Here we are at the 2nd Sunday of Easter and we dive deeper into what resurrection means: this “wait a minute….Jesus is what?” reality that happens after the cross.
In today’s readings we have two different attempts of making sense of Resurrection. Our reading from Acts takes place at Pentecost; in our church year calendar that is 50 days after Easter, ending the Easter season. For the Jewish people, it was the festival of the weeks, also known as Shavuot or Pentecost—50 days after Passover–and many pilgrims were gathered as Peter and the eleven stand to speak with those who had gathered in Jerusalem—many of whom had witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion.
And after the great wind blew among them, and the tongues of fire landed on their heads–a fairly amazing event I would imagine—Peter begins to speak. And Peter does what humans often do after something unimaginable has happened: Peter tries to explain it—wrap it up in logic—connect it to prior knowledge. It’s what we do; we want to make sense of everything. Peter does his darndest to earn the people’s intellectual assent—probably thinking if he says just the right thing…..
He refers to the prophet Joel, to David the psalmist—-connecting what the people have heard and learned to what they have now experienced. Words, words, words to convince them Jesus is Messiah.
The story tells us that it works; well, something works. Maybe it was the wind and the tongues of fire dancing on their heads, or maybe it was the words, but the story goes on to say that 3000 people became convinced that day…..
Jesus takes a bit of a different approach. Jesus doesn’t primarily use words to convince; he goes with the sensory experience. Jesus invites the disciples to touch: Put your finger here….see my hands….reach out your hand and put it in my side. Jesus breathes on them, breathes the holy life-breath on them and says: Peace be with you. Three times in today’s reading. Peace be with you. Peace be with you. Peace be with you.
When it comes to something like life after death—living beyond dying—we probably need both: experience and words. Sensual and logical. And even then……we still don’t really know, really understand. Our heads, and maybe our hearts?, are too small to capture the whole of this Mystery.
Beloved: I don’t know what to tell you about resurrection. Oh, I am convinced of what Resurrection means to us right now—in this bit where we haven’t physically died but we experience the many, smaller deaths as we live and move and have our being. Like we talked about last week, I am certain that Resurrection happens: Jesus lives when we live Jesus.
But what does Resurrection mean for us when our bodies finally stop breathing? What does Resurrection mean for our physical deaths? I am not sure. Not completely. But I cannot deny that if we believe Gospel, then Resurrection means Love is stronger than Death. Love is stronger than Hate. Resurrection means that the worst thing that happens to us is not the last thing that happens to us. That somehow we shed these human bodies and we join the force field of Love that we know as God—the presence of Love which also contains those who have gone before us—and as we join God’s forever everafter—we still get to participate in the creative force of love that lives and moves and has its being in this Creation, this Universe. Somehow. That’s about all I can say about that. We have to find our Peace with the unknowing.
Now, if you believe in a bodily resurrection—that after he died, Jesus came back in a body and somehow, so will we—that’s faithful. But, if you hear the Gospel resurrection stories, and you really wonder or doubt or, even dare I say, find it impossible to swallow the bodily part—for Jesus or for anyone else—that’s faithful too. Because the important bit is that you are wrestling with what resurrection means, for you, for us, for Creation, —and you are scooping up and applying the Wisdom that is there. The Wisdom you can grasp. After all, the Bible isn’t so much a book of facts as it is a collective of Wisdom.
Actually, there is one more thing…something I was thinking in the shower this morning about Jesus’ post-death body….Maybe the Gospel insists, here in today’s story and in John’s stories after the Resurrection, like Jesus eating breakfast on the beach with the boys—maybe the Gospel insists that Jesus had a post-death body so that we would understand that we’re it. That these resurrection stories are just Jesus tagging out–like in wrestling….Jesus is tagging out and Tag! We’re it. Jesus’ living body in the world today.
Today Jesus says to us : Put your finger here….see my hands.
Beloved: Which wounds of Christ are you being called to touch and see?
Which wounds of Christ have you already tended? Because you have.
In the 25th chapter of Matthew, Jesus says:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’
And the disciples ask Jesus: When? When did we see you? And Jesus answers: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’ ………Put your finger here….see my hands.
And then there’s this juicy, wonderful bit of wisdom:
The Resurrection of Jesus undoes the injustice of Jesus’ scandalous death. Resurrection undoes injustice…..Imagine all the ways we can practice resurrection and undo injustice. The violence against Trans lives, the diminishment of immigrant lives, prisoners’ lives, impoverished lives, lonely lives, the willingness to accept the thousands of lives taken due to gun violence. Beloved: RESURRECTION undoes injustice! We are the living body of Christ in the world today.
Okay: one last bit of Wisdom that was written by Serene Jones and Paul Lakeland in their book Constructive Theology. It goes something like this: If the mission of God’s church is to be effective, then it is the message of Jesus that ought to be stressed rather than Jesus as the message. We will know God’s reign has come when folx look at the church and instead of saying: see how those Christians love each other….folx will look at the church and say: See how those Christians love us!
Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.