From Pastor Kenny's Desk
April 21, 2019
On the first day of the week, at the first sign of dawn, the women came to the tomb bringing the spices they had prepared. They found the stone rolled back from the tomb; but when they entered the tomb, they didn’t find the body of Jesus.
While they were still at a loss over what to think of this, two figures in dazzling garments stood beside them. Terrified, the women bowed to the ground. The two said to them, “Why do you search for the Living One among the dead? Jesus is not here; Christ has risen. Remember what Jesus said to you while still in Galilee – that the Chosen One must be delivered into the hands of sinners and be crucified, and on the third day would rise again.” With this reminder, the words of Jesus came back to them.
When they had returned from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and the others. The women were Mary of Magdala, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James. The other women with them also told the apostles, but the story seemed like nonsense and they refused to believe them. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. He stooped down, but he could see nothing but the wrappings. So he went away, full of amazement at what had occurred.
~ Luke 24:1-12
One of the common themes of the resurrection stories in scripture is that no one expects the resurrection. Even though Jesus predicted his death … and resurrection … several times throughout his ministry, no one greets the news that God has raised Jesus from the grave and defeated death by saying, Praise God! No one shouts Hallelujah when they hear that their friend and Messiah has been raised to life. And absolutely no one, upon hearing the news that death itself could not hold Jesus captive says I knew it … just like he said!
That’s right … no one expects resurrection and at first no one believes. This is true,
throughout the stories of Matthew, Mark and it is certainly apparent in Luke. The women come to the tomb expecting to anoint Jesus’ dead body. That is, they have no expectation that he has been raised. In fact, only when they are reminded by the two figures in dazzling garments do they recall Jesus’ promise.
Energized by this encounter, they run back to tell the rest of the disciples … who greet their tale with utter skepticism. In fact, Luke says that those who received the testimony of the women regarded their message as an utter nonsense. That’s actually a generous translation of the Greek word leros which is the root of our word delirious. So … they thought what the women said was crazy, nuts, utter nonsense.
And, quite frankly, who can blame them? I mean, resurrection isn’t simply a claim that Jesus’ body was resuscitated; it’s the claim that God entered the stage of human history in order to create an entirely new reality all together. Which, quite frankly, can be frightening. Resurrection … seen this way … breaks all the rules, and while most of us will admit that the old rules aren't perfect … and sometimes are downright awful … at least we know them. They are predictable, a known quantity, and in this sense comforting. And resurrection upsets all of that!
Resurrection, in other words, throws off the balance, upsets the apple cart, and generally turns our neat and orderly lives totally out of whack. Which is why I think that if you don’t find resurrection at least a little hard to believe, you probably aren’t taking it very seriously! And, my hunch is that’s where most of us are … we’ve heard the story of resurrection so often it hardly makes us blink, let alone shake with wonder and surprise. Which is rather sad, when you think about it, because this promise, as difficult as it may be to believe initially, is huge, and when it sinks in and lays hold of us, absolutely everything looks a little different.
With that in mind, I’d like to say to those that actually do find resurrection … at least when they think seriously about it … a little hard to believe that they’re in good company! They, along with the rest of Jesus’ disciples, struggle to believe simply because they recognize the incredible scope and huge implications of those in the Bible who witnessed that when God raised Jesus from the dead, God was creating a new reality; overthrowing death, brokenness, and all that would oppress us; and declaring once and for all that life and wholeness is more powerful than death and love more enduring that tragedy.
Which means that maybe we church folk have at times mischaracterized the nature of religious faith. While we may sometimes give the impression that perfect faith conquers all doubt, biblical authors believed that faith and doubt are actually woven quite closely together. Doubt, questions, even downright skepticism … these aren’t the opposite of faith, but rather an essential ingredient. Faith isn’t knowledge. Rather, faith, as the author to the First Hebrews reminds us, is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (11:1). With this in mind, perhaps Easter Sunday is as good a time as any to give God thanks for the gift of faith, the ability not to understand the mystery of the resurrection but to be inspired to hope and believe that it is true.
I also think that it’s just as important for those who simply accept the resurrection as a part of their faith … but perhaps without really thinking about it … to allow the wonder of God’s activity in the resurrection to break in … in a new way. How might God want us to experience resurrection with a fresh new reality? With this in mind … can we believe precisely because of the resurrection of Jesus that any and all of our current circumstances God is present to bring blessing, understanding, meaning, healing and hope … and because of God’s great love and grace everything we experience in life will be okay? Can we trust our relationships, our health, our work, our finances, our behavior … our very lives to the living and all-loving God believing and knowing if God transformed the reality of death … this same God can transform anything … including our struggles and brokenness? I believe looking for and contemplating the incredible gift and nature of resurrection could provide a powerful experience.
Often, I wonder what makes believing in resurrection so difficult. I also wonder at times if we really believe in resurrection … how might that inform the ways in which we live our lives? Resurrection faith came slow to most of the disciples … but when it came it changed everything. It’s just this kind of faith God invites us to consider, to know and to live. The resurrection of Jesus provides an opportunity for each of us to know … in God … we are a new creation which begins with resurrection and continues until God creates a new heaven and new earth and renews and redeems all things. I invite you to celebrate this new reality … even here, even now and be transformed by God’s all-powerful, all-loving presence through the life and ministry of Jesus, the Resurrected One. Amen!