A reflection on Easter 7 by The Rev. Jacqueline Schmitt
Year after year, the church sets a stage for us to act out the great drama of creation, sin and redemption. Now this drama moves at a snail’s pace, so you might have missed the flow along the way.
We’re coming to the end of the second act, which began with our acknowledging on Ash Wednesday just how far we have gone from God. Dust we are and to dust we return. The climactic scene was, of course, the crucifixion and resurrection – was it because of our sin and complicity, or was it the cosmic struggle between good and evil? (That depends on which Gospel you read.) And now we approach the end of this act: Jesus has ascended into heaven. Gone back to God. Turned the corner and out of sight. Forty days from Ash Wednesday to Easter, 40 days from Easter to Ascension. This story that began badly, and got worse, now ends in triumph.
One could read the Easter story – this second act of the great Christian drama – in a personal way. I, and my sin, die with Jesus, and I am raised with Jesus. But I think this drama is really about the bigger picture. This is not just about righting individual wrongs, but righting the whole world.
On the Feast of the Ascension, we celebrate who won. Do you remember Aslan? The Lion, of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? This is what he says to Lucy and Susan after they see that he has come back to life:
It means, said Aslan, that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.
What Aslan then set about doing was righting all the wrongs of Narnia, and establishing his righteous rule. If one temptation with the Easter/Ascension story is to get too personalistic, the other temptation is to get too triumphalistic. Both interpretations tend to downplay free will and responsibility. Either Jesus died for my sins and so I’m saved, or through Jesus’ death, evil is vanquished and darkness put to flight, and so there is nothing left for me to do.
You can imagine, then, where I come out: the Anglican middle, and the Doctrine of the Incarnation. It’s really both. Jesus died for my sins, and Jesus is on the throne establishing a new reign of justice and mercy. Our welfare is now inextricably wound up with what God has in store for creation. William Temple, 20th century archbishop, urged Christians to live our lives in a way that our “self-interest prompts what justice demands.” This is what our good friend and historian, Fredrica Thompsett, says about how William Temple furthered our understanding of the Incarnation:
We are, in other words, truest to “Christ within us” when we perceive all of daily life – at work, at home, at church, in the public sphere – as means of expressing God’s will. “Christianity,” Temple … noted, “is the most materialistic of all the world’s great religions.
Aslan can conquer the White Witch, the Lion of Judah can sit upon the throne of God, the Force can defeat the Dark Side, but it is still up to us to take this truth into the world. It is up to us to live as though we really believed that good triumphs over evil and love is stronger than death. It is up to us to conform our wills to God’s will, to shape our lives to the way we know God wants the world to be.