Romans 6:3-8 John 10:10b Luke 24:28-49
A question. In Luke, and I include all of chapter 24 in this question; who is being resurrected? Jesus.... the disciples..... us...... ?
There were a group of people who had been following Jesus around. Life had seemed full of hope and promise. It was good, and going to be better. They began to see that all pie in the sky stories about how life would one day be very good because Messiah was coming, were true after all. Then he died. He was killed on a cross. They were left in shock and distress. The joy of life was gone, the colour faded, and grimness invaded all their lives again.
I remember the joy of my early life lived out on the wide verandas of our farm house. I was an innocent and carefree little boy Life was delightful. The world was good. I remember once playing outside in a ferocious dust storm. The wind was howling through a yellow red sky. It was hot. I could look at the sun where it sat dully against the matt sky.
I remember it clearly. It was an eerie day I would now describe as threatening, and almost apocalyptic in nature. It was the kind of day Hitchcock would want to film to frighten us. But then, in the howling wind and stinging sand, I loved it. The world was a safe place, to be enjoyed. The things of threat or terror were not known to be so.
I couldn't say it like that then. But I suppose I had decided that God was good, and nothing could separate me from the love of God. I believed the world was good.
Then death came my way. It began playing hide and seek with my parents. They outsmarted me... all of four years of age. "Home" was the Hills hoist, and I found them back there, laughing and embracing. And I, hurt and defeated, knew what it was to be alone.
A slow creeping death of innocence had begun with that one little event. It grew on the school bus with endless teasing. It grew further when my Grandfather died. My physical death came closer too. We sat, fifty of us, numbed and sad, at a youth service the night after a kid from school was killed in a car smash. Older again, I was pinned to a windmill tower by half a tonne of cast iron when a crane slipped. I stared into death's eyes as a bull charged me one day. It fell dead at my feet, with one last lucky shot. I could barely stagger away from its grip on my soul. People who came to butcher the carcass an hour later found it gone... not dead at all, just stunned for the moment.... death on the prowl. I learned to fear death.
Ruth Ostrow wrote in The Australian in 1992, "When I was a little girl my parents told me a lovely fairy tale: that when I grew up I would find a handsome prince and live happily ever after." But like me she discovered "happy ever after" was a fairy tale. Her friends were dying around her in her twenties. They too, were afraid of dying, struggled with life, and wondered where happiness was. The fairy tale expectations of life fade for all of us sooner or later.
It says in Romans 6:3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death?
It means we die the way he did. And conversely his being a human being, and his dying, means he died the way we do. He also.... went through that kind of dying which we call growing up and living on this earth. He died before he died, just as we do as children, and all through life. He suffered the loss of innocence that his followers suffered . He too felt left alone, and afraid. And yet it says that just as we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too.... we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. Does it mean we can be raised from our death of innocence? When will this happen?
It is clear that the resurrection didn't just happen and everyone knew it the next day. Instead there were rumours of resurrection after his death. The women found the tomb open and empty. They saw messengers who brought a story of resurrection, but the disciples dismissed it as an idle tale. Peter found the tomb empty too, but he went home amazed, Luke tells us. He could not yet understand or believe. Resurrection came slowly.
There were rumours of resurrection in my childhood. The church preached to me in word and deed, and gave me a place to be. But I could not believe. It did not make sense. As a teenager I would make the long walk around our two largest paddocks every night after school, not self conscious enough to recognise my depression. It was depression which came because I was too clever to believe that everything was OK and that life was fun. Even a country kid in the seventies could see the writing on the wall regarding economic and ecological crisis... it has been coming since the fifties, but no one has wanted to see it.... although, school and church did a surprisingly good job of showing the general injustice of the world for those who wanted to listen. Ruth Ostrow ends up feeling some of where I was going.
...by 20 I had already lost one close friend in a car accident. By 25 another had died in a car accident and one of the girls I grew up with had died of cancer. .... today the myth of happiness seems more remote than ever. Acquaintances have died on operating tables during simple operations or due to bizarre twist of fact. Others have fought the dreaded C. [She means Cancer.] One died of AIDS. Several have lost limbs, children, family. Most of the married people I knew are now divorced.
....And you never have everything. Those with fabulous husbands lose a child. Those with fabulous children have horrid in-laws. Those with a great sex-life have poverty. My single friends want to be married, my married friends want to be single. My friends with kids feel jealous of those at work who feel jealous of them I return. And everyone, everyone is confused. [And she is only speaking of life for the luckier Australians]
[She finishes like this] in reality, happiness is all about not waking up with cancer. And if you do happen to have cancer, it's about not waking up dead.
That's life without resurrection. We grit our teeth and make the best of it. We decide to be happy with the little bit of life we can get, however short-sold we feel. Peter went back fishing ,it says in John's gospel, and worked all night to catch nothing. Like him, we just struggle on alone.
But despite all the gloom in my life, the rumours of resurrection continued. I began to believe that there might be something in it all. I made a commitment of faith. And slowly, I began to go through the progression of partial resurrection experiences that we see in Luke's gospel in chapter 24. I walked down the Emmaus Road of my life. That is, I didn't give up and sit in a heap and stop looking. I kept on going, disappointments and all. And like Cleopas and his friend, I met Jesus on the road. I didn't really know who he was, or if he was. I had my suspicions.... my heart burned within me as those two disciples described it. And there was only partial resurrection. It was struggle along and carry yourself by your own bootstraps. It was hope that it's true... and more hope than experience.
Then I went to college. They had weekly communion there. The breaking of bread, Luke calls it. It happened on Wednesdays, the worst day of the week. The day when I was overloaded and could barely face going to chapel. The day I often went in utter isolated despair, hoping no one would speak to me because I would not be able to reply. And yet, week by week I was touched profoundly through the breaking of bread. The shivers up my spine could have been someone actually touching me. I was given strength to continue. I who could not sing the hymns at the beginning of the service in my pain and agony, could sing, and leave refreshed.
Luke tells us that as we travel along o the road of life we will meet him. And he will be made known in the breaking of bread. Resurrection is for now... this life: Seek after God. Keep moving. Come to church.
You will notice that Luke is the same as the reading last week in John. He shows Jesus meeting them most convincingly in the church. That is; when they were together. It was in meeting together they found him. He uses the same words as John: Jesus came and stood among them. That is how it has been for me too. For all my praying and seeking and reading on my own, and for all my thinking on the long roads out in the loneliness of the desert, it is in the church that he becomes real. Without church [the wider sense of church is ecclesia - gathering] the real body of the risen Lord which Luke tells us of, fades away, and resurrection becomes a rumour.
Luke says that he opened their minds to the scripture as they met together. That is my experience too. In the context of church, scripture has become a compelling resurrecting force. Some of my best sermons have come out of little Bible study groups where as we met together, he stood among us and opened our minds.
Some things happen alone. Peter failed Jesus, fleeing and then denying him three times. , According to Luke, Jesus appeared to Peter first alone. Peter needed to face what he had done. Resurrection means being confronted with our worst selves . Our dying has not been from the harshness of the world alone. It has been our own doing too. To refuse to face ourselves is to refuse resurrection.
The last thing Jesus does with the disciples is commission them. He gives them a mission. It is so in our resurrection too. Merely to seek him for our own personal happiness is to miss the point. Resurrection is for mission. If we want only a personal peace, piety and happy affluence kind of faith, we will again refuse resurrection. It will remain more of a rumour than a live fact we experience in our lives.
What am I saying today? I am saying that life here on earth is about resurrection. It is about the rediscovery of innocence. It is finding that what we first thought about earth as little children, is true. T S Eliot said of life that we would
not cease from our exploring
and the end of our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.
Life will find a
condition of complete simplicity
(costing not less than everything)
and all manner of thing shall be well.
He speaks later of 'the children.... in the apple tree.' He is saying that all that happy innocence with which we first approached the world was right! The world is good. God can be trusted.
One way of expressing the gospel is to say Jesus is God's way of bringing us back to that. We will gradually be raised, or resurrected, with him, just as it says in Romans. Resurrection doesn't simply mean alive again. It means a new kind of life. That's what's on offer to us.
The gospel is not about keeping our heads down and hoping for a happy ending when we die. It is about discovering resurrection now. It's about getting back into the garden- now. it's about living, not surviving. It's about acting, not reacting. It's about life, not mere existence.
Seek out the risen Lord. Test out the rumours of resurrection. Not rumours of a resurrection 2,000 years ago that we can never finally prove. Seek out the rumours of resurrection now! Follow them up and discover resurrection. Then Easter will not be true because the Bible says so. We will find the Bible true because we have found resurrection now. We have been raised to life in all its goodness again.
Look for resurrection now. Because a resurrected life is truly good. Amen
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