Living Resurrection - An Easter Meditation
Gospel: Luke 24:1-49
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men [ἄνδρες δύο] in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women [they] were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men [they] said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? (He is not here, but has risen.) 6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ 8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. (12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.)
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles (60 stadia) from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ 19He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.[NRSV footnote: Or to set Israel free] Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ 25Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah (ie the Christ) should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning (within us) while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them (and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’) 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ (40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.) 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.
44 Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’
Resurrection is not a third person confession but a first person testimony -- and this is all you need to preach. People don’t want to hear that the resurrection is a creed of the church -- they need to hear that the resurrection is a truth they might witness and to which they might give witness on a daily basis.... Karoline Lewis
The story rings true enough in part. The women come to bury him. Cleopas and his friend go home in despair, knowing that it is all over, and that the world remains as it always was. The men dismiss the women's experience as "an idle tale." It is entirely believable, for we know this is how the world works. Nothing changes.
But then there is a story of men in the dazzling clothes of divine messengers, and the claim that Jesus has risen. And the story that he appears, in person, to people travelling on the road, and then to Peter, and then to all of them. What does one do with that?
Such stories have credence only for two kinds of people. There are those who need something to believe and who will believe anything which suits their purpose: Those who subscribe to flat earth foolishness, faked moon landings, or anti-vaccination hysteria. If such examples are not enough, our utter pliability and suggestibility, shown in countless psychology experiments, and by the persuasive power of advertising and social media manipulation, should lead us to be deeply cautious about the reliability of personal testimony.
By contrast, we can trust the engineering of a bridge because it comes from the power of scientific experiment: careful measurement, detailed testing, controlled conditions, and constant repetition, all building upon the knowledge we already possess, and publicly documented. We trust our lives to a bridge without much thought. How much can we trust the completely counter intuitive testimony of a few people two thousand years ago; testimony of something which we did not, and do not observe? How many dead people have you been able to ask to chew on a piece of fish when they came back?
Understand that I am not seeking to deny the resurrection of Jesus. I simply do not entrust myself to his Gospel on the basis of this one story in Luke. Rather, this story helps me explore and explain what I have met.
For I am among the other folk who give this story credence; the ones who pay attention to it because they too, in some way, have met the same person raised from the dead. Then the story changes from a fantastic claim to a corroboration. It leads us to say, "Yes! That's talking about what I have experienced." And that changes everything.
There is a certain genius in the Gospel texts. They allow us to read the surface story— the tomb is empty and Jesus appears to his disciples, and the same texts wait patiently for us to realise that they have also presented us with a much deeper reading of spiritual experience. We cannot read an engineering tome on building bridges unless we have a background in maths and other disciplines, yet a little child can hear the story of an empty tomb. But that same story goes deep into the building of a life in the reality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We will not outgrow it.
Understand that the story of Easter is not merely Luke 19:1-49. Luke's story of Easter is the whole Gospel of Luke and, arguably, the Book of Acts. Half our trouble is that we read one chapter in Luke as though it were an engineering text, and expect to understand resurrection. But, in the short text we read on Easter Sunday, we find a standout example of the depth of the Gospel texts in the experience of the Emmaus Road.
... he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning (within us) while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’
There, in narrative form, is the Christian experience, inviting us to dive as deeply as we are able. We do not recognise the Christ who has already come to us, and yet in the Eucharist, in the breaking of bread, our eyes are opened, and we realise again why our hearts have kept pulling us into the story and we have not been able to walk away. And then the insight disappears... until the next time...
As a young bloke despairing of making any sense of the world, deeply impressed by a sense of my inadequacy and sinfulness, yet with an equally deep sense of something glorious about the world, I read the gospel of Matthew. I concluded at the end that if it were true then I was on the wrong side of the fence and bound for hell, and gave my life to the Christ. I was naïve, and my understanding of literature, of theology, and of myself, was shallow at best. But my heart burned within me as I read the bible end to end, and then started on Hans Lietzmann and Floyd Filson's New Testament histories. And was disappointed and deeply discomforted by Lietzmann's refusal to discuss the resurrection because it was outside the province and the competency of history to judge such a thing. There was my first little crisis of faith, and my first inkling that I was dealing with something far different to my science text books.
But by then, the Eucharist had begun its work on me. The communion of weekly worship and morning teas, the hospitality of homes, a friendly mentoring minister, and the unlikely feast of bread and small glasses in trays once a quarter, had given me a home. Something of me knew that I was in the presence of something for which I had longed all my life: a place to be, a place where I was accepted, a place where I was worth something.
Looking back, I think I had ceased to worry about death, about hell, about the truth or possibility of resurrection, because I had tasted Kingdom. It took decades to understand that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not about me surviving death. It is not some insurance policy which says that if I say the right words then the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead means I will also be raised. It's not about being right, or doing the right thing, or believing the right thing. The gospel of Jesus is about something far greater and far deeper. It is about the completion of creation. It is about the vindication of God. It is about a glory we can barely begin to describe, a reality we have barely entered. It is not about the proving of a bridge, and the designing and manipulation of things. It is about learning to trust the love of God for us, and discovering that we stand not upon something we have built, nor upon the empty air of self-deception, but upon a reality more solid than any bridge we could ever build.
This is my very shortened story. After years as a minister, I had nothing I could say about the resurrection of either the Christ or myself. I had only a sense that when I died, whatever was needed would be there; I could do it. And it took me some time to realise what a gift this is. I had, also, a sense that the only life worth living was one which tried to live for others rather than for myself. It seemed this sort of life was central to the story of Jesus, and was what had formed him and made him so attractive to others. I could seek to live that, or give up on life. And I had found that my partial, sometimes despairing, and definitely fitful living out of that was having a profound effect upon me. I began to realise that rather than it being the case that I had failed in my discipleship, it was the case that God had healed me profoundly. In my despair, as for Cleopas, Jesus had come to me.
Eventually, we found ourselves apparently the last hope for keeping a person alive. Friends, colleagues, and professionals in the field all told us to walk away or we would be destroyed. But how can you leave someone to die? When the months of crisis were over, the trauma worked itself out of each one of us in the house in our own sickness, for months more. But I had never been so alive. Life had exploded with richness.
And then there was the girl in the street, in that freezing winter wind tunnel we call Grenfell Street, where the beggars sit because they get chased out of Rundle Mall. I will never forget her, or my failure. She may have been only 15; she was not more than 25, and she was pinched, shivering in the cold, and had violence and abuse etched into her face and frame. I have replayed the scene many times: I felt an instant surge of pity and concern. "I could buy you some hot coffee." I saw it happening, a little vision from God. And I walked on past. I know why. In short, I could not go back to the person who was in our house. I could not do that again. If I did that again, it would kill me.
This is why there is resurrection, and why there must be resurrection. Resurrection is God's answer for my failure, for my leaving that girl on the street. And... resurrection is God's only answer for the mess of creation. Paul quoted the Psalms: "For thy sake we are being slaughtered all the day long..." and he was right. We can weasel about with fancy words about personal responsibility as much as we like, but God is responsible for that girl on the street. God created the world in the way that it is. Nothing has changed since the times when Israel began to hope for a renewed creation as some kind of recompense and justice for the suffering it was undergoing; suffering which was beyond justification. Resurrection is justice. The word became flesh; God invested God's self in the creation and was not destroyed; there will be justice.
And here is the untidiness of faith. There is no text book for the building of bridges. There is no tight convincing philosophical argument for my atheist friend. There is, instead, something much more convincing. As I let go of my need to be at the centre of things, looked after, liked, holding a respectable belief; as I trust the whole of Jesus' message in Luke and the other gospels, and seek to love; as I trust all that by the way I live, even though I cannot prove it, or even remotely understand how it could finally come to be, then the story rings true. And I can say "Yes! That's talking about what I have experienced."
Andrew Prior (2019)
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!