Easter Truths, Earth Truths
One morning last week as I was scrolling down my email list I stopped at the Union of Concerned Scientists site. I was given several tasks to do like sign yet another petition when I came unexpectedly upon a cartoon.
In the foreground was a Paul Revere-like figure astride a madly galloping horse, His tri-cornered hat is flying off behind him. In the background there is the outline of the U.S. Capitol building. People with briefcases are fleeing in all directions down the steps of the Capitol building. The frenzied rider, right arm pointing to the Capitol is shouting, “THE FACTS ARE COMING, THE FACTS ARE COMING”. I started to laugh at the absurdity of it yet the truth of it in this day of alternative facts. As Asstrophysicist. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, our popular media science explainer, declared people have lost the ability to judge what is true and what is not.
Yesterday over 600 Marches for Science took place around the world. Members of our church community, organized by Janet Salmons, joined in the Denver March of Science. They were all modern Paul Reveres shouting, “THE FACTS ARE COMING, THE FACTS ARE COMING”.
Coincidentally yesterday, April 22nd , was the 47th annual celebration of Earth Day. How fitting that while the scientists and supporters were marching for the truths of science based on facts it was the same day that earth lovers bolstered by the truths of science continued to call for the healing of our earth wounded by humans. Indeed, some scientific experts claim that we have entered a new Geological epoch, the Anthropocene, Epoch caused by significant human impact on the Earth’s geology.
Our scripture lesson this morning is from the Gospel of John: the familiar Easter story about Doubting Thomas. According to Biblical scholars the Gospel of John was compiled in the last decade of the first century by a writer adding his theological insights to the received oral and written stories about Jesus the Christ. He was writing after the Palestinian Jews had been defeated in 70 CE in their latest revolt against Rome. The great Jerusalem Temple was destroyed. At the same time Jewish Christian believers had been facing increasing hostility in some of the Jewish synagogues. The growing gulf between Jews and Christians centered on whether or not Jesus was the longed for Messiah, risen from the dead proclaiming the ushering in of God’s kingdom of justice, peace, love and beauty. For most Jews their long awaited Messiah could not have been this Jewish Jesus who had suffered a shameful death on a Roman cross. He was just another failed Messiah.
This writer of John crafted a beautiful apologetic tracing the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the incarnation of the Word of God. Jesus core message as the Son of Man was one of compassion. Jesus is portrayed as having foretold many times to his disciples that he would face death as he confronted the powers of the Jewish religious and Roman governmental authorities but that God would overcome death. First century pious Jews believed in some form of afterlife rewarding the righteous. First century pious Romans worshipped the Emperor as divine. They believed that some of the Emperors after death joined the panoply of Roman Gods in the heavens. Miracles including the possibility of life after death were part of the culture.
John describes the fearful Jewish disciples locked in a room in Jerusalem this Easter evening. They are in shock and awe as Jesus suddenly appears as a luminous spiritual being yet bearing the physical marks of his shameful crucifixion on a Roman cross.
The resurrected Jesus gives his overjoyed disciples Good News: the Peace of God’s Kingdom of justice, peace, love and beauty has already begun. Second they are blessed by the Holy Spirit. Finally he gives them the authority to forgive sins.
But one of the disciples, Thomas was not there. He did not believe the other disciples when they told him that they had seen the risen Lord.
A week later the disciples, including Thomas, are in the same room again when the luminous figure of Jesus re-appears. Jesus orders Thomas to touch the wounds in his hands and side. “Do not doubt but believe” Thomas now, eyes opened, cries out: “ My Lord and My God” Jesus acknowledges Thomas’s belief but blesses even more those who have not seen but believe in the risen Christ.
Over the 2,000 years of Christian celebration of Jesus death on the Roman cross and his resurrection appearances there have been believers and doubters and unbelievers. Today we hear this story within a vastly different context than first century Palestine.
I recall as a twelve year old brought up in an agnostic household attending my confirmation class at my local Presbyterian church. As my church was just across the street from my home I had no excuse for not attending. A friend, Eleanor was also in our small class. Both Eleanor and I questioned our teacher about the truth of the resurrection of Jesus. Further we raised doubts about all the miracle stories in the Bible Eleanor, unpersuaded and true to her convictions, withdrew from the class. I put my doubts aside and was confirmed. However my years at Oberlin College opened my mind to that exciting world of knowledge and I left the church. Years later I became a Jesus follower converted by the witness of black church activists in the Civil Rights Movement. But that is a story for another time
I have been enlightened reading the book The Last Week by the late Marcus Borg and fellow theologian, John Dominic Crossan. They conclude with their interpretation of the Easter story in the Gospels. Whether or not we believe in the actual resurrection of Jesus we are gifted with two fundamental Easter truths. I quote “The climax of Holy Week and the story of Jesus, Good Friday and Easter address the fundamental human question. What ails us? Most of us feel the force of this question—something is not right. So what ails us? Very compactly, egoism and injustice. We need personal transformation and political transformation.” These two Easter truths make sense to me: Easter is both a message of challenge and of hope.
Which brings us back to the other passion story, that of the human caused crucifixion of the earth. Like the prophets of old, we have had our visionaries warning of the wounds being inflicted on our only home, this Earth. As a new bride I lived in Charleston, West Virginia in the early ‘50’s in an apartment up in the hills overlooking the sprawling chemical plants like Union Carbide dotting the banks of the Kanawha River. My husband was an organo-phosporus chemist working in the labs in one of those plants. Every morning I had to sweep from off our balcony all the soot that rained down from the clouds of black particulates darkening the sky. The Kanawha River was choked with noxious, smelly chemical waste. I was thankful when we left Charleston two years later.
A decade later Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring book was published. She warned that the facts of her biological science research proved the truth that the widespread use of chemical pesticides and herbicides were poisoning birds, animals, green plants and even humans. These scientific truths were received with hostility by government agencies, chemical companies and agro-businesses. Don’t give us the facts as we value our reputation, our profits. Her science was even discounted as a woman biologist. What would a woman know?!
But she was proved right and one pesticide, DDT, was eventually banned worldwide. She was also the catalyst for the first Earth Day, a teach-in on college campuses in 1970 modeled after the anti-Vietnam War protests. A year later under the Republican President, Richard Nixon and a Republican congress the Environmental Protection Agency was founded and funded and the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act passed.
We can celebrate the progress we have made responding to the truth that humans have been degrading the environment Our polluted fresh waters have been cleaned up. Acid rain was ended. Today we celebrate the fact that alternative clean energy is rapidly replacing the reliance on fossil fuels which for centuries has created climate change by the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. More jobs are being created in the wind and solar power industries than by fossil fuel industries. In December, 2015 197 nations signed the Paris Climate treaty committing these countries to limiting the burning of fossil fuels.
Many faith communities and their members have been dedicated to acting on behalf of our Earth as part of our witness to social justice. Pope Francis issued in 2015 a papal encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home.” He called for all people regardless of religious connections to care for the Earth not only for its sake but also because of the truth that the poor suffer the most from the impacts of global degradation. Here at CUCC we have responded with recycling waste, installing alternative energy sources and supporting officials who enact earth friendly legislation. We had an Earth vigil on the Pearl Street Mall in 2015. And studied the Papal Encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home”. On a personal level we, as Boulderites, live mindful of the impact we have on our environment.
So why those Marches for Science and that cartoon of Paul Revere crying out: “The facts are coming, the facts are coming”? Because today we are dealing with policy makers at the highest levels of power who don’t believe the truths of science about global warming. Unlike the majority of Americans they deny that these human activities are causing the shrinking of the great glaciers, the melting of the North and South Poles, the heating and rising of the oceans and species extinctions. They are not only doubting Thomases but denying Thomases and have the power to impose their disbelief in the truths of science in their policy decisions. EPA funding will be reduced and climate change deniers now run the agency. Funding for scientific research slashed. The U.S. may even drop out of the Paris Climate Treaty.
Back in 2006, Al Gore writing in An Inconvenient Truth made and still makes the inconvenient scientific truth of global warming: He concluded: “We must choose to make the 21st century a time of renewal. By seizing the opportunity that is bound up in this crisis, we can unleash the creativity, innovation, and inspiration that are just as much a part of our human birthright as our vulnerability to greed and pettiness. The choice is ours. The responsibility is ours. The future is ours.”
We as liberal, social justice activists freed from our self-centeredness need to speak truth to power as Jesus the Christ would have us do in the name of God’s Kingdom of justice, peace ,love and beauty. We must witness thankfully not only for all suffering humanity but also for the wounded earth, So trust and act on the Earth’s truths together with the true meaning of Easter. Amen