Recognizing the Resurrection



JOHN 20:1-18

empty tomb 

It is fun to stay at the YMCA. Especially, when there are white out conditions outside. That’s the way I felt several weeks ago when I was working out at the Warsaw YMCA and looked out the windows to see absolutely nothing but white. I was amazed. It was as if I had been transported to the ice planet of Hoth of Star Wars fame, one might wonder if George Lucas had visited Indiana during the winter to get his inspiration. Being from Virginia, I had never seen anything like it. I had no reference point for it. So it was hard for me to understand how half an hour later everything could be clear and life could go back to normal. I hear Hoosier fondly refer to this as “wait a minute weather, “ in that if you wait a minute the weather will change. But the weather in Indiana does add a level of the unexpected to life. In Virginia we can get the occasional Hurricane, but you have a heads up that those are coming and you can take a hurrication as I did in college. Here I’ve seen white outs, ice fog, temperatures that make me understand why the smart folks go to Florida for the winter, and I suspect I will see a couple of tornadoes before long. My sinuses have been waging war on me because I simply have not gone from it being 10 degrees to 60 degrees and back again in the span of a few days. All of this is beyond my experience, beyond what I could have imagined when people warned me of Indiana winters.

Perhaps that is how Mary and the other disciples felt when the Resurrection happened. Christians would later look back and find the scriptural prophecies that pointed to the Resurrection. But several times in the Gospels Jesus tells his disciples that he will die and rise again and they just don’t get it. For Jesus, It was like trying to describe to a bunch of folks on a desert Island what snow is. I am sure if you lived in a climate that never got below 60 degrees you would find it hard to believe that water could become solid and you could shape it into a ball and throw it at someone. When skeptics read the resurrection accounts they often note how different they are, the inconsistencies they suggest show that they are not true stories. But if the Gospels all gave exactly the same accounts then the skeptics would claim there was a conspiracy by the church to turn a fairytale into reality. What the different accounts of Jesus’ resurrection really reveal is a historical core of truth, that something really mind shattering happened to the disciples, something that bewildered them and went beyond their experience.

One strange feature that many of the Resurrection stories, including ours today records, is that Jesus was somehow changed. As N.T Wright argues in his book, “Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church,” “If, as many revisionists have tried to make out, the gospel stories developed either from people mulling over the scriptures or from an experience of inner subjective illumination, then one thing you would expect to find is the risen Jesus shining like a star. That’s what Daniel says will happen; that’s what the experience of inner illumination might have generated. We have such an account in the transfiguration. But none of the gospels say this about Jesus at Easter. Indeed, he appears as a human being with a body that in some ways is quite normal and can be mistaken for a gardener or a fellow traveler on the road. Yet the stories also contain- and this marks them out as some of the most mysterious stories ever written-definite signs that this body has been transformed. It is clearly physical: it uses up the matter of the crucified body; hence the empty tomb. But, equally, it comes and goes through locked doors; it is not always recognized; and in the end it disappears into God’s space, that is, “heaven” through the thin curtain that in much Jewish thought separates God’s space from human space. This kind of account is without precedent. “ In other words, nobody is making this up. If they did want to make it up they had a script with the scriptures, the prophecy of what resurrection should look like, and they went off script. In Ecclesiastes the author tells us that there is nothing new under the sun. Some have argued that there are no new ideas, that everything is a remix, but in the Resurrection of Christ we see what Paul would call a new creation. And the scriptures promise that one day we will be like Jesus in his glory. We won’t just be disembodied spirits but we will have, as Jesus had, a spiritual body, a body not animated by our temporary life, a but one animated by the Holy Spirit, by God’s eternal life. Sometimes people wonder if after his resurrection whether Jesus had a physical body or was a ghost. What the scriptures suggest to us is that Jesus has broken down the dividing line between the two, between the physical and spiritual, between the temporal and the eternal.

But Mary, the first person to see the resurrected Jesus, doesn’t recognize him. She doesn’t recognize the resurrection. When an act of God, the glorified Christ, stands before her, she doesn’t recognize him, she thinks he is just the gardener. Of course, it is not unreasonable for her to think that someone would have stolen the body. How could there be any other rational explanation? Even today we have taken the Biblical word ,”miracle” and we have watered it down, we have lowered our expectations. Because like Mary, we have gone through loss, we have gone through pain, we have prayed and not had those prayers answered, we have had dreams and not had those dreams fulfilled. We have cried out for comfort from God and there has been only silence. We turn more to the book of Job then we do to the stories of the resurrection, to the power of the Gospel to bring a new creation, because frankly we can relate to Job’s story better. Job was a man who suffered and he didn’t know why. At the end of the book the Lord restores Job’s fortunes, but in reality can’t get back the family he lost. What did King David say at the lost of his infant son in 2 Samuel 12:29, “now that the child is dead why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” Most days that is our philosophy on pain, suffering and death. We believe that the Lord put that thorn in our flesh, even though unlike Paul’s case, he never told us anything of the sort. We have a hard time understanding what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15: 55, “O Death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

Every year we celebrate the power of the

resurrection, but would we recognize resurrection power, the power of the Holy Spirit of the living God bringing a holy white out into our midst? I was reminded recently of how God can move in unexpected ways at the community good Friday service I helped out at. I was asked to give a prayer at the service. I got to New Life church a little early to pray. While I was praying I asked God if there was anything he wanted me to pray for. I heard one word, “divorce”. I thought to myself that was strange. I didn’t really want to make a scene in front of the hundreds of people there. But I decided that I knew the voice in my heart was from God. So during my prayer I told the crowd that the Lord had put it on my heart to pray for someone who had gone through divorce. I told them to come see me after the service. After the service I was just waiting up front. And one woman came up to me and said, “I was the person you were talking about.” And I prayed for her. I don’t know what those prayers did for her but I have faith that those prayers will do something for her.

Do we believe that God, and God alone, can bring life from death, a new creation from the old? Would we be willing for him to role away the stone, those burdens and affliction that we dare not name, that dark shame that we hide because we have no hope that we can be healed? Or would we rather stay in our tombs, wrapped safely in our grave clothes, our sins, our fears, our habits, our pain, our bitterness, our sickness, our disease comfortably entombing us? Do you want a church that is just the same as you have always had it, just with more people in it? Or do I want a church that is hip and trendy, that has all the programs, all the modern music, all the up to date technology, to make Sunday’s one awesome performance? Or do we want a church that is a blessing because there is in our midst a life that people have never seen before, a resurrection power, that will not change, that will never leave us, may we wait a minute, or find ourselves standing before the king of glory on that last glorious day. Oh people of God, pray that on this Easter Sunday, and every Sunday after it, we may recognize the Resurrection when we see it.

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