Wednesday, April 22, 2009

So, about this resurrection thing?

I think Christmas and Holy Week are, by far, my most favorite times of the liturgical year. I know, you’re thinking “of course they are, you’re a priest. Christmas is Jesus’ birthday; and Easter is what His life and work were for.” Both statements are true, and, while I do understand their importance, I love those times of the year for different reasons. So many unchurched or forgotten churched decide it is a safe time to ask questions about their faith. Sometimes, they come in off the street to order AFM and ask if they can ask a question. At other times, I am told they have asked someone at work who goes to our church. And that person has, in turn, told them to come ask me because I really enjoy those kinds of conversations (thank you to all who do that because I do really love it!). At other times, I think the teenager in them is just trying to get a rise out of a priest. They think they are being shocking and unnerving by asking a (in their minds) rhetorical question and finding themselves in the middle of a fundamental theological argument. Easter’s questions naturally tend to center around the atonement and the resurrection, but this year questions of the resurrection dominated discussions.

Do you believe it? Was it real? How can we know? What kind of resurrection was it? Why is it important?--These questions and many like them were repeated for the past 10 days or so. And they are questions that not just priests, but all Christians should be prepared to answer as they find their way into the mainstream press from time to time. You see, much of the world is like us and our beloved St. Thomas. Many in our world want to believe, they want to hope. But to do so they need to see the scars, to witness the wounds, to touch the risen Lord. And lacking that sensory perception they so desperately want, they flounder in their faith just a bit.

So, what are we taught about Jesus’ resurrection? How can we know whether it is true? First and foremost, as we have been celebrating the past two Sundays, the Bible makes it clear that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. The tomb was empty that first Easter so long ago! Assuredly, His body is different, changed, transformed. He can enter locked rooms. He can travel great distances quickly. Yet, some things have not changed. He eats and drinks with His disciples; He makes physical contact with them (though He tells Mary not to cling to Him until He ascends to the Father in John’s account). And should we be surprised?

Many of us and our neighbors are closet Platonists. By that, I mean that we buy into the idea that the spiritual is better than the material. Yet, we as Christians are called to proclaim that this material is not what God intended. When He created everything and before we sinned, creation was good. To be sure, our sins and their consequences have marred the world, but God intended us to have physical bodies in the beginning, and He and called it good!

Yet each of the Gospel writers record that the tomb was empty, that Jesus’ body was not stolen or moved, that He appeared to His disciples and Apostles several times, and that He will return again at some future Day of the Lord.

This resurrection was not a figment of peoples’ imaginations. It was not a classic case of mass hallucinations. It was not something that became “true for them,” whatever the heck that means. It was a real and physical resurrection. They knew ghost stories, just like us. They knew about hallucinations, just like us. Yet they recorded what they saw and heard. This event, Jesus’ resurrection, was different! His resurrection was unlike anything ever before in history. Are there differences in the Gospels? Of course. But in a society that loves CSI and Law & Order, most of us know that witness testimony does not always align with all the details of what actually happened. But all the witnesses agree that they saw a resurrected Jesus.  How can we know that Jesus’ resurrection was real? How can our doubts, like Thomas’, be put to rest and our faith so enlivened? How can we believe the Scriptures and the Creeds?

The evidence is, by worldly standards, circumstantial, but consider:
Our readings from Acts this week begins to testify to those of us who want “proof.” Our story from Acts tells the tale of a group of people who “were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions.” Think of the transformation that occurred in the peoples’ hearts? What would it take for you to give up ownership of everything you now claim as yours? What would cause you to give freely of your financial resources, your talents, your time, your things? Something changed them in amazing ways. That something was was a someone, the resurrected Lord Jesus. Later, when Jesus speaks to Paul, Paul gives up everything to follow Jesus. He certainly was not grieving when Jesus was put to death before the Lord called him. Yet he gave up his standing in the community, his very life, to follow Jesus--the one whose followers he had been persecuting. Many of these men and women about whom we read in our stories each Sunday chose to die rather to recant their story. What could cause you and me to give up our lives willingly, knowingly? A hallucination? Perhaps if we really believed it? A great thought or idea? I don’t know about you, but I have never met an idea worth dying for.

Maybe they claimed it to get power? In a cynical age, the question arises fairly frequently. But remember the context. The early Christians were persecuted. The Jews considered them blasphemers against God. The Romans considered them a threat to national security. Members of the Church, for the first two or three centuries, knew that at any time they could lose their positions, their possessions, or their lives at any moment. Yet, the story of Jesus’ resurrection was passed on and on and on. What would it take for you to risk your job, your house, your car, your life savings, your life? A great idea? A lovely thought? A desire to participate in a mass hallucination? Yet these people were willing to give up everything. That’s how powerful His resurrection was to them. That’s what His victory over death did to them. That was the transforming life He promised. That was the hope He enabled.

Brothers and sisters, many in the world want to believe. They want to know that God loves them and that He can redeem everything, even death. They want hope. Of all the competing stories in the marketplace of ideas, only one story offers true hope. Only His story offers eternal joy and happiness. His resurrection reminds us and all who hear His story that He has the power to accomplish all that He purposes in our lives and the world. And best of all, He meets us where we are and, like He did for Thomas, tells us to look, to see, and to feel His wounds and His love.



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