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Jesus the Sun Dancer

Easter 2023

8 and 9 Apr 2023


shop Steven Charleston, a member of the Choctaw nation, Episcopal Bishop and retired dean of Episcopal Divinity School, published a book in 2015 (The Four Vision Quests of Jesus) that detailed both his struggle and his reconciliation with his Native heritage and his Christianity. While this was not the subject of my original words for Easter, I pulled the book off the shelf just a few days ago and realized he was telling me more about the Easter message than anything I could try to say.

When he was a young man, in seminary, Charleston struggled with reconciling his identity as a native person with that of a Christian, given the history of how indigenous peoples have been treated by Euro Americans.

Using the Gospel of Matthew, Charleston explores the nature of a vision quest: prepare, separate, transform, incorporate and applies it to four stories in the Gospel (baptism and the time in the wilderness, the transfiguration, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the cross).

Our own Christian journey, and particularly that of Lent, has elements of a vision quest. We prepare for Lent by setting our Lenten intensions. Ash Wednesday ritualistically and liturgically sets our mental, physical, and spiritual tone. We may then separate ourselves from others, from our community, for times of prayer, study, solitude, and introspection. Then we enter into the heart of the matter: transformation and a deeper understanding and connection to the divine. At last we are ready to return to our community and incorporate all we have learned and experienced for the betterment of the community.

As I think about it, my Lenten journey as been, if not deliberately so, a sort of vision quest.

But what of Jesus? In the Wilderness he confronted his own demons and learned to rely on God. On the mountain he came to understand his own divinity and his place in this world.

But it is the last two vision quests that speak to us most directly on these holy three days. The last quest sealed my conviction that God came to embrace all of us.

For Native peoples, for women, for people of color, for queers[1], for addicts, for those locked in abusive situations, the Gospel as espoused by the European church fathers can be at best distant, at worst hostile and even life threatening.

The Sun Dance was, and still is, a ritual dance of several Native tribes. The dancer had his skin pierced, rawhide passed through, and affixed to a pole or tree. They had fasted and prayed and ritually prepared themselves to be made a sacrifice for the community. And so it was with Jesus; he was like a Sun Dancer, but one that danced to his death. His dance was a sacrifice so that others might live and to bless all life. And now he goes where no mere human can go, beyond the margin of creation, to maintain the balance for all creation, for all time. Jesus took unto himself the spirit of every person who had ever lived and whoever would live. The “I” became the “we”.

And so he went to the cross alone, but not abandoned. God was with him and he was never abandoned by the women, those who stood with him at the cross, by the grave, and were the first to witness the resurrection. These were the marginalized and exploited and they were the first witnesses, not the temple authorities, not the governmental officials, not even the male disciples. . I believe Jesus died to create a full and complete humanity, which since the First People, Adam and Eve, had been fractured. Sin is separation from God, and from one another and the very creation in which we live. As the Messiah, he came to end all that divides us. He came to an end all the “isms” that divide us: racism, misogyny, economic exploitation, homophobia, xenophobia. The human family is now one family. From now one we are to be a community, where we is much more important than I. Charleston refers to Jesus a two spirit Messiah. That is, the embodiment of maleness and femaleness in one. He is a full and complete human being and embodies anyone and everyone who has ever been marginalized. When Jesus died he engaged in the harrowing of hell. He emptied the graves. In other words., no one was or is beyond the reach of the love of God. Our job then is to truly become the body of Christ. A body which excludes no one. Is it not good news indeed, that you and I are part of this community of love?. And is it not also good news that those who are poor, those who have been excluded and exploited for any reason are indeed first in the realm of God? So let us rejoice. Let us say our alleluias. And let us go forth and make the vision of God, the reign of God a reality.

Sonnet #68 by Edmund Spenser, late 16th century Most glorious Lord of lyfe, that on this day, ---Didst make thy triumph over death and sin: ---And having harrowd hell, didst bring away ---Captivity thence captive us to win: This joyous day, deare Lord, with joy begin, ---And grant that we for whom thou diddest dye ---Being with thy deare blood clene washt from sin, ---May live for ever in felicity. And that thy love we weighing worthily, ---May likewise love thee for the same againe: ---And for thy sake that all lyke deare didst buy, ---With love may one another entertayne. So let us love, deare love, lyke as we ought, ---Love is the lesson which the Lord us taught.

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.

Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry


[1] I am using the term queer to describe the entire LBGTQ+ community for the sake of brevity.

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