Today we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Herein lies an unusually complex problem for our modern scientific-technological mindset. What is the resurrection? What did or didn’t happen? If it did happen how, when, and where, did it happen? The Biblical accounts seem inconclusive from our modern perspective.
John does not tell us how the resurrection happened – only that it happened. In Acts: 10, Luke tells us how the effects of the resurrection changed Peter to tell a new story about the inclusivity of God’s love. The first Christians didn’t so much believe the resurrection as much as they experienced it and became transformed into a community of change agents. In short, the resurrection was a conclusion the first Christians drew from their lived experience.
Can you believe this story? Take a moment to ponder your answer in the privacy of your own thoughts. Our emphasis on the verb believe or it’s opposite, not believe seems to me to go to the heart of why the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is an unusually complex problem for us. A popular view of religion is that it gives answers. The reason many reject religion is because faith poses many more questions than it answers.
In our community, those of you who know Fla Lewis will know that Fla has a mischievous sense of humor. This last week, through the post came a Peanuts cartoon. I knew it was from Fla because who else? Fla knows that I need to lighten up a bit. In the cartoon a conversation between Lucy and Linus is taking place as follows:
Lucy: I have a lot of questions about life, and I’m not getting any answers!
Linus: Looks at her blankly
Lucy: I want some real honest to goodness answers….
Linus and Lucy now gaze into the near distance
Lucy: I don’t want a lot of opinions … I want answers!
Linus: Would true or false be all right?
I remind the community at St Martin’s that we humans are storied beings. However, when we hear the word story we think of something less than true, something made up. Because we are conditioned to think that hard description is the only language that conveys truth. Stories are what we tell children when they are too young to comprehend rational scientific- technological descriptive language. When I use the word story I am describing truth-plus. Stories convey the multilayered complexity of the meaning of life.
Our stories are our attempts to make sense of the world. Our identities are constructed through the quality of our stories. The bigger the story, the more room it offers for a sense of self within an expanded experience of the world. The smaller the story, the more constrained our experience becomes. 21st century scientific- technological realism is a very small story indeed. Without a necessary component of transcendence, it offers so little room for a big vision of humanity.
If you don’t believe me just look at how the popular imagination today is dominated by stories of the supernatural, superhero sagas infused with magical realism. It seems that when it comes to religion especially of the WASP variety, the supernatural or theologically speaking, the transcendent is no longer tolerated. Here in lies the root of our disaffection. Technological progress always offers more than it delivers, i.e. alone it does not seem to make us happy or contented.
Each time we hear a story new challenges confront, new meanings emerge, new understandings dawn for us because we are never in the same place twice. In story, meaning is never fixed, it is always fluid, constantly morphing. If we really listen to our stories, storylines change because either the story is never told the same way twice, or if it is, as, in the case of the Gospel record it is never heard in the same way twice because we are never in the same place twice.
I thought this year I would look back of my Easter Day sermons of the last few years in the hope that maybe I could retread the tire as it were. What I discovered was that despite the sheer brilliance of my previous Easter Day sermons, that was then, and this is now. Today is 2016, I hear John’s account of the events at dawn, three days after the death of Jesus, not as I heard it in 2000, nor as I heard it in 2014, or 2015. I hear it from where I stand in 2016, a new context, a new location, no longer then, but here, and now. Even when compared to this time last year, today the world looks and feels to be a very different place. It is astonishing, what a difference a year makes.
There is a particular poignancy to John’s account of the resurrection as we listen to it from within the current American context of political and social polarization. Today’s discriminatory political rhetoric, which only a year ago seemed if not exactly unthinkable was certainly publically unsayable, is now loudly and proudly trumpeted openly as certain politicians struggle to trump each another with even more incendiary claims. Like Lucy, many of us are seeking answers –real honest to goodness answers We seem ready to accept simplistic true or more often, false answers that offer the illusion of solutions to the things we most fear. As we grasp after real honest to goodness answers we fail to notice the violence taking root in our hearts.
We receive the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection in 2016 in a world in which the threat of global terrorism is today more real than before. In the face of an escalating environmental catastrophe, strident voices of denial attempt to mislead us with the age-old sorry tale of humans putting the short-term profit motive before that of our long-term survival.
The resurrection is an epic story. The resurrection is the big story of the Christian people. From within the Christian perspective, we believe that this is the tipping point event in the history in our relationship with God. In raising Jesus from the dead, God has done a new thing after which everything is changed. In 2016, we hear this story on the cusp of a new tipping point in the political and environmental stability not only of our own nation but of the world.
Our attitude towards change is paradoxical. A kind of back to the future mentality often grips us. We fear and resist change, preferring to retread old tires with threadbare answers, while at the same time we long for some kind of change, any kind of change to break the seedy cycle of business as usual.
The first Christians, those who came at dawn on the third day after the death of Jesus on the cross didn’t worry about whether they could believe the seeming impossible evidence of their own eyes. In fact, we can see, reading between the lines, that they didn’t believe in the impossible any more than we do. In time, they came to understand God’s raising of Jesus to new life because they experienced a profound transformation in the way they lived their lives.
The first Christians deliberately chose to use the word resurrection to describe this experience in their lives. For 1st century Jews, this word did not mean what we think it might mean, i.e. a supernatural experience – spiritual life after death. For them, it had a clear meaning. It meant the experience of a return to physical life, after life after death. Like our discovery of dark matter, they came to believe it not because they could see or measure it, but because they felt its effect upon them.
The first Christians became transformed people no longer afraid, no longer looking for scapegoats to carry their fear.
Lucy would not have had much time for resurrection because like most important things in life it cannot be understood through the prism of yes/no answers. Resurrection is not primarily a belief that is either true or false. Resurrection is an experience in living. To borrow a term familiar to card players resurrection is an action through which love trumps violence, love trumps hatred, love trumps fear. Love encourages us to resist the easy answers of true or false; answers peddled by the hard men of this world, concealed behind the seductive masks of their firm certainties.
In 2016, as I listen to this story of events at dawn, three days after the crucifixion of Jesus, the key question comes down to this. Do I have the courage to let this story empower and transform my living? On my own, I’m one person and my doubts are huge and the answer is – I am not so sure. Yet, my doubt evaporates when I consider that I am part of a community that owes its origins to this story, a community of solidarity shaped by this story, a community that because of this story keeps faith with those who otherwise inevitably will become the scapegoats for my fear.
We are the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. Our reality is constructed from the stories we tell each other about how we see the world. Resurrection is our story of the promise of transformation. If we are brave enough, it transforms us to become together, the change we long to see.
 People are hurting and are desperate to see some change, even if all they can only conceive of is in the form of a reversion to old solutions that have failed us in the past.
 A comment the biblical scholar and Anglican bishop N.T. Wright is fond of using.