Monday, April 13, 2015

Holy Momentum

Scripture for the 2nd Sunday of Easter includes Acts 4:32-35; I John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31

This Sunday has often been called Low Sunday. After a full church on Easter Day, the Second Sunday of Easter can look like the day after the Second Coming. Like in the movie “Left Behind,” we who are left in church on this Sunday wonder what has become of all those good people we welcomed last weekend? And we have a hunch they haven’t all been raptured.

Our Bishop, Doug Fisher, has called us out of that head-scratching mode by calling all the parishes of Western MA to make this Momentum Sunday. Retire the sad old nickname Low Sunday. Momentum Sunday it is: forward in the strength and grace of the resurrection.

How we are doing that today is by launching an Easter Series of education and encouragement under the heading, “Climate Change and Creation Care”. Whatever you make of the science and politics of climate change, creation care is at the heart of what you and I sign up for whenever we renew our vows of holy baptism. The baptismal agreement is to enter and extend/promote/serve God’s new covenant of reconciliation, restoring, renewing all creation, the whole shimmering web of life. And, as the collect of the day puts it, we do this work by showing forth in our lives what we profess by our faith.

Listen to these words of our baptismal profession:

“Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God? I renounce them.”

We pray for those about to be baptized: “Send them into the world in witness to your love.” Not send them into the church… or send them back to bed to hide under the covers… but into the world.

Immediately upon a person’s being baptized, we pray, “Sustain her, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give her an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.”

And wherever the contemporary creed from Iona is said, Christians are called to the front lines of creation care: “…though we are sometimes fearful and full of doubt, in God we trust; and, in the name of Jesus Christ, we commit ourselves, in the service of others, to seek justice and live in peace, to care for the earth and to share the commonwealth of God’s goodness…”

We are very fortunate to have Bill Moomaw with us this morning, to help us launch this series. Its purpose: to sustain us as we inquire and discern, to encourage us to will and persevere.

The Moomaw Family coat of arms must have the verb Persevere on it. Bill’s life’s-work has shown a model and set the pace for what he asked of the senior class at Williams in 2013, when he was honored with a Bicentennial Medal from his alma mater. “Create a social and economic momentum to change the destructive path the world is on,” he urged. “Be mindful of the implications of how and what we all do affects the planet. Do what you can personally… lead by example.”

Six years earlier, Bill’s work on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, under the aegis of the United Nations, placed him in a circle of people who would be startled to learn that they were sharing the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former U. S. Vice President Al Gore.

Our Bishop’s call to make this Momentum Sunday recognizes and celebrates how Jesus led by example, and gets us inquiring and discerning what sort of momentum, what kind of movement, our Lord set in motion.

Our readings today are peppered with pointers and clues. First, as we have seen in our Collect, it is a movement into reconciliation. Our Prayer Book Catechism teaches that the mission of the Church is to restore all people (and we have seen already the scope of our baptism including the restoring of all creation) to unity with God and each other in Christ.

Our first reading from the Book of Acts shows the social and spiritual movement of Jesus to be one of great power and grace rooted in the knowledge that it is not we who own the earth, but God. And it is not the building of our own wealth that demands our primary allegiance, but strengthening that commonwealth the Iona Creed names, a fellowship that cares for its members (especially its most vulnerable) while caring equally for neighbors outside that fellowship, indeed, says John, the whole world and therefore all that is in it (especially its most vulnerable).

Our second reading from one of the letters of John shows the movement Jesus has created to be one of radical respect and high regard for matter, for the outward and visible, for what is inquired into and discerned by the senses that recognize, the mind that weighs and comprehends, the heart that can feel reverence, repentance, responsibility and joy. Matter and spirit move together in this new creation launched by the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.

And our Gospel insists that this is not a movement either based on or furthered by fear. Jesus moves to open locked doors, to breathe new life into God’s people and God’s creation, and to make his wounds known to us so we will see and believe that he is already at work ahead of us, around us, through us. Transparency, freedom, inspiration, confidence are all traits and powers of his movement.

These are not the powers and traits of a victim mowed down by a movement stronger than he, or a passive soul caught in some unalterable downward spiral. Holy Week is not the story of someone struggling against death and finally giving into it. The emphasis in all four Gospels is upon Jesus’s death as a free act. Jesus was not killed. He died. He gave up his Spirit, purposefully. He knew himself to be Spirit expressing itself through body. He had learned how to let his Spirit control and guide the total reality of his person.

Those words aren’t mine, though I agree with them. They come from Holy Week meditations by Richard Holloway, former Bishop of Edinburgh and Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Scotland. He finds fault with the view that Jesus was a victim, because that encourages us to believe various victim theories about our own nature, including how we think about our death.

What we learn from Christ, he says, is not that death happens to us, it is not a submission to something we can do nothing about. “That is not what we learn from Christ and those who have lived with something of his courage,” Holloway writes. “For them life becomes something that they live, not something that simply happens to them. Death itself becomes a free, personal act… It is the final act of a person who controls his life. According to our Lord’s example, death is something we can freely choose, indeed must choose, because it corresponds to the reality of personality as free spirit. Death has been defeated and robbed of its sting, and is something we can now make our own. This is what he did. His last word (from the cross) was a giving back to God of that life which had come from God. ‘Father, into thy hands I return my spirit.’ This was the way of Christ, the free man, probably the only really free person, the only really complete person. So his death, as well as being a great and awful tragedy, is yet a triumph of the spirit, because it is controlled at every point, not by the human actors in the drama (those roles we played in reading the Passion Gospel, two Sundays ago), not by the executioners, by Pilate, by Herod, by Annas and Caiaphas; nor even by the very action of his own body with its cells and molecules, but by his own spirit. By freely choosing death and going through it obediently to the end, he reversed the tragedy of all dying.”

I readily imagine an objection to this business of choosing death: Doesn’t it condone suicide? Not if you’ve been catching the frequency of the word “freedom” and “free”, words that do not describe the state of mind and heart and will in a person who kills himself not in an open embrace of dying, but in a tragic attempt at escaping life—rejecting, rather than returning, the gift of life.

But my oh my, doesn’t that open up doors down corridors of another sermon, where we should probably go some day, but not today. Today, we consider the movement Jesus opens through his death and his rising. And we consider the environmental movement towards caring for the earth. In neither case will it serve the world well to see Jesus as a passive victim, or ourselves as victims.

What will help is to grasp the freedom we are given, and, inspired and guided and sustained by the Spirit we are given, step up to the passion our world needs of us.

The passion of Christ—his life, his death, his resurrection—is all about choices freely taken, decisions freely made, the body guided by the Spirit. This is the stuff of the great fifty days of Easter culminating in the Day of Pentecost, a season also known as Spring, such a right time to consider Climate Change and Creation Care.

Richard Holloway's words are taken (and paraphrased just a bit) from his book "The Killing: Meditations on the Death of Christ," Morehouse Barlow, 1984.