“Resurrection, now… and not yet”

The movie, As It Is In Heaven, tells the story of Daniel, a brilliant conductor. Daniel lives a stressful, fast-paced life; he’s constantly in demand for performances. After suffering a heart attack while on stage, he moves back to his isolated hometown in Northern Sweden seeking solitude and quiet. Reluctantly, he agrees to lead the struggling church choir in his village. He puts the choir through a series of exercises designed to help them connect with their own distinctive tones, to listen deeply to each other, and to learn collaboration instead of competition. Daniel’s unusual, even controversial, style of leadership liberates them to sing and to live. The choir grows into an ensemble whose music opens hearts and wins acclaim.

In returning to the place of his youth, Daniel confronts the bullying he endured as a child. He discovers that perpetrators of violence still hold sway over the community. Gabriella, a member of the church choir, is married to Connie, an abusive, jealous man who seeks to control her. Connie would like to forbid Gabriella from singing but she persists. Daniel writes a solo for her that he calls “Gabriella’s Song” and she performs it at their first concert. She sings: “I want to feel I’m alive/ All my living days/ I will live as I desire/ I want to feel I’m alive/ Knowing I was good enough/ I have never lost who I was/ I have only left it sleeping” (http://lyricstranslate.com/en/gabriellas-sang-gabriellas-song.html#TjkFX5UO6TPdkjzu.99)

Resurrection. It’s God’s way of bringing life out of death. Resurrection happens in this movie, when the modest church choir comes fully alive in making music. It happens … when Gabriella claims her freedom to leave an abusive relationship. when Tore, a developmentally disabled young man, finds a place to belong. when Erik learns to stand up to Arne, who has tormented him since childhood because of his weight. and when Inger addresses the repressed unhappiness of her marriage.

Jesus did not see resurrection as a philosophical question to debate. Resurrection, for Jesus, was a conviction of the heart. It was the spirit that inhabited him, that animated his living and his dying. The Saducees, on the other other hand, viewed resurrection as an absurdity to be exposed and dismissed. They pointed to the religious law of levirate marriage. When a man died, his brother should marry his widow. . In one sense it was a law rooted in compassion. But viewed from another angle, it emphasized the fact that Jesus’ society treated women as property and marriage as a transaction. The Saducees reinforced this status quo in posing their question about the hypothetical woman who is married to seven different men in succession. Even in the after-life, they imagined, rights of property must be satisfied. Jesus, on the other hand, insisted that a new day was coming in which neither men nor women would be defined by ‘marriage’ as it existed in his time. “Those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.” As “children of the resurrection”’, Jesus teaches, we will all be free and equal.

Resurrection. This word stands for the mystery at the core of our faith. It’s not the denial of death. It is the conviction that life rises from death, and death prepares the way for life. The destruction of a star birthed all the elements and the energies of earth. Here on earth, the brittle remains of dead plants hold the seeds of new life and become the compost that feeds their growth. In our human experiences, resurrection is passing of life’s vitality from one generation to the next. It is the light and comfort, the “something more”, to which those near death often bear witness. It is the continuing presence of loved ones who have died. Resurrection is what happens whenever someone recovers health, finds release from oppression, discovers a new life. The film 12 Years a Slave reminds me that resurrection is sometimes a slow, gradual, even multi-generational process. The rebirth of our nation’s soul began when we abolished slavery after 240 years. 158 years later, our recovery from that moral and spiritual death continues. We have only just started to acknowledge and address the ongoing impact of racism and white privilege. We have yet to truly examine the notion of reparations for slavery.

Resurrection life is both now and not yet, Jesus teaches us. Richard Swanson explains: “The Sadducees understood this world to be the only world in which God would act as a keeper of covenantal promises;” Jesus; however, identified with the Pharisees, who “understood that God would keep promises and enact justice even (maybe even particularly) beyond the boundaries of this world, which was a good (and necessary) thing because Rome quite clearly controlled this one and was clearly not going to be paid back for its injustices. This appears to matter for Luke both because he is telling the story of Jesus, who was killed by the Romans, and because he is telling his story… to audiences who remember Rome’s crushing of the First Jewish Revolt (66-70 CE) and Rome’s destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.” https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1852

So often death seems to rule our world. Today’s newspaper suggests that up to 10,000 people may have perished as a result of the typhoon that ravaged the Philippines on Friday. Tomorrow, Veterans Day, we remember the realities of war and its traumatic impact on those who must fight. Sometimes we don’t find freedom and healing, in this life, from the deathly powers of illness, abuse or addiction, poverty, violence or hunger. Resurrection is now but it is also not yet. It is a reality, but it is also a promise, a hope. It is the conviction that the cruelties of this world are not the final word, not the end. There is another age to come, a time and place in which God will bring life to all our death.

At the end of the film, As it is in Heaven, the choir is invited to take part in a prestigious competition in a big city. Daniel is wary of entering such an environment again. He fears the effect it might have on him and the choir. However, the choir is ecstatic with excitement, and they persuade him to go. The day of the performance, the enormous hall is jammed with people – the other choirs, the judges, the public. It is time for the choir to perform but Daniel is nowhere to be found. Nervously, they line up, shuffling and reshuffling their order. The scene shifts and we see Daniel frantically pedaling toward the performance hall on a bike. As he enters the building and climbs the stairs, he staggers. The workout is too much for his weak heart; he is in distress. Daniel reels into the bathroom to collect himself. He falls, hitting his head.

Inside the performance hall, the choir grows frantic and the audience impatient and scornful. Tore, seeking to calm his own anxiety, begins to hum a low, resonant tone. Another member of the choir joins her voice in harmony. The whole ensemble clasps hands, and hums spontaneous, and hauntingly beautiful chords and melodies. One person in the audience gets to his feet, joining in with a powerful bass hum. Soon the whole room, thousands of people, are on their feet, humming. The spirit of competition has vanished – the music has opened the hearts of the crowd. Daniel lays on the floor in the bathroom, dying of his injuries. Through the heating vent, he hears this transcendent music. And he smiles.

Patrick Willson says: “Whatever else dies, love does not die. We recognize this as we read our life’s story through a resurrection hermeneutic” (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol 4, p.) The sacrament of Baptism is a deep symbol of resurrection. In the font, we die and rise. We submerge the old life, washing away its shackles. We break free, break the surface of a new life. We are born again and again and again and again. That is the resurrection life, embodied in Jesus and made flesh in our world through us. Thanks be to God!