Filed under: Sermons, Uncategorized | Tags: belief, doubt, faith, hope, Jesus, new creation, resurrection, thomas
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The sugar high may have worn off, but we’re still thick in the celebratory Easter season. Our Lenten journey encompassed forty days, but our Easter celebration is greater, spanning fifty days. In these days, we hear the “what’s next” after the resurrection. We hear what the resurrection means to the disciples and the forming church. Some of what we hear might just surprise us.
These fifty days give us the time and space to live into the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. As much as I love Holy Week, with its dramatic presentation of Jesus’ last days, its meaningful ritual, and the glory of Easter morning, I can get pretty worn out. On Easter, there’s more to be done than simply go to church. There are special holiday clothes to be found and ironed. There are eggs and goodies to be hidden. There’s a dinner to prepare and a house to clean. With all the busyness of Easter day, I’m glad we have almost two months of regular days to live into the question: “What does Jesus’ resurrection mean to you?”
This year I especially find myself needing these seven weeks of Easter to contemplate the meaning of Easter. On this Easter Sunday, we read the story of the empty tomb from Mark, whose gospel ends with the women disciples recognizing Jesus’ body is gone and running away from the tomb in mute fear, rather that rejoicing and sharing the good news that Jesus is risen. This gospel does not present our typical vision of the disciples’ reaction to the empty tomb! The miracle of Jesus’ resurrection and its meaning for the lives of those who follow Jesus seems to have been lost on those disciples who were entrusted with sharing the news of the emptiness of the tomb. Maybe it’s because of Mark’s gospel that I find myself wrestling with the meaning of the resurrection this year. I find myself questioning, not its truth, but its power in our world today.
In our Easter morning worship, we declare that in his rising, Jesus has conquered the power of sin, death, and fear! This is the victory to which we shout: Alleluia!
And yet- what is the result of the victory? Mark declares that the women are so afraid, they keep their mouths shut. Where is Jesus’ victory over the fear in our hearts then?
Each gospel has a different version of the resurrection and the response of the disciples. On Easter Vigil, last Saturday, we read the good news of Jesus’ resurrection from the gospel of John. There we heard of a Mary Magdalene quick to share the news of the empty tomb with Jesus’ most trusted disciples. We heard of a foot race between the two men. We heard how the empty tomb reminded them of Jesus’ teaching that he will rise and how this sight solidified their belief. After the men had left, Jesus met with Mary Magdalene and entrusted her with news of his ascension to God, which she faithfully shared with all the disciples.
John’s account seems like the correct portrayal of the power of Jesus’ victory. This is the Easter story I expect. It is full of wonder and hope confirmed. It is full of trust and faithfulness. It is a story of Jesus’ resurrection accomplishing life: new life without fear, full of the joy of the recognition of God’s power.
It is the story that leads me to expect the world to be different, now that Jesus is risen.
It is the story that leads me to expect a different world than the one I live in. And I find myself confused by the disconnect- by the reality of all around me that points to the power of evil and death. Where is the victory over all that turns from God? Everything from apathy to violence?
As we live into Easter, we find that even John’s gospel doesn’t proclaim an immediate and complete change in the post-Easter world. John’s tomb scene promises more life-changing power than Mark’s, but the reading we have for today, which directly follows this joyful scene at the tomb, shows all the disciples, locked in a room, afraid of the world around them.
Jesus’ resurrection has not effected the immediate end of fear! I don’t know whether to find comfort in their fear, which is so like mine, or to be dismayed that even those who witnessed the empty tomb could still fear for their lives!
Jesus comes to these fearful ones. He assures them with his presence and blows the Spirit of his peace onto them. This seems to have strengthened them. One of their number was not there to meet Jesus. Thomas declares that he needs to touch Jesus’ resurrected body before he can accept the disciples’ story of Jesus’ appearance.
A week later the disciples are again behind a closed door, perhaps fear wasn’t completely removed, when Jesus appears to them again. This time Thomas is there. In touching Jesus’ wounds, he feels his way towards belief.
The disciples’ reaction to the news of Jesus’ resurrection is more complicated than I have always envisioned it. Rather than moving steadily from the empty tomb to faithful witness, to lives of service, to church forming, the disciples’ movement is full of stops and starts, jerkily vacillating between trust and fear. Jesus has conquered death, evil, and fear, but it seems that the victory of the resurrection is taking some time to work over the disciples.
We move forward in time to the story of a growing Christian community from Acts. Acts paints a rosy picture of a transformed community. All the believers give up their personal possessions and profits, and lay them at the feet of the apostles, to be distributed to all in need. I read this story and think, oh, how perfect! What unity! If these believers are anything like me, what an amazing change of heart God has worked in them! They sell their property and allow others to determine how it will be distributed.
But if we read a little farther, we learn that all is not as good as it first appears. One couple has sold their property, but only given a portion of the proceeds to the apostles, even as they claim to have given everything. As a result of their lying to God, they fall down dead the moment their lie is revealed. They were afraid for themselves, and so they couldn’t live into the freedom and joy that the resurrection should have made possible.
The most amazing work of God has been accomplished in Jesus’ resurrection. I have declared that this work has changed our world. The resurrection is God’s triumph over all the forces that work against life. And yet- and yet- all the world has not been changed.
This year, I find myself identifying with the Markan Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Salome, who leave the tomb with sealed lips, with the Johannine disciples who hide in fear, with Thomas who won’t accept the word of others, and with the couple of Acts who feel a need to keep something back to protect themselves.
In their lives and stories, in my own, in yours: where is the power of the resurrection? It did not immediately transform all who witnessed it centuries ago. It has not completely transformed our world. Still, fear seems to be our greatest motivator. Still, violence and oppression are victorious. Still, death claims the ones we love. In our post-Easter world, does God still have power? Is there reason for us to have hope?
Sometimes, it can be hard to answer, “yes.”
Jesus’ death on the cross, Jesus’ body, cold in a barren tomb, these are visions of all hope lost. There is no sign that God is working good in these moments of death. They are the hopeless moments, but they are on the cusp of redemption. God makes life come out of this death.
If the disciples at the time of Jesus’ death remembered his foretelling of his resurrection, the horror of the scene obscured their hope. But it wasn’t up to them to create resurrection. God’s action to give life was not diminished by their inability to grasp God’s work through the fear and grief in their hearts. As bulbs that have lain dormant, appearing dead all winter, have life worked in them, as roots sink, hidden, deeper into soil before shoots rise up, so God can be at work to give life even where we cannot recognize it. Journey with me this Easter. Entrust to God all that is in need of resurrection. After three days of death, God raised Jesus to new life. In the fullness of time, God will raise all creation to resurrected life.
Alleluia. Christ is Risen. Christ is Risen, indeed, alleluia.
And one day, God will bring the same healing salvation to all the world. Until that day, we live in the blessed state of those who have not seen, and yet believe… and wrestle… and hope… and wait.
God brings life where none is apparent.
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