Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!
I recently came across a short quote that goes like this:
“If we wish to quench our thirst, we must lay aside books which explain thirst and take a drink.” (Jean Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence)
For this Easter morning we could modify this slightly and say, If we wish to know resurrection, we must lay aside books which explain resurrection, and experience it for our ourselves.
But this puts us in a bit of a difficult situation. Our Bible, the book of books, is the central witness we have for the resurrection. This year we hear from Luke’s account of the events on Easter morning. On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women come to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. But they find the stone rolled away, with no body. Instead, they encounter two men in dazzling clothes who say to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” This is what it says in the good book, but this is hardly an explanation for resurrection. It’s more the reverse. Resurrection is the explanation for Jesus’ body not being in the tomb. The women, who were initially terrified, leave the tomb and tell the other apostles.
I admit that it’s right about this time of year that I go digging around in books to be reminded of some of the things that have been written about resurrection – explanations always welcome. One of these books that I appreciate is called The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions. The two visions of Jesus are provided by Marcus Borg and NT Wright, both top Bible and religion scholars and both deeply committed Christians. Marcus Borg comes at things from a more mystical/metaphorical perspective while NT Wright comes at things more from the perspective of traditional orthodoxy. Another way of saying this is that Borg is a liberal and Wright a conservative, although I’m trying harder and harder to avoid those blanket and mostly unhelpful terms. The book is organized into subjects like The birth of Jesus, Was Jesus God?, Jesus’ death, Jesus’ resurrection, with both scholars having an essay on each subject, providing an excellent example of respectful dialogue as they point out similarities and differences they have with the other’s perspective.
For resurrection, Marcus Borg raises this intriguing question about Easter morning: “Are we to understand these stories as reporting the kinds of events that could have been videotaped, if one had been there with a videocamera?” Borg goes on to state, “I see the empty tomb and whatever happened to the corpse of Jesus to be ultimately irrelevant to the truth of Easter” (p. 130). He continues, that the more important reality of Easter, was that Jesus’ followers “continued to experience Jesus as a living reality after his death” (p. 135).
NT Wright emphasizes the centrality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus, noting that the resurrection “is the story of how the body of Jesus was neither resuscitated nor left to decay in the tomb but was rather transformed into a new mode of physicality, shocking and startling to the disciples and to all subsequent readers” (p. 122). Wright notes that mere metaphor of a living Christ does not adequately explain the radical shift that took place for the disciples after the Easter event.
Over the years I have collected all types of quotes, poems, and essays and filed them electronically under different subjects. Alphabetically, the list of subjects begins Abortion, Advent, Art, Atheism. Toward the middle is Marriage, Meaning, Meditation, Mental Health, Missional, MLK Jr, Mother’s Day. Keep scrolling down and eventually there is the Resurrection folder, sandwiched between Remember and Sabbath. One of the quotes I have in the resurrection folder comes from philosopher Marianne Sawicki. She says: “How do the texts indicate that the Risen Lord may be recognized? It bears noting that in the Gospel narratives, resurrection witnesses are asked to recognize not something dead as living, but rather something living, but unknown, as Jesus who died.” “Recognizing the Risen Lord,” ,Theology Today, 1988.
If your left brain is spinning while your right brain feels like it got snubbed without an invitation to the Easter party, or if you’re starting to get a bit bored already with what is supposed to be the most rousing sermon of the year; perhaps the thrust of the very first quote is being proven right in our hearing. “If we wish to quench our thirst, we must lay aside books which explain thirst and take a drink.” Explanation can’t top experience. Drinking the water always trumps hearing quotes about water’s satiating qualities. Listening to a speaker, talk about scholars, who are talking about what the original witnesses are talking about regarding resurrection is not necessarily a recipe for life-transformation. Third and fourth hand resurrection just doesn’t cut it.
Back to the book of books for a bit. This need for first-hand experience is part of what is going on in Luke’s resurrection account. The women have experienced an empty tomb, and the terror of dazzlingly white messengers they had not expected. They go and tell the apostles, who had not gone to the tomb early at dawn on the first day of the week, had not prepared spices, had not seen or heard or smelled what the women had encountered. The women make the first declarations of resurrection to the apostles, and, the apostles are not impressed. Luke notes that “these words appeared to them an idle tale.” But Peter, the ambitious apostle, gets up and runs to the tomb, stoops down, sticks his head in, sees no body, and goes home amazed.
Unlike Matthew and John’s accounts, no one has yet seen anything resembling a living Jesus. But the tomb is empty.
In Luke, the first appearance of the Post-Easter Jesus is in the Emmaus story, which follows right after the text Rick read this morning. Right after we hear of Peter’s eye-witness amazement of the empty tomb. With Emmaus, Jesus is a stranger who walks alongside two dejected disciples, who do not recognize him. When they reach their destination, the stranger begins to walk on, but the disciples invite him in to eat with them, an act of hospitality. At the table, the stranger took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. And they recognize Jesus with them, who then vanishes from their sight. Not exactly an explanation of resurrection, but a provocative account of a deep and startling experience of Jesus alive in their midst.
“How do the texts indicate that the Risen Lord may be recognized? It bears noting that in the Gospel narratives, resurrection witnesses are asked to recognize not something dead as living, but rather something living, but unknown, as Jesus who died.”
Like the other gospel writers, Luke has no interest in explaining the resurrection. This can be frustrating for us moderns. We’d like to know a lot more details about what’s going on here, about that tomb, those mysterious men is dazzling white. The vanishing Jesus-stranger. We’d like to watch some video footage. We want to know more of what resurrection is all about.
Perhaps it has something to do with the Higgs Boson.
If there’s one thing that resurrection is about, it’s about bodies. It’s about the body of that holy trouble-maker from Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth, about whom the angels in the tomb said, “He is not here, but has risen.” It’s about the bodies of the women and men disciples, newly charged with energy and life and hope not of their own making. It’s about our bodies – yours and mine – the atoms and cells, tissues and organs, muscle fibers and neurons – this miraculous combination of dust and breath that we are. These bodies which are the means by which God’s love and good news are made known to the world. These fleshy tongues which speak words, solid things which pulse through the air and slide through receptive ear canals, causing eardrums to vibrate and thump, changing the recipient in the process. These bodies – yours and mine – with hands that reach out and touch, caring; feet to take us from here to there. Hands to wash feet, servant-like. Bodies which are born and give birth, which grow, and change form, age, and die, which is yet another way of changing form.
Resurrection is about the body of Christ, that body of bodies of which we are all apart, past, present, and future. A body over which death has no power. A resurrection body. A wine and bread drinking and eating body. A local body, a global body, a cosmic body which was there in the beginning, and gathers all things in their end.
It is in our bodies that we hunger and thirst, and our bodies can never be fully satisfied with mere explanation of this thirst. They must drink, they must eat, they must experience. They must know in their gut what the mind can only begin to calculate and imagine. Resurrection.
Above all, resurrection is not something that we ourselves do. The repeated witness throughout the New Testament and early church was that “God raised Jesus from the dead.” If one were to diagram that sentence, which I know many of you have fond memories of from eighth grade language arts, God is the subject, Jesus is the direct object. “God raised Jesus from the dead.” The body is the direct object, the recipient, of God’s action. It is the Divine Spirit which surpasses all our ability to fathom or imagine, who acts upon Jesus, acts upon us, and raises us up in whatever way it would. We are the receivers of this gift, and we in the church are the bearers of this message.
It is a message that, if you were to hear it, could very well sound like an idle tale. It is a reality that, once experienced, takes on a life of its own.
The Lenten journey has taken us through a series of Beattitudes:
Blessed are those who make space
Blessed are the decentered
Blessed are those who leave it
Blessed are the embraced
Blessed are the comforted, and the afflicted
Blessed are the joiners
The Easter Beattitude is open ended. Blessed are the…
The idea is that experiencing the resurrection always takes us into the unknown. In a world where the risen Christ is on the loose, our usual ways of seeing and knowing get called into question. Blessing comes in unexpected forms, ways we will not be able to anticipate.
Christ is Risen. Alleluia.