Easter 2: John 20.19-31
“Bodies of an Uprising”
Seattle Mennonite Church: May 1, 2011
Last Saturday I baked Resurrection Rolls. This sweet treat is especially for Easter, involving the usual ingredients for bread, plus sugar, cinnamon, and marshmallows. Let me explain the recipe for resurrection. The first step is to make a yeast dough and let it rise until double. Then divide the dough into smaller, roll-size portions and let them rise. As is fitting for Easter, there’s a lot of rising involved in the process.
Then comes the good stuff. Melt half a cup of butter and combine a cup of sugar with a few Tablespoons of cinnamon. Flatten each roll and dip it in the butter and then the sugar mixture and then take one large marshmallow and wrap it into the roll, sealing the edges. Dip it one more time in cinnamon sugar, and let it rise one more time before baking at 375 for about 15 minutes, and then let them cool.
The marshmallow dissolves inside the roll, and you are left with a sweet empty tomb: a Resurrection treat.
Isn’t this how we often proceed with the Easter season? Spring is upon us – it’s getting warmer and the sun is shining with more frequency, thanks be to God! The end of school is approaching, summer vacations are being planned, and after that long Lenten journey with Jesus to the cross, and after those agonizing, messy days of betrayal, arrest, suffering, and death, the tomb is empty. God through Jesus has power over life and death. Christ has risen! Christ has risen indeed, alleluia. Sweet. Tasty. Neat.
And this takes me back to my Resurrection Rolls. As I said, the marshmallow dissolves and you are left with a tidy empty tomb… in theory, anyway. Maybe this is how it works out for a more experienced baker, someone who can seal up the tomb a little better, but for me, after about 15 minutes in the oven at 375 degrees, the marshmallows had not dissolved in the roll but had leaked all over my baking pans: the tombs were empty for sure, but instead of disappearing, the body of Jesus had spilled out into a sticky, gooey mess.
Our Gospel lesson for today begins, When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews…
Now this text came from a Jewish community that was in conflict with the local synagogue. The animosity here in the text and the animosity that many scholars see behind the text has to do with religious authorities, not with Judaism itself or with Jewish religious traditions.
You see, it’s always the authorities, the people in power who are threatened by an uprising. It’s those who are privileged, those who benefit from the status quo, who don’t want things to change.
Jesus, that troublesome prophet and teacher had made a mess of things when he was alive, offering a message of radical love through the medium of radical peace and now his death was the way to squash any remnants of that radical uprising. Be rid of him for good.
No wonder the disciples were afraid. The one they followed, the one who captured the message of God in real, concrete, fleshly images was gone. So much for the door, the bread of life, the light of the world, the gate for the sheep, the true vine. Guess we’re not the sheep or the branches after all. Goodbye to the Good Shepherd.
An empty tomb and Mary’s encounter with the Jesus gardener were not enough to give new life to the deflated rebellion. In fact, there was only one thing that could.
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the religious authorities, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
John’s Gospel begins with the stunning, cosmic proclamation. The Word became flesh and lived among us. This is what God looks like spilled out into the world, from the neatness of heaven to the messiness of earth. God looks like Jesus, clothed in radical love that associates with society’s outcasts and washes our dirty, smelly feet. Then here in the second to last chapter of John, the evangelist brings us full circle. We hear this most clearly in doubtful Thomas’ exclamation upon seeing Jesus: “My Lord and my God!” Finally, they get it. Finally we get it. The Word became flesh in chapter one and now again in chapter 20, the risen Jesus, a body once again, only this time his body is even a little bit more like ours.
There comes a point for each of us, some time early in childhood when we know what it’s like to fall and scrape a knee. We know what’s it’s like to have a scar. Then we grow a little bit and there comes a time for each of us, some time maybe middle to late adolescence when we know what it’s like to have a broken heart. Then we grow a little more, and the world becomes heavier. We are depressed, or we live with anxiety. We struggle with addiction. We recognize our own woundedness and our own failure. We live through accidents and surgeries and we see other people who don’t. We know what it’s like to be mortal, to live in a body.
So does Jesus. Twice. After being nailed to a cross, I bet he walks with a limp. I bet when the weather changes, he feels it in his bones now and the marks of the crucifixion, well, those will stay with him forever.
Poet Marty McConnell writes:
are not new countries. crushed
between each vertebrae are notes
written in a language we invented,
forgot, and are only slowly
remembering. there’s an alphabet
to our resurrection, our steady return
You see, in our embodiment, the lines of resurrection blur. Here is the secret of the rising up. Here is the secret of the uprising. It takes a body. It takes a body.
Not just any body. It’s every body. All ability and different ability is needed in the rising up. Wheel chairs or walkers – all the better; wrinkles are good too. Bodies that do quirky or unexpected things – that frustrate us or hold diseases or let us down, changing voices, growing hips, giving hot flashes. Especially these, because these marginal bodies are the radical bodies, the bodies of an uprising. Our bodies, each and every one in all their incarnate frailty also mirror the divine. The Word became flesh, and flesh became the way.
A recent issue of The Mennonite (April 2011) tells the story of protestors lining up outside of an unmarked Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office to draw attention to the building and call for transparency in the legal practices surrounding the detainees. “The protesters… came with a washbasin and several gallons of water. As people chanted Psalms and read Scripture passages, [Mennonite pastor] Isaac Villegas managed to wash about five people’s feet before an unmarked white van rolled in, dispersing the protestors.” In his reflections on that day, Isaac Villegas writes, “Bodies matter… [Foot washing] is what love looks like; it’s what love feels like – a foot in your hand, a hand on your foot. Love isn’t simply some flighty emotion that comes and goes depending on your mood. Love happens when you pour water on someone’s foot and wash it and dry it…”
It’s an old practice, born of the necessity of sandals and dusty roads. John chapter 13 says that Jesus, in preparing for his death, poured water into a basin and washed the disciples’ feet. For I have set you an example, he said to them, that you also should do as I have done to you. In the uprising, bodies matter.
It takes both hands and feet. A theologian (Sebastian Moore) once wrote, that we can “look forward to the point when the whole mystery of God will be known in the clasp of your brother’s [and sister’s] hand.”
This is something we’ve known for a long time. Radical love and radical peace are not abstract ideas. They are enacted. They are performed. They are incarnate. God revealed in Jesus makes possible a relationship of limitless, servant-style love and we are now the vessels, we as ourselves as individuals and we together as a body.
Last week, Weldon preached us up an Easter challenge, saying God is calling us to see and be God’s rising in Jesus Christ. God is rising up in each one of us” and in Seattle Mennonite Church. Our challenge is to prayerfully ask what God is raising up in me. Weldon said, “I cannot name that uprising for you but I am confident that God is rising up in you this Easter.”
If you don’t know quite yet how God is rising up in you this Easter, be patient. Listen. Wait. It will come. But in the meantime, hear this: It is in our bodies and through our bodies that Jesus rises up to bring radical love and radical peace to the world. This is Good News, my friends. If you do nothing else for the risen Jesus this week, love your body and this body, and in doing so, you will join the uprising. Through the grace of creation and the mystery of incarnation, the bodies of this uprising are ours.