So, what does all this mean? And what does this have to do with the Resurrection of Our Lord? Let’s break it down, one issue at a time. First tradition: We all love tradition! I mean, who doesn’t like egg bake and Swedish coffee cake?! OMG! That doesn’t need to change, ever! Even if you come from a different culture that didn’t grow up with these treats, chances are you could adapt for a day! It just tastes so good, unless you’re a vegan or don’t eat refined sugar, I suppose. Hmm… But food traditions, we can largely either enjoy, or just say no to, and there’s no harm, no foul. Of course, there is that ham thing, and whether or not eating off the pig, and how it was raised, is ethical. Peter, in our 1st reading, was actually wrestling with something like this issue: Whether or not to eat foods that weren’t Kosher.
So, tradition can be good because it reinforces identity, and a sense of belonging, as when Peter was resistant to eating unclean foods, lizards and toads and camels, not because they sounded disgusting, but because it helped keep his culture together for over 2 millennia. By these traditions, they knew they were Jewish!
But, this tradition was also holding Peter, and the whole Christian church, back. The world was changing around Peter. Stuff happens! For Peter and those writing the stories in the book of Acts, it’s what was happening to the Temple, the center of Jewish identity, that was one of the major sources of change. The Temple had been desecrated and then destroyed, but Jesus, the crucified savior, his followers came to understand, had offered himself as a new, boundary-less temple, the risen Son of God, himself worthy of worship and praise, and a bridge-builder between peoples. I get it, said Peter! God truly shows no partiality! It took Peter some time to change, and get to that place, however! He had to process the amazement he felt, looking in on the empty tomb on Easter morning, to be ready, sometime later, in meeting Cornelius the Gentile Centurion, when he could finally say: “I truly understand that …in every nation anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Not just my culture and people, but all cultures and people are welcome to worship the God we know in Jesus.
And so part of Easter morning is waking up to a new, radical-inclusion of all peoples, a change that brings the hope of reconciliation, peace and justice to all. The resurrection means, our becoming this Body of Christ, that lives and breathes radical-inclusion, a welcome and a hospitality, for all.
It is sometimes hard for us to accept this value which prizes inter-dependence over individual freedom. But it is a free choice, a choice of loving your neighbor as yourself, over against, choosing to build up your barns and becoming rich.
Americans, of course, have this belief that there is nothing wrong with getting rich, as long as you are a good person, someone who shares, someone who still cares, and you don’t forget where you came from. But we’ve also heard by now some of the statistics about income and wealth inequality which have been widening precipitously. A popular example is, if you take two of our richest people, people that we all know, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, together their wealth nearly equals what the bottom 40% of Americans have, or 120 million people; and, that part of the reason the rich are getting richer, is the political influence money can buy in Washington. And we now know it was Wall Street money, and the lobbying of “banks too big to fail” in particular, that was significant, if not decisive, in bringing down the economy in 2008.
But beyond that even, the result for us, backed up by recent studies, is that the rich are less ethical than others, in the words of one researcher, and more apt to disregard the [well being] of others, because to continue in the pursuit of wealth, quote: “causes people to prioritize self-interest and perceive greed as positive and beneficial.” Today’s super-rich have been characterized as “increasingly a nation unto themselves.” (The Progressive, March 2013) But this kind of nation, or culture, is not the breaking down of walls, within our global village, but only finding a new way to build them up – to divide and create partitions, and partiality. Getting rich can indeed hurt the rest of us, by entombing and killing off precious resources, and turning a blind eye to lay-offs, joblessness, and the working poor – issues Jesus addressed often.
Not only is this a failure of democracy, which threatens to pull us all down, but it’s an ethic of stasis and greed that have wandered far from the influence and saving gift of the Holy Spirit we know in our resurrected and risen Christ. Change is hard enough for any of us, but perhaps hardest for those who have, most to lose.
When the women “went to the tomb at early dawn, taking the spices that they had prepared,” they were un-prepared for the change that transformed the grave-site of Jesus. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb. Their first thought would have been, grave robbers, and indeed Jesus was not inside. But two men in dazzling clothes, angels, were there, that announced, he had risen. And asked, Why do you look for the living among the dead?! Not a normal conversation you’d expect from bandits! Change is not hard for God and angels, only for us.
Change is possible, however, even for us, when we as a people of faith and conviction, have a vision and a mission, that is ignited and fueled by the life and message, the death and resurrection, of Our Lord. Whether small things like, organizing a delicious breakfast of egg bake and coffee breads, and, transforming this sanctuary from plain and ordinary Lent and Holy Week, into a beautiful garden of spring flowers. Or in bigger things, like fore-seeing a plan to space share our building with mission-driven neighbors and once again fill it with life to serve our community. Or, even in really big things, like working for Mental Health Justice, quality low-income housing, the new Trans-House, and keeping our schools open and strong, in our neighborhood. Christ is risen, change, is possible!
“Remember how Jesus told you,” said the angels, “while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again?” The change that Jesus went through, in his life for us, included facing up to the powers of this world. So the question for us is: What change is harder to believe, that the stone of Jesus’ tomb is rolled away and he has risen? Or, that students in our schools, left with inadequate resources and high drop-out rates, and now having to face worse if their schools are closed and they also have to walk or ride through dangerous gun-ridden neighborhoods, can be resurrected and saved? Isn’t this what change looks like? People who are willing to stand up for our kids, and give them something better!? Teachers who are giving their all and then some?! Doesn’t the change we want, look a lot like the PCO after-school program here at Unity, that reaches out to “at-risk” kids and mentors them through middle school, high school and college, and makes sure they have the best chance for the abundant new life Jesus offers?!
Change is hard, by ourselves. But when we follow Jesus to Galilee, and join the culture of new life and the resurrection, the culture that truly understands that there is no partiality, and the culture that has conquered death, we are unafraid of change any longer! Amazing is just what we see every day; angels are there to help us; greed is not all that tempting; and hanging out and working for the vision and mission of Jesus our risen Lord, is as natural, and delicious, as egg bake and Swedish Bakery coffee cake!