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April 10, 2004 (Easter Vigil)

Pastor Fritz Fritschel

I feel torn between the politics and the poetics associated with the cluster of events commemorated in this weekend.

Let me try to explain. It was Juergen Moltmann, a prominent German theologian, who first drew my attention to the term "political" in connection with the Easter event. He said something to the effect that this Easter occurrence was the most powerful political event that has ever happened.

By that, as I understand it, he meant that the traditional political values of the world had been overturned. The dominance of power politics, imperial authority, militaristic might have not only been challenged by the Galileean vision of compassion, non-violence and forgiveness, but they have been shown to be ineffective in subduing this power of love. The event is political in the sense that it reverses the values holding sway in the imperial and priestly courts of society. It is a political event because, as in the words of the writer to the Colossians, the "principalities and powers have been disarmed."

There has been a shift of power, a disclosure of the nature of power, a revelation of the divine approval of Jesus' words and actions.

The politics of the event is also suggested by the loyalty embedded in the narrative.

"Now wait," you say, " are you sure you have the right account? The actions of the disciples are certainly not the epitome of loyalty. They desert, abandon, flee, deny and betray. Those are hardly actions of loyalty."

But the loyalty displayed in the narrative is not the disciples' loyalty, but the loyalty of Jesus toward them. Somehow, even in the midst of their abandonment, they experienced his abiding commitment to them. Incredulous as they were, they became convinced that he had not deserted them. However it was to be explained, they testified of the ongoing power and presence of the one who had been in their midst--healing, forgiving, teaching, and confronting.

This also announces a shift of power--a shift that becomes evident in the lives of the apostles as traditionally recorded. For tradition suggests that all of the disciples faced the same or similar fatal circumstances in their martyr-deaths as Jesus did. That is certainly a strong testimony of their own personal transformation.

Unfortunately as the decades pass, after several periods of persecution, the Jesus movement becomes more and more co-opted by the structures of society, by the very powers and principalities which had been challenged. Eventually the movement is accepted legally by the emperor, Constantine, and later adopted as a part of imperial orthodoxy. There continues to be political ramifications of the Jesus event, but not reflecting the same vision originally entertained. Some say that the establishment of Christianity as a legal and legitimate religion in the empire was the beginning of the erosion of the original movement.

So politics can change--as we know. The nature of power, the shift of power, the thirst for power, the demand for power--all these can change with new faces, new policies, new threats.

Torn between the politics and the poetics of the event--I am attracted to the poetry. Why poetry? Another German theologian, in speaking of the Easter event, Wolfhart Pannenberg, suggested that the language used to describe the event is metaphorical. Historical categories and language come to naught; scientific terminology and insights fail to open up to us the significance of the message. Metaphor.

In a way, I prefer the first half of our Easter Vigil worship, the part that is shrouded in darkness and candlelight. There in the shadows, one not only has the innocent opportunity of drifting away in your imagination and reverie, for then you can contemplate the quality of mystery--the mystery of the events, the mystery of being and becoming, the mystery of relationships. And then, in the midst of one's reverie, one sees these white-clad forms moving through the darkness, like angels, sparking a light here and there, setting a glow the fragile candles as if we are in the dark depths of a tomb or a womb. And one can let these shadows surround you with a quietness--or let the shadows behind and between the pipes of the organ suggest unimagined music that is yet to be played. It is a matter of poetry. Poetry is the language of what is not possible to say.

After all, what words can we use to describe what seems to be so unique and indescribable?

Someone once remarked that clear and distinct ideas bring communication to a halt. But poetry is not clear and distinct, rather it is creative and suggestive. Perhaps that is one reason I do not like the Nicene Creed very much, it tries to be too clear and distinct. Rather than encouraging further creative thought, it restricts and limits the conversation and confines it to dogma.

But a word, a poetic word can work its mysterious wonders. It can transform and turn things upside down, a bit like the Easter event. As Paul notes that the "foolishness of the Gospel" is really God's wisdom; the "weakness of the Gospel" is God's strength. Things are turned up side down.

Or we take a sip of wine. And another. And the wine is transformed within our body to become a part of us. And taking another sip, we discover that we become a part of the wine.

We eat the bread and the bread becomes us. It becomes a part of our corpus. But as we continue to eat and drink, we discover that we become the wine, we become the bread. These mysteries become the body, and we in turn become the body and the mystery. We become as the Christ living in the world, raised to newness of life.

The poetry of imagination and transformation, working within us that we might become as fully human as possible--that we might reflect the same quality of compassion and understanding that we see in Jesus; that we might include in our actions the same commitment to healing and forgiveness that we see in Jesus; that we might incorporate into our bodies the same kind of trust and loyalty that we see in Jesus.


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