In 2022, we face three mammoth challenges: pandemic recovery, averting ecological catastrophe, and combating the resurgence of sacred violence – the violence of empire – that once more has raised its head in Europe. I list these not in order of importance as each is of equal urgency.
This week we publicly acknowledged one million COVID-related deaths in the US. The enormity of this fact continues to numb us into collective amnesia. Many millions more are still dying or yet to die in parts of the world where vaccine resistance and COVID denial are still major influences on public and governmental opinion.
We continue to fiddle while the earth burns and floods – turning a blind eye to a massive environmental degradation that is fueling increasingly desperate population movements. The resurgence of sacred violence- the violence of empire – is not simply a massive shock to the European nervous system, but carries profound knock-on implications for international global food and energy stability – though in reference to the latter we can only hope that this sharp shock is enough to wean us off our fossil fuel dependencies.
In these days of the Easter Season, we remember that Jesus was a victim to sacred violence at the hands of forces driven to protect the vested interest of those who imprison the holiness of God – limiting and controlling it within human structures – the boundaries of which are always ruthlessly policed.
Yet, Easter reminds us that Jesus is raised on the third day as God’s demonstration that love is stronger than death. In the cross and resurrection God-in-Jesus breaks (present tense) the grip of sacred violence as the default of the human heart.
The melodic themes of our Easter song sound through the Sunday readings. Alongside Luke’s historical accounts of communal transformation, the Revelation to John take the form of the recitative:
I saw a new heaven and a new earth. I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven. I heard a loud voice saying, “See the home of God is among mortals … see I am making all things new”.
Or as Belinda Carlisle sang it:
Ooo, baby, do you know what that’s worth? Heaven is a place on earth They say in heaven, love comes first. We’ll make heaven a place on earth. Ooo, heaven is a place on earth.
Our Easter Song opens with Luke’s central melody of community transformation – the words from Revelation augment the main theme with a recitative of divine expectation – before returning to restate Luke’s main theme, but this time in the tonalities of John’s Gospel teaching on love in action.
On Easter V it is Revelation’s recitative of a new heaven and a new earth that I want to focus attention.
In his book Surprised by Hope, N.T. (Tom) Wright writes about Jesus’ resurrection as the beginning of God’s new project – not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven.
Many Christians today think that resurrection means spiritual life after death. They reason – we don’t need to worry too much about what did or did not happen at the resurrection of Jesus – empty tomb and all that because resurrection is an internal spiritual experience that means all of us will go to heaven to live with God when we die.
Disregarding the events at the empty tomb and the physical nature of Jesus’ post resurrection appearances is an invitation to care more about the life to come than the life to be lived. Focused on our destination in heaven we neglect the duty to leave this world in a better state than the one we came into.
Resurrection as an internal, individualized, spiritual experience is the theology of pie in the sky when you die. Pie in the sky when you die may be clever alliteration – where each succeeding word repeats the sound of the proceeding one – but it is truly, terrible theology. In fact, this is not a Christian theology at all because it severs resurrection hope from its context in God’s age-long promise. In other words, it breaks the continuity linking the resurrection of Jesus from God’s ultimate goal – which is the resurrection of the whole of creation.
Through the Hebrew prophets, God continually affirmed the goal for the resurrection project – as it were – which is nothing short of the repair and renewal of the face of the earth. It’s only within the continuity of this promise for the whole creation that the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Day makes any sense.
The melodic cadences of Revelation’s recitative boom in our ears:
See! the home of God is among mortals … see I am making all things new”.
Tom Wright speaks of the resurrection of Jesus as a foretaste of the future brought into real time as God’s promise of the kind of future we should anticipate in the present. To anticipate the future is to work tirelessly in the present to not simply prepare for the future, but to realize the promise of the future in the present.
Jesus’ resurrection is not an individualized spiritual experience but a collective and collaborative enterprise of next steps in the real time unfolding of God’s future purpose – our collective realization of God’s dream of a physical renewal of creation in a new heaven and a new earth. Future anticipation requires decisions made and actions taken, now! Our urgent need to slow and reverse the process of the escalating climate catastrophe is the primary imperative of living out in the present time the blueprint for the future hope of a new heaven and a new earth. In that project we have a vital role to play.
See the home of God is [and will always remain] among mortals!
Or as Belinda Carlisle sings it: Ooo, baby, do you know what that’s worth? Ooo, heaven is a place on earth. They say in heaven, love comes first. We’ll make heaven a place on earth, Ooo, heaven is a place on earth.
Our Easter song concludes with a restatement of Luke’s main idea of the transformation of community. In the tonality and rhythm of John the Evangelist we hear Jesus’ solo voice ringing clear:
Where I am going you cannot come so I give you a new commandment that you love one another as I have loved you. By this will all know that you are my disciples.