A Sermon by David Lloyd
April 3, 2005
What is the meaning of Easter? What is it that we are supposed to see in a new light? Our liturgical theme that Celebration Circle chose for Easter season is really the fundamental question for us.
Last Sunday we celebrated Easter with a great to-do. We had a vigil that began at midnight, Eucharist in the early morning, and a breakfast marked with great table fellowship. Many of us greeted each other with the phrase, “Christ is risen.” Our altar was adorned with flowers, and our communal prayers mentioned the coming of spring and rebirth. We listened to the chorus of “Lift up Your Heads, O Ye Gates” from Handel’s Messiah in which the choir sang with great confidence, “The King of Glory Shall Come in.” We joyously sang hymns of resurrection. And we did all this with the hindsight that comes from 2,000 years of the Church proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ and is raised from the dead.
Now, Sharon and I are thinking about taking our daughters to New Zealand for a vacation during Christmas time, which is summer in the southern hemisphere. As I sat and looked out the window last Sunday, I saw the trees not yet bursting in bud and the grass, not yet very green, the sky laden with grey cold clouds of mist and rain rather than a bright blue. I thought that it is like Easter in New Zealand when it’s autumn; the days are getting shorter and the air colder, when there is a hint of the forthcoming little death of wintertime. Then I thought that this was how Jesus’ disciples saw the world that Saturday evening — grey, bleak, death in the air.
The disciples had been hoping for a new world, a world marked by peace and justice and with them filling important roles as administrators under Jesus, who would rule as a king in a theocracy like King David had a thousand years earlier. Instead, acts of injustice and unspeakable violence by the Roman authorities, abetted by their own Jewish leaders, had totally ended that hope when Jesus died on the cross as a political criminal. Moreover, since they knew Rome to be heavy-handed when it came to stamping out potential insurrections, they themselves might be hunted down, arrested, tortured and crucified. Peter had had to deny that he knew Jesus three times in order to escape. They all remembered the mass crucifixions in Galilee not long before Jesus began his ministry.
Now, these unexplainable events of Easter morning had happened. They must have been confusing since the four Gospels differ in their accounts. One has only one woman going to the tomb, another has two women, and two have three women going, but they disagree as to who the three women were. Two have Jesus only appearing to the disciples later in Galilee and the other two have Jesus appearing on Easter in Jerusalem.
With these conflicts in the Gospels, we do not really know which one is the “true” account of Easter. At least one theologian has said that it is because these accounts differ that the underlying resurrection is true — if the Gospels all matched, we would be suspicious of a conspiracy. They were attempts to explain the unexplainable.
This Sunday’s lection from the second scroll of Luke’s Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles, is an excerpt from Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. I wonder why they chose it for this Sunday. To do so is a real act of faith, for it is highly unlikely that the disciples proclaimed this good news one week after Easter. Think about it. All four of the Gospels make it clear that the disciples had been painfully slow to understand fully Jesus’ teachings and the theology behind them during his three years with them. He chided them on several occasions and you can feel his exasperation in the text. Jesus had to explain at least one parable, the parable of the sower and the seed, to them. In Luke’s account of Jesus appearing on Easter to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus had to explain the theology behind the events of Holy Week to them because “they just didn’t get it.”
This group is confidently proclaiming the Gospel one week after Easter? Instead, it is highly likely that the disciples spent days and weeks in prayer, scripture reading, and then in debate, trying to match their initial expectation of the Messiah, with what they had come to expect of Jesus as the Messiah after their three years with him, with the tortured dying figure of Jesus they had seen on Good Friday, and with this mysterious unexplainable resurrected Jesus. Some may have quickly grasped the general outlines of this new aspect to the Jesus Movement and others may not have grasped it quite yet. What did these mysterious appearances of Jesus mean? What does it mean to say that God raised Jesus from the dead? Does that mean his teachings also have new life? How could this be, while the power of Rome was ready to crush any new sect that included a social justice component? If some now hoped again that Jesus’ vision would be a reality, others were not ready to believe in it. Some believed like Peter, some disbelieved like Thomas.
They had to deal with the reality of Judas’ betrayal. They had drawn lots to find a replacement for Judas, but how did they deal with the enormity of what Judas had done, how his betrayal had led to the crushing of all their hopes? Moreover, how did they deal with the knowledge that they thought themselves to be potential betrayers? They had been so uncertain of their own loyalty that each one asked Jesus at that last Thursday evening meal whether he was the one who would betray Him. “Is it I, Lord?” Knowing what they now knew about themselves and about each other, could they really look at each other with the beams of God’s love in their eyes, as Anna Gilcher put it two weeks ago?
During that time between Easter and Pentecost, the disciples were living in semi-darkness, without shape or form. Yet, things were happening. They were beginning to see things with new eyes, to put into practice what Jesus had taught them. They needed time to hold the space open for the Breath of God to create anew.
Last Sunday in her Easter sermon, Marjory Bankson held up the image of creativity as a potential corporate call for Seekers. In her sermon, she mentioned the wave motif on our mosaics, offering plate and communion plates. She noted that this motif represents the wave created by the wind of the Spirit of God moved upon the waters of chaos in Genesis, creating all things out of chaos. Because the Breath of God is always moving and creating over the waters of chaos, the chaos is Holy.
Maybe the meaning of Easter is Holy Chaos. Maybe what we are to see in a new light is the reality and the potential of Holy Chaos in Seekers. Think about it, this is not a congregation marked by homogeneity. Within this local expression of the Body of Christ, there is a variety of theologies, of spiritual journeys, of individual calls, of mission groups, of views on political issues. And the Spirit is at work within and over all of this. It seems to me fitting that the mosaic motif of Seekers Church is about the Spirit of God and Holy Chaos.
Do we value this Holy Chaos? Some of us may not. My temperament prefers order to chaos. Yet, in my work to bring social justice for children, especially abused children, my environment is chaos. I hope it is holy.
Two Sundays ago, on Palm Sunday, our hopes had soared along with the disciples as Jesus entered Jerusalem as a celebrity. The new kingdom of God was all going to happen, and happen now! We sang along to the tune from Jesus Christ Superstar, “Hey-sanna, Hosanna, Sanna sanna ho, sanna hey, sanna hosanna.” I was ready to celebrate. For ten long years, I have been carrying a heavy load in seeking to improve the way the Department of Defense addresses domestic violence in military families. I was the one who led the early efforts, pushing our leadership, and I have been the primary one who takes the heat from the civilian advocates who do not understand the military and therefore do not accept the reasons for our policies. In addition, I was the one who had to deal with a typical unbalanced attack by the TV show “60 Minutes” in 1999. I was the one who identified the civilian experts we should put on a joint military-civilian task force to recommend improvements, and I was the one who prepared the DoD response to the first two reports issued by the Task Force. I was not alone in these efforts, but questions and concerns from throughout the Department of Defense were directed to me. And through all of this, I have been the one that receives the information on the ten or so deaths a year in the military community due to domestic violence, and as far as I know, I pretty much bear the grief of those deaths alone.
I am fortunate that Mike Hoskins, who heads the office that implements the task force’s recommendations, is a wonderful person who invites collaboration, listens well and balances my temperament with a quiet low-key style that inspires confidence. As recently as the Thursday before Palm Sunday, we had looked back at the new directions and policies we have shepherded through the Department of Defense over the last three years. We felt inspired to continue the hard work of reform, especially in getting a limited privilege of confidentiality for our victim advocates. We have been working for three years to get this policy for limited privilege and we are almost there. “Hey-sanna, hosanna, sanna, sanna, ho…”
In contrast to civilian practice, the military has no confidentiality between victims of domestic violence and victim advocates to whom they turn for advice, comfort and support. If military personnel know that another military member has been the victim of a crime, they are obligated to tell their commander and military law enforcement. Only the chaplain has absolute confidentiality. I will not go into the very good reasons for this difference from the civilian practice.
Mike and I had shared our draft policy with the DoD task force on sexual assault policy reform, which issued its policy on confidentiality for victim advocates for sexual assault victims two weeks ago. Mike and I felt like the losing nominees at the Oscars ceremony; applauding the winner while wishing we had received the award. But we were encouraged that senior leadership now saw the need for confidentiality and we headed into Palm Sunday believing that our own policy would soon be issued.
On Holy Monday, I read an e-mail message that the civilian co-chair of the former task force — the one that I had helped put together — sent to its former members. In it, she named our two offices and insinuated that we may be the reason our policy on confidentiality for domestic violence victim advocates had not been issued. I felt betrayed. Moreover, the civilian domestic violence advocates, with the best of intentions, have gotten some legislation introduced in Congress that will be harmful to our efforts. It feels as if we are surrounded by foes.
On Maundy Thursday I was moved deeply once again by the foot washing ceremony, thinking that I could benefit from that rite more than once a year. The words in the scripture about Jesus acknowledging his forthcoming betrayal, and the disciples’ aware that they could be the betrayer, really caught me. Although I was not identifying myself as Jesus, I knew that I felt betrayed in my work life, and that I knew there were foes outside the confines of this building. I began to face the fact that in my daily work, while intending to do the right thing, maybe I might betray the work of our offices. I began to face the fact that maybe while intending to do the right thing here with you in this congregation I could betray the life and health of Seekers Church, this fragile vessel of the Body of Christ.
On Easter, I felt again in my soul that Christ is risen. This week I have been trying to let my work take its own inner course, to let God’s creative breath blow over my responsibilities. To accept Holy Chaos
Like you last Sunday, I felt Marjory’s vision of a corporate call stir my interest like a breeze blowing across the water. Nevertheless, I think we should not rush into this corporate call. We do not have to be ready with a corporate call by Pentecost. We need to explore and understand the mystery of our corporate life over nearly 30 years in the new light of this potential corporate call — and that takes time. We need time to ensure that we have met the resurrected Christ in a new light in this corporate call. We need time to practice our ability to look at each other with the beams of God’s love. There are depths of Holy Chaos we need to plumb, including the ways we wound each other and the capacity we have to betray this fragile vessel of the Body of Christ.
So let us take our time in Holy Chaos, praying, and reading scripture, and studying things, maybe seeing them in a new light of God’s love that is stronger than death, listening to each other and letting the differences work themselves out. Let us let God’s creative breath move when and where it will. So as we partake of this bread and fruit of the vine, re-enacting and ritualizing part of the last meal Jesus had with the ones he called friends, I invite you to consider this a sacrament of Holy Chaos. Consider it a time to see all things in a new light.