Toorak Uniting Church

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Bewildering Love

Easter Day
Rev. Dr Christopher Page
20 April 2014

Remarkably, the resurrection of Jesus is the central symbol of Christian faith and yet it is perhaps the most difficult for the modern person to engage with. I use the word engage rather than understand because the Christian faith can never really be reduced to a rational or scientific explanation. There will always be a degree of faith and trust and that makes much contemporary thinking very uncomfortable.

I often say that it is more important to wander around in these ancient stories rather than trying either to reduce them to dogmatic beliefs or to dismiss them as irrelevant to the modern psyche. They are in fact, as the psychologist Carl Jung argued, essential to healthy modern life. While the story of new life emerging from death can be bewildering to those in the 21st Century, unless we engage with this story on what many have called a mythic or symbolic plane, we are robbed of meaning and wholeness in our lives. I find Eugene Peterson, the author of the paraphrase on the Bible called The Message, helpful here. He says:

It is not easy to convey a sense of wonder, let alone resurrection wonder, to another. It’s the very nature of wonder to catch us off guard, to circumvent expectations and assumptions. Wonder can’t be packaged, and it can’t be worked up. It requires some sense of being there and some sense of engagement."

Capturing a sense of Wonder
Many Christian thinkers have in recent years returned to the notion that Christian faith, Christian theology is a reflection of our experience and it is an opportunity for re-enchantment in this rational scientific age. As Peterson suggests, unless one cultivates a sense of wonder, then not only the symbol of resurrection will pass you by, but so will much of life. Rather than this tortuous process of trying to believe in something like the resurrection, why don’t we just wonder at it? Why don’t we enter into the wonder-full experience that we observe in children? Ummm! That may be very challenging for those of us who have more university degrees than a thermometer. But I suggest that the best thinking and the wisest conclusions often come from wondering and embracing a spirit of curiosity and awe. But how do we achieve this?

The story is often told of the American plant geneticist and pioneer in DNA theory, Barbara McClintock. As a woman scientist at the beginning of the 20th Century, she had few opportunities for research in her chosen area. She lived on a farm, so she began to wonder if the corn and maize grown in her father’s fields could help extend her understanding of what came to be known as DNA. Years later, after successfully publishing her research, she was asked by Evelyn Fox Keller, another eminent scientist, what method she used to reach her conclusions. And I quote:

Barbara McClintock was one of the most precise empirical observers and analytic logical thinkers that we have ever had in American science. Answering a question, she thought for a moment and said, "About the only thing I can tell you about the doing of science is that you somehow have to have a feeling for the organism."

Then Keller asked her question again. "Tell me, how do you do great science?"

McClintock, who was at that age when all that's left is to tell the truth, thought for a moment about these ears of corn that she had worked with all her life, because they were cheap and plentiful, and she said, "Really, all I can tell you about doing great science is that you somehow have to learn to lean into the kernel."

I think it is the same in the religious, spiritual world. We have to learn to lean into the seeds of truth we find in these great, mythic stories. Let each one tell us its story, rather than us imposing our story on it. We have to learn to have the courage to experience the wonder of such a bewildering story and event.

Bewildering Love
It must not be lost on us that this is a story of great love. We cannot separate the death of Jesus on a Roman cross and the rebirth or new life that appears a few days later. In the same way we cannot separate our own suffering and sorrow from the invitation to a new and renewed way of seeing and living our lives, and this is the central message of Jesus… and it is bewildering. True love emerges only from suffering. Resurrection is never possible without the pain and loss of one’s life… life as I once knew it. To have new life there must be the death of the old life. For the true self to be raised, the old self must die. Perhaps that is why the Christian message is not very popular. Perhaps a softer landing would be more enticing to the populace. But the truth seems to remain:

…unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

The story is clear that this regeneration and rebirth will always show the wounds of the days of suffering. The writer and pastor Frederick Buechner says:

"Remember Jesus of Nazareth, staggering on broken feet out of the tomb toward the Resurrection, bearing on his body the proud insignia of the defeat which is victory…

"The love for equals is a human thing… the love of friend for friend, brother for brother. It is to love what loves and is lovely. The world smiles upon such love. The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing - the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely.

This is compassion, and it touches the heart of the world. The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing - to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, the love of the poor for the rich…. The world is always bewildered by its saints. And then there is the love for the enemy - love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. The tortured's love for the torturer. This is God's love. It conquers the world."

That is a bewildering love because it transcends what we see each day. However, if we have the courage to lean into this story; to be open to experiencing it; to wonder about it; then we begin love’s journey that will take us into unexplored and wonder-full places.

The message of new life, rebirth and resurrection is found in the words of the 19th Century poet Emily Dickinson, who wrote:

Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough.

© Rev. Dr Christopher Page, 2014

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