Being a somewhat revised and updated version of a sermon preached on Easter Day, April 11, 2004, at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in Yarmouth, Maine.
In a recently published collection of radio talks, The Rev. Carl Scovel, minister emeritus of historic King's Chapel (Unitarian Universalist) in Boston, tells of a Zen Master from Japan who visited a Trappist monastery in the U.S for an extended stay. It was the Abbot's hope that his monks might learn something about meditation from their visitor. The master was so impressed by the devotion of the monks that he offered to conduct a sesshin--a traditional Zen retreat--for those who were interested. Several of the monks signed up for the retreat and, on the first day, they were given their koans.
My Zen teacher, James Ford, offers that the simplest definition of a koan is a 'problem' given by a Zen Master to a practitioner to lead him [or her] to self-awakening. His teacher, John Tarrant Roshi, further states: In koan work we are given a question that is impossible. This question is life. We are given instructions that are vague and inadequate by necessity, since they are intended to turn us inward. They support us not in belief but in discovery. After a koan has been assigned and some time has passed, the student is expected to make his or her response to the teacher in a one-on-one interview.
On the occasion of the retreat at the Trappist monastery, the first monk entered the master's room and found him seated between two copies of the New Testament, one in English and one in Japanese. The monk bowed before the master and sat down and waited. The master said in broken but clear English: You know, I like Christianity, but... He paused and glanced down at the books before him, then looked up again at the monk. But he said I would not like it without the resurrection. The master then leaned forward so that his face was quite close to the monk's. Show me your resurrection he said. That is your koan. Show me your resurrection.
As Scovel suggests, the Zen master might be speaking to all of us who presume to be Christian in life more than name. But for how many of us is belief in the resurrection yet one more item among our already cluttered collection of antique mental furniture, a kind of cozy but inert fixture in our minds, a relic of bygone days and of an essentially obsolete world view?
At first glance, belief in the resurrection seems to be a black or white, either/or proposition; either Jesus rose from the dead or he didn't, so make your choice. Which is to say, either we install yet another old piece of mental furniture in our minds or we reject it out of hand, without a moments further thought.
But the resurrection as koan doesn't let us off the hook quite so easily. It demands that we go deeper. It challenges us to come awake. It invites our response. Show me your resurrection!
The fact is that we don't really know what happened at early dawn when the women who followed Jesus from Galilee came to the tomb with spices to prepare the body for burial. Every gospel writer sees it somewhat differently. All are trying to imagine an event at which they themselves were not present.
Richard Holloway, retired former Bishop of Edinburgh and Anglican Primate of Scotland, likens the resurrection to the Big Bang. Scientists hypothesize that the Big Bang was the originating event of the universe and yet is not available to them except by theory and experimentation. Just as scientists attempt to explain an event that is hidden from them by reading backwards from the present reality that is before them, so the gospel writers attempted too imagine the resurrection by reading backwards from its effect on the disciples. Whatever the originating event was and however we interpret it, all that we see is its consequence in the lives of those who encountered it.
If the resurrection means anything at all to us today, those effects and those consequences must be made evident in our lives. As did those earlier disciples who encountered the Risen Christ, we must show our resurrection.
The people who deserted Jesus in fear and fled from his dying somehow found the courage to proclaim the meaning of his life; and that transformation, that turnaround, is what we mean by resurrection...It follows, therefore, that if we say we believe in the resurrection it only has meaning if we are people who believe in the possibility of transformed lives, transformed attitudes and transformed societies.
To believe in the resurrection is to dream God's dream of a world transformed. So let us dream and imagine a world transformed. And let us ourselves become that transformation.
And all the while that Zen master leans ever closer to us and says: Show me your resurrection!
Thomas Friedman, the foreign affairs correspondent for the New York Times, writes of Awakening to a Dream in a recent op-ed:
I have this routine. I get up every morning around 6 AM, fire up my computer, call up AOL's news page to see what outrage has happened in the world overnight. A massive bombing in Iraq or Madrid? More murderous violence in Israel? A hotel going up in flames in Bali or a synagogue in Istanbul? More US soldiers killed in Iraq?
I so hunger to wake up and be surprised with some really good news--by someone who totally steps out of himself or herself, imagines something different and thrusts out a hand.
I want to wake up and read that President Bush has decided to offer a real alternative to the stalled Kyoto Protocol to reduce global warming. I want to wake up and read that 10,000 Palestinian mothers marched on Hamas headquarters to demand that their sons and daughters never again be recruited for suicide bombers. I want to wake up and read that General Motors has decided it will no longer make gas-guzzling Hummers and the President has decided to replace his limousine with an armor-plated Toyota Prius...I want to wake up and read that the President has announced a Manhattan project to develop renewable energies that will end American addiction to crude oil by 2010. I want to wake up and read that Mel Gibson just announced that his next film will be called Moses and all the profits will be dedicated to the Holocaust Museum...
When we wake up in the morning and listen to the news, it still sounds like a Good Friday world out there. We hunger to wake up to an Easter world. We hunger to be surprised by the evidence of transformed lives and attitudes and societies.
And still that Zen master leans ever closer and says: Show me your resurrection!
What response will you make?
(DSH Photo: Easter Lily, 2009)