The resurrection is not, in the memorable words of a former Bishop of Durham, just a conjuring trick with bones; although most people in the church live as if it were. Most people in the church live as if the resurrection was just Jesus’s neat escape from a perilous situation. The walls are closing in, the baddies are coming, the werewolf is at the door— how will our hero escape. Tune in next week for the next exciting installment of “Jesus Christ: Hero of Jerusalem” — (oh, don’t bother, he managed to escape danger by being resurrected— sorry, bit of a let down— we’ll make sure the scriptwriters come up with a more satisfying, more believable cliff-hanger next episode).
Which is all a parody, but not far from how most people in the church live their lives : “oh I’m glad he got out of the empty tomb, because he had a hell of time of it before that!”. The point is, the resurrection didn’t finish on Easter morning. It wasn’t (isn’t!) a one-off event many years ago, done and dusted, a neat way of tying up the loose ends of the Jesus story. The resurrection of Jesus marks the beginning of God’s complete transformation of the whole of creation: Jesus is the first-fruit of this new creation. The resurrection life he experienced, that he manifested, is the resurrection life that all the people of God, the Easter people of God, will experience. Life in all its fullness, life in which the power of death and decay and disappointment and falling-way will no longer have any lasting, permanent, power.
If this is true (and it is true), then how can we make it true in our own lives? How can we live as Easter people, with a transformed life, a resurrection attitude? Who can give us an insight into what a transformed life might look like?
An answer comes from the work and life of Wendell Berry, an American writer whose poetry, novels, and essays derive their power and conviction from his experiences as a farmer.
Wendell Berry was born in August 1934, in Port Royal, Kentucky. He studied at the University of Kentucky, in Lexington and later taught at Stanford, and New York, before returning to the Lexington in 1964. He retired from the academy in 1977 to concentrate on writing and farming.
Berry has written poetry, novels, non-fiction and essays, all of which show a developing concern with the the ecological abuse of modern living and modern society: collections of essays such as The Unforeseen Wilderness: An Essay on Kentucky’s Red River Gorge (1971), The Gift of Good Land (1981), What Are People For? (1990), and Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community (1993), show the importance to Berry of human responsibility.
He is a member of Port Royal Baptist Church, but don’t think that makes him a clichéd “southern baptist”. He is also a member of the London-based and Prince of Wales-funded Temenos Academy, a body set up “to give space to poets, artists, writers and thinkers who subscribed to the belief that man is firstly a spiritual creature with spiritual needs which have to be nourished if we are to fulfil our potential and be happy.”
At the moment I am reading, and enjoying immensely, his book Life Is a Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition, (2001). The interesting twist is the modern superstition is not crystal gazing, or astrology, or even religion, but rather the belief that the only thing worth knowing is that accessed by scientific materialism: that science is the measure of everything is a modern superstition
Berry is perhaps most famous for a poem in his 1973 collection The Country of Marriage. The early 70s were a dangerous and politicized time in Western culture, and so it seemed appropriate for a politically aware writer like Berry to produce a poem entitled Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front. But this Manifesto is unlike any that floated around in the 70s or any time since then. It is a manifesto for “transformed living”, for living as if both Easter had happened and Easter meant something.
This is Wendell Berry’s Manifesto:
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbours and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mould.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
That is the Manifesto of the Mad Farmer’s Liberation Front. It ought to be the Manifesto for every Easter People.
So let us live as if the Easter story were something more than a dramatic twist, as if we ourselves were part of the recreation of creation by God, as if Jesus were the first-fruit of what we will become. Let us live transformed lives. Let us “practice resurrection”.