Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Resurrection people: a challenge to injustice and homophobia

Christians are Easter people. We are resurrection people. Our whole faith is predicated on the idea that a man died, and in some way came back to life again. Without the resurrection, Jesus was another anti-imperial prophet, teacher and healer - great at all these things, but one of many. With the resurrection, Jesus is the symbol and bearer of new life, transformed by God into the new Adam. Resurrection really matters.

It matters in a different way. Through his life and through his teachings, Jesus proclaimed an alternative way of being, a challenge to the imperial authorities of Rome and the corrupt leaders of the Jewish people. He was born in poverty, and his family had to flee for their lives as refugees in a foreign land. In his sermons and parables, he taught love of enemies and the unimportance of material possessions. He ate and drank and talked with everyone, including those who decent society treated as outcasts - those who were morally dubious (through money or sex), women in a deeply sexist society, people of minority faiths and races, the poor, the sick.

And in his last days, the theme of challenge continued. He entered Jerusalem in an anti-imperial parade, at the time when the Romans were staging their own parade. He challenged the corrupt temple authorities and their money-lenders and their "domination system" (in the words of Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan's book The Last Week). And even after his betrayal, he refused to let his followers act violently on his behalf. Instead, he was mocked, tortured, and killed in the worst sort of execution given by the Romans to traitors and revolutionaries.

And yet he came back to life. Because God chose for death not to be the last word about Jesus. To quote Borg and Crossan again, "God has said 'yes' to Jesus and 'no' to the powers who executed him. ... Easter is God's 'yes' to Jesus against the powers who killed him." And that was the message taken forward about Jesus by his first followers. In a faith which later became keen on statements of belief, the first creed had only three words: Jesus is Lord. But that was a deeply radical statement, one which stood against the power of the world - because if Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not Lord, which was the empire's core belief and organising principle.

But there's more to resurrection. Rob Bell, in a recent podcast, talks of many of the issues I've written about here, but also makes the link between resurrection and incarnation. By taking on human flesh, by becoming God-made-man, Jesus affirms and celebrates creation and the human body. And by rising from the dead, Jesus and God affirm creation. As Bell says, "Resurrection isn't just affirmation that it's good to be human. Resurrection is affirmation of all creation."

So resurrection is the culmination of Jesus' radical challenge to the powers of the world, and it's an affirmation of creation. This affirmation and challenge is at the heart of the Christian faith, of the good news, the gospel, that Jesus brought.

And yet the church, the would-be carrier of that faith, has so often warped that challenge and affirmation. The church has colluded with the current powers of the world, in support of slavery, in defence of war, in the continuation of economic injustice.

Not all the church, and not always - there have always been those who have followed Jesus' path of challenge and affirmation. In our own time and place, the church has begun to challenge economic injustice - for example through the witness of the Joint Public Issues Team, or the campaigning and writing of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

Too often, it is still responsible for moral injustice, however, in particular in the continuing campaign against gay rights by too many within the church.

For a faith founded on resurrection, on challenge and affirmation, to stand against the love of two adults simply because they are of the same gender is not just illogical. It is a denial of the resurrection, of the foundation of Christianity. Homophobia has no place in the gospel. Campaigns against same-sex marriage are a denial of the truth of our Christian faith: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.

We are an Easter people, we followers of Jesus. May we live it, and show the challenge and affirmation of the resurrection to those we meet and in all areas of our lives.