Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
When I flew to Paris two weeks ago, I took a double-decker Airbus A380 out of New York city. It was the first plane I ever flew that had an external camera at the top of the rear vertical stabilizer. Although it did not provide me the perspective of Jesus, who is now as high as you can get, at the right of God, it did give me a picture of the entire length and width of the plane in flight on my small passenger seat TV in front of me. It reminded me that we can look at life from different perspectives: from above, as with this rear-mounted camera fifty feet above the plane, or through my own eyes from row 40, seat H. The apostle Paul encourages us in his letter to the Colossians to set our minds on the things that are above, where Christ is, rather than from our more limited, distorted and often self-centered perspectives.
If Easter means anything, it means we are now able to see life from God’s perspective, as never before. We can now have faith to recognize Jesus’ death, not as the tragic end of a noble life, but as a redemptive act of love for the whole world because God raised him from the dead three day later, victorious over both sin and death, that awful curse that has weighed down the entire human race and prevented God’s creation from realizing his original intention for us to live in harmony with him, with ourselves and with one other.
It's so easy to be a captive to our own marginal points of view, to live within our own artificial bubbles, to think, for instance, that the world inside an airplane cabin is all the world there is, to forget that the flight attendant is more than just a waiter or a waitress in a rather large and crowded restaurant, or that we are only in a movie theater with a ten inch screen, or that the only thing that’s important is where the nearest bathroom is located, and forget that we’re on a plane that is only a means to a larger end, to our destination and the purpose of our journey, perhaps to broaden our horizons, to interview for a job or to attend a wedding or a funeral of a loved one.
Whatever our destination, it will likely influence how we conduct ourselves both on and off the plane. I had to smile during my layover in Minneapolis, awaiting my flight back home, as one family after another disembarked from their own flight back home from Orlando with weary children clutching stuffed animals from Disney World and not a few short-tempered fathers pushing strollers as well as bleary-eyed mothers balancing one or two squirming children on their hips. Their perspective on life may be much different than mine, although I did imagine what it might be like to escort my own grandchildren on a Disney excursion, which reminded me that we human beings can get outside our own limited perspectives if we chose to, as Paul is encouraging us to do.
Easter reminds us that there is one perspective that everyone can profitably enter into and share: the perspective of Jesus, where the fruits of the Spirit, the love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, generosity and self-control originate. If we do, Paul promises us that it will help us act in love toward one another in the awareness that we are all on a journey with the same destination, of greeting the risen Lord one day, face to face, just as Mary Magdalene and the other Mary did on Easter morning outside the narrow confines of a rock-hewn tomb.
The unfortunate events that emerged on a recent domestic United Airlines flight, in which a passenger was forcibly removed by airport police in order to make room for a flight crew, is a reminder of what can happen when we lose sight of the larger world in which Christ now calls us to live, which, in the case of United, is serving others by providing courteous and reliable transportation and, if necessary, generous compensation, to those who have their own important destinations to seek and to reach in their own generous service of others.
You and I, who are Christians by virtue of our baptism, have died to our former lives, with all their legitimate but secondary desires and objectives that we may vainly try to make our final destination, those smaller cabins of earthly security, power and pleasure which were never intended by God to be our permanent home. The resurrection of Jesus has raised us up and out of those smaller worlds with a desire for a life with Christ as our journey's end. Our baptismal certificate is our boarding ticket to a life that transcends anything and everything there is except Christ himself, who is head above all.
We believe that the resurrection of Jesus has forever altered the course and destiny of our lives and of the world in which we live and the people who are fellow travelers with us. Every day provides us the opportunity to get on board.
And when we do, we find ourselves living in a new and unique time zone that is not just six hours ahead or four hours behind Eastern Daylight Time, but is a giddy kind of time that allows us to be with Jesus and the two Marys in today’s gospel, as well as with each other here and also with Christ at God’s right hand in the power of the Holy Spirit, all in one sacred, post-resurrection moment. Easter makes us giddy because we now find ourselves both fearful and joyous at the same timne, just like the two Marys, a kind of spiritual jet lag created by the mystery of Jesus’ resurrection. Space itself has also been altered, so that our altar, the table in the upper room at Jesus’ last supper, and the heavenly banquet table in his kingdom have become wondrously one and the same.
And because Jesus greeted the two Marys from within this new time zone and resurrection horizon, every person we now greet can be known and appreciated from this above heaven and earth perspective as a person for whom Christ has also died. Easter means that we need never say goodbye to anyone, unless they turn away and refuse to take the seat that Christ bought with his blood for them as well as for us.
Easter is all about “Hello!”, “Greetings!”, “Welcome aboard!”. Jesus’ resurrection, while it will always be subject to human doubt when we subject it to our own artificial limits on what can be seen or known and consequently judged to be fake news or wishful thinking, we believe to be quite the contrary, that the resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate fact, the very center and pivot point of history that cannot be denied or substituted by an in-flight movie of our own imagining or by deliberately turning off the external camera of the gospel that reveals the larger world of God’s grace to all who are willing to take a look.
When I was in France I read three surprising reports on the internet that reminded me that nothing should amaze us now that Jesus has been raised and opened our minds to his grand truths and our most enduring hopes. In one article, I read that Pope Francis has decided to canonize Martin Luther as a saint, the very person the Roman Catholic Church tried to throw off the plane five hundred years ago. Like the CEO of United, the Pope is, in effect, apologizing on behalf of his flock for losing sight of what ranks far above lesser ecclesiastical concerns: namely, God’s declaring us righteous in his sight by our faith in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ that Martin Luther so clearly articulated and defended. Imagine that: Francis and Martin sitting next to each other as fellow passengers again!
And that’s not all. Francis is even considering canonizing Thomas Cranmer, the archbishop of Canterbury who wrote our beloved prayer book, a liturgical masterpiece which the Pope is now prepared to affirm as honoring, in timeless and elevated poetic and scripturally inspired language, the church’s corporate life of prayer. Francis is inviting Cranmer, once burned at the stake under the reign of Queen Mary, to sit beside him as well! And if that isn’t enough evidence that the resurrection is still rippling through history to bring glory to God, there is a well-founded rumor circulating that our own archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, may temporarily relinquish his chair and invite the Pope to preside over some of our own denominational deliberations when all Anglican bishops, including our own bishop Greg, gather for the next worldwide Lambeth Conference.
How refreshing it is to see Christian leaders setting their minds on the things that are above, and not on things that are on earth! Let us pray that the leaders of the nations will follow the example of Francis and Justin and recognize that Jesus is the higher authority they will one day have to answer to for the degree to which they have served others rather than themselves!
And please allow me to very quickly carry my airplane analogy just a little further. I didn’t even realize I was on a double-decker Airbus until I landed in Paris and saw it for myself from inside the terminal. I realized that there must have been two separate departure corridors when I boarded the plane in New York, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. I want to suggest to you that the church is also like a double-decker Airbus, with mortals like you and me on one deck and those who have died in Christ on the other. Our chapel contains the names of 148 passengers on four bronze plaques of some of our own local flock who are on that upper deck, perhaps asleep in Christ or already having the time of their lives where there is no pain or sorrow as there may well be with many of us traveling together on our own deck this morning, but comforted nonetheless by the promise that Jesus will wipe away all our tears even as we comfort and support one another as his brothers and sisters.
The resurrection of Jesus assures us that there are more than enough seats available for anyone who wants to come on board. Setting our minds on things that are above means, at the very least, booking a seat assignment through baptism rather that hoping to find an available seat at the last minute. It means checking in early, following the rules, traveling together, enjoying the surprising consolations of frequent flier miles, and taking flights early and often on ecclesiastical carriers with a worldwide network like our own Anglican Airlines.
And finally, isn’t it great news that Jesus is not only our destination, but that he also comes through the cabin and greets us along the way, just as he did with the two Marys, reassuring them that the angel’s message about meeting him in Galilee could be trusted, that they were on the right flight in that new time zone that we celebrate, not just today, but at the beginning of each and every week, so that every road we take when we leave here can be the beginning or the next leg in our journey to our final destination. But before we leave, Jesus invites us to unbuckle our seatbelts, to come forward to his own galley, to feast on his love, to rejoice with his youngest siblings as they fly about our airfield searching for hidden eggs, and to enjoy some sweet food and drink in our garden where, one day, all those buried there shall rise forever. AMEN.