April 29, 2018
Fifth Sunday of Easter
1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8
A couple of weeks ago there was this very nice celebration over at the Newman Center on Monroe of 100 years of campus ministry at OSU. There were all these people in the courtyard, students and alums, laughing and talking, and standing there I looked up and saw a drone, a small one with four propellers, buzzing above us, taking video for the website.
I thought it was pretty cool–and I thought, if we could send a drone back in time and have it hover over the tomb on the morning of the resurrection, on the morning when Jesus really rose from the dead, it would see the same thing: the tops of people’s heads, Mary Magdalene’s, John’s, Peter’s.
None of the gospels describe the resurrection itself–all we have is the empty tomb–and in all the post-resurrection stories Jesus appears only to his friends and followers, and he’s never recognized at first, and when he is, he disappears.
Jesus hasn’t gone away, he “remains,” as John says in the Gospel today, and where he remains isn’t just in his body, his true and resurrected body, but “in us,” where no one can ever see him. “We remain in him” and “he remains inus,” in our hearts, our minds, and in that sense faith can never be seen, only the people who have faith, only the faithful, laughing and talking in the courtyard, here in Corvallis or long ago in Jerusalem.
“The way we know that he remains in us,” the first letter of John says, “is from the Spirit he gave us.”
Again that word, remains, and again, in us, and always in us, and that’s the Good News, and the reason for our faith and the reason for our joy, because it means that the resurrection is happening everywhere and in every moment.
In his remarks at the end of the anniversary mass Father Maximo graciously acknowledged all the people who have gone before at the Newman Center and all who will come after. We’ve only been here ten of those hundred years, he said, 10% of that time, and I was thinking it really goes a lot further back still, billions and billions of years, to the very beginning of things, when the whole universe was created, through Christ and in Christ, all the planets and stars, and how as the great hymn in Colossians puts it, all things “continue in him.” Christ is the motive force of reality itself, far more real and profound than anything we can measure or see or put under a microscope.
The Cosmic Christ. The Quantum Christ.
He is the vine, and everything is the branches.
I was remembering the late Sue Gifford, who was the director of the Newman Center for many years, and how one evening in the old house before they tore it down, our Bible Study was sitting on that mismatched furniture we used to have talking about the Gospel for that Sunday, and looking out into the little kitchen, I saw a mouse pop up on the stovetop. Then another, then another, like soldiers in the trenches. They’d poke their little heads up through the elements on the stove and look around, first left, then right, then quick, pop back down again. All evening, again and again.
Rejoice and be glad, Pope Francis tells us in his latest apostolic exhortation, just out this month, Gaudete et Exsultate. It’s a wonderful document, I think, really wonderful. Rejoice and be glad, Francis says, because what we have here isn’t just history but mystery, and the way we experience this mystery isn’t just in the big things but in the little things, in a kindness to a neighbor, a quiet moment at prayer:
When somebody has an answer for every question, it is a sign that they are not on the right road. They may well be false prophets, who use religion for their own purposes, to promote their own psychological or intellectual theories. God infinitely transcends us; he is full of surprises. We are not the ones to determine when and how we will encounter him; the exact times and places of that encounter are not up to us. Someone who wants everything to be clear and sure presumes to control God’s transcendence.
This is why we rejoice: because the very uncertainties and struggles and lack of clarity in our lives are themselves sure and infallible signs of the presence of God. Life reminds us again and again, as the first letter of John puts it, that “God is greater than our hearts and knows everything,” and that we don’t.
A parishioner I know was accosted by a scientist the other day, at a party. He came up and asked, do you really believe that Jesus rose from the dead? and then challenged her to prove it, empirically, right there in the kitchen, by the clam dip. As of course she couldn’t. No one can, certainly not in a situation like that. All she could do is what we should do, too: she said yes, I believe–she testified–and when that wasn’t enough, as of course it wouldn’t be, this rude and ignorant man just snorted and walked away.
Rejoice and be glad! That the God we believe in is so much greater and more beautiful than the cartoon version so many people seem to have in their heads.
Over Easter weekend I visited a parishioner who is dying—a scientist, too, in fact. He’s in bed now. He can barely lift his head. It’s an effort for him to speak. But when I read the Easter Gospel to him and asked what the Resurrection means to him now, just a few days from his death, this is what he said–haltingly, between breaths:
I’m just amazed by the love of God. I’m just amazed by love.
This would sound pious coming from you or from me, and I couldn’t say it to the man at the party, or wouldn’t have the courage to. But this man is dying, he is on the frontier, and what he says carries weight, and what he says has authority, and it inspires me, and I believe him, and I rejoice and am glad—I am amazed by love.
Rejoice and be glad. This isn’t a metaphor. This isn’t an idea. The resurrection is the realest thing that ever happened–it changed the very nature of reality, or fully revealed it–and it’s bigger than mere metaphor and bigger than mere science but transcends them both entirely. “The proof that God raised Jesus from the dead is not the empty tomb,” Clarence Jordan says, “but the full hearts of his transformed disciples . . . not a rolled away stone, but a carried-away church.” This is real, this is true, and this, the first letter of John says, “is how we shall know that we belong to the truth, and reassure our hearts before him”: by looking inward, at how the Spirit moves within us, and by looking outward, at the beauty and complexity of the world, and none of this can ever be pinned down, and none of this can ever be fully accounted for.
And that’sit. That’s what we believe, and why we believe it. The very distance between what we know and feel and what we can ever put into words is exactly the measure of Christ.