Lectionary Reflections on The Third Sunday of Easter – April 14, 2013
Acts 9:1-20; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19
In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, the White Queen tells Alice that in her youth, she believed six impossible things every morning before breakfast and counsels Alice to believe in impossibilities as well. The Easter season is a season for mystics and “impossibility” thinkers. We are challenged to believe “more” rather than “less” about the world and its resources. Tempted to think small, we may discover that God is at work in our lives – in the causal events of life – to give us more than we can ask than imagine. Possibilities abound that appear to be “impossibilities” for unimaginative realists. Persecutor Paul encounters the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus; the Resurrected Christ cooks breakfast for the disciples and invites Peter to claim a global vocation; the author of Revelation envisages an enchanted and lively universe, in which all creation praises God; and Psalmist experiences ecstasy and joy amid the maelstrom of external challenges.
Mystical experiences are not for the faint-hearted. Saul, soon to be Paul, is knocked off his horse and blinded by the Risen Christ. A dazzling light and booming voice overwhelm him and turn his universe upside down. The Damascus Road experience changes everything for Paul. It has been seen as the model of datable conversion, “come to Jesus” experiences, by many. Lacking a dramatic experience, in some quarters, there is doubt about whether we have really committed ourselves to Christ. It is clear, however, from Paul’s writings that God has been at work in his life, even when he followed penultimate rather than ultimate paths that God envisioned for him. It is unlikely that Paul would have been called to be apostle to the Gentiles had he not received a superior education, strong professional and spiritual experience, and cosmopolitan background. Perhaps, this quantum leap in spiritual energy occurred in a crisis moment in which Paul’s turning from God’s larger vision, his participation in persecution of Jesus’ first followers, and God’s own dream for him met in a “perfect spiritual storm” that broke down all his resistance and awakened him to God’s dazzling and life-transforming light.
Often overlooked is Ananias’ mystical experience. In fact this narrative presents a synchronicity of revelatory experiences. Just as Paul is experiences God’s dramatic turnabout call, Ananias is experiencing a call to insight and boldness. He risks everything as a result of a visionary experience. Ananias’ experience raises a provocative question, “Can God use us to answer the prayers of others? Are we the messengers of God to awaken people to new life? Are we part of a greater synchronicity in which God is speaking to and through us to others?” We can be part of this intricate call and response of revelation and inspiration even if our experiences are undramatic. Life-changing encounters can appear as ordinary and domestic as well as dramatic and unexpected.
John 21 presents twin feeding stories with a mystical overlay. There is no way we can domesticate the post-resurrection experiences, as understood by the early church. The crucified Jesus is alive, coming and going in their lives, providing guidance and companionship. It must have felt like a dream to the first followers of Jesus. By comparison, Pentecost’s tongues of fire and blustery winds might have felt down to earth in relationship to days spent with the Risen One. In this passage, we find Jesus cooking breakfast for his followers – Jesus the “grill master” presents his followers with a lovely breakfast, providing for physical as well as spiritual needs. Resurrection is whole bodied and embraces the entirety of our lives. Jesus’ resurrection is more rather than less in terms of his impact on his followers and our vision of God’s aim for our lives must embrace all of our lives, fulfilling them not just spiritually but economically, emotionally, vocationally, and relationally.
Preachers often focus on the encounter with Peter. In some ways, this shares in the mysticism of Paul’s Damascus Road experience. This is another “come to Jesus” moment in which Peter is challenged to embrace, similarly to Paul, the totality of his life. His failure of nerve on Good Friday does not disqualify him from apostleship, but may be one of the primary requisites for his future ministry. He can no longer think of himself as stronger and nobler than his companions or anyone to whom he ministers; he is mortal in every way, fearful, fallible, and fickle. But, his mortality and fallibility – the realities of the human condition – are the materials of grace through which God will transfigure his life. The divine artist works with real people with real limitations, presenting them with “impossible” possibilities, ideals that lure us to become greater than we can possibly imagine. God does not abandon us in our imperfection but awakens us to what we can be as God’s partners in healing the earth.
The passage from Revelation cannot be read apart from openness to mysticism. Even if we see this as a text pertaining to first century events, as I do, the very nature of the text points to deeper insights into the nature of reality that speak to us today. We still deal with powers and principalities, life and death issues, and apocalyptic scenarios. While I do not think Revelation describes literally the end of the age, it is clear that it has an eschatological tone that must be affirmed. We are always living with both a threatening and beckoning future. As I write this on Easter weekend, North Korea threatens the USA with a nuclear strike, the USA is trying to extricate itself from Afghanistan, Iran is going nuclear, and Syria remains a maelstrom of violence. We are always on the edge of personal and corporate apocalypse, either dramatically through nuclear war or gradually through global climate change. The result is the same – destruction of all we hold dear. Every moment can be the final moment, every breath could be the last breath, and yet every encounter and breath can be the invitation to life-transforming adventures. Mortality is the lot of everything we hold dear and yet as we dusty mortals recognize our finitude, all creation sings “Alleluia” in the background, reminding us that we are part of a divine story that encompasses the whole cosmos.
Revelation opens us to prepare for April 21’s Earth Day celebrations. The whole Earth is filled with God’s glory, all things reveal divinity, and salvation relates to the non-human as well as the human world. Our personal transformation is part of a larger divine process that seeks to birth new creation. Our non-human companions matter – eternally – as receivers and givers of divine inspiration. If the heavens did not give glory to God and the birds of the air sing praises to their creator, it is unlikely that we would be recipients of divine guidance.
Today’s readings are punctuated by Psalm 30. The Psalm acknowledges that life is difficult and threats abound. But, life’s challenges are framed in terms of God’s abiding care. God’s active presence turns our mourning into dancing and tears into joy. Just as the mystic experiences God’s presence in a unique and personal way, the emergence of joy in times of challenge also reflects God’s involvement in our lives. We don’t need drama for transformation; presence is enough!