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Risen Naked: an answer to Noah (sermon for Easter 2)

April 23, 2017

John 20: 19-31

 

I’m curious to know how many of you have seen the movie Noah by Darren Aranofsky… It’s three years old now.

 

I really like the movie. One of the things I like is that it sees the story with fresh eyes and reminds us that it really belongs in that strange world of the first few chapters of Genesis. One obvious sign of this is the monsters that Genesis 6 calls Nephilim – the Hebrew word for giants.

 

Aside from that, what has struck me was a connection between the question that Aranofsky asks and this Sunday’s Easter reading.

 

Noah raises the question about new beginnings. Are we simply going to get what we deserve from God for destroying this planet – justice and vengeance? Is creation itself crying out for justice? It’s a question of the character of God. Is God’s justice the opposite of mercy? Or do justice and mercy come together in healing and redemption? Is God’s justice at the same time merciful?

 

In the movie version it’s clear that Noah and his family will survive the genocidal flood, but will they have offspring or just die out? Will they die too in order for the creator to be just?

 

In the film version only one of Noah’s son’s has a wife before the rains begin to fall and she is barren. Suffice to say this is not how things remain. However, Noah has had a vision from God and he is convinced God has decided for justice and this means that all of humanity will die out – including his family. If Noah is going to be on God’s side he has to be against even his own family. Creation is God’s treasure and humans are destroying it. Violence fills the earth, violence against fellow human beings against creation itself.

 

Noah, in the movie, is both a radical environmentalist, a defender of God’s creation, and at the same time committed to the idea that divine justice means vengeance (an eye for an eye). The only way to save creation, it seems, is to eliminate the human race. In this context Noah asks the question whether there is any place for mercy.

 

Discussion Question: What does justice mean for you?

 

For Noah there seems to be no alternative to punishment… but the movie pushes against this… It might make some sense if those outside the ark were all totally bad those inside the ark were all good, however, as in all good stories, this is not the case. Noah’s second son Ham knows that there is goodness outside the Ark, in the person of the girl he nearly took to be his wife – a girl who died in the flood. Ham is angry with Noah for excluding her from the Ark. He is tempted to channel his anger in the way of Cain and to take revenge on his Father Noah and on Noah’s God. Will the violence of God perpetuate itself in the violence of Ham? What choice will Noah the purist make? And if Ham survives the flood will the new beginning really be a new beginning? Will the way of Cain continue in the person of Ham?

 

This ancient story leaves us with this dilemma. Is there another way? Is genocide one of God’s tools of justice? And if it’s not, what does God do about a world filled with violence where creation is being destroyed.

 

This is not just an ancient story. It remains contemporary for us who have lived through two world wars and are currently involved in the destruction of species and people groups through processes of environmental degradation and incredible economic inequality – same world! Same world as Anzac Day approaches and global warming accelerates.

 

As I read our Easter readings from John’s gospel I wonder if, at a very personal level, this is precisely the question those disciples were asking themselves as they sat in the locked room, their hearts thumping, worrying about the Jewish authorities… but more importantly worrying about the news that they had heard from Mary Magdalene that God had raised Jesus from death.

 

If he was the Messiah, if he is God’s solution to a violent and violated world … albeit completely unlike any Messiah they had imagined … then the resurrection (as all Jews knew) is the time of the justice of God’s Messiah? What will the justice of God look like? They are frightened in that room! Is this the God of floods and genocide? Is this Noah’s kind of God? Of something else? What will God do? They wonder… as they sit together with no excuses and remembered the way they deserted Jesus in his hour of need.

 

Jesus does 3 things to those frightened disciples. (i) He greets them, (ii) he shows them his hands, feet and side (iii) and he commissions them with the breath of God (God’s Spirit)

 

Thing 1

 

In the darkened room a voice says ‘Shalom’. Which is actually just “Gidday” in Hebrew. It’s a little word but it’s also a big word. Shalom means peace, it’s the opposite of the violence of Noah. It means harmonious welfare of all creation. And John’s gospel wants us to know that. Jesus says it three times in this chapter. When you are sitting in a dark room frightened that God will get you this is the word you need to hear. Shalom means new beginning for them, a new beginning for the human race. With this greeting Jesus makes friends with those who deserted him and betrayed him.

 

Thing 2

 

The Second thing he does is show them his hands and his feet – his wounds. It’s not to prove his identity. That’s what he’s doing next time with Thomas. But this time it’s not a question of doubt, just fear. And here we see the depth of the friendship Jesus is creating. He is not saying, ‘ok so you deserted me and left me to be killed but lets forget about that now’. Jesus places the signs of what went wrong at the centre of their new relationship – he shows them his wounds. This is my body. Not just a piece of bread, but a wounded body. These wounds are the result of what they did to him. He puts it in their face. To go forward with shalom and forgiveness here means to know the truth. These wounds are signs of the destruction of creation… signs of the destruction of the most glorious creation of all – Jesus of Nazareth.

This is my body!

 

Which brings me to another point. The wounds are the focus of the moment… but there is more… more that I didn’t really notice till I started writing this sermon. Anyone remember what happened to Jesus clothes? (cast by lots… he was starkers on  the cross… his grave clothes… explicitly mentioned as remaining in the tomb.)

John wants us to know that the guy Mary thought was the gardener was completely naked… the nude dude in the garden. Like Adam at creation. John wants us to know that this is like creation all over again. Mary ‘don’t cling to me’ he says.

So today again the risen Christ is a naked man arriving in the middle of their gathering, in his birthday glory, family jewels and all. Just imagine their eyes going every which way desperately trying to avoid direct engagement with meat and two veg.

 

It must have been funny but it’s not really the point is it. Nakedness is significant for more than just sexual embarrassment. In the Bible nakedness has more to do with social shame. I was naked and you clothed me. That’s what nakedness means. Being poor in NT times was not really about how much money you had. It was about social status. The naked were the ultimate poor. The naked were the very lowest rung. They weren’t even on the social ladder. They were the crazy ones outside. The non-humans like the Gadarene demoniac.

 

I was naked and you clothed me. I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was in prison and you visited me…

 

Can you think of other links between that story of the Sheep and the Goats and the Easter story?

 

Christ’s word from the cross – I thirst. The story with the disciples on the Emmaus Rd when their hungry guest breaks bread to feed them. Christ in prison… Christ arriving in the locked room… the room filled with fear… locked, like our lives, on the inside… and visiting them. And of course Christ is risen as the naked man. For our sake he became poor, naked, destitute, an outsider to the world… so that we through his poverty might share in God’s riches.

 

Thing 3

 

So rather than them clothing him, he clothes them. He breathes on them the breath of God and commissions them (this is his third act)… he gives them a place in this new creation. He clothes them with a new life. The commission is clear… Go and forgive sin. Take the justice of God and express it with the same mercy that I have shown you. The new creation, beginning with the naked new adam begins not through a flood of vengeance… not through a mercy that simply forgets what went wrong (as if there were no wounds on the hands and feet) … but through a costly work of building friendship, of reconciliation, in the full acknowledgement of what went wrong and continues to go wrong.

 

They need all the power that God can give them. This is their clothing. They will need the breath, the Spirit of God, because they, like Jesus, are going to find their true life with the poor and the naked… with those who are at the bottom of the system, whatever system they live in. So ironically the clothing of the new creation – given to them by a naked man – looks like nakedness in this fallen world in which we live and work and play. For it is with the poor (the naked) that we find the risen Christ and share in his life. This is what it means for us to be Christ-followers. This is what the power of God’s Spirit is for. The good news is that Jesus is alive and active and comes to us in the presence of the poor.

 

Two Takeaway Points from this Resurrection story

  1. Noah vs Shalom: The justice of God = restorative justice
  2. ‘I will be with you always’ = ‘The poor you will always have with you’
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