|From the Vicar
||Services & Events|
Christians tell two wonderful stories, one at Christmas and the other at Easter. They are the great myths of our tradition but in calling them myths I’m not suggesting they’re not true. I mean, rather, that their meaning unfolds in our lives on so many levels that they hold more truth that simple facts ever could. Poetry, myth, art: these are what connect our particular, concrete experience with the fundamental, but abstract, principles that shape our lives; it’s through these connections that we make meaning of our lives, understand our life purpose: why we’re here and what we’re meant to be and do. Myths invite us to go a little deeper, nourishing our inner selves: touching and holding and shaping the very core of our being. Myths are about what’s Real. C.S. Lewis the great Christian apologist and scholar, used to distinguish between truth and reality: “Truth is always about something,” he wrote, “but reality is that about which truth is. …every myth becomes the [parent]of innumerable [abstract] truths….”
Lewis goes on to insist, though, that in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, myth became fact and to imply that it couldn’t have been any other way: doesn’t it make sense that divine Mystery would connect with human experience by incarnating the values woven into the very fabric of Creation, values that are imbedded in the great tales of human culture everywhere? It’s worth pondering that question… For if the answer is “yes,” we have in this myth-become-fact a lens through which to view our own particular experience, to make meaning of the facts of our own lives: the little things that happen day by day or the great moments and movements of our life-times.
As I prepared for Easter I found myself wondering about how the truths of the two great Christian myths are linked, how the meaning of each illuminates and completes the truth of other. Since many of us find our way to church especially for the telling of these two stories, it was, I thought, a direction worth exploring. So what do these Christian stories tell us that really matters to our lives now, two thousand years later?
At Christmas we tell the story of the Word becoming fresh: divine Mystery entering a particular human life in order to communicate divine Reality, in order to communicate and model the values that make Life work for all being, values intended to bring joy and abundance to all. The Christmas Story tells us that this Mystery is not a magical god, waving a divine wand to make happen this or that, but rather a God who enters creation, enters human history and experience, to partner with us and make us co-creators of this Reality. The Story gives us a vulnerable God, born as an impoverished child, in need of a community of support; gives us a God who enters into the muck and mess of human life as one of us. The truth of the Christmas Story is that no matter what our condition or circumstances, no matter what messes we’ve made in or of our lives, this God is right there with us, is familiar with the road we’re traveling and and seeks to show us the way into a deeper one-ness with ourselves, one another and the whole of creation…
And what of today’s Story: what are the truths of the great myth-become-fact we celebrate on Easter? Well, let me begin by sharing, as I usually do, my own reasons for believing the Easter Story is a “myth become fact,” that, indeed, something extraordinary did happen on that first Easter morning. My reasons are two: the first is the fact that we see an amazing transformation in the lives of the men who were around Jesus, men who went from being terrified that they might soon share his fate, to speaking boldly and publically about his resurrection in the very city where he’d been executed a few weeks before. We read a portion of Peter’s speech as our second lesson today.
But my second reason is even more compelling, I think: because in every account of the Resurrection it is the women who are the first witnesses to the Empty Tomb. In Matthew and John’s accounts, it is Mary Magdalene who first meets the Risen Christ. In that time and in that patriarchal culture, no one would have created a story in which a woman plays such a pivotal role. So, yes, I believe that something extraordinary happened on the Third Day that convinced Jesus’ first followers he was alive and that transformed their lives – and indeed all of history.
But regardless of what you believe about its historicity, the question still remains: what does this story mean; what is the truth this myth holds for us? If the Christmas Story tells us that God is with us, what is disclosed in the Easter story and how does its truth connect with our own lives? Just this, I think: that death is never, ever the last word; that there is always, always the possibility of something more, of new life –a deeper love, deeper wholeness -- that comes through death. It tells us that there is a sort of life that can only come through death because the death itself is the beginning of the new: like a seed that dies so the flower may come forth; like the caterpillar that “dies” so that the butterfly may be born. The two stories together tell us that divine Mystery is always with us and in us and around us, working to bring this new life into being through the very deaths that seem like the end.
There are so many little deaths in our lives; some are times of profound loss when we wonder whether we can go on: the end of a relationship, the loss of meaningful work, the death of a beloved family member or friend, a severe health crisis. My divorce was such a time for me. I had what I thought was a happy marriage, so when my husband left, I was devastated. It was, indeed, a profound sort of death for me, but, you see, I had the Story, and its truth made me hope that through this death, something new could happen. I used to pray, “Just don’t let me waste this pain; don’t let it be for nothing…” A work of art in the news at that time helped me make the connection between my experience and the Christian story. Maybe some of you remember it: American photographer Andres Serrano photographed a crucifix submerged in his own urine. It created quite a hullabaloo, but the image spoke powerfully to me, though perhaps not in the way the artist intended. You see, I was having to come to terms with all the ways I’d helped bring about the death my marriage, with the ways I’d made a mess of things. Serrano’s image reminded me that God was right there with me in that mess, a mess I’d helped create; it reminded me that God knows about suffering. You see, I found myself living the Story and I knew that the cross was not the end. I knew that the death I was living need not be the last word of my story.
Such “little deaths” come to us; I wonder if you can recall such times in your own life. I wonder what lessons you learned. I wonder if there are lessons still to be learned, for this promised new life isn’t magic: there is work we must do. Like a butterfly freeing itself from the cocoon or a chick from the egg, we must seek the new toward which we’re being invited through these little deaths. We must let the pain of these times do its creative work in us, refusing to waste that pain in bitterness or self-pity; grieving, yes, but also watching for – expecting -- the New that is coming.
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are an enacted parable, providing us with images that help us interpret with hope our own life experiences, acting as a lens through which we can view our own little deaths with the expectation that these deaths are not the end but can be the necessary prelude to Something New.
Where is there death in your life? Where has despair crept in, robbing you of hope: some bitterness perhaps; a regret, a hurt, a sadness? Something unforgiven? Where have you given up on yourself? Just there is where God is awaiting you, calling you to New Life. Listen! Believe this: God is with you: around you, in you, and nothing, nothing can stop God’s love for you: not anything you do, not anything done to you: not failure or illness, not sadness or betrayal, not even death.
“Christ is alive! His love in death will never die!”
Come share New Life with us. We hope to see you soon at St. Aidan's!
With love and blessings,