When we were children, my parents did not allow us to stay up late, except on Friday night. Mum, Dad, and Miguel did not care for science fiction, so they would go to bed after Alfred Hitchcock Presents and I’d stay up to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation. I can still hear the gravitas in Sir Patrick Stewart’s voice:
Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.
As a child, I didn’t know why I was so intrigued by Star Trek, but now I think I do. As a mixed-race child growing up in post-colonial Zimbabwe, I suspect that I was intrigued by the ways this futuristic community knit itself together in kinship across its many lines of difference: different species, races, languages, cultures, ages, abilities, genders, and modes of being. Honoring these differences created challenges to the ways the humans made meaning of relationship, belonging, and their purpose of existing in the face of impossible struggles. Now as a 36-year-old Priest, the starship Enterprise’s mission “to seek out new life” and “to boldly go where no one has gone before” speaks to me in new ways as I contemplate its connection to the mystery of Christ’s Resurrection.
Octavia Butler was an African-American science fiction writer, recipient of the Hugo and Nebula awards on multiple occasions, and the first science fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship also known as the “Genius Grant.” Just as the Gospel according to Luke places shepherds, women, the blind, the sick, the demon-possessed, lepers, widows, epileptics, the crippled, foreigners and social outcasts like Samaritans, Syro-Phoenicians, adulterers, tax-collectors, criminals, and the poor at the center of the Good News of Jesus Christ; in her own prophetic literature, Octavia Butler also chose the most marginalized to be the protagonists in her masterpieces. Defying white supremacy’s commitment to exterminating minorities Octavia Butler envisioned those who are Black and Brown and Female as the subjects of the future. If Luke’s Gospel is the Good News for all outcasts, Octavia Butler’s work is the Good News for our present-day Movements for Black Lives, Women’s Lives, LGBTQ Lives, Immigrant Lives, and the lives of those of us who love to think. These visionary works – the good news of St. Luke, the good news of St. Octavia, and the good news of Star Trek – as different as they all may seem, each boldly proclaim that those existing on the brink of extermination will not only survive into the future but will have new life and have it abundantly.
Today we heard a passage from end of the Gospel according to Luke. Luke’s small community of marginalized Jewish-Christians and Gentile-Christians lived in terror; on the brink of annihilation. Like Octavia Butler, they shared, recorded, told, and retold stories of Resurrection to resist and to defy the Roman Empire’s blood-thirsty campaigns to crush the early Christian movement. As followers of Jesus gather to share and relish the joyful mystery of the Risen Christ on the Road to Emmaus, Jesus stands in the midst of them; greets them, “Peace be with you;” shows them his hands and his feet; and invites them to look, to touch, to see, and to know that Christ is alive. My favorite phrase in this passage states, “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.” I love this phrase because it captures my own feelings this Eastertide: in my joy I too am disbelieving and still wondering. Disbelieving when I witness sacred human lives being crucified daily by systemic evil and empirical violence; and disbelieving that Spring will arrive as we endure yet another ruthless Minnesota blizzard. And yet, despite my disbelief, I have no control over the joy, wonder, and new life I experience when a stranger smiles at me unexpectedly, or when love suddenly kindles in my heart, or when the spell-binding beauty of this morning’s prelude results in tears of gratitude.
You may be wondering what Star Trek and Octavia Butler’s sci-fi novels have to do with the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and Eastertide. When Luke’s early Christian community proclaimed that their beloved, crucified friend literally stood before them, spoke with them, allowed them to touch his hands and his feet, and that they witnessed him enjoying a meal in their presence – in that story shared, recorded, told, retold, and now still proclaimed – the eternally present Spirit of the Risen Christ made and makes all things new in the face of life’s impossible struggles. Sharing in the real presence of the Risen Christ, Luke’s community did indeed go forth “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.” Jesus teaches, “that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in Christ’s name to all nations.” When we repent, which means, when we return to becoming our true selves; when we forgive others and accept that we are forgiven for seeking our own selfish will thereby distorting our relationship with God, ourselves, each other, and all creation, then we are restored to God’s will, which is wholeness, right relationship, and new life. When we heed the Psalmist’s message today and stop worshipping dumb idols and running after false gods; then we can trust again in the living God of mercy, who hears our prayers, who defends the cause of the hard-pressed, who puts gladness in our hearts and makes us dwell in safety.
Holy Scripture and Science Fiction invite us to imagine and shape and build a marvelous new way of existence. A new life in which all people – from every nation, tribe, race, language, age, gender, ability, and mode of being – have life and share it abundantly together. Octavia Butler’s novel Parable of the Sower begins with these words:
All that you touch
All that you Change
The only lasting truth
When we hear, touch, taste, and see the Risen Christ in Holy Eucharist: sacred scripture, bread, and wine are changed by us and we are changed by them. We become living members of Christ’s Risen Body. New Life is inevitable and beyond our control. Whether we like it or not, whether we are ready for it or not, change is indeed the only lasting truth. In this season of Easter, the inexorable change from death to new life results in a complex mixture of sentiments: joy, doubt, wonder, disbelief, awe, and trust.
And so, on this Third Sunday of Easter, as we face the impossible struggles of this life together, “while in our joy we are disbelieving and still wondering,” I close with the timeless words from Bernard Ighner’s song, made famous by the incomparable Nina Simone:
Everything must change
Nothing stays the same
Everyone must change
No one stays the same
The young become the old
And mysteries do unfold
Cause that’s the way of time
Nothing and no one goes unchanged
There are not many things in life you can be sure of
Except rain comes from the clouds
Sun lights up the sky
And hummingbirds do fly
Winter turns to spring
A wounded heart will heal
But never much too soon
Yes everything must change.