Friday, May 8, 2009

Audacious Promises

Working with the readings for the noon Eucharist today (Acts 13:26-33; John 14:1-6), I’ve been thinking about the promise of resurrection. This is the Easter season, of course; so you’d expect that the readings for today would have to do with new life, new creation, bringing life out of death, that sort of thing. That they do seems almost a little “ho-hum” – this is the end of the fourth week of Easter, after all, so the newness of Christ’s victory over death has worn off a little by now. That’s especially true in this culture. We thrive on “new” and get bored pretty quickly with even the most amazing realities.

But what strikes me about these readings is the audacity of their promise of resurrection, especially given the contexts in which they come. In the reading from Acts, Paul comes before the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia, completely the outsider. He stands up and proceeds to inform the faithful Jews there that their centuries-old covenant with God has been replaced with a new covenant of forgiveness and resurrection – and that it’s been made possible by the fact that their religious leaders in Jerusalem made a mistake of unimaginable scale by condemning the messiah to death. No wonder Paul and Barnabas are run out of town on a rail. But the promise remains – God will raise us from the dead.

Then there’s the reading from John’s Gospel – one many people know well because of the hope and comfort it offers, particularly when read at funerals. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus tells the disciples. “In my Father’s house, there are many dwelling places…. I go [back to heaven] to prepare a place for you, [and] I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” This is quite a promise on its own, but it’s downright astounding given the context. Jesus is at the Last Supper, preparing the disciples for the fact that he’s about to be arrested, tried, tortured, and crucified. He hardly seems in a position to be promising the disciples survival over the next day or so, much less eternal life. The disciples are understandably clueless – “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going. How can we know the way?” And then comes the most audacious claim of all from the leader of a movement that’s on the brink of being snuffed out: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

For us, resurrection is old news, and eternal life may sound like religious happy talk. But it’s actually the most radical claim ever made – that the limits imposed by tradition (even religious tradition) and by the powers of the world are not limits to God. God chooses to do new things in the most unlikely and unbelievable circumstances, precisely to proclaim sovereignty over those circumstances and remind the world who’s in charge. Resurrection may not make the front page for us, but it’s the biggest news there’s ever been – not to mention the best.

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