3rd Sunday of Easter
April 19, 2015
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All the light switches in my sister’s new house have a little light in them when they are off, so that when you walk into the back of the house, with its dark hallways, you can see right where the light switches are. As I was turned from guest to nursing assistant, I was dispatched to all corners of the house to find things, turn the air conditioner on or off, wend my way to my own room for privacy. I didn’t ever have to worry about my direction in the dark, those little light switches made it easy to find my way. I’ve come to think of these resurrection stories from the Gospels like those little lights that ease your way into unfamiliar territory.
The thing about these stories, all of them, is that no one, (may I repeat, no one) believes that Jesus is alive again, resurrected in a recognizable body. They all had seen and believed his suffering and death. But this is not something that ever happens to people. The women in Mark’s Gospel, just run away. Thomas wants to see for himself that the Jesus his companions have seen is the same one who was crucified. In the story before the one we read today, two people walk for seven miles with Jesus, listening to him re-teach their Scriptures before recognizing him at dinner over the bread he blesses. And today, those two are part of the gang present when Jesus appears and shows them his wounds. The disciples are described as being disbelieving and joyful and wondering how this could all be true.
We’ve been taught that faith is about subscribing to the right understanding of things: knowing the proper doctrines, and agreeing to all the historical images of the Bible. But actually in these resurrections stories we see instead that faith is about trust, trust that what you see before you in Jesus is the essential truth of God’s life and love, even if it defies the logic of the world you know. “Touch me,” says Jesus. “It’s really me with my wounds and all. Not some ghost that has no substance.”
Every Gospel has it’s own version of the resurrection, testimony to the facts as they were experienced by the people who lived with Jesus and went on to tell the story throughout the known world. Even though they defy our understanding of logic and possibility, we can trust that they are true.
I once got into a fight with a lovely Episcopal preacher in Biloxi who wanted to tell me that Jesus didn’t bodily come back from the dead, but was experienced in the new life his believers experienced after his resurrection. I’ve heard that in other places, too, from scholars whose work I respect. These resurrection stories tell me that it is really hard to swallow the story that Jesus did really come back to meet his disciples, and that faithful followers of Jesus may still not really believe it and still live a life of love and service. But it doesn’t work for me. I need to know that even though it defies everything I know about regular life, God has the power to accomplish everything God promises us. Love and forgiveness are God’s gifts to us, demonstrated over and over and over again. Those who turn to see that truth are repenting, changing direction, and able to experience the love and life that God promises from this minute into eternity. And it is not about what we agree to, or what we do or don’t do, it is about God’s willingness to go to whatever extremes are necessary to show us what love and forgiveness looks like.
“Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,” says the Evangelist, who lays out the whole of the Good News in the next three verses. The Messiah is to suffer and to rise on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning here. And you are witnesses of these things. And so it becomes our story too. We have the testimony of those first followers who trusted that beyond what they knew to be the facts of life, God has possibilities we know nothing about. We have the experience in our own lives that God is at work in ways that defy our understanding to weave new life from what certainly looks like death. We have each other to witness and share and hold on in prayer when our doubts lead to despair. These are the resurrection stories that serve as our lights in the dark hallways, showing us where the light of God’s truth meets our own story, making us witnesses of Jesus’ continuing presence among us.
Now may Jesus’ promised peace which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.