Four Brief Meditations on the Way to Easter – part IV

Part IV. Easter Sunday: The Somatic Traumatic and Pandemic Lockdown

 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.  While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”  They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Luke 24:39-43

  We arrive at the most scandalous expression of the tactile and somatic essence of our faith: Resurrection.  Specifically Luke’s account, in which the Crucified One appears among the locked-down community.  The wounds he sustained from torture and execution—typically sanitized in western art—are fully evident, we are told.  Moreover, he invites their examination. And asks for a hot meal.

Exactly a year ago at Garret Evangelical Seminary I offered this reflection on the “traumatic somatic” nature of Luke’s Resurrection account.  I suggested the analogy of Emmet Till’s mother’s insistence on showing the murdered boy’s body at his funeral, what Deneen Brown later called the “open casket that sparked a civil rights movement.”  This might help us understand how the resurrection of Jesus’ body animated an insurrection among the body of his followers, whose bodies soon showed up back at the Temple plaza—the “scene of the crime”—proclaiming liberation and getting busted.

Executed One, Beat-up One, Famished One, Refusing-to-be-Dead One.  Ours is not a ghostly tradition.  Which is supremely inconvenient for our season of “physical/social/communal distancing.”  How deliciously awkward it is today to read about the Undead Kyrios busting in on our closed doors, breathing on us, insisting that we reckon with his battered flesh, eating with us.  In these times of taboo touching, prohibited intimacy and enforced isolation, once again the gospel reminds us of the centrality of the somatic.  Let us refuse to let go of that, even if we can’t, at the moment, hold one another.

Four Brief Meditations on the Way to Easter – part I

Part I. Holy Thursday: What We’re Missing

We support how online “gatherings,” including religious services, are attempting to ease the separations of physical distancing during this pandemic. We’ve led them and participated in them. But they inevitably–and by necessary design—miss the essence of how we gather.

Holy Thursday in many church traditions brings a service of foot-washing and/or Communion. At Farm Church we’ve gone down to the Ventura River to wash each other’s feet. Not this year.

It strikes me how many of our Jewish and Christian liturgical expressions involve physical touching and social gathering. Not least Pesach, which is in full flower right now.  This idea that the “body” (a social metaphor) expresses itself in image“bodies” (in their physicality) represents an essential characteristic of our tradition, one that we this year are “missing,” perhaps feeling its absence with somatic memory.

Perhaps not being able to “embody” our practices in this season will help us realize anew how corporeal and tactile they really are. This is good to remember afresh, because its truth cuts so hard against the grain of our ubiquitously docetic Christian habituary (and theologies)–which cause us to “miss” this essence (in the other meaning of that verb).

So in this season of “virtual” liturgies, let us nevertheless celebrate the centrality of touch and proximity in our faith!

Four Brief Meditations on the Way to Easter – part II

Part II. Good Friday’s Warning

“From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.” (Mt 27:45)

In this greatest of cosmic “signs” in the gospel narrative–the darkening of the world for three hours—our attention is pointed back to the old Exodus story.  There Yahweh, in the war of myths with Pharaoh to free the Hebrew slaves, blots out the sun in Egypt for three days–a repudiation of the imperial order legitimized by the sun god Ra. The rhetoric describing this penultimate plague is evocative: “People could not see one another, and for three days they could not move from where they were” (Ex 10:23). What a trope for collective blindness, denial and paralysis, so fitting to the culture of empire still today! (For more on this, see my piece here.)

This Good Friday falls at or near the peak of the Covid-19 plague in the U.S. At the “apocalyptic moment” of Jesus’ crucifixion, we are supposed to pay attention to the lesson of plagues: they are the dramatic expression of the great struggle between Creation and Empire–and of the God who takes sides.

Maybe at 3 pm today we should be out on our porches banging pots for that

Note:  On Thursday Elaine and I and another Farm Church friend skipped the online gathering and went to the back country behind Lake Casitas.  In remote Santa Ana creek we washed our own feet in the chilly water under a light drizzle.  The next day four of us returned to that chaparral sanctuary and processed with a cross up deserted Santa Ana road. We observed six “stations,” reading from an adapted version of the Ecological Way of the Cross. The site for meditating on Jesus’ Crucifixion was at Grandmother Oak, who is slowly returning to the earth (left). Before her skeleton we recited: “Passion of Earth, strengthen me. Resurrection of Earth, empower me. Within your wounds, hide me.” (Jane Pellowski, Anima Christi.)

 

Four Brief Meditations on the Way to Easter – part III

Part III. Holy Saturday: Gathering amidst Death and Lockdown, Jesus as Prison Chaplain

That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. (Luke 24:33)

In a beautiful live-streamed Holy Saturday service from Sabeel Jerusalem this morning, Naim Ateek pointed out that despite Jesus’ death and the necessity of sequestering themselves away from the authorities, the disciples found a way to be together.  Community trumps lock down.  Good to remember in these days, however we gather.

The church’s very first task was struggling to navigate their fear, anxiety and uncertainty in a world ruled, by all accounts, by the imperial death machine.  Feelings not unknown to us amidst this pandemic.  Meanwhile, as his followers tried to prop each other up, Jesus continued his journey of forging community among outcasts, according to early Christian tradition. First Peter tells us mysteriously:

He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison…

…this is why the gospel was preached even to the dead, that though judged in the flesh, they might live in the spirit like God.  (1 Peter 3:18-19; 4:6)

Somehow through the fog of death, Jesus reached out in solidarity with all who have ever been incarcerated.

  This admittedly obscure assertion defies our theological imaginations, which is why the church dares consider it—and then only with trepidation—on Holy Saturday.  But the notion did make it into the Apostle’s Creed (“He descending into hell…”), and I sense it preserves something profound, however inscrutable.  (Left: “Descent to Hell” by Duccio, ca.1308 C.E.)

Elaine and I have often speculated that perhaps the various metaphors in the New Testament (Hell/Sheol/Hades/Gehenna) represent ciphers for a period of afterlife we call (only half in jest) “cosmic Restorative Justice Camp.” Why not time and space to: confess sins and crimes great and small, personal and political; make things right; repair inner and outer brokenness; purge ourselves of apathy and compulsions, complicity and denial?  (Quakers once imagined something like this in their “penitentiary” experiments, but these were soon coopted by the dominant dehumanizing punishment system of empire.)  If we all have need of such mending in our here and now, how much more so after our days are done?

Even when we abandon dysfunctional retributive atonement theologies for restorative ones (on this, see our Ambassadors of Reconciliation I, chapters 3 and 4), we nevertheless still insist that Creator is characterized by justice.  And this means that there surely must come some form of ultimate accountability—even if “love wins” in the end.

The work of repentance, restitution and reparation is searing—hence the “flames” in traditional imagery.  As Elaine’s colleague Joe Avila described it, meeting the family of the young woman he killed in a drunk driving accident “was a fire I would not like to walk through again.” But for equity to be fully realized and enmity to be dissolved—for the universe finally to bend into justice—the hard labor of personal and political restoration must be fully realized. No exceptions.

The good news: Jesus visits all those “in prison” past, present and to come: jailers and their bosses as well as the caged; the almost innocent as well as the massively guilty; the tormented as well as torturers; me and you.  Blessed be the Crucified One, chaplain of Restorative Justice Camp, in this life and beyond.

“The Feast of Bartimaeus: Celebrating an Old Tome, a New Home, and a Sacred Story,” by Ched Myers

Note:  This is an edited version of a homily given at Farm Church on Oct 21, 2018.  Right: Francis Ferdinand Maurice Cook, “Head of an Apostle (Blind Bartimaeus),” 1962 (https://artuk.org/).

We have, from time to time, used the sermon time of our Farm Church gatherings to learn more about one of us, in the spirit of “biography as theology.”  I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing several of you for this.  Today it’s my turn, for two reasons.

One is that this month is the 30th anniversary of the publication of my first book.  Binding the Strong Man was/is a commentary on Mark’s gospel—long before political readings of the Bible were cool.  I feel gratified to have helped pioneer what is now an expansive field in biblical studies called “imperial-critical studies.” The commentary has had a good run, and is still widely used in seminaries and by preachers, especially during Lectionary Year B.  Countless people have told me it has changed their perspective and deepened their faith. Continue reading ““The Feast of Bartimaeus: Celebrating an Old Tome, a New Home, and a Sacred Story,” by Ched Myers”