We do not arrive at Easter by cold logical deduction on the basis of generally held truth. Resurrection breaks into our circle of previous experience with new data.
Sometimes I watch babies and children and think what it is like to have to start with scratch. GKC wrote: “One of the profound philosophical truths which are almost confined to infants is this love of things, not for their use or origin, but for their own inherent characteristics, the child’s love of the toughness of wood, the wetness of water, the magnificent soapiness of soap.” (TWE, ch. 12) Of course there is some capacity for understanding the world that seems to be hard wired into our bodies and brains. The instinct to breathe and seek mother’s milk. Turning our eyes toward light or sound. But there is so much there we must learn about the world that we are not born knowing that a little child is forever puzzling, delighted, surprised, intrigued. Watch the child teeter as it learns to handle its muscles as the toddler learns to gauge gravity. Witness they process of adjusting to the rhythms of day and night, “But why does the sun have to go down?” They come at the world eager to taste, to touch, to see, to do it all again. Maybe when we are in our tweens we may act as if the world is now old hat, boring even. We may act as if nothing is surprising anymore.
But if we are lucky we will find again the capacity to wonder.
Ask most people who went into science and they probably will tell you it is the thrill of discovering something new that keeps them at it. That the real world is infinitely more interesting than one we could make up.
I don’t imagine we will ever run out of surprises.
The best surprise is discovering that the world is just part of something much larger than we first guessed.
It happened when the Hubble telescope uncovered that there as many galaxies as we had once thought there were stars. The pictures are awesome.
What a silly notion that somehow science enables us to put aside the idea of God, The vastness and order and beauty of the world makes God still more wonderful. Look up, the prophet said, and behold the stars that God brings forth each known by name and in the place God puts it. And let your mind see farther. God holds the universe as if it were a mere speck of dust in his hand. That all the might of mighty armies are a mere drop of water compared to the ocean of God. God’s resources and knowledge are unsearchable.
Alister McGrath wrote of how he started out as a proud atheist, determined to get on with the search for better knowledge through science and human reason. Somewhere on his way to the degree he picked up Plato’s Republic and, came across that story at its center. “I couldn’t make sense of everything I read. But one image etched itself into my imagination. Plato asks us to imagine a group of men, trapped in a cave, knowing only a world of flickering shadows cast by a fire. Having experienced no other world, they assume that the shadows are the only reality. Yet the reader knows —and is meant to know —that there is another world beyond the cave, awaiting discovery. As I read this passage, the hard-nosed rationalist within me smiled condescendingly. Typical escapist superstition! What you see is what you get, and that’s the end o f the matter. Yet a still, small voice within me whispered words of doubt. What if this world is only part of the story? What if this world is only a shadowland? What if there is something more wonderful beyond it.”1
Those women were looking for Jesus in a cave where they had seen the body hurried laid as Sabbath sunset began to spread its darkness. They had no illusions. They knew death was real. They were just bringing the available tools to cope with the reality of a corpse: sad, sweet, practical embalming spices, helpless tokens of grief.
But something happened. Angels redirected them with an astounding question, “Why are you seeking the living among the dead? He is not here. He is risen. Don’t you remember what he told you?”
Those words still explode in our hands. Jesus is not dead. Those who try to treat Jesus as a matter of historical investigation only are premature. Those who go no further than thinking he is an especially important example of noble and inspiring human life, tragically cut short. Or who treat Jesus as if he could be reduced to a collection of wise teaching, or a creed, or an image, or an idea. We come to handle and preserve his memory with our embalming theology or archeology or philosophy. We come, as it were, to remember how he once was only to be greeted by heaven’s news that it is not over with Jesus. Drop your relic bag, he has escaped and gone on ahead of us. We do not have him in a corner or safely boxed. Jesus is not stuck in the past tense; Jesus is current and forever future.
Which means there is no telling where Jesus is liable to turn up, or how he might step into your life and turn things upside down or right side up.
The stories of resurrection break into several variations at this point. But all have the same core: It was Sunday (the first day of the week), there were women at the tomb and all gospels name Mary Magdalene, and the tomb was empty.
As Paul would say, the main thing you have to be clear about is that this really happened. He offered a long list of eyewitnesses, to which he modestly appended his own name– though he admits his encounter with the resurrected Christ was out of proper time frame– who knows how and where Christ will meet us on our roads to somewhere else. But resurrection is the sort of fact that messes with our previous grand theories of how the world works, our most basic premises about what is possible. It elbows out of the way our limited explanations.
C.S. Lewis once said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
I want to remind you of some of the things that look different in the light of resurrection. Hope for creation looks different. The power of sin and death loose their power to scare resistance out of us. The power which can reverse death can transform our lives and our world. And forgiveness trumps our sin.
First resurrection means that God takes creation seriously. It is not as if the only thing that matters is getting safely out of this world to the safety of heaven. This is not a throw away life, useful only till a better one comes along. As Hebrew scriptures repeatedly tell us, the universe exists because God intended it into being and pronounced to beautiful each step. The world–the stuff of nature, our bodies– exist not by accident. We live in a creation, not an absurdity. Then comes the surprise of incarnation. The coming of Jesus tells us that God is the sort of God who can inhabit, dwell within, what he has made, who crawls into the world to fix it.
This is amazing. When God came within creation, it opens up a picture of how somewhat similarly to the way God is in Christ, God can enter our hearts so that we intimately communion with him within our depths. In the heart of our hearts we come to a harmony, like two voices blending in one song. We do not leave our body to be with God. God blesses and hallows our bodily lives as places where he may be present.
Creation and incarnation. What does resurrection add? That creation will have a future beyond the worse that humans can do. Resurrection is the coda.
The thief on the cross only hoped that Jesus might remember him, I can read it: “Jesus, it is just about over for me. But somehow I believe it is not over for you. When you come into that future power, just think on me, recall me.” And Jesus said, “I will do more than think of you. You will be with me. And not ‘someday’, but today when you die. With me in paradise.” Resurrection is not just that Jesus received life beyond death. Resurrection means Jesus is going continue the living relationship, and not just with us but with creation as well.
Resurrection enacts forgiveness. Jesus came back to the ones who denied, forsook, misunderstood. He has not given up on them and gone to heaven to get back to blessed existence. The risen Lord comes to those who failed; his love is a forgiveness.
Resurrection is a victory over the power of sin. The cross is typical of the escalation of human will to power to its last and strongest tool, intimidation with death. Even good people can resort in desperation to violence. The Romans bequeathed the world its genius for organization and law, but if that failed, they were prepared to hammer obstinacy into oblivion. The temple embodied centuries of piety. And yet in the crucifixion we see in terrible ways that even at its best human religion and politics can do grave injustice and violence in the name of keeping the peace and self-protection. Evil can be strong and dangerous. The cross is real
What resurrection says is that evil will not get the final word.
The Wisdom of Solomon foreshadows the gospel by saying that the wicked rulers of this world think when they have killed the righteous think that they are rid of them. Death is the end of that, they think. But recalling Exodus this Jewish writer dares declare there will be a different end to the story.2
Wisdom 3: 1 But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and the torment of death shall not touch them. 2 In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die: and their departure was taken for misery: 3 And their going away from us, for utter destruction: but they are in peace. 4 And though in the sight of men they suffered torments, their hope is full of immortality. 5 Afflicted in few things, in many they shall be well rewarded: because God hath tried them, and found them worthy of himself. 6 As gold in the furnace he hath proved them, and as a victim of a holocaust he hath received them, and in time there shall be respect had to them. 7 The just shall shine, and shall run to and fro like sparks among the reeds. 8 They shall judge nations, and rule over people, and their Lord shall reign for ever. 9 They that trust in him, shall understand the truth: and they that are faithful in love shall rest in him: for grace and peace is to his elect.
Wisdom 5: 1 Then shall the just stand with great constancy against those that have afflicted them, and taken away their labours. 2 These seeing it, shall be troubled with terrible fear, and shall be amazed at the suddenness of their unexpected salvation. 3 Saying within themselves, repenting, and groaning for anguish of spirit: These are they, whom we had some time in derision, and for a parable of reproach. 4 We fools esteemed their life madness, and their end without honour. 5 Behold how they are numbered among the children of God, and their lot is among the saints. 6 Therefore we have erred from the way of truth, and the light of justice hath not shined unto us, and the sun of understanding hath not risen upon us. 7 We wearied ourselves in the way of iniquity and destruction, and have walked through hard ways, but the way of the Lord we have not known. 8 What hath pride profited us? or what advantage hath the boasting of riches brought us? 9 All those things are passed away like a shadow, and like a post that runneth on, 10 And as a ship that passeth through the waves: whereof when it is gone by, the trace cannot be found, nor the path of its keel in the waters: 11 Or as when a bird flieth through the air, of the passage of which no mark can be found, but only the sound of the wings beating the light air, and parting it by the force of her flight; she moved her wings, and hath flown through, and there is no mark found afterwards of her way: 12 Or as when an arrow is shot at a mark, the divided air presently cometh together again, so that the passage thereof is not known: 13 So we also being born, forthwith ceased to be: and have been able to shew no mark of virtue: but are consumed in our wickedness. 14 Such things as these the sinners said in hell: 15 For the hope of the wicked is as dust, which is blown away with the wind, and as a thin froth which is dispersed by the storm: and a smoke that is scattered abroad by the wind: and as the remembrance of a guest of one day that passeth by. 16 But the just shall live for evermore: and their reward is with the Lord, and the care of them with the most High. 17 Therefore shall they receive a kingdom of glory, and a crown of beauty at the hand of the Lord: for with his right hand he will cover them, and with his holy arm he will defend them.
Resurrection is the act of God which renders the effects of violence and sin impermanent. Forgiveness is stronger than guilt. Goodness outlasts wrong. Life is stronger than death.
And therefore we live in hope that the God of Jesus Christ has the final say in how this story ends. Not with death, but life. We shall see our brothers and sisters again. The power which raised Christ from the dead can shake loose the death grip of sin on our souls. And even our bodies will be redeemed by a reconstitution, a transformation, a metamorphosis more profound than the bulb’s to the flower or the caterpillar to the butterfly or the chaos of fire to a habitable planet. We shall be changed, transformed to be like the risen Christ.3
We may have to deal with sin and death, but we have a sense that we belong to something larger. Our address may be this world but “your citizenship is in heaven.” And we walk the dusty paths of earth in company with the risen, very alive and present Lord. Christ is risen and on the loose.
And he comes to us as he promised where we share the bread and cup, where we do the loving ministry to our neighbor in their need, as we forgive his forgiveness saturates our soul. When he knocks and we humbly open our hearts Jesus still enter and sups with us.
Christ is risen. The world rejoices in its hope.
Paul Feyerbend suggested “…scientists need to develop their imaginations and open up their limited view of what makes up reality.” Morton Kelsey does not deny the importance of science in helping us to measure and analyze the nature of physical reality. He just wouldn’t stop there. “There is another reality beyond the physical world if only we will open our senses to it.
But what if Easter doesn’t happen that way, not just for these women, but for anybody? What if Easter happens largely through remembering the words of Jesus, living the words of Jesus, being so thoroughly familiar with the words of Jesus that they’re more important than our next breath? Then they remembered his words. But what if we don’t know those words? What if we’ve forgotten them? Theophan the Recluse, a nineteenth-century Russian spiritual master, once wrote: “Everywhere and always God is with us, near to us, and in us. But we are not always with him, since we do not remember him.” Then they remembered his words. Our forgetting the words does not cancel the reality of the risen Christ in the world. But our lack of memory severely restricts Easter happening in us.
The resurrection of Jesus is a pillar of fire ahead of the whole human race. It is
testimony; not only to the pathos of human hoping, but to the justice of God. If you want to know where God stands on the issue of suffering or oppression, if you want to know what God thinks when he sees you walking away from a cemetery, if you want to know what God feels when he sees your tears—then go to the tomb of God’s son and listen for testimony.
1“A bridge between two worlds: how the Resurrection infused my rational faith with a passionate hope,”Alister E. McGrath, Christianity Today 56 no 6 Je 2012, p 32-35.
2“I did not suggest that a single word in [Wisdom] 5.1 ‘safely denotes resurrection’, but that the entire narrative of the first six chapters, read as a whole, runs like this: (a) the wicked kill the righteous and declare that death will be the end of them; (b) God, however, is looking after the currently dead righteous; (c) there will come a time when the wicked will be astonished because the righteous have not only come back again but are set in authority over nations and kingdoms; (d) the kings of the earth must therefore learn true wisdom, so that they do not behave as the wicked have done. This is then backed up, in the second half of the book, by a retelling of the Exodus, to demonstrate how God rescues his people and judges their persecutors. It is within this large-scale reading that the particular passages make the sense they do. Writer after writer makes the standard claim that Wisdom teaches immortality and therefore not resurrection, and then (a) ignores the larger argument and (b) wrongly assumes that these two (immortality and resurrection) are an either/or choice.” N. T Wright, “An Incompleat (but Grateful) Response to the Review by Markus Bockmuehl of The Resurrection fo the Son of God,” JSNT 26.4, 505-510.
31 John 3 (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition) 3 Behold what manner of [love] the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called, and should be the sons of God. Therefore the world knoweth not us, because it knew not him. 2 Dearly beloved, we are now the [children] of God; and it hath not yet appeared what we shall be. We know, that, when he shall appear, we shall be like to him: because we shall see him as he is. 3 And every one that hath this hope in him, sanctifieth himself, as he also is holy.