Easter Sunday, Cycle B
Old St. Pat’s, 2018 [9:30 & 11:15]
Wikipedia may not be the best theological source
A preacher consults
When preparing a homily for Easter.
I did consult it, however
On a hunch that it would report both common belief
and misperceptions about today’s penetrating mystery.
I was right.
Common belief & misperception starts in the opening sentence
when Wikipedia notes that this is a feast
that celebrates Jesus’ resurrection from the dead
on the third day of his burial, after his crucifixion in 30 AD.
My guess is that if we created a pop quiz
for this or any Catholic-Christian congregation
and asked if that statement was true or false,
that Easter celebrates Jesus’ resurrection from the dead,
virtually everyone … including most clergy, would say TRUE.
My caveat, however, is that the statement is only minimally true.
If Jesus’ resurrection is the ONLY focus of this feast
Then we are left remembering a long past historical event,
that the world could,
and sometimes has deemed, forgettable.
In the midst of all of the flowers and music,
lights and decorations,
Easter outfits and Easter bunnies,
there is something more consequential happening with this feast.
We sing “alleluia” – literally “praise God”
not just because Lent is over, the purple is gone
and we can now indulge
in our favorite legal vices again without guilt.
We sing alleluia not just because
spring weather actually is upon us
and Loyola made the final 4.
And we sing alleluia not only because in the year 30 AD
Jesus rose from the dead
and then ascended to his heavenly father.
Rather, we sing Alleluia because this is feast about the future,
not only and essentially about the past.
It is thus a mission feast
and thus a feast with an equal mix of risk & promise,
both for God and for us.
Resurrection as a risk for God?
You might be wondering if I got lost in Wikipedia
and instead of the article on resurrection,
was reading about revolution or re-districting
or some other overtly risky enterprise
Admittedly sometimes my research takes me far afield
and sometimes my attention does drift .
But my suggestion about resurrection as a godly risk,
is not because I got lost in Wikipedia.
Rather it is from pondering the liturgies of these days
and considering what is missing from today’s gospel.
And that, of all things,
is the actual resurrected Christ.
Now our faith tells us that he is risen
and Peter announces that faith in the first reading.
By why is it, on this most glorious of the Church’s festivals,
Christ makes no appearance: there is only that empty tomb?
It made me wonder if the suspension of the resurrection story
not only today, but also on Good Friday
and Palm Sunday before that
maybe suggests that it was not a foregone conclusion.
While we may take the resurrection for granted,
maybe our presumption is not God’s presumption.
If suffering, crucifixion, and death were free choices of Jesus
done willingly, out of love,
wouldn’t resurrection have to have been a divine choice as well?
It is an admittedly theologically edgy proposition
but for me, it points to God’s deadly commitment to us
revealed in the very danger of resurrection.
Maybe the unspoken danger of resurrection
is the reason we suspend revealing the resurrected Christ
in the gospels on Palm Sunday and Good Friday
and only have a hint of resurrection in Today’s gospel.
Maybe Jesus’ three days in the tomb
were not the time needed to recover from the crucifixion
but the time God took to decide
whether or not resurrection was actually worth it.
I can almost hear the Trinity debating the issue.
For example, if Jesus rose, would his detractors line up
to confront, abuse, and reject him again
or would he have to face more wayward disciples
more waffling and denials from supposed followers?
Was the holy triad discussion all of those who
would use the resurrection story for their own advantage
or even as a justification for persecuting the Jews
or declaring a holy war on Islam?
If God is all knowing and knew the things that Jesus’ followers would do in his name,
the abuse, the violence, the prejudice,
ancient crusades against religious enemies,
Contemporary crusades against the LGBTQ community,
and the killing of too many young black men on our streets,
it is wholly miraculous to me
that God not only chose to love us unto death
but to love us even when threatened by resurrection.
When not reading Wikipedia I am currently in the midst of quite astonishing biography of Black Elk by Joe Jackson,
a Lakotan warrior present at the battle of little Big Horn
and the massacre at Wounded knee
a Sioux medicine man
who toured with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show
and a convert to Catholicism
whose cause for canonization has officially opened.
When he was 9 years Black Elk had his first great vision
some might dismiss as psychotic behavior
though the great religions like Christianity
affirm that there are mystics who do have divine visions.
These visions continued throughout his life
but the most pivotal occurred when he was 19
and it was revealed to him that he would be a Heyoka,
the most celebrated and difficult of all sacred roles
A Heyoka is a kind of sacred clown,
a contrarian, a jester, a satirist,
who as a fool is free to ask difficult questions
to say what others are afraid to say.
You might understand why I am drawn to that image.
Heyoka are mirrors and teachers,
using extreme behaviors to mirror others,
wearing clothes inside out,
riding backwards on their horses,
acting the perennial fool.
But in this crazy wisdom they force others
to examine the craziness of their own lives,
their doubts and fears, hatreds and weakness
and imagine a foolish future of mutual respect and love.
St. Paul has a befuddling line in his letter to the Corinthians
When he calls himself a fool for Christ
It was not a phrase that has previously resonated with me.
But listening to Black Elk it has dawned on me
Only took about 7 decades
That it wasn’t Paul that was the fool … it was Jesus.
Jesus as Heyoka.
Clearly a contrarian to stilted traditional practices and beliefs,
touching the unclean,
consorting with women,
disciple-ing tax collectors and outcasts,
disclosing a God enamored with sinners.
So disconcerting, so contrarian, so challenging.
They killed him for his public foolishness.
That was the risk he took in life.
And I think that was the risk he took in resurrection:
Wagering that his resurrection would not vindicate the status quo.
Not justify the resurrection of the ordinary suspects.
Not excuse those unwilling to advocate.
To gamble on the dreamer, the disposed, the discarded.
This is the Heyoka Jesus who refuses to believe
that we can be Facebooked into voting a certain way,
that we can be psychographically coerced
into mindless capitulation to the newest political pole,
that we cannot disrupt contemporary social practices
be that nationally shaming a 17-year-old shooting survivor
painting all immigrants as suspect and un-American
or treating woman as objects of amusement.
And so there’s the Easter oops,
the resurrectional rub,
the challenge of an Easter that falls on April Fools 1st
for the first time in 60 years.
Not just an invitation into what my grandniece calls
Easter-fool’s day, but the invitation to an Easter fools life.
St. Augustine is famously quoted as saying
That we are an Easter people and alleluia is our song.
But as an Easter people
forged in the blood of the original Heyoka,
maybe our real song, however,
is a hymn to the utter foolishness of a prankster God,
who would go so far
as to gamble that the human race, that the baptized,
would be a faithful lover and spouse.
In 1941, because she was a Jew, 8 years Francine Christophe
was taken to a concentration camp with her mother.
As a child, she was allowed to bring some few things with her,
a small bag with 2 or 3 small items.
Her mother brought little pieces of chocolate
and said she would keep these
until a day when you have completely collapsed
And really need help – vraiment besoin d’aide.
Francine narrates how one of the women in her barracks,
Helene, was pregnant, and when she went into labor,
her mother, the barracks chief took her to the hospital.
Before they left, her mother asked
“Souviens tu la chocolat?”
Remember the chocolate I was saving for you?
She said, if you let me,
I would like to give your chocolate to Helene.
Giving birth here will be hard
“Elle peut mourir” … she could die.
The chocolate may help her .. “Oui Mama”
The woman gave birth to a very small baby girl.
She ate the chocolate … she did not die.
The camp was liberated 6 months later.
Many years later, Francine’s own daughter asked
if it would have been easier for her to return to France
if she had psychologists or psychiatrists available to her.
Francine thought this was an interesting question
And so organized a conference around the question:
What would have happened
if those returning from the death camps
would have had the help of mental health professionals?
It drew a very large crowd of survivors,
psychologists, psychiatrists, and others.
One woman came to the stage to make a presentation
a psychiatrist who worked and lived in Marseille.
But, before her presentation, she said
“Je vourai demandez Francine Christophe.”
I would please ask Francine Christophe
to come to the stage, which she did.
The psychiatrist reached into her pocket,
pulled out two pieces of chocolate,
gave game them to Francine and said
“Je suis le bebe d’ Helene” – I am Helene’s baby
The foolishness of God.
Those chocolates could be an instrument of the holy.
That the memory of simple kindness could endure for decades.
That a child’s gift would sustain human life.
That sweetness could emerge in midst of so much degradation.
That resurrection could blossom in a death camp.
Easter fool’s day:
not a memorial of long past events,
but a commitment to the Heyoka Christ,
God’s eternal jester, the divine buffoon
who tricked death,
cheated the grave,
duped the status quo,
and loved us unto death.
In the face of a society in need of so much reversal,
be it regarding gun violence,
pursuit of the almighty dollar,
or the glib dismissal of the other
in order to confirm our own self-worth.
We are this day divinely commissioned to do the same,
to love even unto death
and so risk authentic resurrection,
a resurrection worth something,
as resurrection that respects passion, betrayal
and even death
through Christ our Lord.