How Resurrection changes the Story…
Mary Herr has a story to share about walking through a dark place. When you are in a dark place, sometimes you are uncertain if the light of Resurrection will break into your experience. I have invited Mary to come and share a bit of that story…
Our reading from Luke’s gospel begins with another Mary (two in fact) along with some other women going to the tomb. It is still dark and the last thing they expected to encounter was Resurrection. In fact, they were coming to the tomb on the first day of the week, to bring spices for the dead body of Jesus.
When you have stood at the foot of the cross where Jesus died… When you have seen his body taken down from the cross and carried away for burial… When your waking hours have become like a Salvador Dali painting with time and meaning losing their form… When you are in this dark place, sleep can be hard to come by. So when you awaken early on the third day, you take spices to the tomb. Maybe you just want to be near the body of Jesus. Maybe you just need to be with others who are grieving.
When you get there, things are not as you expect to find them. The stone that had covered the entrance has been moved. You go inside and do not find the body. Before you can even sort this out, two men in dazzling clothes are standing beside you. They announce that Jesus is not here…that the living do not sleep in tombs…that Resurrection has happened. They remind you that Jesus himself had spoken of Resurrection. You remember. Then you go back to the eleven and all of the rest. You bear witness to the empty tomb and to the message of Resurrection. This is what you do…even if you are women.
Here we see the first way that Resurrection changes the story. In the world after the resurrection, Mary Magdalene and the other women have a new voice. As Paul will later write to the Galatians, in Christ there is no longer male and female. The risen Christ reverses the curse of Genesis and begins to heal the enmity between man and woman. A curse that had damaged the equal partnership in tending to creation. A curse that has subjected women to being seen as lesser, as property, as soil to be planted, as mere bearers of children.
Here on the first day of the new creation, women are given a new voice as proclaimers of Good News. It is the non-credentialled women who share the news of Resurrection with the credentialed men. The men are unconvinced. The words of the women seem to them an idle tale. They do not believe them.
This, however, would not be a split decision…a two-thirds vote. The women’s voices are confirmed by Peter himself, who gets up and runs to the tomb. He looks in, sees the vacant linen cloths and then returns home, amazed. Resurrection changes the Story. Death is not the final word. Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? (1 Cor. 15:55)
Because death has lost its sting, we don’t have to live our lives controlled by fear. Jesus defeats the power of sin and death in all its expressions. So we are not anxious over any aspect of this bodily life—the clothes we wear, what we will eat, where we will live, the kind of church building we will build, the sickness we face… We are no longer driven by the need to be beautiful, rich, powerful. We no longer need to cover ourselves in sin and shame. We no longer try to hide from God and each other. Jesus is the new Adam. A new creation is on the way—even for dust-beings like us.
The reading from Acts uncovers another dimension of Resurrection. Not only does Resurrection break down the walls of enmity between men and women, but it also tears down the wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile. Sifted Peter is ripe to enter this story. He has learned a lesson or two in humility. He has become less convinced of his own capacity to have the right answers. He has been deeply broken and deeply restored. He is ready for a new vision…
And so it is that he does receive a vision from God and a surprise visit from strangers. He goes to Caesaria, to the home of a Gentile. He shares God’s story and is surprised when the gift of the Holy Spirit is poured out even in this place.
Resurrection changes who gets to be included in the Story. The God of vulnerable hospitality—who welcomes both prodigal sons and self-righteous older brothers to the feast of reconciliation—is now going to include outsiders at the family table. God’s table, surprisingly, is big enough for both Jewish followers of Jesus and Roman military officers.
This will raise all kinds of questions for the worshipping community back in Jerusalem. They will have some intense combined adult SS times for prayer and discernment. Things will get messy. They always do when we are willing to follow the Spirit into missional experiments. But this will be necessary if we want to walk in the power of Resurrection which changes our story from a tribal story which we control, to a God story with a table that is far bigger than we have ever imagined.
Questions: Are we willing to be surprised by the people God invites to the table in the post-Resurrection Story? Are we willing to let go of our need to control the good news Story and the gift of the Holy Spirit?
The reading from Isaiah reminds us that Resurrection changes the way we see the world. God is about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
The apocalyptic vision of Isaiah anticipates the Resurrection when God breaks all the vicious cycles of deathliness in which the world finds itself. This vision is all-encompassing. It involves a return to the promise of the first creation. It impacts the physical world—extended lifespan, building and living in houses, planting gardens and eating their produce, being in relationship with God, living the peaceable kingdom. In short, Resurrection brings about the possibility of the old being transformed into something new.
Do we have eyes to see the possibility of Resurrection in a dying and decaying world? We certainly have eyes to see death and decay. We see it in dilapidated buildings and family systems. We see it in cycles of poverty and addiction. We see it in violence, wars and hatred of neighbor, family member and hatred of self. So how does Resurrection change anything in the midst of all this?
Into a world bent on death and destruction, God speaks the Word of Resurrection. In Jesus Christ, God does something new. The new thing is about incarnation, death and resurrection. It was so for Jesus, it is so for us. Jesus said that seeds must fall to the ground and die so the new life can shoot forth. So what does Resurrection look like in particular neighborhoods…in real lives where things are dead?
Geoffrey Canada started the Harlem Children’s Zone as a non-profit organization that targets poverty-stricken children and families. HCZ provides free support for the children and families in the form of parenting workshops, a pre-school program, three public charter schools, and child-oriented health programs. The one-block pilot project that began in the 1990s has expanded to 24 blocks and then 60 blocks. In 2009, the HCZ project invested $40 million (an average of $3,500 per child) in order to keep children on track through college and into the job market.
The HCZ Project began because Geoffrey Canada had a vision of Resurrection in a specific place where death was reeking havoc. He had a vision that the former things—the cycle of generational poverty—was not the last word. He had a vision of what Resurrection looked like in Harlem…in the lives of real children.
Here is the question to us. What does Resurrection look like, not just in Harlem, but in our neighborhoods? In rural Lancaster county, in Lancaster city, on the Sunnyside peninsula? What does resurrection look like in your life and in mine?
Resurrection changes the Story. Because Christ is risen…
resurrection life is our life as well. It is a life that we die into. It is not protected life. Not carefully planned life. Not predictable life. Not life as we know it. Not life as we want it. But resurrected life. Unexpected and surprising life. Miraculous life. A life that gives up all of our plans, all of our power plays, and waits with Jesus, on the cross, in weakness—a life that waits for resurrection.
We don’t know what this future looks like. We can’t plan for it. We can’t make it happen on our own terms, on our schedule, within our designated spaces. Resurrection scandalizes our best plans for the church, and offers us something more wonderful than we could ask or imagine. –Isaac Villegas
I wore my Spain soccer jersey today as a reminder that Resurrection life is not life as usual. Easter is not just a morning for the preacher to put on a suit and tie, preach a happy (and short) message, so we can go home and eat a nice ham dinner, hunt for Easter eggs and then get back to life as usual. Resurrection changes the Story! It begins the new creation.
May we be open to the unexpected, surprising and miraculous life of the Resurrection wherever it takes us…
Alleluia, Christ is Risen!