Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Easter Reflection: Who is it you are looking for? The danger of certainty.

I preached this Easter Sunday on the question Jesus asks Mary at the empty tomb, when she still believes that he is the gardener.  He asks her, “Who is it you are looking for?”  This question goes beyond the physical location of a body.  This question is the fundamental question of faith, of all spiritual seeking and endeavour.  “Who is it you are looking for?”

Over the centuries many people much smarter and more eloquent than I am have attempted to answer that question.  I am grateful for their explorations and the excellent books of literature and theology that resulted.  But in my heart of hearts I have the feeling that it is a question we are not meant to fully answer, at least not in this lifetime.

Who is it you are looking for?  Of course, the answer is supposed to be Jesus Christ, it is supposed to be God.  And that is the answer.  But can we ever really know him?  Can we every really and truly know the one for whom we seek?  I don’t believe so. How can we know the creator of the universe?  How can we fully know an omniscient, omnipresent, all powerful Being?

The danger, I think, comes if we ever think that we have finally answered the question.  When we can say with certainty that we know the one we are looking for, I think that is where we run into tremendous trouble.

There are many things about my faith of which I can and of which I am completely and absolutely certain.  I am certain of the love of God.  For me and for you and for this whole messed up, broken world.  I am certain of the grace of God; grace that covers all my sin; grace that bled and died on a cross so that I could be free.  I am certain of my salvation through the Resurrection of Jesus.  God has raised his son to new life and in my certainty of that I, too, inherit a new life in a new kingdom. 

I am certain that as a result of my salvation God wants to lead me down a path of sanctification.  If I follow that path I will continue to be renewed, to be made holy…which, after all, means to be fit for the presence of God.  I am being remade into the best version of myself.  And I am certain that there is nothing in all creation, not even death itself, that can ever again separate me from the love of God.  Of all this I am absolutely and unfailingly certain.

But do I know the one I am seeking?  No.  I do not.  Oh, I know facets of him.  I have encountered him in dark valleys and on high mountain tops.  He was with me just this morning as I struggled through chronic pain to make my children’s lunches for school.  He sits with me as I enjoy the sun and fresh breeze of this early spring day. 

He wept with me on Good Friday as I relived, once again, the depth of the sacrifice made on my behalf.  He sang joyously with me on Sunday as I once again gave thanks for new life…both His and mine. 

But do I know Him?  Can I ever fully know him?  Yes, yes I can…but not now, not in this world, not in this life.  In this life, God is found in the mystery, in the unknowing.  When we become certain, we become complacent.  We cease seeking the Divine.  We cease wondering over the unknowable.  We become hardened in our view and our doctrine because WE KNOW. 

We can see it in the stories of scripture.  Those who had the most religious knowledge, those who spent the most time in study and prayer, those we were the most SURE of whom they were seeking, were the first to reject and ultimately to destroy the very One whom they swore they loved.  Their certainty of the path led them to reject the Way.

We see it in the church today.  We see the certainty.  The certainty that we KNOW God, that we know his character, his mind, his heart.  We are certain that we know how He feels about marriage, about gender, about sexuality, about birth control, about war, about other faiths.  We are certain that we know what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is sinful.

But the longer I walk this path, this Way with God, the less certain I become that I know anything at all.  And when I find myself wandering and uncertain, I remember that I am not called on to have answers, to know the one I am seeking…I am called to continue seeking him. 

And as Paul promises, if we continue to seek Him, then there is one thing of which we can always be certain:

38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  --Romans 8

Happy Easter Everyone.

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