Being the Resurrection

Being the Resurrection

The parable by Pete Rollins, read this morning, is titled ‘Being the Resurrection’.  It contrasts two approaches to being a disciple, a follower, of Jesus.  One way was to follow the example of his radical life in behaviour towards others.  The other was to take comfort and strength from the belief that Jesus’ resurrection was an assurance of one’s personal salvation.  Rollins writes in his commentary on the parable that, 

“While the community described knew nothing of the literal Resurrection, there is a sense in which they affirmed the reality of the Resurrection in a more radical way than many of those who confess such a belief… It is in this dedicated commitment to Jesus that one can say that the Resurrection is truly made manifest… Here Jesus is testified to as present in the life and actions of the community.” [i]

The ‘Being the Resurrection’ parable criticises the tendency to substitute mental assent for transformative practice. Our beliefs, real beliefs, are present in our actions.  Anything we say we believe but fail to practice is really not a belief.  Believing in the resurrection therefore is to live in a particular way with others.

In a nutshell he’s saying Easter is not about what you believe, but how you believe.

And this is why I find most of the Gospel texts after Easter, stories and appearances of a ghost-like Jesus, unhelpful.  I much prefer the earlier writings of Paul who talked about living out – in our ethics and actions – what it means to live and be the resurrection (the insurrection) of Jesus.  Particularly as we gather, include, break, and bless our lives, relationships, food, and resources we become, together, the Risen Jesus.

This morning I want to show you some cartoons – mostly by the ‘secular’ theologian Michael Leunig – about Easter, or rather about interpretating Easter today – tying Easter belief with Easter behaviour.

I will ask of each cartoon: What is the context?  What is the challenge?  What is the question?

The image here is modern day, for the modern day.  Remember this cartoon first featured in a newspaper.  The background suggests a warzone – buildings showing mortar scars, with rubble below, and a warplane overhead.

The challenge is what could a spiritual leader (like Jesus) do, and what could we likewise do, that would require soldiers to hunt us down.  Barbara Brown Taylor once wrote: “Jesus was not killed by atheism and anarchy.  He was brought down by law and order allied with religion, which is always a deadly mix.  Beware of those who claim to know the mind of God and who are prepared to use force, if necessary, to make others conform”

The question I have of the cartoon is why would the reader of the newspaper think ‘Easter’?  My guess is that the reader considers Easter not to be about belief (like this year’s Church Leader’s Statement in the NZHerald) but about behaviour.  Behaviour that is confronting of political and military leaders in a warzone.

This cartoon depicts Golgotha in first century Roman-occupied Palestine.  It lampoons the solution of state or empire sanctioned violence – a solution that believes that death brings rebellion to an end.  As modern readers, knowing some history, we however see the irony that the movement initiated by Jesus is far from ‘nipped in the bud’.

Will we continue to see – like we see with the rulers of Myanmar, Ethiopia, and China – belief in the suppression of dissent through the application of physical state-sanctioned violence?  How do we stand against, protest against, such violence?  One way is to lampoon it.

Again, the reader might ask what has this to do with Easter?  Isn’t Easter about happy times, bunnies, eggs and all?  Isn’t Easter about Jesus now living forever, happy with God?  Why bring the ugly, violent stuff to mind – and make us think we should do something about it?

The context of this cartoon is that of a modern-day adult authority figure using a crucifix as an educational aid.  Rather than encourage his young charge to emulate Jesus, he uses Jesus’ crucifixion as an example to encourage the youth to keep his (or her) mouth shut. 

The challenge is how do we teach the story of Jesus in a way that does not automatically promote compliance to authority figures, but in a way that holds authority accountable to a moral standard, and at times encourages non-compliance.  As I said in the online Children’s Story this week bad religion is suspicious of questions (and tells us to ‘trust and obey’), whereas good religion invites them.

So, how to we begin to train all our members, including our children, in ‘being the resurrection’ – part of which is non-violent resistance to authorities that engage in behaviour that we as a community consider immoral?  

Again, this cartoon is set in a contemporary context addressing our context.  It is an office block where individuals are alone, probably in individual rooms, watching computer screens.  And there is a man (labelled ‘troublemaker’) hanging on a cross on the rooftop of the block.

The challenge here is that there is no ‘baddie’.  There is no warzone leader, Roman, or adult authority figure to criticise.  There is just us, and the way we structure (or have been structured) in our lives.  City dwellers.  Privacy junkies.  Technology addicts.  And the one questioning all this we label ‘troublemaker’.  And we do the crucifying.

What does ‘being the resurrection’ mean in this cartoon?  How do we resist the seduction of our living?  How do we form communities of resistance to this boxed lifestyle?

This cartoon by Brendon Boughen was commissioned by me and placed on a billboard outside St Matthew’s Church.  This Jesus first acknowledges in contemporary speak that being crucified is not a desirable outcome (‘sucks’).  He didn’t plan on getting tortured and killed, or on being afterwards the saviour of the world.  Those are interpretations others later hung on him.  Secondly this Jesus asks the question of whether his words will be remembered – you know stories like the Prodigal Son and Good Samaritan – stories that destabilise the boundaries between insiders and outsiders – or whether all that will be remembered are a set of creedal beliefs that others will create to keep outsiders out and insiders in.

The question I have about this cartoon is why, when put up on the billboard, did it get defaced?  What is the offense that some found in it?

This Leunig cartoon lampoons a stereo-typical Aussie (and Kiwi) for whom Easter is a ‘holy’ time to drink some tinnies, lay back and relax, and watch some more of the ubiquitous and omnivorous box.  Maybe there is a hint here too, in the cruciform pose, of the self-absorption of this Aussie/Kiwi who thinks they are hard done by, suffering, even ‘being crucified’?

The challenge of being and living the resurrection is getting over ourselves.  It’s not about us as an individual unit, with our individual communications device.  It is about ‘we’.  ‘We’ the connected.  ‘We’ the resurrection and the life.  ‘We’ bringing hope to others (and to ourselves in the process).   You don’t do Easter solo.

Lastly, this is an Easter cartoon featuring Leunig’s “Mr Curly”.  Those of you who follow Leunig know Mr Curly, with his duck and teapot and flower, as a characterisation of hope.  Mr Curly has stepped aside from, outside of, the abnormal norm in order to find a different way to live, a way of peace, of living with animals, nature, and those who don’t fit.  In this cartoon Mr Curly’s cart is being drawn along by mystical imaginary creatures (indescribable really – just like most of the resurrection narratives), taking the slow path (using hot cross buns as wheels – maybe Easter eggs too?), to an alternative peace, away from those who would justify poverty, and war, and conformity.

So, this is a hopeful cartoon which invites us to think of being and doing the resurrection, not just by opposing the immorality of powerful warmongers and other power men, or opposing the mistaken belief that we are boxed individuals and can’t change anything, but by simply sitting, next to a duck, with a flower as an aerial, and being pulled along by the power of the imagination, with hot cross buns for wheels.

[i] Being the Resurrection, a parable by Peter Rollins in his book, The Orthodox Heretic, p67-70