Easter as the Redemption of Human Culture

A central tenet of Mimetic Theory is to propose Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World: the powers of sin and death deeply embedded within our cultures — and at the heart of our cultures, religion. As St. Paul came to see, religion/law was infected at its foundation with sacred violence.

Acts 10:34-43 — an option for Easter Sunday in all three years of the Revised Common Lectionary — is a story of the Easter miracle of redeeming human culture — Jewish culture representing the very best. Peter is led to see the divisiveness at the heart of his own religion. Jewish culture/religion leads him to consider Gentiles as unclean and as outside God’s family. The nightmare of unkosher foods and the call to encounter Cornelius begins to give him the insight into the sacred violence. Baptism is the sacramental sign that God’s new culture, established with the resurrection, anticipates that our sinful cultural boundaries are beginning to be redeemed and transformed. Two thousand years later that process is still underway — with a long ways to go.

My sermon in 2016 attempts to situate our progress within that excruciatingly slow process of the redemption of our cultures. The centerpiece of the sermon is the story of a Down Syndrome young man being accepted among children of his age. I view the transformation of the place of differently-abled persons within our society to be a sign of the Easter redemption of our cultures. There are other transformations underway with regards to the oppression of women, people of color, and LGBTQ persons; but there’s still a long ways to go in that regard, too.

The sermon doesn’t even touch on what is the most important: the place of people living in poverty. (Gandhi: “Poverty is the worst form of violence.”) My view is that we’ve made almost no progress in this regard. Increased charitable support of people in poverty might seem like progress. But I’ve come to view it as bordering on, if not crossing into, a sacrificial substitution for a real systemic solution that redeems our culture’s economic worshipping of scarcity as an ordering principle. Only a systemic transformation of our economics will lead us to true progress in healing the violence of poverty. See Paul Dumouchel‘s books (The Ambivalence of Scarcity and The Barren Sacrifice) for more on the sacred violence of Indifference, as propped up through the ideologies of Individualism and an Economics of Scarcity.

The 2016 sermon itself, “An Easter Miracle Story,” tells the wonderful story of Philip, “One Egg Was Empty,” by Harry Pritchett, Jr., from The Lutheran magazine (April, 1983), pp. 10-11. It is a story not just of one isolated miracle of a boy being “set free from the tomb of his differentness,” but the wider miracle of a whole class of people being set free. Philip is unlikely to have had the opportunity to be accepted by a group of children in previous generations and cultures, because he was likely to have been immediately institutionalized,  ‘quarantined’ in some fashion, or even killed (left to die). Philip’s miracle was allowed to happen by the even bigger miracle of a cultural transformation that nurtures differently-abled persons instead of abandoning them.

Background for this sermon, alluded to at the end, is finding ourselves in the midst of a similar transformation underway for LGBTQ persons. Culturally, we are still divided on what it means for our society to nurture and support them for who they are, as opposed to abandoning them to their ‘sin’ or some form of tolerance (including a begrudging tolerance disguised as ‘welcome’). The religious dimension to this issue — seeing ‘homosexuality’ as sin — confirms the thesis of this blog, that Easter reveals and begins to transform the sacred violence at the heart of religion. It explains why the cultural transformation is happening faster in the secularized culture that has been desacralized by the Gospel. It would be cause for celebration if the church could once again find itself to be a leader in joining God’s work of transformation. But the sad truth is that, to the extent that the church continues to be an unreformed vessel for the sacred violence of religion, God will continue to use other vessels like secularized culture, or the movements of nonviolent resistance to injustice started by the Hindu disciple of Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi.

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