Monday, May 9, 2011

In the Breaking...

Reflections on Luke 24:13-23 5:1-12

Holy Trinity La Santisima Trinidad and Good Shepherd Berkeley, 5/8/11, Easter II
The Rev. Este Gardner Cantor

What a week we have lived through. And what a neck-snappingly swift global change of focus we have had, from the pomp and frills of the royal wedding to the brutal death of Osama Bin Laden. Our own Bishop Marc recently said that we are in an apocalyptic moment. He said that an apocalyptic moment in history is like a baptismal moment for an individual. But what are we being baptized into?

In an individual baptism, you are baptized into the death of Christ, that you might be raised with him, that you might recognize and live into the living Christ. An appropriate notion for our Easter season. And one of the signs of the living Christ, Bishop Marc goes on to say, is how we treat our enemies. Well, the way we have treated our arch enemy just this past week, has created, in my mind, the baptism of fire that we now find ourselves in.

Sometimes it is hard to tell who our enemies are. Sometimes we may wonder if we have any real enemies at all. Often we may feel that we have met the enemy, and he is us. But no such problem exists with the formerly living human being we know as Osama Bin Laden. He is obviously our enemy, and someone who was undeniably instrumental in the deaths of 3,000 of our tribe.

Jesus’ notion of “love your enemy” rather than “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” the Old Testament suggestion for enemy combatants, is one of the most original ideas Jesus ever had. Most everything else Jesus said (well, outside of the extraordinarily long-winded monologues in the Gospel of John) are re-iterations of his beloved justice-loving prophets of the Old Testament, who taught him what it was to be a truly righteous Jew.

Do we believe Jesus meant what he said when he told us to love our enemies? When he indicated that even “the least of these my brethren” were worthy to be seen as Christ himself? Was he sincere when he cried out “No more of this!” at his arrest when his disciple severed the ear of the slave?

As civilized, let alone spiritual beings, there must be a way to at least begin to obey these teachings, which are so profound. Assassinating and then proudly proclaiming the death of our enemy, literally dancing in the streets in celebration of man shot to death in the presence of his 12 year-old daughter, does not seem to me to be a close following of the letter of Jesus’ intent.

I understand and share the very basic human tendency to want to celebrate. Times are hard- especially for those of us who have lost our jobs, our homes, our security. We long to run out into the streets, throw our hats up in the air and shout for joy. And I understand the need for a feeling of justice and closure for the horrific events of almost ten years ago. But speaking only for myself, the killing of Bin Laden does not bring justice or closure. It just adds one more death to the tragic toll of 3,000.

I have read many comments and many quotes people have come up with to try to deal with the horrendous and divisive nature of this recent assassination, and the response the world over. Brian McLaren, a progressive Evangelical pastor and writer said,

"Joyfully celebrating the killing of a killer who joyfully celebrated killing, carries an irony that I hope will not be lost on us. Are we learning anything, or are we simply spinning harder in the cycle of violence?”

I also saw a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 book, The Strength to Love, he writes:

"Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars… violence multiplies violence … in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says “Love your enemies,” he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition. Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies– or else?"

Our gospel story today follows a death that similarly upset the fabric of the society of the day. Some rejoiced mightily, some mourned mightily. There are many eerie similarities in the news of our week and our Gospel story. In both there was an execution of a man who profoundly threatened the powers and principalities of the day.

Great emotions were stirred. Certainly grief and mourning in some sectors- in the heart of the 12 year old daughter in one, and in the heart of Mother Mary, in the other. Great rejoicing took place in our modern story, in front of the White House and at Ground Zero. Doubtless there was rejoicing in some quarters after the crucifixion. And great fear followed both incidents. In our modern day, some might even be tempted to stay inside for fear of the Muslims.

Our gospel contains, once again, a story of mistaken identity. As in Shakespeare, it is a revealing and useful plot devise, because it illustrates how wrong we can be in our assumptions, and it is always useful to be showed how wrong we can be. In our Easter Gospel story, Mary fails to recognize the risen Christ, and mistakes him for the gardener. Our travelers to Emmaus, probably fleeing Jerusalem in terror, fearing for their lives, are not able to recognize Jesus in the several hours they apparently spent together. Until the breaking of the bread.

What are we not recognizing? There is a poignant coincidence in the similarity of the names of our president and of the dead arch enemy. Several times I have caught myself accidentally referring to the death of Obama, and then wanting to knock on wood, cross myself and turn around three times after spitting on the earth, that it may never be so! The Osama/Obama rhyme reveals to us how very differently we recognize these two human beings. We do not even see the humanity, let alone the Christ in one of these children of God.

What else are we not recognizing? I would say that if we allow ourselves to celebrate, if we are complicit in anyway with the murderous act of last week, we are not seeing the Christ in ourselves.

As theologian, writer, and rebel, Father Matthew Fox writes:

"Only the human species dares to deny it’s divinity. But now it is time to 'deny the denial.'” And then he asks :

"Can our churches themselves believe enough in the resurrection and in Pentecost to be resurrected and to become awakeners of the Spirit?”

My response to this question would be, “Yes, we can.”

We need a recognition of the divinity Matthew Fox speaks of, and the inevitable breaking of our cycle of violence that will result. We need it as desperately as we need the breaking of the bread. And it is in this breaking that we will be able to recognize Christ, in ourselves, in our enemies, and in our lives, as we truly live into this baptism of ours, which will, one day, break upon us like a long-awaited dawn.