Community Leaping from Death to New Life

Mary Magdala Community

Thoughts on 2nd Easter Sunday & Earth Day, April 28, 2019

by Rev. Jim Ryan,

To admire, wonder at, be shocked by and amazed at Earth and its planetary partners in this corner of the universe is a truly wonderful set of experiences.  Such as they are, they serve as illumination that Earth, other planets, the stars and entities of the universe(s?) exist quite apart from our so-called independent species which we refer to as rational animals.  This revelation of the wonder of Earth may also serve to embarrass and humble us for all that needs to be done to repair and to create healthy and life-sustaining relationships with subject Earth.

In today’s joint celebration of Easter and Earth Day we highlight our relationship with Earth.  Yet, even as we celebrate we also acknowledge that so much must be overcome in order to emerge from the assault our species has perpetrated against Earth.  My first realization of this denigration of the environment came when the river that flows through the center of my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, burned.  Remember?  The effluent of industrial waste from the steel mills had gone straight to the Cuyahoga River for so long, creating a stinking top layer of combustible nastiness, that the very water caught on fire.  The recent debacle made possible by unaccountable politicians and bureaucrats in Michigan, also as we know only too well, meant that lead levels in drinking water of the city of Flint has guaranteed that entirely avoidable health impacts  and all-out disease for its citizens will be present for generations to come.  The city of Milwaukee discovered not so long ago its own set of cowardly officials who covered up the amounts of lead in its own water system.  And the list goes on, and on, and on.

The Gospel passage for today serves well the cause of gaining wisdom and courage to respond to such cowardliness.  Let’s recall its setting.  The people gathered in the Upper Room formed a community.  Instead of trying to identify who among them was the more cowardly or the more obtuse let’s see these people – men and women, family members and, likely, even children –  as reeling from the aftermath of a Passover Feast that, at first, seemed to have gone terribly wrong.  A time that was normally the annual celebration of Freedom – of former slaves forming a new nation on their trek from Egypt to Israel – became a time of terror and soul-shattering events.  This community lost it leader by execution one day and 3 days later members of the community have encounters with their leader who these members say came back to life.

I think that we can all see that along with the individual experiences that people had of the Resurrected Christ the overall three days were life-shattering for this community.  We’re told that the disciples were in fear of the Roman authorities.  OK, but I think this gathering of Jesus’ disciples, these women, men and children, were also fearful of what it all meant.  On Thursday, life as they knew it was going one way.  By Sunday night life was completely upended and changed.  After all, this was a gathering of friends and family, of disciples, and, yes, of that specifically named group – the Twelve.  This community has in its social bloodstream the challenge to live their lives anew.

Scientists and Social Commentators refer to such a life changing experience as a paradigm shift.  As fearful as this community was of political and military powers my guess is they were also fearful of how to explain to themselves and to others what just happened to them in the previous three days.  I want to emphasize that this was an experience of new depth for the community to take up courage and to abandon fear.

By Easter Sunday Night it is clear that several community members had experienced Christ resurrected.  Each story had its own revelation and nuance – depending on each one’s relation to Jesus who is no longer dead but alive.  Each story contributed to how this community eventually explained itself to others.  It was up to them to show by life and example that this paradigm shift only makes sense in community.

Because, as I say, this community experience is in the bloodstream of all Christian communities going all the way back to the beginning of Christian history.  This experience prepares us to also embrace the paradigm shift that we celebrate with Earth Day.  In his book, A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold has this to say about our relationship to Earth:

“We abuse land because we see it as a commodity belonging to us.  When we see it as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

To say that we care for the earth out of a sense of charity as if all we need to do is to express benevolence toward this life-giving, life-sustaining reality we call Earth, and others call Gaia (to use only 2 of this planet’s multiple names), to be satisfied with this kind of benevolent charity is inadequate and insufficient.

We who form the community of the followers of Christ are very clear that charity never stands alone, not when we proclaim God’s preference for the poor and the marginalized.  It is this obligation to set things right, along with showing care that is fundamental to the Christian community.  Yes, it is love and justice feeding off each other that requires our care of Earth to be an act of duty.

In the same vein as Leopold, we read in Thomas Berry’s “The Meadow Across the Creek” in his book The Great Work, “The world about us has become an ‘it’ rather than a ‘thou.’”

For the community whose paradigm shift makes it sensible to describe itself as Followers of Jesus who was dead but is now alive, it is an easy next step to act with a loving justice toward Earth – our life-sustaining thou.

This thou, according to Berry lives within its own conscious reality, he terms it Earth Consciousness.  In so much of his work Berry writes in a way that could appear to be a little too optimistic about this ever expanding and enlivening relation between humanity and Earth.  The coming ecozoic age, with all its positive promise, for example, appears to be the description of just the way things will happen.  Well, pardon me for inserting a little Catholic guilt into this reflection, but, as I see it, Earth does not need us.  For billions of years Earth developed its own stew of toxic gases and elements.  Then we showed up – we being the ones who have the arrogance to refer to ourselves as rational animals.  And, since it is within our capabilities suppose we destroy ourselves with our own toxic and death-dealing instruments, for example, nuclear bombs.  Clearly, in light of such an event Earth will survive us.  Sure, there would be millions of years for Earth’s consciousness to come up with the way to overcome the murderous and self-destructive human blip, but Earth will survive us.  After all, it has bigger fish to fry given the inevitable burn out of the sun.

Let’s just see this guilt provoking thought for what it is – a call to a loving justice that challenges us rational animals to sustain Earth.  This will be the sign of the living bond of community in time – as long as we have time, that is.

Which returns us to the Easter Community struggling to explain itself, first to itself and then to others.  As the story goes, this community overcame its fear by the gift of the Spirit’s fire.  How appropriate it is to gain comfort in fire both from the Holy Spirit and the Sun, or Sol who is Gaia’s actual life partner.

Ilia Delio uses the term emergence to match the scientist’s view of where evolution is headed with the Christian’s understanding of where God leads us.  She writes (using the we of community),

“We are created to evolve into a new future; the choices we make in love and for love co-create our future.  When we see ourselves as part of a larger whole, we act on behalf of the whole of which we are part.”

So, as the followers of the resurrected Christ emerged from their experience of the Spirit’s fire let’s remember that it took them many decades to acknowledge the bond that connects Resurrection to the fulfillment of creation.  Just reread today’s second reading from the Book of Revelation, written 60-70 years following the events of Easter and Pentecost.  We acknowledge the same bond today by acting with loving justice to preserve, sustain, and be humble about the gift which is creation.

How blessed is this Earth-gifted community to be one with that same first Gathering of the Followers of Christ Resurrected.

A Prayer for Easter and Earth Day  (JR)

Holy Creator, you are life-giver, starmaker, mother-birthing one.  We have received the ground of your tending, the rains of your sending, the sun of your embrace.

We live in-between Christ’s universal resurrecting and the Spirit’s earthly descending.  This divine movement inflames us to tell stories of your care.  Let each tale bring us deeper into this circle wherein we renew faith and courage.  May it be so today and all the days and nights of our lives.  We pray in the Name of Jesus, who is our Christ showing the way to New Life.  Amen.



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