Friday, April 02, 2010

Living As If Hell Had Really Been Emptied: The Easter Sermon

This Sunday at church at a third place center we will begin with communion around one table symbolizing the last supper love feast, then we will move to another table of candles for silence and sharing of cares in community and prayers and candles symbolizing the crucifixion and pains of the world ongoing, then we will gather around another table for Easter Hymn Sing celebration, then we will work on creating a resurrection moment outside our walls as we begin adopting the bus stop near us and making it a place of beauty and rest for those who come and go.

And tomorrow on Holy Saturday from 11 am to 3 pm or so we will hold our party at our house at 563 E. 63rd St. North, 430-1150 or 691-3223, and at noon we will have an Easter Eve blessing. The sermon below is, in part, why we party on this day and invite all to come be with us.

Here is The Annual Easter Sermon I'd Give If We Did Sermons at our missional community of faith:

[Prequel to the sermon: I had just finished this sermon below this morning then went to participate in the Good Friday worship service in Tulsa at All Souls shared by colleagues from each of the four churches in our tradition in the metropolitan area. Right after the service as we are lined up greeting people who attended, a man came to shake my hand, and, as our churches had been identified at the beginning and where we were located, his first question to me was "Why in Hell are you in Turley?" It is a question we get often, of course, many of us who live here. But little did he know I had just been writing the sermon below....]

A part of Christian tradition little dwelt upon, but hotly contested from time to time, is what is known as "the harrowing of hell" or the emptying of hell, and is expressed in part in the Apostles Creed section of Jesus Christ "descending into hell" after his death and burial and before Resurrection appearances to those living.

We often make much of Palm Sunday, of the growing contest with religious and Empire authorities on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week, and we celebrate Maundy Thursday and the last supper and the commandment to love one another (especially when one another is understood as those who oppose us the most), and we have Tennebrae for the arrest and crucifixion on Good Friday. And we sing sing sing alleluia alleluia alleluia on Easter or Resurrection Sunday.

But of Holy Saturday? Little at all in the church consciousness even of many Christian churches of a more dogmatic bent, let alone progressive Christian or progressive churches or the wider culture's.

Maybe an Easter Eve vigil, a time of silence and the beginning of the return of light after the darkness of Good Friday, preparing us for the burst of hope and assurance of Easter. And this is good and a tradition it would be good to enter into more often, perhaps a time of deep reflection at the days of Holy Week leading up to this moment, and on our actions throughout Lent, and even of the past year Easter to Easter. For church leaders and all those who are so active with everything in particular who find little renewal and resurrection spirit in preparations and programs et al, a day of silent Saturday might indeed be a good model to set. We need to feel ourselves buried in the spirit, not just buried under by things to do, and resting at peace, and emptying of our selves, and preparing ourselves for what we do not and can not do, but waiting on God's action to raise us up. For remember the original Greek scripture makes clear even Jesus did not raise himself up, but the grammatical tense is clear--he was raised up by God.

All well and good, but I want to say something more, and deeper, about Holy Saturday and that part of the tradition that has Christ in Hell, emptying it. There is nothing of silence and solitude in that. It is more to me like a jubilant liberation. I know there are all sorts of theological interpretations of this part of the Great Story, and one of the reasons why it is little dwelt upon is probably because Hollywood hasn't figured out a way to popularize it as they seek to popularize the truly unpopular gospel, and so theologians and a few artists have been the main arena for making meaning of Holy Saturday and the Harrowing of Hell.

There has been a good bit of controversy of late throughout Catholic and evangelical circles about this part of the Apostles Creed and what it might signify (and of course I know many of you, of us, have little commitment to creeds and doctrinal debates and so you are content to let others delve into such things as this, but bear with me, for if you seek at all in a myriad of ways metaphorical or otherwise to let the Story help write your story, then this can be as powerful as any of those other events we lift up during Holy Week; and in fact if Easter is going a little stale for you, and it is NOT heretical to admit to that, then journey with me a bit longer and see if Holy Saturday might help resurrect Easter spirit within you again).

The questions theological or speculative are of course many and I don't necessarily want to dismiss them: You can google the controversy yourself. It is going to seem like counting the angels dancing on the head of a pin, but again there is still something wonderful about that image too if you think of it: a reminder of joy and of the impossible becoming possible. And let me say up front that I don't believe or trust in a God and universe with a medieval or fundamentalist understanding of Hell, and if there is one like that then I want to be sent there for reasons you will see below.

Holy Saturday debates touch upon Was it Hell or Hades, some wonder? Was it only the "saints" in Hell to whom Christ descended and liberated, leaving others behind, or was it in more universalist salvation spirit all of those whom were there? Was it the complete ending of Hell itself, or of eternal Hell leaving a little room for purgatory and limbo and purification of souls which eventually will be united with all and fully resurrected? Even moreso, to what degree was Christ Christ, you might say, in the descent to Hell?; was Christ already resurrected fully as disciples would experience or was Christ still in a sense mortal and so in Hell in a way in keeping with the finitude of human life itself, in which case perhaps was it God reaching into Hell to resurrect Christ Jesus and all there with him? There are overtones of Trinitarian theology at work here which is why hackles get raised the more questions get pondered. And I have only scratched the surface of the questions theologians have asked on these matters.

But all of that is not really what draws me to Holy Saturday and the emptying of Hell, not mainly anyway. So I am not going to go there. You can draw your own ideas of my ideas on all that, and believe me they will probably be mixed and conflicting.

I am moved by both of these things:

First, that Jesus, fully human, becoming one with all in our most commons state---that we will be dead; present with all in our most time outside of time, in our very absence of life itself. One of us completely on this one day, a sabbath day at that for Jesus and those following him then. And in that extension of Good Friday, Holy Saturday reveals that there is no place, no condition that is beyond God's realm. There are monstrous places, and monstrous people, and monstrous conditions, and monstrous events (and Good Friday is a good time to break ourselves with the consciousness of the vast evil within and without and especially among the goodness folks, for there is so much we pass over as we flip the pages of the newspaper or quickly click the remote control or let the phone by us ring or turn our eye away from our neighbor), but none of this, people places events situations, none are outside of Miracle.

Second, that Christ, the anointed spirit of life itself and love and liberation that lives beyond the cross, that Christ in this sense becomes adopted by God, becomes Christ most fully and most divinely, most powerfully out of that place of no power, out of that realm of the most vulnerable and most finished. That resurrection comes first to those in Hell. The glory of Easter is that Christ appeared not to emperors and the powerful and said your time is up (that it was believed would come later), but to the women and the fearful in their faith and to the doubters and confused. Those like us who will get it wrong and screw it up. But Holy Saturday lifts up to us that even those, who would become the saints of the church later, were not the first to experience and participate in the resurrection of Christ.

It was to those in Hell. It was Hell itself that was changed. And that is worth celebrating and remembering and reimagining for our own times and places and people.

We are a Holy Saturday people. We live in between monster and miracle most days. In some theologies, this in-between is cause for much angst but also in some theologies, especially those of a relational bent, this in-betweenness can be embraced as the way we participate with God in creating a bit more of thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven...We are a people who seek to both imitate and initiate as we can the welcome table of God's everlasting banquet of life abundance. We fail in our imitation over and over again, and yet also in our seeking to do so we are initiating that very eternal table for all. Holy Saturday, that meeting place of Heaven and Hell, is ours to make visible around us.

Okay, so Here it comes: We are a people with a purpose: To Go to Hell, and Empty it.

To go to hellish places, within us for transformation for sure, but also to the very real otherthanus places, and to go to hellish people, and to go to hellish events and situations that are truly beyond our control to fix or save; to go to hell and live there as if hell wasn't real, to go to hell and throw a party. to go to hell and plant a garden, a Welcome Table Kitchen Garden Park atop a hill with abandoned buildings for the sake of community renewal at a time when all around us in schools and parks and centers and neighborhoods are being closed [by the way have you become a part of this movement by sending in a check to A Third Place Community to help us make this project a reality; send to 6514 N. Peoria Ave. Turley OK 74126; be a part of a resurrection event and pass this opportunity on to others you know; for more go to]

To go to hell and open a community center of safety. To go to hell and dream together. To go to hell and feed the hungry. To go to hell and do something for the children there like open a library, like help their teachers, like go to hell and make it a place of art. To go to hell and start a free health clinic. To go to hell and not just be content to get someone out of there, to save someone from hell, but to stay there all together, one more person, one more party all the time, until in the fullness of time we empty Hell by crowding it out. Relocate to hell, redistribute love within it, reconcile it with Heaven, and heaven with it, transforming both.

Go to what others at any rate believe would be hell and find there within it the seeds of heaven in ways possible no where else. The old joke says I will go to Heaven for the climate and Hell for the company, and that's more true than you know. For Hell, that place known for utter isolation (or for Sartre how hell is other people is just another way of expressing that alienation), truly becomes a place for company, a certain kind of company committed to lives beyond themselves, until the company changes the climate.

You know where I am going to end up: You have been following what all we seek to do in our missional community of faith here. You have heard me cite the statistics of this zip code and all the absences that are fully present here. You here, or places like here, have lived with the stereotypes. You know also the ways we commit ourselves to something More than all this. To the Stories. To the Strengths which come in what others find as weaknesses. To the Spirit Above All that draws us here, and draws us to one another. And you know we have so much more to do together. We need to find more corners of Hell right here to end up in.

There you have it: The one sentence guide to the Spiritual Life: Go to hell and live like it is Easter Sunday every day.

All that we do, all that is written about the rest of the year and reported on and all the many many many things that never make it online or known by others from here, it all comes down to this Holy Saturday start to Easter: We live as if hell were really emptied, and act as if the Christ of Love and Justice had begun the great change we are now called to rejoice in and participate in, and trust that what we do is enough because it isn't us doing it.

So a man walked up to me a few hours ago and said, incredulously, "why in hell are you in Turley?" No preachers license here; those were his exact words. At first you know my mind kicks in to high gear and I wonder if I can say what I am thinking to him, here in this pastoral setting, that it is where I find and follow Jesus, and I realize I am feeling more than a bit defensive and so I don't say that, and it turns out there is more to him and his question than I had first thought; that he had grown up on the northside, that even though he didn't live here anymore, that he had been waiting in some sense to see a resurrection here, and he said he knew that the restoration or resurrection of our part of town would be necessary for it to truly happen where the "cool" people live, and that he wants to come and see us, come and see "what in hell we are doing in Turley" literally and metaphorically.

I think Hell just got a little more crowded, and a little more empty, both at the same time.

And the church said.....

(blessings, thanks, and more soon, Ron)
Type your summary here

Type rest of the post here

1 comment:

Matthias said...

Amen Padre and we're moving into Hell to bring Paradise