Easter; John 20:1-4
Tale as old as time
Humanity has a problem. We can live life well, be kind to people, accomplish many things, but ultimately the problem remains: it doesn’t end well. Comedian Norm McDonald said it well. He complained about how it seems we are always on the way to finding a cure for some disease, but “how about a cure for death. How about finding a cure for that, hey.”
Friends, religion is always dealing with death, with dubious forms of success. There have been quite a few losses in this community lately, so I know it is on people’s minds. Many of those who do not embrace Christian faith may have the impression that Christianity just glosses over the subject and throws a few Easter eggs at it. But then most people don’t go to Good Friday services. If you dig deeper, Christian faith actually takes the subject head on in the statement:”He is risen.” We focus on the empty tomb, but we all know what the tomb is for. Death is the great beast that the human race never learns to deal with, even though since time immemorial we have been inflicting death on each other and on all the other species. The human race is by far the most murderous of all.
In Beauty and the Beast an arrogant young prince and his servants fall under the spell of an evil being who enchants them, who turns the prince into the hideous Beast. He will remain in that form until he learns to love and learns also to be loved in return. The story doesn’t do what we usually do with beasts: riddle it with bullets it, blow it up, or at least tranquillize it. The story transforms the beast. When the story is done with it, the beast is no longer frightening and dangerous.
In Ang Lee’s film “Life of Pi” an Indian zookeepers son is lost at sea in a storm as the sole survivor of a shipwreck. Lost in the wreck are his family and animals from the zoo they sold back in India. He drifts across the ocean with a Bengal tiger in the boat and he must find a way to tame the beast who sees a tasty meal in the boy if he is to survive. As the movie reaches a conclusion the symbolic nature of the beast for him personally becomes clear. There is a beast inside of us that ensures our survival, but also diminishes us. We cannot slay it, but we can transform it.
The old Christian words say something similar about death:”Death where is your sting?” It is the beast, a kind of giant dark scorpion, that Christ takes on.
In the CNN series Believer Reza Aslan explores the devotion of criminals, prostitutes, the destitute and transgender people in Mexico with the new saint Santa Muerte, Saint Death that seems to hark back to some old Aztec god. It is gruesome and disturbing, but it comes out of the idea that established society and the established church has abandoned the marginalized. So they pray to the “beast” itself in the form of a benevolent female skeleton with clothes. The Catholic Church is horrified as this devotion makes holy something that is the enemy of Christ and the Church.
In an opposite or church perspective Central American poet Julia Esquivel who writes about the victims of government brutality wrote a poem “Threatened by Resurrection.” The killers threaten the powerless with resurrection. At first the poem is confusing. How can you threaten someone with something good? It’s like threatening someone with giving them money or a vacation or a delicious piece of pie. But then it becomes clear, you can’t kill something if it is already guaranteed to live. Whatever you kill that is good, that has faith and love and hope, will come back and take shape among you in other ways, especially if you are attacking a whole group of oppressed people. Think of the story of the Risen Christ. How many billions has it given hope to over the century? Yes. It has also given in to beastliness many many times, but o so many sacrifices have been made in the name of Christ.
Friends, the Easter story does not kill the beast, but it disarms it. How does it do that, you may ask. It does so through the power of love. People will quote the Bible to support their own perspectives and interests, but if you read it deeply in the end everything boils down to God’s bottomless love. God’s love is so powerful that that God’s love makes sure that the story of our lives, no matter how we live it at times, can have a happy ending. It ends well. God’s love takes on not only our hurt and our insecurity, our hatred and resentment, our flaws and short coming, it even takes on the beast we fear. God ‘s love is so powerful that it gets stretched so far in the beloved Christ that it is able to vanquish the power of the Beast. And so the women find the tomb empty. Happily, they are terrified by Resurrection. He is Risen! Thanks be to God!