Scriptures: Daniel 12:1-3 Psalm 42 John 7-11 Luke 24:13-48
Don Elly, D.Min.
“Resurrection” is the central focus of the Gospel readings for the 2nd and 3rd Sundays of Easter and it is a fitting reality to ponder. Starting with Easter itself we looked at the experience of Mary Magdalene at the tomb in the Garden. Have you ever thought of a graveyard as a garden? Like Mary I suspect our tears and grief might get in the way of seeing it that way. However, I think John’s Gospel wants us to think of it that way since in this Garden where the grave of Jesus was located God is continuing to create and offer to humankind a second garden. Remember, the first Garden was Eden where God having formed Adam and Eve who disregarded God’s mandate and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Doing so violated God’s hopes to enjoy a paradise-like relationship with humanity. John’s Gospel proclaims God’s continuing desire for a deep relationship with humans. The resurrection of Jesus is God’s effort to once again offer us a garden. Resurrection as described from a dictionary search reveals the following synonyms: Rising, awakening from the dead, reappearance, reawakening, rebirth, restoration, return to life, revival. All seem to illumine John’s understanding of the resurrection. How would you complete this unfinished sentence? Resurrection is…
Magrey R. deVega, the author of Embracing the Uncertain, would say that the Resurrection is the miracle that all the Gospel writers describe. He described Mark’s understanding of the resurrection in Mark 16:1-8 in a fresh way. When the women arrive at the tomb, they are prepared to honor Jesus and grieve his death in a traditional Jewish manner. They are expecting to find the dead body of a dear friend, yet “when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled back. The stone’s removal does not engender joy but fear. Put yourself in the place of these women. Don’t we too miss God’s actions, presence and love because of fear? The women are alarmed and Mark’s gospel reflects their thought, “Jesus’ body has been stolen or moved.” Magrey shares a further insight. “The implication is that Jesus has gone ahead of them and they (we) stay rooted in our fear of change at a tomb that is now empty. We as a church chose to remain behind rather than follow the risen Christ because we are more comfortable with the past than the future God is opening up for us. David Bartlett, a New Testament scholar from Columbia Seminary makes the same point, “He (Jesus) is going ahead of you.” The resurrection is not so much a past event to be remembered, or even a present comfort to be celebrated. It is a promise given by God that in the Risen Christ, God always precedes us into God’s future. In life, in death, Christ goes before us all the way.” Jesus is clear. In facing this world you are in good company—God’s. By God’s design Jesus says, “I go ahead of you to prepare the way.”
Second, resurrection is not just Jesus going ahead of us, it is redirection. What do I mean? Clarence Jordan, Co-founder of the Koinonia Farms in Americus, GA. in the 1940’s said well what I mean. He wrote, “The resurrection of Jesus is simply God’s unwillingness to take our “No” for an answer. God raised Jesus, not as an invitation to come to heaven when we die, but as a declaration that God…has now established permanent, eternal residence here on earth. Jesus is standing beside us, strengthening us in this life. The good news of the resurrection of Jesus is not that we shall die and go home to be with God, but that Jesus is risen and comes home with us, bringing all his hungry, naked, thirsty prisoner brothers and sisters with him.”
Last week we looked at the Gospel of John’s description of the resurrection of Jesus, as the Risen Christ. In it the writer goes to great lengths to make clear that the resurrection involves the full person of Jesus–his body where wounds and scars are lifted up for us to see. There is no avoiding them. Secondly, the resurrection is a spiritual experience. It included the full range of emotions from lament to affirmation. Jesus does not suffer in stoic silence. We know he is choosing to die and that this experience is not faked. Finally, John also lifts up the mind of Jesus. Jesus’resurrection, despite the pain, involves his mind–remembering and recalling the full range of scriptures from the Prophets, Psalms and Torah. When you are in pain and suffering it involves all of these aspects of your humanity doesn’t it? Reflect back on coping with the pandemic. It involves the whole package of who you are, body, mind and spirit. Luke in the resurrection experience has similar parallels to John. Luke also puts great emphasis on the truth that Jesus risen from the dead involves all of him. Listen and meditate on these words: “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he said this, (Jesus) showed them his hands and feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, (Jesus) said to them, “ Have you anything here to eat?” They gave (Jesus) a piece of broiled fish and (Jesus) took it and ate in their presence.
Why this emphasis on the mixture of doubt and joy and on seeing Jesus’ scars and eating? Luke was writing to a pluralistic, religious culture that involved not just religious understandings of life but also philosophical explanations for life. Many of these despised the body and elevated the mind and spirit over flesh and blood. The resurrection is a full bodied event not just as spiritual experience—it is God’s claim on us as a sacred creation that is good. It is as a colleague put it, “Jesus affirming humanity as a witness to resurrection to his divinity.” Finally, the resurrection is not logical, proved by rational arguments—it is a human experience of Jesus and a reality for all of us that involves not doubt in the logical sense, but is an event of God that is a mixture of confusion and joy, with emotions that flow from absolute joy to profound wonder. The resurrection is, above all, a down to earth experience that prepares us for a life beyond death that is centered on God in community with us now and an invisible community of the Saints we can look forward to. Death, suffering, violence do not have the final word. God does. God says “I love you” and my proof is a resurrection that continues after Easter. Let us pray (I am closing with a beautiful prayer by my colleague and friend, Cindy Hickman who is the pastor for my wife, and me.) She summarizes in prayer what I trust the Resurrection is:
Lord of Our After-Easter Days, I want to hold on to Easter for a while. I want to remember the moment the stone rolled away. I want to experience it like a weight lifted off our hearts. I want to stare into an empty tomb and know you have gathered all that we fear and emptied our burdened souls. I want to wait in darkness, just at the edge of dawn and see the sun come up over roof tops and let those first rays shine in my face, a fresh morning making its way to us. I have been in the sanctuary this morning and the scent of lilies has filled up the room. I want that scent to linger. Their blossoms are open like trumpets ready to sound the good news. I want to imagine trumpet blasts, bold and loud, announcing “CHRIST HAS RISEN!” I want to remember the taste of communion bread and the sip of juice and see hands reaching out to receive and hear the words “Bread of Heaven, Cup of Salvation, for you.” For me, for us. And I want to recognize you the way we did on Easter morning, close and fresh, renewing us all. I want to rise in hope and joy with Christ in spirit. I want to live Easter for a while, I hope forever. Amen. Pastor Cindy Hickman, Child of Easter.