Followers of Jesus are a Resurrection people!
Great! What does that mean? The scripture accounts of the Resurrection give some idea what that might mean, and how to live into Resurrection in our own lives. Some scholars say that each Gospel account is just a long prologue to the Resurrection. The Resurrection account in the Gospel of John is Chapter 20. Nineteen chapters of prologue and then we hear that Jesus appeared to his disciples. Resurrection!
In the early morning, while it was still dark, that Sunday began with Mary Magdalene going to the tomb. She found it empty. That was not good news—not then. Mary was sure his body had been taken away for hostile reasons–by grave robbers, perhaps? Or by grave robbers who were also Roman soldiers? Alarmed, she ran back to the other disciples and told them. Peter and the unnamed disciple, who is generally believed to be John himself, ran back with her to the tomb. John arrived first, and looked into the cave and saw it was empty, but didn’t go in. When Peter caught up, he went into the tomb and saw more—the shroud thrown one way and the veil for his face thrown the other; which meant grave robbers were unlikely, they wouldn’t have unwrapped the body. The men left, to tell the others, but Mary couldn’t budge from the spot. Grief-stricken, eyes blinded by tears, she didn’t see who came towards her and asked why she was weeping. The Gospel says she took him to be the gardener (puzzling—was this a site landscaped with greenery?) “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Desperate, certain that the body of Jesus had been dumped somewhere, Mary wanted to care for him in the only way she could.
Only when Jesus said “Mary!” did she recognize him. Did she reach out to grab onto him? He stopped her and said: “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.” Then he told her to tell the other disciples, and she did: “I have seen the Lord!” Mary recognized Jesus when she heard him call her name. She ran to the others and was the very first to tell the Good News of the Risen Christ.
That same evening, the disciples gathered again in the Upper Room, still fearful of the Jewish leaders, not to mention the Roman centurions! Nothing locked out Jesus. “He appeared among them, but they didn’t recognize him. “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” The disciples recognized Jesus when they saw the marks on his body, and they believed in the Resurrection.
A week later, also on Sunday, the disciples were in the same place, and this time Thomas was with them. He hadn’t believed all the tales of Resurrection. Thomas speaks for us as twenty-first century rational people: “Resurrection isn’t possible. Dead is dead and he isn’t coming back. This is completely unscientific. You people are crazy.” I have long thought of Thomas as the first Episcopalian. But Jesus didn’t give up on him. Once again, Jesus appeared in the locked room saying: “‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’” Thomas recognized Jesus when he touched the wounds. Then he believed.
She heard, they saw, he touched—and then they believed in the Resurrection.
Those three modes of perception make me think of what we have discovered about how different people learn in different ways. Some of us are very good listeners, some of us are visual, and some of us need to feel or touch something—the kinesthetic way of understanding. Jesus reached out to each person in the way that they would best grasp the news that he was alive. The Gospel speaks even more directly to us who weren’t there, who struggle to believe the unbelievable: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Each of these encounters with the Risen Jesus gives us very clear messages for how to bring Resurrection into our own lives: how to live as a Resurrection people. Jesus told Mary not to hold on, and not to stay at the tomb. In your own life, you may have found yourself unable to dry your eyes and move away from the foot of the cross or the tomb. Jesus tells you to let go and move on, to find your community and tell what is in your heart. Resurrection doesn’t mean standing alone, weeping in the dark at a place of death and sorrow. Don’t hold on to grief, grudges, resentment: move on into a Resurrection life.
The disciples were locked in a room, frightened of what might happen to them. Jesus said: “Peace be with you. Do not be afraid.” In your own life have you isolated yourself, stayed in a box that you hoped would be secure but became a prison? Find peace and trust, and move outside of that box. Don’t be afraid.
To Thomas, who doubted the news of the Resurrection—even disbelieving those he knew and trusted—Jesus said “Do not doubt, but believe.” Jesus lives in a way that is hard to see, hear or touch, but is no less real. He is inviting you to live into the Resurrection. Don’t hold on—to the past, to grief, grudges, resentment, sadness. Don’t be afraid—Jesus calls us each by name, knows what we need, and cares for us. Do not doubt but believe—that the ongoing Resurrection of Christ is the renewal of life and source of hope.
Of the three ways of perceiving, I tend to be one of the visual people, so I want to tell you a story that is rich in visual imagery.
For the last hundred years the National Park Service had a policy of suppressing all fires. Every time one broke out—from a campfire, a lightning strike—the fire was fought and extinguished. About thirty years ago, the policy changed. Experts realized that the downed trees and underbrush was a huge layer of fuel, and fire was part of the natural ecosystem, part of maintaining the forest. Not all fire was bad. The new policy included controlled and managed fires to burn off the dead wood. You probably know where this is going. Maybe the words “controlled” and “managed” were the giveaway—we all know that life is too dynamic to always be controlled and managed, and so is fire. In August of 2009, the Park Service planned a controlled fire in Yosemite National Park, but it got out of hand. It broke through the 91 acre perimeter, and burned more than seven thousand acres before it was completely put out two weeks later. I lived in the San Francisco area at the time, and we watched it on television: the fire, the smoke, and finally the blackened landscape punctuated with charred stumps.
We grieved that fire. It was a tremendous loss of valuable timber, beautiful landscape, and wild animals. There was a human cost as well—many small towns in the wilderness depended on visitors to Yosemite for their economic livelihood. Who would go to see the blackened landscape? How would they make a living?
And then it was winter, and then it was spring.
Do you know what happened? Can you guess? After the fire, what appeared were wildflowers everywhere. No one had ever seen flowers like the ones that covered the landscape that spring and summer. Sure, there were still blackened stumps, but they were soon covered by green vines. Native grasses appeared. That was what Resurrection looked like. That’s what it can look like in your life. You are a Resurrection person. No matter what wildfire happens in your life, you will find renewal and grace in your journey with the Risen Christ. Practice Resurrection! Alleluia!