I know that this is an even stranger Easter than last year, with the pandemic still simmering, the racism that killed George Floyd continually surfacing and a cruel cruel war is going on. It doesn’t feel like the usual Easter festivity is called for.. But it really is called for, more than ever, because our hope lies in the way Christ draws us forward, not toward the end of the world but toward a creative issue for the world. And here we all are this weekend we all together in this expression of hope with Easter, Passover and Ramadan coinciding.
Let us pray with Pierre Teilhard de Chardin this Easter Day--
Lord Jesus, you who are as gentle as the human heart, as fiery as the forces of nature, as intimate as life itself, you in whom I can melt away and with whom I must have mastery and freedom: I love you just as I love this world which has captivated my heart; --and it is you whom we sense and seek throughout the magic immensities of the cosmos.
It will seem like an odd one to you, but I have a question for you this Easter Day of 2022. What does the Resurrection mean to the Andromeda Galaxy? You do know the Andromeda Galaxy, right? At approximately 2.5 billion light years distance away from us, the Andromeda Galaxy is the nearest next galaxy to ours, the Milky Way. Andromeda has a trillion stars, compared with our 250 billion. It’s big enough, 200,000 light years across, that it can actually be seen with the naked eye, in the vicinity of Cassiopeia’s chair.
Marveling at this beautiful neighbor, I ask, do you ever wonder if “anybody” is over there to celebrate the miracle of Christ’s resurrection? Could the Resurrection of Christ possibly be a cosmic event in which Earth participates? Is the God of all Creation revealed in the same way in different planets or galaxies? Does carbon lack an element that God fulfills? Is forgiveness a “word” in the language of radio waves? Is reconciliation perhaps the universe at work in its usual way? Or is this our own private Resurrection for our benefit alone?
The answers to the above questions are Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, and to the last question, No. No, this isn’t our private personal miracle, and Yes, the Resurrection of Jesus belongs to the universe. It is one instant in a cosmic event called God’s creation. It’s important for us not to make too little of this cataclysmic story that changed human history. You know, the story as we have it in the gospels, like the one from John this morning, is pretty simple, it comes without any embellishment or interpretation. It sticks entirely to the immediate facts of the event, including the order in which they arrived, Mary Magdalen first, who was very likely a disciple, naming one male disciple but not the other. The earliest Christians who put their story on paper only conveyed the barest facts–the strange discovery of a stone rolled away from Jesus’ tomb which brings other disciples running, at first suspecting thievery, but only beginning to grasp that he was raised in fulfillment of the scriptures. Nothing else. They were witnesses to a monumental surprise that revealed the elemental fact of life—life won’t die.
We might die, in one sense of that word, but we don’t at all. Paul gave the experience its most emotional expression—o grave where is thy victory, or death where is thy sting? But really, what the first followers of Jesus felt on that first Easter and what we feel today, is felt throughout creation, felt at the cellular level and in every galaxy of the universe. God is not a presence only in human lives, God is ingredient in the dynamic reality that is the creation. Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit priest and paleontologist who wrote at the turn of the last century, wrote, “All existence is the base of something hidden, and this Something is the figure of Someone who is hidden.”
The resurrection of Jesus is God’s sign to us that creation is as explosive as ever, and always will be. “Life” is more alive than we imagine. The human body, the planet Earth, the points of light in the sky are not machines or parts of one great machine. If anything, the universe is God’s body, with a volatile capacity for change and development and growth. Christian faith itself has continuously expanded over the centuries—hopefully it’s expanding right here as I speak.
Nor are we religiously alone—Jesus gave us a vocabulary for the same experience that Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Balinese, Taoists and others have their own words for.
Annie Dillard, who studied Teilhard and later in life converted to Catholicism, captures the sacramentality of the universe here:
Every day is a god, and holiness holds forth in time, I worship each god, I praise each day splintered down, splintered down and wrapped in time like a husk, a husk of many colors spreading, at dawn fast over the mountains split. I wake in a god. I wake in arms holding my quilt, holding me as best they can inside my quilt. Someone is kissing me already. I wake, I cry “Oh,” I rise from the pillow. Why should I open my eyes? I open my eyes. The god lifts from the water. His head fills the bay. He is Puget Sound, the Pacific; his breast rises from pastures; his fingers are firs: islands slide wet down his shoulders. Islands slip blue from his shoulders and glide over the water, the empty, lighted water like a stage. Today’s god rises, his long eyes flecked in clouds. He flings his arms, spreading colors; he arches, cupping sky in his belly; he vaults, vaulting and spreading, holding all and spread on me like skin.
Annie Dillard with her earthy doxology springs almost straight from St. Francis and Teilhard. It’s important not to make too little of the resurrection, I repeat. We think it’s only about us. But we are solipsistic by nature, our vision is submarine. What we really fear is our own death, and we seek assurances that we will be saved and go to heaven. So we take this story straight to the ego.
The spirituality of many Christians has them thinking about heaven, trying to get to heaven, wanting to be saved from our earthly sins and made perfect before God at the last judgment. The life of many Christians is one of constant yearning and striving, seeking God beyond the clouds, which will upon our deaths part and reveal him. This is a case of people trying to go up the down escalator [from Richard Rohr]. Whereas in the meantime God is on the down escalator seeking us in the midst of our personal imperfections, in the midst of a cruel war we can barely stand to contemplate, in the midst of worrying whether such a thing could ever happen to us.
Yes, “Life” is more alive than we imagine. But individual lives are not indestructible. The Resurrection of Christ is not a story with a happy ending. Because, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection are not two events but a single one. It was reported as two separate events in the gospel narrative—that’s just the way stories work–first the awful death, then burial, then the disappearance of his body. The intent is not some silver lining in the cloud, nor is it that there is a lesson in every challenge. Here is a deep secret hidden in plain sight.
It seems like the sci-fi movies get it, and the world of poetry gets it, metaphysicians and theologians get it, teenagers get it, and people in love get it. If you’ve been in therapy or counseling, you probably get it. If you have felt hopeless and depressed, you probably get it. If you are a victim of abuse and buried in the tomb of your memories, you probably get it.
But . . .does the church really get it? Tragedy contains the seed of triumph–the triumph has its birth in and within the tragedy. That’s how creation expands— “the story of the universe is a story of majesty and beauty as well as of violence and disruption, a drama filled with both elegance and ruin” [Thomas Berry]—we are part of that. Jesus Christ is our name for the expansion of the universe.
But Christians ask, isn’t our Jesus unique—isn’t he the only Christ, the only way, the only truth, the only light? Isn’t that why it was so important for us to go and drive Muslims out of Jerusalem, and to convert the indigenous peoples at sword and gunpoint? Well yes, the Resurrection of Jesus was uniquely typical—it flashed the truth of life before our eyes and vanished again. Except it’s not even over. Although we celebrate Holy Week once a year, the passion and resurrection is continuous.
Don’t let your Easter be too small. Christ’s resurrection makes us rich beyond compare, and the right response to this knowledge is to share the wealth. With the Resurrection story we have been given a gem of immeasurable value, in Christ we have our own Fort Knox. The hope of the world is to bring this treasure where people have lost hope.
Easter comes with definite ethical imperatives. What would Teilhard de Chardin say about the climate crisis? Will there be a resurrection for the planet Earth? Even as people everywhere now grasp for a new relation to nature and write a new earth-ethic, Teilhard already gave us one, a theological one. He would tell us that the renewal of the Earth is going on right now, in the midst of its very advanced degradation. He would say these are the growing pains that accompany all expansion. Parts of us, parts of creation are always breaking down, but creation moves continuously toward healing, recovery and regeneration. He would say, we are expanding toward the fulness of Christ, and scripture has always been telling us that. You may not find the comfort you wish for in this, but it is hope that is actionable.
Be that as it may, we are scheduled to collide with the Andromeda Galaxy in 4 billion years from now (Wiki). Now, that’s when some real healing and reconciliation will be necessary! In the meantime, we have some Resurrection work of our own to do at home, at work, and in Congress.
Don’t let your Easter be too small. Christ is risen, and Christ is coming again!