Luke 24: 36b-48
3rd Sunday after Easter (Earth Sunday)
Today, in the gospel reading, we enter a room filled with Jesus’ disciples trying to understand strange rumours: the one they saw dead is alive! How can that be? And suddenly there he is, sitting with them eating fish.
This Sunday is also Earth Sunday. And we can imagine or explore the perhaps strange idea that Earth is in some way part of the body of God. In our faith tradition when God spoke the Word and creation came into being, all that came was of God, and this includes Earth today. This means that our devastation of Earth, its biosystems, and other-than-human species can be understood as a modern-day crucifixion. In this post-Easter season, we might ask, “Can resurrection come to Earth as the resurrected Christ did to the disciples in that room so long ago?”
To address our ecological crises, we need a radical shift in how we think about and imagine ourselves; we need a radical shift in our own identity, and we need to let our economics and our politics flow from that identity. Earth’s devastation today reflects humanity’s deep identity crisis: who are we? Unlike our earliest foremothers and forefathers of faith, we have forgotten that we are one with the natural world.
So often, we imagine ourselves as separate individuals, separate from all the other individuals and independent of creation. Even now when the pandemic has exposed our inter-connectedness and inter-dependence with each other and the animal world this thinking persists. You see it in pandemic management policies that see the economy and public health as competing interests, you see it in anti-mask and anti-lockdown rhetoric predicated on individual freedom without thought for others. You see it in weak and ineffectual climate change policies that are disconnected from the reality of climate modelling, as if we can negotiate with the planet. Many also imagine ourselves as individuals living in a universe basically indifferent to us and with no intrinsic purpose and value of its own. As a result, we end up regarding Earth as little more than a resource to be exploited.
Can we ground ourselves instead in a deeper and scientifically more accurate identity? Not one of us is separate from or independent of the processes that created us! We are not separate from God, the Womb of All Life, the Heart and Mind that gave birth to this universe. We have instead been made in the image of God. As an integral part of the cosmos, we are meant to grow into and toward the full manifestation of God. And we are not separate from the evolving universe. In fact, it took the universe 13.7 billion years to make us.
The universe is not out there somewhere. We are not over here watching it. But what very few scientists take the time to help us understand is that when we think about Earth and creation, it may be said that we are the presence of the universe studying itself. We are part of the insides of the universe. The air around us is also in every cell of our body. We are in the air and of the air. We are the result of the creativity of the universe, and in a sense, we are the very presence of that creativity in this very moment.
When we have imagined ourselves to be separate and independent from God and the universe, we rob ourselves of the spiritual fuel needed to live in harmony with each other and creation, to imagine a way of being rooted not in competing interests but in mutuality, reciprocity, right relations, and wholeness.
In the words of that spiritual and ecological giant, the late Father Thomas Berry,
“The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects. And we have this from our first awakening to the universe. Your first impression when you see a flower or see a tree or see a sunset or see the ocean, or see anything in the natural world, your first impression is a communion experience.”
When we see ourselves as part of the natural world we more easily tap into the wisdom and intelligence of Earth and use it for the benefit of all creation. When we come to see that the universe is made up of subjects with which we are invited to commune and not objects to be used we come to reject ways of thinking and living that do not serve the health of our planet. Again, Father Berry relates a story and a lesson,
“There’s one experience that I think has had a very deep influence on my life. When I was about ten years old I saw a meadow and I saw it first in springtime–in early May. How wonderful this is to live in the universe where there’s a sun in the heavens; where there’s so many wonderful creatures of Earth; where the song of the birds and the butterflies and the cicada in the evening.
What is all this? Obviously, it’s not a collection of objects to be used. Obviously, it’s a world to be venerated. It’s a world to be communed with, to be present, to be delighted in…A good economy is what makes that meadow survive. Good politics protects that meadow…”
Embracing this communal identity allows us to embrace an economics and politics that allows us to live in balance and harmony with creation—meeting our needs in sustainable ways. New identities, new politics, new economics can be threatening things. Biologist Elizabet Sahtouris encourages us to think of a butterfly as a sign of hope for our age. Within each chrysalis a miracle occurs. Tiny cells that biologists actually call “imaginal cells” begin to appear. They are wholly different from caterpillar cells and carry different information. At first, the caterpillar’s immune system perceives these new cells as enemies, and attacks them, just as new ideas in science, medicine, politics, and religion may be attacked. But the new cells are not deterred. They continue to appear in even greater numbers, recognizing one another and bonding together to form clumps. With enough clumps, the caterpillar’s immune system is overwhelmed. The caterpillar body then becomes a nutritious soup for the growth of the butterfly. When the time is right the butterfly flies off to embrace its new world.
Can you imagine that we are part of an emerging new order of human being like that? Homo resurrectus? Human beings who are liberated from the cocoon of our ecological destruction and our socially constructed selves to realize a new future—to be raised up with Christ, and filled with the Heart and Mind of the universe that was in Jesus?
Resurrection isn’t something we do, it is something God does, something God is always doing if we’re paying attention. If we’re paying attention we can see God breaking into our lives calling us to adopt life giving identities, moving us in the direction of a politics and economics of resurrection. This grace is the basis for hope in these times. It’s not some kind of false optimism brushing aside the realities of our planetary crisis. Rather it is seeing clearly and honestly what we’re doing and have done to our planet but seeing even more clearly what God is doing in our midst. As our faith story says, the eyes of faith allow us to be witnesses to these things, this evidence of resurrection. May we proclaim it and live it that the earth and all that lives in it may know the truth of resurrection. Amen.