Last revised: April 18, 2019
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EASTER DAY — YEAR C
RCL: Isa. 65:17-25 or Acts 10:34-43; 1 Cor 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12
RoCa: Acts 10:34, 37-43; Col 3:1-4 or 1 Cor 5:6-8; John 20:1-9
Reflections and Questions
1.In 2010 our parish was preparing for a summer trip to Guatemala, and the sermon was titled “Daring to Hope.”
1. James Alison, Raising Abel, pp. 100-105, 128. The two featured passages in Alison’s treatment of universality are this story of Cornelius and Rev. 7, where he says for example:
Well, what Peter is saying when he affirms that God has revealed to him not to call anyone profane or impure is that the heavenly counter-history, the subversion from within of the story of this world, has an indispensable grammatical rule: that no discrimination against any sort of repugnant person can resist the crucible of learning not to call them profane or impure. The story of heaven is the story of how we learn not to call anyone profane or impure, so that a story is created in which there are, in fact, no impure or profane people, where not even disgusting people consider themselves disgusting, but rather where we have learnt to disbelieve, and to help them to disbelieve, in their own repugnancy.
This links to a discussion of the scapegoating mechanism in that our linguistic construction of insiders and outsiders support the making of victims. So, says Alison:
what I wanted to suggest is that Jesus’ resurrection is at the same time the revelation of that lie: the victim is innocent, and is hated without cause. That is to say, the mechanism which founds social order stands exposed, and for this reason it begins to become impossible to believe in the real blameworthiness of the victim.
The only problem is that one reaction to this can be complete secularization, which hasn’t worked very well in our time. Alison suggests the possibility of building a new nonviolent sacred order without victims. This is done by beginning with God’s victim, the Lamb of God:
this is the great secret of catholicity: while every local culture tends to build its frontiers by means of victims, it is only if we begin from the forgiving victim that we can build a culture which has no frontiers, because we no longer have to build any order, security, or identity over against some excluded person, but the excluded one himself gives the identity by allowing us to share in the gratuity of his self-giving.
2. James Alison, The Joy of Being Wrong, p. 218; the chapter entitled “Hope and Concupiscence.” Alison shows how the Resurrection breaks down many former dualities. Chief among them is the social duality such as that between Jew and Gentile. Acts 10 is an example of the gradual process: Peter has to be pushed by God into entering Cornelius’ house and then has an “Aha!” moment. One theme for preaching might be that the Resurrection provides a new basis for human sociality that does not depend on having a common enemy, that does not pit some against others.
3. James Alison, On Being Liked, the Introduction makes ample use of this passage, pages vii-xi; and then again on pages 101-102.
4. This passage begins the fifth of five sermons in Acts given by Peter. They all have quite different contexts and overall themes. But embedded within the themes of all five is the common theme of, ‘Humankind killed the Messiah; God raised him to life.’ Here we find it in verse 10:39-40: “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear. . . .” (For all five verses in Acts ringing out this common theme, see section 4 of the former introductory page for this website.)
Reflections and Questions
1. A central tenet of Mimetic Theory is to propose Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World: the powers of sin and death deeply embedded within our cultures — and at the heart of our cultures, religion. As St. Paul came to see, religion/law was infected at its foundation with sacred violence. This passage is one where Peter is led to see the divisiveness at the heart of culture. His own Jewish culture/religion leads him to see Gentiles as unclean and as outside God’s family. The nightmare of unkosher foods and the call to encounter Cornelius begins to give him the insight into the sacred violence. Baptism is the sacramental sign that God’s new culture, established with the resurrection, anticipates that our sinful cultural boundaries are beginning to be redeemed and transformed. Two thousand years later that process is still underway — with a long ways to go.
2. The sermon in 2016 attempts to situate our progress within that excruciatingly slow process of the redemption of our cultures. The centerpiece of the sermon is the story of a Down Syndrome young man being accepted among children of his age. I view the transformation of the place of differently-abled persons within our society to be a sign of the Easter redemption of our cultures. There are other transformations underway with regards to the oppression of women, people of color, and LGBTQ persons; but there’s still a long ways to go in that regard, too.
The sermon doesn’t even touch on what is the most important: the place of people living in poverty. (Gandhi: “Poverty is the worst form of violence.”) My view is that we’ve made almost no progress in this regard. Increased charitable support of people in poverty might seem like progress. But I’ve come to view it as bordering on, if not crossing into, a sacrificial substitution for a real systemic solution that redeems our culture’s economic worshipping of scarcity as an ordering principle. Only a systemic transformation of our economics with lead us to true progress in healing the violence of poverty. See Paul Dumouchel‘s books (The Ambivalence of Scarcity and The Barren Sacrifice) for more on the sacred violence of Indifference, as propped up through the ideologies of Individualism and an Economics of Scarcity.
3. So the 2016 sermon itself, “An Easter Miracle Story,” tells the wonderful story of Philip, “One Egg Was Empty,” by Harry Pritchett, Jr., from The Lutheran magazine (April, 1983), pp. 10-11. It is a story not just of one isolated miracle of a boy being “set free from the tomb of his differentness,” but the wider miracle of a whole class of people being set free. Philip is unlikely to have been accepted by a group of children in previous generations and cultures, because he was likely to have been immediately institutionalized, ‘quarantined’ in some fashion, or even killed (left to die). Philip’s miracle was allowed to happen by the even bigger miracle of a cultural transformation that nurtures differently-abled persons instead of abandoning them.
Background for this sermon, alluded to at the end, is still being in the midst of a similar transformation underway for LGBTQ persons. Culturally, we are still divided on what it means for our society to nurture and support them for who they are, as opposed to abandoning them to their ‘sin’ or some form of tolerance (including a begrudging tolerance disguised as ‘welcome’).
1 Cor 15:19-26
1. James Alison, Raising Abel; a reference to vs. 28 on p.191. (Frankly, I’m not sure why this lection stops short of its climax with “so that God may be all in all.”) This sort of interpenetration of God’s loving desire with all Creation in Jesus Christ might be related to all the imagery in the NT of the marriage feast — which is the imagery with which Alison climaxes his discussion of eschatology.
2. Alison’s works, in general, all proceeding from the resurrection, illustrate the theme of not only this text but this joyous day. I share with you excerpts from one of his key chapters, chapter 4 of The Joy of Being Wrong, entitled “The Resurrection and Original Sin.” The first section of this chapter (and first excerpt) is the title section of the book, “The Joy of Being Wrong.” The second section (and excerpt) is “The Johannine Witness,” one of Alison’s brilliant explications of John 9. (Another rendering of his John 9 interpretation appears in an essay in the 1997 volume of Contagion, which will also be part of his forthcoming book Faith Beyond Resentment.)
3. Another key moment in The Joy of Being Wrong, centered on the resurrection, are the second and third sections of chapter three, entitled “The Resurrection” and “The Intelligence of the Victim” (link to excerpts relating to “The Intelligence of the Victim“).
4. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, sermon from April 11, 2004 (Woodside Village Church), and sermon from April 8, 2007 (Society of St. John at St. Mark’s Chapel, Palo Alto), and sermon from April 4, 2010 (Society of St. John at St. Mark’s Chapel, Palo Alto).
Reflections and Questions
1. Alison’s “intelligence of the victim” at Easter is an important theme on so many fronts. One for me lately has been the idea of the survival of the victim’s perspective as the key to the history of religions, and to history in general. In the ancient religions, the victim’s perspective didn’t have much chance to survive since they were typically killed. Music during the rituals grew as a way to drown out the voice of the victim, even in the brief moments before be silenced by the knife. Jesus’ resurrection breaks into that world as the permanent survival of the victim’s voice — and it’s one of forgiveness, not vengeance! What’s more, the Risen Jesus appeared in the context of a Jewish religion whose ‘voice’ in Holy Scripture had been shaped for centuries by the perspective of the victim, of being every empire’s foot-mat. Through the Resurrection, the creation of the Christian faith has at its very heart this permanent survival of the victim’s perspective.
2. This, in turn, has great import for inter-faith dialogue. Can an understanding of religion shaped by mimetic theory help us to find common ground in such dialogue around the perspective of the victim? In what ways has Native American religion, for example, been shaped to represent the perspective of the victim by the centuries of being oppressed by Christians who have lapsed into the perspective of the persecutors? For more on resurrection, the “intelligence of the victim,” and inter-faith dailogue, see Part IV.5 of “My Core Convictions.”
1. Gil Bailie, “The Gospel of Luke” audio series, tape 12. These lectures are also now available online in clips; this portion is covered by “The Poetry of Truth,” Part 180, Part 181, Part 182, Part 183, Part 184, Part 185, Part 186, Part 187, Part 188.
2. Raymund Schwager, Jesus in the Drama of Salvation; in Schwager’s wonderful laying out of the Jesus drama, the Resurrection is the Fourth Act: “Resurrection of the Son as the Judgement of the Heavenly Father,” pp. 119-141. The entire portion is worth the reading, including an excellent section on the election of Israel: the key portion from a Girardian perspective, pp. 130-137.
3. Andrew Marr, Abbot of St. Gregory’s Abbey (Three Rivers, MI) is a long-time reader and writer on Mimetic Theory and in his blog, “Imaginary Visions of True Peace,” made these reflections on the day in 2013, “A Risen Life Full of Forgiveness and Love“; in 2016, “Handing Ourselves Over“; and in 2019, “It Was Necessary.”
4. N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, pp. 647-661 on Luke 24. More generally, in the essay “My Core Convictions” I summarize the importance of this book, under the doctrine of heaven, as follows:
3.4 Heaven. N. T. Wright had originally planned to end Vol. 2, his work on the historical Jesus, with a chapter on the Resurrection. But he found popular Christian piety about heaven to be so off the mark that he ended up writing an entire 800-page volume on it, The Resurrection of the Son of God. His main point in this book is that the popular Christian thinking about heaven is more from Plato than it is from Jesus and our Jewish heritage. Most Christians think in terms of heaven as a separate place where one goes after death, accompanied by a hope along the lines of, ‘This earthly life is but a desert dreary, heaven is my home.’ The grave problem with this thinking is that a first-century Jew, namely, Jesus and all the apostles, would never have a hope in terms of devaluing the Creation. Their faith in God is faith in the Creator who lovingly created the heavens and the earth. Such a God would not scrap the earth in favor of a heaven as a holding tank for migrated souls (Plato’s hope). The Jewish/Christian hope is for resurrection of the body and the fulfillment of Creation. Popular Christian thinking prays that souls go to heaven when the body dies. The Lord’s Prayer prays that, “Thy Kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as in heaven.” In other words, it prays that heaven comes to us on earth, not that we go to heaven. Heaven is the unseen dimension of Creation where God’s will resides. We pray for God’s will, for heaven, to merge with earth and bring it to fulfillment. Devaluing the earth in favor of a heavenly home gives us an excuse to treat it sacrificially, that is, as another victim of our sacred violence.
5. N.T. Wright, Luke for Everyone, pp. 288-291, Twelve Months of Sundays, pp. 54-55. The key insight concerns why to the other apostles the women’s story seems an idle tale. It’s more than just the idea of resurrection itself, since resurrection was a popular belief for Jews in the first century. Yes, there is the aspect of women’s views being devalued in a patriarchal society. But Wright suggests another intriguing reason: the Jewish hope for the resurrection isn’t on a person-by-person basis. It was for a general resurrection of all the just on the last day. Resurrection of one person before the end-time doesn’t make sense in the context of their beliefs. He comments:
The women rushing around in the early morning, Peter scratching his head staring at empty grave-clothes, might well be puzzled: this was not part of the plan. They had thought Jesus’ language about his own dying, and rising again, to be a dark metaphor, indicating perhaps a great struggle against paganism or Israel’s current leaders, followed by a great victory. They had not reckoned with it being literal, or with the battle being waged against the last enemy, death itself. They were going to have to get used to living in a present which was shot through with God’s future, a world in which the continuing disjointedness of creation was to be seen as out of date, waiting to be brought into line with the future which had already begun to happen.
Questions and Reflections
1. Christians have come to worship not on the traditional Sabbath, the day of rest, but on the first day of the week. We are Easter people who celebrate God’s renewal of Creation, the dawning of which is on Easter morning. What does it mean to begin a New Creation? And for us to participate in it? These questions are explored from the perspective of mimetic theory in a sermon, “A Sonrise Story.”
As an option for the Gospel in all three years of the lectionary, I have put together a separate page for John 20:1-18.