Sunday, April 16, 2017

An Easter Liturgy

I have always loved Easter, above all other holy-days of the year.  It’s a glorious moment in Christianity: Christ the Lord is risen today!  Hallelujah!

The dark clouds of despair have fled away.  The Spring morning breaks, the sky is clear, the sun rises in the East, and in this morning, we embrace New Life as the Christ becomes immensely real to us.  The first Followers of the Way – as Christ’s disciples were first called – declared to each other in greeting: “He is Risen”; and the response: “Risen indeed”.

I love the Easter narratives in Scripture. The gentle intimacy of Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the Risen Christ.  The appearance with the Apostles.  The appearance to the two wayfarers on the road to Damascus.  We celebrate these stories as we embrace the singular idea that "He is Risen".

Risen indeed.  What does that mean?

I believe there is some very important dimensions in the simple interaction, “He is Risen” and “Risen indeed”.

I ask myself a question: What does the idea that Christ rose from the dead mean to me?

For Mormons, we embrace the idea that Jesus physically rose from the dead, with an immortal exalted body, as the first-fruits of all others who will be resurrected physically in the future.  Our scriptures proclaim that body and spirit, inseparably connected, achieve a fullness of joy.  Yet for me, this promise of future physical life after death is so remote, so far off in the future, I struggle with how it changes my life here and now.  If I embrace the connecting principle of Love in the Atonement, does it really matter what kind of “reward” I’ll receive in the future?  I think not.  I hope that we aren’t so “carrot” motivated that we love others because we expect a future award.   Love should be its own reward – Love seeketh not its own.

A second dimension is that because Christ rose from the dead, he lives.  This is very real to me.   I was once in the depths of addiction, mainly because of the guilt I felt.  I could never drink moderately, because I felt that I had already sinned, so I might as well enjoy it. It became an obsession -- i simply could not stop. I went into AA, because frankly, all church repentance processes, including going to bishop after bishop, failed to work. At the point that I 'turned my will and my life over' to a higher power, whom I felt was 'Christ', I had a complete removal of even the desire to drink at all. ever.  In a moment of clarity, I came to know that for me Jesus lives, and is tangibly real.  I did not have to go through a period of "repentance" and proving myself worthy.  At that moment, and so many times thereafter, I came to the deep realization that atonement of Jesus Christ is absolutely real and tangible. I attribute this personal miracle to Christ. While this release from addiction could have been a result of releasing myself from church-imposed guilt, I don't know, nor do I care. The personal, spiritual experience I had from this release was very tangible to me.

But I have to say, that the personal witness of Christ I received had absolutely nothing to do with Christ having a physical body.  In Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, he expresses how Christ physical body died, but rose spiritually. On the Road to Damascus, Paul met the Christ, spiritually.  Many of us have had a spiritual experience with Christ – these witness of a living presence, but do not provide evidence of a physical body, nor is the physical body necessary.

So I’m still at the point that I don’t know what “He is risen” means, as it applies to “the flesh”.

I find an answer as Paul poses an interesting question to the Colossians: “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.”  The term “ye be risen” here is important: “συνηγέρθητε”/synigerthite, is in the aorist passive indicative second person plural tense, meaning that the act of being risen has already happened and applies to all time, present, past, and future.  English doesn’t have this tense, so we cannot fully grasp the significance of the term. We misinterpret the term to apply to the future – when we WILL BE risen; and that is not what Paul meant.  He meant that we have already been risen with Christ.

My thinking pauses for a moment as I contemplate this.  Have I been risen with Christ? Have I had a mighty change of heart? Can I feel so now?   These are the questions that my Mormon self asks, and the answer comes in a still small voice – I have experienced his unconditional, undeserved love!  Christ transformed me from addict, from unworthiness, from self-loathing, to becoming alive and free from such addiction, unworthiness, and self-loathing.  I cannot say that it is a permanent state of mind, but I certainly have tasted of the Love of God, and while I struggle to keep that feeling, Jesus words in the upper room come back to my mind:

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.  And whither I go ye know, and the Way ye know.” (John 14:3-4)

And that Way, is connecting in love, one to another.

On the very first day of this faith journey, I went to an AA shelter, and an old man, barely coherent, looked at me and told me exactly what I needed to know.   The details aren’t important, but a week later, everything he said would happen, happened while I was on a trip – I had received the help I needed from the Lord, and felt unconditional, unmerited Love.  When I returned from the trip, I was told the old man was now in a hospice dying of brain cancer, that he had been completely senile for some time.  In other words, a senile, incoherent ex-alcoholic was god’s messenger to me. Go figure.

A few weeks later, as I was trying to walk this new journey in the Spirit, I had a distinct feeling that Jesus wanted to visit with me that day.  It was cold, a little icy, and I decided to take the back roads rather than the interstate.  As I began to drive to work, the thought came to me again, that Jesus would ride with me, so I cleared the junk off the passenger seat.  I felt a little silly, to be sure.  Then in my mind, I saw Jesus under a bridge, with two arches.  Later, as I turned onto Route 1, driving along, I saw a hitchhiker under a railroad trestle.  I don’t pick up hitchhikers, so I passed him by.

Then, I thought about the two wayfarers on the Road to Damascus.  I turned around – and on Route 1, this is dangerous, and a little stupid. I came back picked up my hitchhiker.  We rode for a while, and I kept trying to engage him in question – seeking to find the Savior’s voice. And, well, nothing.  He just was a hitchhiker trying to get a ride on a cold morning.

Talking to my AA sponsor, later, he asked me, “What’s your problem, one of God’s children needed a ride, and you gave it to him.”

Why is it that we Mormons are so caught up on our eventual great reward in the heavens as resurrected, exalted beings, that we often forget to see how we are to be gods to each other here, now, and in this life.   Jesus said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40).

I confess I do not know if Jesus rose again in HIS flesh, but I have come to confess that Jesus is Risen, Risen Indeed in MY flesh, when I love you, and in YOUR flesh, when you love me.  Inconsistent beings, we are for sure, but in the moment we love, the connecting power of the Atonement becomes infinitely real.

So today, in love, I embrace the Easter Liturgy:

He is Risen!  Risen Indeed!

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