something that the liturgy at this time of year confirms.

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