thinking theology

Easter and Flying!

The image of rising is powerful and pervasive in Christian literature and music. The refrain, “He is not here; he has risen,” echoes in our celebrations. Later Paul will write to the Thessalonians, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord.”

The idea of being weightless, free as birds, resonates with our ideas of resurrection. As a child, I often dreamed of flying and was quite convinced that this was a waking possibility. To add to my mother’s concerns, I would work diligently to achieve this goal by leaping off swings, monkey bars, slopes and embankments. My father, who had been a bomber pilot, tried to explain to me certain aerodynamic principles, to no avail. When the harsh reality that I had no wings was presented to me, I replied that they would grow out as I exercised and at the right time would appear. And so I continued to leap and flap and fall to the ground, but occasionally I did feel airborne.

This is not only my dream. We have imagined all kinds of machines to lift us into the skies. But we know that these conveyances need certain kinds of care. In the north we know that we must scrape the wings free of ice if we are to rise. In preparing for Easter, I think we get a lot of ice on our spirit wings. Sometimes we mistake the study of the faith for the experience of resurrection. If we read the various encounters people have with the risen Christ, we will noticed that they are less concerned about the mechanics or even the philosophy of the experience. It is the experience itself that is wonder- and joy-filled. It is the exhilaration of realized hope. It is what flight without ice makes possible.

I never did manage to fly on my own, except for a few little chicken hops. Have you noticed that in scripture, we are encouraged to think of eagles’ wings on which we are lifted effortlessly. When we let go of what Thomas Merton calls our awful solemnity, then we are freed to imagine with the freedom of children. With the imagination, we are invited to climb onto the hope that Jesus gave us, a hope that in joy and peace humanity can be free, can soar. We need to think historically, analytically, philosophically, but not when it is the time to fly. The purity of that experience silences all our limited intellectual striving for the moment.

Another clarifying point for us is that resurrection is not an event so much as a process, an unfolding experience in which we become more secure riding the wings of the spirit. We grow in confidence that this delight comes unearned, unbidden; it is just there for us so that we will remember to look up, to see the vast sky above us, the enormity of possibility so far beyond our comprehension. Fortunately, spirit flight is more about courage and trust, than knowledge or skill. We are being raised, lifted beyond the limits of our own horizon, to peek into the heart of The Divine, who holds us and carries us in love. Happy Resurrection! After the struggle, after the doubts and fear that things will never be all right, comes the promise. And we will hear the music and we will feel the wind on our cheeks and one more time we will rise in freedom and joy!

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