Saturday, April 23, 2011

Don't Cling To Me!

"Don't Cling To Me": An Easter Missional Immersion in the Christ of Faith

The Text: This year on Easter Sunday, one of the texts from the Revised Common Lectionary is from the Fourth Gospel, of John, from the original finale of that gospel. It is the section narrating Mary of Magdala's discovery of the empty tomb, of Jesus, and faith. The story of Mary’s encounter at the tomb in John, goes like this, from Eugene Peterson's The Message interpretation:

“ Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone was moved away from the entrance. She ran at once to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, breathlessly panting, "They took the Master from the tomb. We don't know where they've put him." Peter and the other disciple left immediately for the tomb. They ran, neck and neck. The other disciple got to the tomb first, outrunning Peter. Stooping to look in, he saw the pieces of linen cloth lying there, but he didn't go in. Simon Peter arrived after him, entered the tomb, observed the linen cloths lying there, and the kerchief used to cover his head not lying with the linen cloths but separate, neatly folded by itself. Then the other disciple, the one who had gotten there first, went into the tomb, took one look at the evidence, and believed. No one yet knew from the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead. The disciples then went back home.

But Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. As she wept, she knelt to look into the tomb and saw two angels sitting there, dressed in white, one at the head, the other at the foot of where Jesus' body had been laid. They said to her, "Woman, why do you weep?" "They took my Master," she said, "and I don't know where they put him." After she said this, she turned away and saw Jesus standing there. But she didn't recognize him. Jesus spoke to her, "Woman, why do you weep? Who are you looking for?" She, thinking that he was the gardener, said, "Mister, if you took him, tell me where you put him so I can care for him." Jesus said, "Mary." Turning to face him, she said in Hebrew, "Rabboni!" meaning "Teacher!"

Jesus said, "Don't cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, 'I ascend to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene went, telling the news to the disciples: "I saw the Master!" And she told them everything he said to her.

The Turning Points: This is a text full of turnings, and of naming. When we get into the story deeply, it is literally spinning us around, as good faith will, as for the early church the whole world was now being turned around, being named, being created anew….It is the turning of the day from darkness to light, so important in the Johannine gospel and view of Christ as the light of the world. Mary comes to the tomb, probably slowly, mournfully, dutifully, then sees the stone gone and fearing the body has been stolen, more mocking, more shaming, she immediately turns and runs quickly to the male disciples. Then she presumably turns again and follows the beloved disciple and Peter back to the tomb where they do their dance of authority on who will go inside the tomb first and what conclusions of belief and remaining doubt they will have, and then they turn again and leave.

Mary stays this time. Mary weeps. She kneels to get a closer look this time. And she sees two angels whom no one had seen before, located at the two ends of where Jesus’ body had been; had they been there before when Jesus’ body had been laid out there before, had they gone when the two male disciples showed up but returned when Mary came back? Mary continues still, not turning back and prompting an angel to call her Woman, exerting power by the name used, and the angel calls into question her very weeping, as if accentuating here emotions, perhaps her gender, and her reason for being there.

There the story takes a quick turn itself. She expresses her fear that the authorities have taken, have spirited, the body away. The body is important to Mary. Blessing the body is important. And then she turns again, as if toward a presence just around the turn of a corner, just out of sight, and sees someone she doesn’t recognize. Should she? Is her emotion blinding her? Is it another example of her not being a true disciple as much as the male disciples or else she would have recognized Jesus right away? Has her old default mode of believing dead is dead, that the Empire always wins, blinded her instead? In the presence of two angels, which biblical witness says is often a scary fearful thing, and in the presence of someone she doesn’t know, right away at least, and who calls her also by the dismissive title of “Woman” and questions her state, why she weeps, all of this in the realm of the dead and buried, still Mary does not turn and flee mute and terrified, even if awestruck here, as in Mark.

And as if her standing her ground is standing on holy ground, she is rewarded by the pivotal question, the question that turns all of our Easters upside down for us: Who is it she is looking for? Who are we looking for on this day and in this season, this year, this day? Mary, still not recognizing Jesus, answers back, that powerful act of speaking from her heart and truth to the power of those in her midst, turning his question back on him: Mister, she says directly to the nameless man she thinks may hold the keys to her despair, if it is you who has done this, undo it, return the body to me, so I may care for it. So I may do what needs to be done. So I may act in an “as if” world, as if the community of love and support and traditions still exists even despite the crucifixion, anointing the body of Jesus as Jesus anointed and blessed so many bodies in pain himself.

And then Jesus symbolically turns on the light, revealing himself in response to her attention, her faithfulness to love, even justice in caring for the shamed body of an executed criminal. Jesus does this by calling her by her name, that powerful act of relationship, breaking through the boundaries of the system of power and the honor/shame mode, becoming present in the vulnerability of the mutual relationship. That is all it took for Jesus to be revealed, saying her own true name. And she turns toward him. And she names him Rabbi. What had been, which had been taken, has now been restored.

Then the story turns again: She has gone to him and has taken hold of him, for Jesus says “Don’t cling to me.” Peterson and more liberal biblical scholars agree that this is a more accurate phrase than the “Don’t touch me” phrase. It definitely implies there is something there to hold onto, yet as Jesus goes on to explain, his new body is in transition; he is the old body and he is the new body. Don’t cling to the old body. Don’t cling to what was. Let him go to God, as he tells Mary to turn one more final time and go tell the other disciples that he is going on, returning to God. And so she does, telling, teaching them what her Teacher has just taught her.

The Take Away: There is much of what has been thought of as “the feminine” in this story foundational to Christianity, even if much of John overtly may try to sideline Mary’s role and lift up male disciples. Vulnerability, persistence, intimacy, bodily caring; elements present in Jesus as well, though here as in other parts of the gospel of John particularly Jesus himself is revealing of himself through encounters with strong women (such as his mother at the wedding of Cana). Even deeper though this resurrection story seems to signal to us that it isn’t just what we know about Jesus, what we have experienced of Jesus in the past, what we think we can recognize as his shape and his voice, or argue about, but that we shouldn’t cling to all that precisely because Jesus is becoming something new for us, something we will only perhaps be able to understand and appreciate in community, in teaching one another and sharing our experiences of empty tomb moments.

It is as if Jesus is saying if you want to be in my presence from now on, go cling to one another, and cling to those I brought close to me. It might not even be your own personal encounter with me that I am now desiring; it is your becoming me in community with others.

That is what I call the Christ of faith, the shape of the historical Jesus becoming and unfolding in new ways, becoming clear and powerful, giving that power away to others, all in the midst of others. Especially on Easter do we celebrate the truth of this transformation, especially in the places and through the people who are like tombs where we witness the stones being rolled away and the shame give way to Love and we hear our own name called, and turn toward it to be restored and to go restore others. Especially right here, right now, with you.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A missional pioneer moves into NYC

Vineyard has long been a seedbed of missional church life; check out their venture in New York City getting the attention of progressives. They church good especially in urban areas. Particularly pay attention to the section on The River Partners, and the various differences they list out that makes their church a missional church without saying it exactly. But they set up the spectrum and show you how they are moving the margins so to speak of what church does and is for. Especially why "they worship after the service."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Location, Location, Location

The more I experience it, and the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that becoming missional means choosing your location wisely, or letting it choose you, and while that has always been a hallmark of the contemporary church planting system, for the missional it means going to the very opposite places that most consider when they seek to plant a church. Few who want to plant a standard model church, especially progressive church, would come to a place like ours with these statistics:

...55 percent worry about the amount of food they have
...6 percent use spoiled food
...29 percent use a food pantry
...31 percent receive food from church
...35 percent borrow food from family
...25 percent borrow food from friends
...25 percent adults skip entire day from eating
...29 percent adults skip meals
...26 percent did not eat and are hungry at time of survey
...43 percent eat less than they should
...60 percent eat low cost foods
...52 percent cannot afford nutritious meals
...57 percent run out of food
...60 percent cannot afford healthy food

The Food Environment:
...29 percent have no affordable source of food in community
...63 percent know about a food pantry
,..56 percent rate the food quality in Turley area as fair or poor
...59 percent indicate food in Turley area expensive or very expensive relative to budget

Overall Health:
...56 percent not currently healthy
...41 percent health is fair or poor
...54 percent are overweight
...66 percent should weigh less
...47 percent smoke or use other tobacco

I guess you can be missional anywhere; I often suggest to people in the fast growing affluent suburbs that they can be missional there by being subversives against consumerism, looking for ways to do guerilla gated community crashing, no-shopping, buy nothing demonstrations, hold a picnic worship in the midst of the miracle mile restaurant rows where community tables are shunned or unknown, and organizing urban plunges and relationships of support with communities in the abandoned places of Empire.

But at the end of the day....not only are you still living and supporting these well off neighborhoods, but I think it takes a lot more energy, a lot more resources, a lot more persistence to make a dent missionally in more affluent places, the same as it does to try to do a regular attractional church plant in these places; affecting the neighbors is just tougher it seems than what a small group can accomplish missionally in the abandoned places; maybe you can attract more to your group when you are located where there are more, but then you have the same problem of breaking through all the noise to be seen and heard by them.

One of the first crisis points for a missional leader will be: where to live, and how to live, and with whom to live?