|Sermon April 22, 2012 - Life After Resurrection: Seeing, Hearing, Bearing Witness|
LIFE AFTER RESURRECTION:
SEEING, HEARING, BEARING WITNESS
(Preached on Sunday, April 22, 2012)
You're the first to hear and see it. You're the witnesses.
Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.
How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of lambs.
How rivers and stone are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds will
never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.
Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.
Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.
Had the poet Mary Oliver been in that upper room with the disciples of Jesus on that Easter eve she might have penned these very words in response to the experience. They are her witness to the activity and presence of God in the world around her. That is what poetry strives to do: to look and listen and then bear witness to the world what the poet experiences.
What really happened to Jesus after he died? What happens to us when we die? There is a mystery to it all. Any words we use to describe another life must, of necessity, be acutely inadequate. When using images drawn from this world, any attempt to speak of another world, another reality, will even at its best be merely a hint of the truth, an approximation. When we stand beside a grave, and dare to look beyond it by standing in the light of the Gospel, our thoughts and words will of necessity fail us. If we are to describe another life, or if you prefer it another plane of existence, we can only draw on images from this world, however inadequate such images remain. This is precisely what poetry strives to do, and in many respects, comes closer to doing, because it is dealing not so much with direct statement of truth or fact, but is constructed out of images, symbols and metaphors.
As the poet Adam Zagajewski relates in his poem Poetry Searches for Radiance.
Poetry searches for radiance,
poetry is the kingly road
that leads us farthest.
We seek radiance in a gray hour,
at noon or in the chimneys of the dawn,
even on a bus, in November,
while an old priest nods beside us.
The waiter in a Chinese restaurant bursts into tears
and no one can think why.
Who knows, this may also be a quest,
like that moment at the seashore,
when a predatory ship appeared on the horizon
and stopped short, held still for a long while.
And also moments of deep joy
and countless moments of anxiety.
Let me see, I ask.
Let me persist, I say.
A cold rain falls at night.
In the streets and avenues of my city
quiet darkness is hard at work.
Poetry searches for radiance.
The sermon this morning is filled with poetry. This is another way we can deepen our relationship with God as we live after resurrection in the season of Easter. Last week we focused on looking for God in nature and this week my suggestion to you is to spend time with beautiful words, thought-provoking words, words which present images, symbols and metaphors in attempts to capture and share the presence of God in the world around us.
Here we are, two weeks after Easter, (and two thousand years after the first Easter), and we are very much like the earliest disciples, wondering about the things we’ve heard, and wrestling with the questions, “What does all of this mean?” and “What could all of this mean in my life?” Luke tells us that the disciples were frightened and confused and filled with questions. No one then and no one now really know how to explain the resurrection, so the disciples long ago – and we, in our own day – can only try to describe a personal experience of it – they become witnesses.
They have seen, they have heard, they bear witness. That is how they began to make sense of their experience – that is how they began to live after resurrection. The testimony of a witness is powerful because it is the personal sharing of firsthand experience. Notice how television commercials use the testimonials of people to sell all kinds of products. And who among us has not tried some new product or gone to some new store or restaurant because someone we knew and respected said they had used it or been there and recommended it? A genuine, authentic testimony is powerful.
That is what poets are doing through their poetry: bearing witness. They have seen and they have heard and they bear witness. Like poetry the stories of the resurrection of Jesus attempt to do the same thing. If we come to them as we do poetry – not literally, but as witnesses shared through images, symbols and metaphors, we can tap into deeper veins of truth. For instance: notice how physical and tangible this story of the risen Jesus is. Notice it is about eating fish and touching one another. What does this tell us? It tells us earth matters; flesh matters; food for the hungry matters. Jesus tells Peter in John’s gospel to feed his sheep; here Jesus asks to be fed. The impulse to spiritualize this is understandable: it releases us from any responsibility to feed actual, living people who live in the next street over without enough to eat. But we are witnesses of something very concrete: God’s love manifest (embodied) in this very real, very immediate creation. These stories bear witness that the resurrection is God’s affirmation that creation matters, that love and justice matter, that humanity, in all its ambiguity and complexity, is still fearfully and wonderfully God-made.
What does all this mean in our lives? How could this profoundly change each of our own lives? In the remembering and telling of this story, we are interpreting our experience of the risen Jesus – something that happens to us in many different ways – in light of the living Word of God. Trying to make sense of it all seems to be easier, or at least more fruitful, in a community that shares our experience, our questions, and in the end, our call. That community certainly includes those of us gathered in this place regularly on Sunday mornings. But your community can also include other voices – the voices of poets, artist believers such as George Herbert, Gerard Manley Hopkins, G. K. Chesterton, Robert Cording, or Mary Oliver. I encourage you to spend some time this week with one or more of them, or some other poet you know and resonate with, immersed in their poetry allowing it to deepen your awareness of the presence of God in their lives and in your own life.
The power of experiencing the risen Jesus enabled the early Christians to endure persecution and trials, and it enables us to step out in faith in every new occasion in response to the Stillspeaking God who continues to save, send, and bless us today. Part of what it means to live after resurrection is to see, hear and then bear witness to the presence of the risen Christ, the power of the living God, in the world around us. Poetry can help us see and hear as we listen to its witness. Poetry can also help us begin to find our own voice for bearing witness to what we see and hear.
Let me close with one more witness, the poet Juan Ramón Jiménez, his poem Oceans translated by Robert Bly.
I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.
happens! Nothing … Silence … Waves …
– Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?