Acts 10: 34, 37-43; I Cor 5: 6-8; John 20: 1-9
If you spend any time surfing the internet, you know full well that you can find someone out there who’d have an argument for something you want to believe, even if it’s not true; actually most likely not true. We call them conspiracy theories. They’re nothing new but we have certainly lived through many of them. It seemed as if the birther movement would never end. How about George Bush being responsible for the events of 9/11? Of course, every time there’s a school shooting there’s always some conspiracy out there that somehow there’s a mastermind behind all of this working the ropes. It says something about our faith when we succumb to much of it and how fragile it can be at times. So when we don’t agree with reality or prefer to think that reality isn’t reality, when we can’t accept it, then we’ll just create a new one that agrees with how we think things should be, avoiding reality itself. What’s worse is that now we have virtual reality. When we’re totally dissatisfied we can just create a new one through technology in order to avoid what is. We avoid our own pain and suffering and then also avoid it in others. It creates a false sense of life and almost instills a sense of paranoia.
They’re nothing new, though. Even what we celebrate today had many conspiracy theories surrounding it and they come out in the characters we encounter through the Easter season. One of them is uttered from the mouth of Mary of Magdala this morning that “they have stolen the body”. Just as the political and religious authorities conspired for the death of Jesus that we marked on Good Friday, they will now conspire once again to cast doubt and fear into the heart of the followers that somehow what had taken place actually didn’t take place. When they conspired towards his death they thought they had their problem under control. They thought that if he can be contained in this way and then simply get rid of it, they can maintain their sense of control and the illusion of power. They can continue to oppress the people in this way and suppress them at the hand of authority. They knew, though, that if word continues to spread and takes on flesh that Christ had been raised, it would spread like wildfire and so conspiracy theories are born in order to control the fire.
We hear, though, throughout this season from Acts of the Apostles that it just can’t be contained. That this gift of life and the Spirit was not going to be contained by fear. It doesn’t mean that they don’t suffer nor face great pains as a community. We hear that throughout the early days. But they learn to accept the eternal life now which dispels all fear. Over time, and through this process of conversion of heart, the words of Jesus and the Word made flesh, becomes who they are; they make it their own and they become unstoppable. They will certainly be tested and challenged by the authorities, but the embodiment of the love freely given will change them forever. Whenever they find themselves doubting and questioning or even beginning to believe the conspiracies over their experience, they will once again be drawn into this mystery of life and death. That’s what they ultimately learn in relationship with Christ. You have to embrace it in its entirety. You cannot have life without death. They go hand in hand. We want to separate and feel it can’t touch us, but surrender, sacrifice, and letting go needs to be a part of who we are if we are to become a community of love. When we separate mystery in that way, we begin to create alternate realities and virtual realities in order to avoid what we most dislike, the fact that we can’t have it all and that we’re not immortal. The more we avoid it, the more problems will continue to mount here and across the globe.
Paul reminds us in his letter to Corinth today that if we are to become this community of love then we need to leave things behind. We need to leave behind bitterness and malice. We need to leave behind our fear and our confusion. We need to leave behind our paranoia and conspiracies that we cling to and learn to accept reality for what it is and only then can we begin to change. It’s the encounter with the divine love and our participation in that divine love that changes us and allows us to move from simple lip service to a changed heart. It’s easy to say I believe in God or I believe Jesus is risen from the dead. It’s a whole other reality when we embody it. For John, it comes down to that, back to the beginning of the gospel when the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us.
That’s what it’s all about. Problems continue to mount. Poverty continues to spread. Homelessness is everywhere. Injustice happens here and abroad. Yet, the fragility of our faith often prevents us from falling into the pain and suffering of the world and to bring about its transformation through love. Only love can do that. Fear won’t do it. Conspiracies won’t do it. Virtual reality won’t do it. Paranoia won’t do it. Only love and it’s a love that is freely given. When the disciples head to the tomb and find it empty on Easter, it doesn’t move them from a place of darkness right away. But something begins to stir within them, deep within them, and they know they can never go back. They can no longer live in an alternate reality and they’ll know deep down that the conspiracies are simply words rooted in fear, fear of change fear of the authentic power of Christ crucified now raised from the dead.
As we enter into these 50 days of Easter, we pray for the grace to have that same movement in our own lives. Like them, we often want proof with our own eyes. We want to see it. Well, none of us can prove anything like that and that’s certainly not the message John conveys in his gospel. For John, it’s a deeper sense of knowing that we truly long for in life, a knowing that can only be embodied and not simply words that can sound shallow. John wants us to move towards a deeper faith, embodied within a changed heart. That’s the community of love that is being offered and the only way to live more deeply in the reality of our own pain and suffering, offering us hope of not an alternate reality or a virtual reality, but a reality rooted in hope and love, a reality rooted in Easter. We pray this day that we may become that community of love in order to cast out all fear and darkness from our lives, the community, and the world.