Fr. Andrew Armond – The Second Sunday of Easter, April 24, 2022
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If I were to ask the children to draw me a picture of something–anything, really–they would probably, most likely, do it, and they would do it enthusiastically. I could ask them to draw something real, like a horse, or something imaginary, like a leprechaun riding a unicorn, and they wouldn’t bat an eye either way.
However, if I asked the adults in this church to draw me a picture of something, many if not most of you would recoil in horror. You might do so reluctantly, but all the while you’d be saying things like “I haven’t done this in years,” or “I really can’t draw at all.”
Most people lose interest in drawing as they get older, even though it’s something we want and expect children to do. And no one really knows why, except that the broader idea of “imagination” and “creativity” is encouraged in young people as well, but not as much the older we get. We tend to focus on the things that we think life requires, all the while cutting out the superfluous, like drawing, or playing the piano, or soccer, or any number of things we include in a child’s development these days.
But when we get to the Easter season, I think it becomes necessary for us to develop a theological imagination. The readings for the Easter season are the theological equivalent of sitting down to drawing a picture, or putting a puzzle together.
Theological imagination requires creativity, and wonder, and patience. The picture of the Resurrected Christ emerges slowly, in fits and starts.
These post-resurrection appearances remind me of early photographs or of a child’s drawing. We can tell what’s happening, for the most part, but there is a quality, too, of the undefinable, the strange, to these stories as well. It’s as though the picture has been drawn, but it’s still a bit blurry, or off-center just a bit.
And this makes sense when we consider that those who are experiencing the presence of Christ most immediately after the Resurrection are deeply traumatized, probably still in shock at the brutality of the crucifixion, now beginning to get glimpses of the risen Lord.
They don’t recognize him at first, because of course, our minds have no categories with which to process the category of “resurrected human.” The first theological imaginations of Christianity belong to the women who saw him that first Easter morning, and then the other disciples, all of whom had to come up with a way of describing the impossible: he’s alive! but not in the way he was before–but still fully human, in the same body, even with the scars; but not zombie-like, either: in fact, in some mysterious way, even more alive than Life itself.
And, of course, they had to imagine their way into the Joy–that’s Joy with a capital J, by the way–occasioned by the appearance of their friend and teacher–or, as Thomas will be the first to confess of the resurrected Christ, their Lord and their God.
Bishop Kai Ryan recently preached in her Easter sermon about how there’s no secular equivalent of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “Frosty the Snowman” for the Easter season. While Easter is celebrated in a secular sense, it’s not sentimentalized nearly to the extent that Christmas is. And the reason for that, Bishop Ryan contends, is that, quite simply, Easter is about serious stuff. Life and death. And resurrection. We might be able to imagine a special baby being born, but we have much more trouble imagining a dead person coming back to life.
Resurrection is beyond our imagination. It defies every bit of empirical evidence our experience teaches us.
In his book on “praying with icons of Christ,” Rowan Williams draws our attention to the Resurrection icon of the Eastern Orthodox Church. In this icon, as Williams points out, the Resurrection EVENT cannot be portrayed. It is, after all, beyond depiction. But the theological imagination of the iconographer, like those accounts of the Resurrected Christ in the Gospels, can describe the effect of the Resurrection, not just on the immediate witnesses, but on all of Creation, on the entire human story, up to and including the present day.
And so, in this icon, we see Jesus standing on the broken doors of Hell, pulling Adam and Eve by their wrists out of their tombs. This is the event described by the words in the Nicene Creed: “he descended to the dead,” sometimes called The Harrowing of Hell. It comes from scattered biblical allusions and traditions, none of which are particularly important to the main point, however:
that Christ, in descending to the dead, demonstrates God’s liberating power, God’s victory over the forces of sin and death once and for all, through Christ’s obedience, in his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, the complete Paschal mystery.
Before we encounter Christ, as Williams says, we are frozen, unable to grow in the knowledge and love of God. But when “his hand touches us . . . something new becomes possible, and we are able to become human and to live fully in God’s company.”
For something new to become possible, we have to cultivate our theological imagination. We have to be willing and able to allow transformations in our selves and in our communities far beyond what we think we can do. We have to imagine the impossible.
This is one way of understanding what Jesus means when he says “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Like Thomas, we, too, are frozen in our understanding of who Jesus is until he offers us his loving touch. Jesus knew that his presence in our lives would be predicated on faith, not sight.
What is impossible for us is possible with God. And so, until we receive the touch of Jesus, we are isolated, like Thomas, from our most beloved communities, our families, our friends, our churches. Thomas did not believe the testimony of his dearest friends, the ones with whom he had been on this incredible journey for the past several years. Until we receive the touch of Jesus, as Williams says, “we shut out what others may give us, even when they are offering life and newness . . . somehow we cut ourselves off from all sorts of sources of life.”
Our human tendency to isolate goes back to Adam and Eve’s story, to the blame they laid on one another immediately, instead of taking responsibility for their actions.
And so Jesus brings us back to life. Jesus reaches into our tombs, grasps us by the hands, like Adam and Eve and Thomas: he touches us and in so doing, he gives us new life.
Finally, in perhaps his most touching observation about the icon of the Resurrection, Williams says that in joining hands with Adam and Eve, Jesus “is reintroducing them to each other after the ages of alienation and bitterness that began with the recriminations of Genesis . . . the resurrection is a moment in which human beings are reintroduced to each other across the gulf of mutual resentment and blame; [and] a new human community becomes possible.”
In the resurrection of Christ, we become united to him. And he unites us to each other.
In the resurrection of Christ, we become fully human, and we are able, for the first time, to see each other’s full humanity as well.
In the resurrection of Christ, we are (as Williams says), “introduc[ed] to our buried selves, to our alienated neighbors, to our physical world.”
This is the “new covenant of reconciliation” referred to by our collect today.
It is the peace that Jesus brings to his fearful and confused disciples, alienated from themselves and from one another.
It is the same peace that Jesus breathes into each one of us at our baptism and that he continues to breathe into us through the communion of his body and blood.
It is the same peace that we share every time we gather as we will the peace of Christ to be with one another.
In Jesus, God is pulling us out of the tombs of our own self-imprisonment.
In Jesus, God is pulling us out of the tombs of resentment, of lies, of self-pity, of grief, of confusion, of doubt, of fear.
In Jesus, God is reconciling the whole world to himself.
In Jesus, God shows us God’s very self, something beyond our wildest imagination, something truly new.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia. AMEN.