Resurrection: larger than anything we can fit in our consciousness
The Sixth Sunday of Easter:
The Feast of St. Philip and St. James
May 1, 2005
All Saints’ Church
2 Corinthians 4:1-6
My task this morning of breaking open God’s word is somewhat complicated because of the nature of this congregation. First of all, there are the clergy and people of All Saints’ Church who have so graciously welcomed us. Then, there are bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada, and as well a number of bishops of the Episcopal Church in the United States. We bishops are here this morning at the conclusion of several days of conversation focusing on the ministry we share in the service of God’s mission.
Today we call to mind the apostolic ministry of St. Philip and St. James. In our second reading, St. Paul proclaims, “Since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. “The ministry Paul is referring to is that of apostleship. And bishops, as the liturgies of the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church in the United States make plain, bishops are called to be “one with the apostles. “Therefore, we can extend Paul’s words to include the apostolic ministry of care and oversight of the community of faith, which are the special responsibilities of those called to episcopal ministry.
Note, however, that it is by God’s mercy that we are called to this ministry. It is God’s compassion for us, rather than our competence, that lies at the heart of this call. The call to episcopal ministry is part of God’s way of loving us into maturity in Christ.
Cardinal Mercier, sometime primate of the Roman Catholic Church in Belgium, once commented to a group of seminarians that if God calls us to the ordained ministry it is because we cannot be trusted to live out the implications of our baptismal priesthood as lay persons. If this is so, then to be called to episcopal ministry must mean that we are particularly resistant to the motions of the Spirit since God has had to adopt such extreme measures. And therefore, the ministries to which we bishops have been called are not only for the benefit of others, they are for our own salvation as well.
I would remind us here that bishops are called to be one with the apostles in a quite specific way: and that is in proclaiming Christ’s resurrection. This is no easy task because resurrection can be a fearsome experience. Resurrection can take the form of an assault upon life as we know it. Resurrection is larger than anything we can fit into our consciousness or embrace with the arms of our reason. Perhaps this is why the risen Christ had to lead his dumbstruck disciples into resurrection somewhat indirectly by such ordinary things as sharing supper in a country inn, and by inviting them to a picnic by the lakeside. Perhaps this is why the Church sets aside fifty days in which to celebrate Christ’s resurrection “not just a Sunday or a week “recognizing that we need time to take it in and explore its different dimensions as they relate to our own lives.
“I am the way, the truth and the life,” Christ declares in today’s gospel. Here we need to keep in mind that all four gospels were written in the light of the resurrection. The Jesus who speaks to his disciples is the risen Christ speaking to us. What I would like to do, therefore, is to reflect upon Christ’s declaration, particularly “I am the truth,” as a way of entering more fully into the vast and untamed forcefield of resurrection life.
For Christ to say “I am the truth,” is for him to make plain that truth, in its fullness, is not a set of propositions, or dogmas or philosophical abstractions. Truth is a person. It is Christ himself: the second person of the Trinity, God’s Word, God’s self-expression who became flesh of our flesh. Jesus is God’s truth in human form. “I am in the Father and the Father is in me,” Jesus says to Philip. To see Jesus is to see the Father. To encounter Jesus is to be brought face to face with embodied truth. To discern what is God’s truth, is to know Jesus: to know Jesus is to encounter the risen Christ in the various modes of his real presence: in prayer, in Scripture, in the sacraments, in the limbs and members of his risen body, in the ebb and flow of our lives, in our encounters with those whom Jesus describes as “the least of these who are members of my family” which is a category that embraces the whole of humankind.
In short, the risen Christ can show up anywhere and use anything or anyone to draw us out of ourselves and our self-constructed worlds into the shattering and transforming truth of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, as the risen One is called in the Book of Revelation: the lion who bounds into our lives wreaking the liberating and life-giving havoc of resurrection.
For Christ to declare, “I am the truth” is to make plain that truth resides in a person rather than in a body of information. The discovery of truth, therefore, is profoundly relational involving not only the mind, but also the heart. And the heart as it is understood in scripture is not simply the seat of our emotions but the core and center of our personhood.
Growing in the truth, therefore, is not knowing about Christ as one might know about some historical figure or event. Rather, growing in the truth is a lifelong process of knowing Christ as companion and friend and ground of one’s own identity and selfhood. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me,” cries St. Paul. And again, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new. “What is important here is that this process of indwelling and transformation occurs not by way of annihilation, but by way of incorporation. That is, all that we are is taken up into Christ because the truth, which is Christ, is the truth of love “a love that silenced St. Paul when he prayed to be delivered from the unnamed thorn in his flesh which caused him so much shame and self-loathing, “My grace is sufficient for you,” Christ declared, “for my power “the power of my deathless and all embracing love “is made perfect “comes to full term “in weakness.”
In other words, Christ’s truth which is love, reaches out and grasps and pulls into Christ’s own resurrection freedom and unrealized potentiality, the very dimensions of Paul’s personhood that keep him from being able, in the words of Karl Jung, to “extend to himself the alms of his own kindness. “And so it is with us: the very things that most burden us and confront us with a sense of limitation or imperfection, are the aspects of who we are that Christ is most eager to draw to himself in the full force of his deathless and reordering love.
“Do not break from the hand that as it riseth raiseth thee,” exclaims the 17th century priest-poet, George Herbert, a man afflicted by a profound sense of guilt and shame. To which I would add: do not allow yourself to become so weighed down in self-judgment that you break free from the grasp of Christ’s liberating love which sustains and upholds the universe, and overrules whatever sentence we may pass upon ourselves. “For freedom Christ has set us free,” Paul reminds us and himself as well.
The resurrection is not a static and an isolated event fixed in the past, but the unleashing of a power and force that takes the form of a death defying love. Resurrection is ever present, constantly accosting us, challenging us, stretching us, cracking us open and seeking to have its way with us in order that we might come to maturity in Christ.
Christ says to his disciples, and to us, “I still have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth”¦he will take what is mine and declare it to you. “Christ, who is our truth, has much more to say to us but we cannot take it in all at once. “Truth as in Jesus,” to borrow a phrase from Ephesians, has to unfold over time. Our ability to follow the motions of the Spirit increases and matures as the Spirit of truth pours into our hearts the love of God “that is God’s profligate and undiscriminating and life changing love for us. To see all things with the eyes of compassion is to see as God sees and to know the truth as in Jesus, the truth that sets us free. This is a lifelong process of growth and discovery.
What walls of division and judgment and hostility is the love of Christ at work in us, seeking to break down and overcome? What is the Spirit saying to the churches in order to expand our vision, to open our hearts, to allow us to recognize Christ present in places and persons and patterns of life that seem alien or other?
“Consider the work of God. Who can make straight what God has made crooked,” declares the author of Ecclesiastes. And yet this is precisely what we do: we try and fit God’s ways into our self-generated logic and sense of how things ought to be ordered, and we become hostile and defensive when our limited and often unloving understanding of truth is challenged or threatened. Christ, however, refuses to fit our categories or to confirm our biases. Christ is always either ahead of us or, as the hound of heaven, nipping at our heels.
The truth of Christ is larger than anything we can comprehend, and is in no way confined to religion, or even to Christianity. “Wherever there is the taste for truth there is God,” said St. Augustine of Hippo. Or again, St. Thomas Aquinas: “every truth, by whosoever uttered, is by the Holy Spirit. “And therefore when Christ adds to his declaration that he is the way, the truth and the life, “no one comes to the Father except through me,” he is not shutting some people out. Christ’s love is cosmic: it embraces all things and draws all things to itself in one all encompassing act of reconciliation achieved through the cross and confirmed by the resurrection.
Let us be very clear: wherever the truth of love, the truth of compassion is to be found, however named, the risen Christ is there through the agency of the Holy Spirit who continues to draw from the inexhaustible truth of Christ, which alone can heal and transform our broken and bleeding world.
When we look at the history of the Church beginning with the Acts of the Apostles we see a constant tension between the tendency to defend and protect and contain, and a contrary force that moves in the direction of expansion, discovery and embrace. The Episcopal Church I now serve as Primate is very different from the church I was born into, as I am sure is the case with your Primate, my brother Andrew. And I will confess that it has not been easy to relinquish my comfortable certitudes in favor of Christ’s ever expanding truth.
I wonder from time to time: just how much more does Christ have to say to us? When will the Spirit of truth have made everything known? Not in our lifetime to be sure. Meanwhile, I try to remain focused on truth not as thing but as person as Christ encounters me face to face in the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist. I try to remain focused on the truth, who is Christ, present in the limbs and members of his risen body. These, my brothers and sisters in Christ “in all their grace and quirkiness “mediate both the consolation and challenge of Christ’s ever unfolding truth and love.
In this uneasy season I find myself praying that Christ, in the fullness of his boundless love, will lead us beyond our various self preoccupations. I pray that the Spirit of Truth will draw us into an ever deepening companionship with the One who is our truth. I pray that Christ’s compassion will become our own working in us “infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.” I pray that Christ’s compassion will work through us, members of his risen body, and thereby bring hope and healing to our world. May it be so.