Two Versions of the Resurrection

Third Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:14a, 36-41

1 Peter 1:17-23

Luke 24:13-35

One way to tell a story about the resurrection is the one we find in Luke’s gospel. The disciples on that road to Emmaus seem to have been in Jerusalem through the whole week-long events that took place: the parade on Sunday, the crucifixion on Friday, the attempt to anoint Jesus’ body with spices on Sunday.

When the spice-bearing women return with a report of angels proclaiming Jesus was risen, these two Emmaus disciples appear not to know what to do with this information. They must be thinking to themselves that the women’s account can’t possibly be factually true. Some other disciples go test the theory, but apparently see no angels, but no body either. Read more

A New Story

Easter Sunday

Acts 10:34-43

Matthew 28:1-10

It would be a vast understatement to say that the moment we’re currently living through has a certain strangeness to it. At least once a day, I am struck by the thought that I’ve never experienced anything quite like this, and I suspect I’m not alone. In a matter of weeks, we’ve been collectively immersed into a new vocabulary, a new set of practices, and maybe more than anything, a tsunami of information that threatens to overwhelm us. Individuals in power, journalists pursuing an angle, researchers armed with data, and conspiracy theorists with an agenda—everyone has a chart to display, a forecast to project, a meme to share, a cure to hawk, and an axe to grind.

Across a vast array of platforms, a dizzying collection of narrators are telling us their disparate versions of a common story, and it’s not an easy story to digest. When we cut through all the details and all the data and all the differences, it’s ultimately a story of sickness and grief and loss that spans from China to Italy to points closer to home. It’s a story about our limitations, a story about mortality, a story—as much as we hate to say it—about death. And in this respect at least, despite the profound strangeness of the moment, we can find some common cause with generations of people who have lived before us. Because from the beginning, in one form or another, we have been telling and living stories about death. Read more

He is Risen, Indeed!

Easter Sunday
Acts 10:34-43
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
Luke 24:1-12

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!

These words will roll off the tongues of Easter worshippers this coming Sunday, proclaimed with a seemingly naive brazenness, given the world’s current state of affairs.

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!

The gathered Church will proclaim this as Truth as they point to flowered crosses and release butterflies into the springtime sky. But while it’s certainly joyous news that after the long gray of winter, bright sunshine and vibrant color will again have their season, the Easter proclamation is not meant to be a weather report. Rather, it is the radical declaration that God’s good future has erupted into our now: it is here, in the present, smack in the middle of history, in the midst of this world’s pain, standing among our broken dreams.

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!

But if the Resurrection is real and the tomb is empty, where is the Risen Christ? Would we know him if he was standing right in front of us?

Like the women at the tomb, I suspect that if we are going to find the risen Christ, we will first have to learn to name the signs of Resurrection in our midst and claim them as signs of hope. This will mean recognizing and abandoning our tendency to “look for the living among the dead.” We are as inclined as they were to misunderstand what Jesus foretold to his disciples: that he would be crucified, dead and buried, and then raised on the third day. Like those women and disciples at the tomb that first Easter, we know all the words Jesus said, and believe we have all manner of faith in God’s ultimate triumph over the forces of sin and death so clearly at work in this world. Yet we live and work and play as if that triumph is but an unrealized longing. We have become quite comfortable inhabiting a world where death is the norm, and we arrange our affairs and hedge our bets accordingly.

In his novel The Second Coming, Walker Percy writes:

Death in this century is not the death people die but the death
people live. Men love death because the real death is better than
the living death… Here are the names of death, which shall not
prevail over me because I know the names…

Death in the guise of God and America and the happy life of home and family and friends is not going to prevail over me…

Death in the guise of belief is not going to prevail over me, for believers now believe anything and everything and do not love the truth, are in fact in despair of the truth, and that is death.

Death in the guise of unbelief is not going to prevail over me, for unbelievers believe nothing, not because truth does not exist but because they have already chosen not to believe, and would not believe, cannot believe, even if the living truth stood before them, and that is death…

Death in the form of isms and asms shall not prevail over me, orgasm, enthusiasm, liberalism, conservatism, Communism, Buddhism, Americanism, for an -ism is only another way of despairing of the truth…

Death in none of its guises shall prevail over me because I know all the names of death.

The American dream, with its attendant security. Sex. Alcohol. Drugs. Wealth. Power. Notoriety. Do we know all the names of death in our world?

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Can we learn to recognize the places and things in and through which we seek life, that are in truth nothing more than pretty flowers ephemerally masking the stench of death?

The Easter proclamation stops us in our tracks and catches us as surprised and fearful as those women on the first Easter morning. While we are on our way to anoint death in a graveyard, life has broken into the world. As the men on the road to Emmaus would learn that same day, it takes a different kind of vision to see and know the risen Christ. It takes new eyes, rather than eyes trained to seek salvation in the living death.

The work of Easter, then, is this: To point to death and name it as death. Then, to find and point to evidence of resurrection in this world, and name it as life. And this is the thing: it might be where we least expect it. But it is there nonetheless, a sign of God’s good future here, in the present, smack in the middle of history, in the midst of this world’s pain, standing among our broken dreams:

It may be found on Tuesday evenings at Reality Ministries, where a community of belonging is created when youth and adults with and without developmental disabilities come together for food and prayer and play. It may be found amongst members of the Holy Friendship Collaborative as they walk alongside those bound in the chains of opioid addiction in Southern Appalachia. In Athens, Ohio, the folks of Good Works, Inc are “believing people back to life” through a ministry of hospitality that proves that the forces of life and love are stronger than the forces of death. There is evidence of resurrection at Central Women’s Prison in Raleigh, NC where a woman convicted of murder receives a weekly visit from a member of a group of laity who have come faithfully for over 20 years.

It is the Body of Christ claiming victory over the powers of sin, death, isolation, and despair. It is visible evidence of a community that defies the kingdoms of this world. It is hope and life revealed in the breaking of bread. It is what happens each and every time the Church gathers around the Eucharist table to share in Christ’s broken body and blood and we proclaim his death and resurrection until he comes in glory. It is the new life of Resurrection.

This Sunday, whether we gather in the majesty of a towering cathedral or in the humility of a few friends around a table, the great mystery and miracle of Easter abounds. As we receive the grace of Christ’s Table, may all of our eyes be opened to see evidence of God’s resurrection victory in the unlikely and ragtag communities in which we gather. When the proclamation rings out: Christ is Risen! May we look around with awe and respond with joy: He is risen indeed!

From Confusion to Conspiracy

Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 4:32-35
John 20:19-31

There’s a conspiracy at work, undermining the institutions of power, subverting politics, threatening the markets, turning the tables on all those who feel secure in the status quo.

It’s a conspiracy that began long ago, behind locked doors. It started in the fear of those early disciples who were thrown into confusion by the cross. Their leader was dead. It looked like that was that. But now the word was spreading that somehow Jesus is back from the grave, that what God did for Lazarus, God now did for Jesus–that even death couldn’t contain this life that had come into the world in all its abundance. Read more

The Truth on the Other Side of the Resurrection

Easter Sunday
Acts 10:34-43
Colossians 3:1-4
John 20:1-18

Easter is a good time for doubt. It’s a time when people occasionally dare to ask the pointed questions: “Jesus was good and all, but – you don’t really think he rose from the dead, do you?” They want the truth – and rightly so.

So consider what it means to read the Gospels in terms of what is true. The passion narratives grip us, filled as they are with raw emotions and experiences. Like all good stories, they invite us in, and at the least we can probably admit that the emotions are likely to be true.

In my Roman Catholic tradition, we call this practice of putting ourselves into the story the “Ignatian Method” of reading – but I think that many Christians confronted by the pathos of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection put themselves there at the cross naturally.

So at last week’s Passion Sunday service, when I heard Peter denying Jesus before the cock crowed three times, I thought, “Yup, I probably would have denied him too.” Read more