Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! It’s Easter–the holiest day of the church year. This is the part of the Christian story everybody knows. As it says in the Apostles’ Creed, “He was crucified, died and was buried and on the third day he rose from the dead.” Christ is risen! That’s what all people of Christian faith believe, right? But how do they believe it? How do we believe in the resurrection?
One way to believe in the resurrection is to take the biblical accounts of Jesus’ bodily resurrection literally…that is, to read the post-resurrection sightings of Jesus as a scientific treatise, a story of molecules and how the molecules of a man brutally killed then dead for three days revivify and give the man back to his disciples in bodily form.
Of all the interpretations of the resurrection, this is the one that’s gotten the most play throughout history–that Jesus literally came back, alive in flesh and bone, after his death.
I don’t want to knock this interpretation of the resurrection; it has the weight of tradition on its side. But, personally, I can’t spend too much time thinking—like, thinking—about it because, well, it just raises too many questions. Why resurrect Jesus and no one else? Okay. There were others: the daughter of Jairus, Lazarus, a slew of people at the end of Matthew. But if that’s the sign of God’s power–people literally being brought back to life–then why isn’t the planet more crowded? Why haven’t more people been brought back to life? Or the really perplexing question: Why hasn’t my loved one been raised from the dead?
Of course, these days, bringing molecules back to life isn’t as big a deal as it once was. With all the machines and gadgets and wonder drugs now available, there are lots of ways to bring bodies back to life and keep them around for years. So, maybe the bigger question about bodily resurrection isn’t, Why aren’t more people resurrected? but, So what? If God raised Jesus’ body from the dead, so what? What difference do briefly resuscitated molecules make in the grand scheme of things? A few more days, maybe…but then what? He leaves again, right?
Now, before you start texting and tweeting and putting it out on Facebook that the pastor at Pilgrimage doesn’t believe in the resurrection, let me assure you that I do. I believe in Jesus’ resurrection with every fiber of my being! As Clarence Jordan once said: “Of course, I believe in the resurrection, provided you don’t make me say that it’s so.” Exactly!
So, believing in the resurrection literally—as if it is an actual recongregation of molecules—is one way to go about it. But, for those of us who aren’t that sure about the revivification of Jesus’ molecules, might there be another way to believe in resurrection?
Look with me at today’s Gospel lesson— Mark’s is the one resurrection story that does not include an eyewitness account of the post-resurrected Jesus.
Jesus has died; his body has been laid in the tomb. Sabbath begins. As Sabbath ends, three women bring spices to the tomb to anoint the body. On the way, they fret about how they’re going to remove the stone from the entrance to the tomb.
Turns out, they needn’t have worried at all, because the stone already is moved. A young man is there and tells them that Jesus is gone; he’s on his way to Galileeto meet the disciples there. And here’s how the gospel ends: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” THE END. See? No resurrected Jesus in sight. Oh, he’s promised, he’s hinted at, but no one actually reports seeing a resurrected Jesus in Mark’s Gospel.
If you were following along in your Bible, you noticed that there are not one, but TWO alternate endings to Mark. Later interpreters were so uncomfortable with—or embarrassed by—the missing resurrected Jesus in Mark, they wrote him in (like they did with Forest Gump in that movie).
But here’s the thing. Whoever wrote the Gospel of Mark did so 40 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. Don’t you think 40 years would have given the author enough time to think up a spiffier ending if he’d wanted one? Unless his cartridge ran out of ink as the last page was printing, my guess is that Mark ended his Gospel in exactly the way he intended—with no eyewitness accounts of the bodily appearance of the resurrected Jesus.
So, if eyewitness accounts of the resurrected Jesus aren’t important to Mark, what is? If we wanted to believe in the resurrection and all we had to go on was the Gospel of Mark with its abrupt ending, how would we, how could we believe in the resurrection?
Have you ever read a novel or watched a movie with an unresolved ending? Frustrating, isn’t it? And memorable. It’s human nature to want stories resolved. If an author doesn’t resolve a story, our mind keeps working at it until it finds a resolution. How many of you are still trying to figure out the end of The Sopranos?
Which could be exactly what Mark was counting on when he ended the story the way he did. He was counting on the hearers of the story—including us 21st century hearers—to finish it for ourselves. If he doesn’t show us the resurrected Jesus, what are we likely to do? We’re likely to go looking for him ourselves, right? If we see the resurrected Jesus in Scripture, it’s easy to imagine that all Jesus’ appearances are over. But if he isn’t shown to us in Scripture, then what? Then we’re going to keep looking for him in the here and now.
So, have you seen him? Have you spotted the resurrected Christ? If not, where might we go to find the resurrected Jesus in our 21st century world? How do we believe in, that is, how do we live our everyday real lives as if resurrection is true? Here’s how one person came to believe in resurrection.
Sara Miles is what you might call an accidental Christian. She never meant to convert…but after wandering into a communion service at an Episcopal church inSan Franciscoone day, she couldn’t stay away.
In fact, the experience of God in the bread and wine was so powerful, it became central to Sara’s life…so central, that she started a food pantry. Every Friday. In the church’s sanctuary. She served people from the communion table. Nothing else seemed appropriate.
Word spread quickly about St. Gregory’s food pantry. People came in droves. Several of those people became regulars. One of those regulars wasMarshall.
One Friday, a grocery bag swinging from each hand,Marshallfound Sara. “Can I talk to you?” Sara led him to a quiet corner. At first,Marshallcouldn’t speak. Sara reached for his hand and took it. Emboldened,Marshallbegan talking.
AVietnamvet, he had just been diagnosed with stomach cancer. The doctors at the VA had told him he’d have to have surgery within a few months or he’d die. Marshallwas terrified. Every Friday when he came for food, Sara prayed with him.
“Finally,” Sara writes, “the day came whenMarshallsaid he was going in for surgery. He grabbed me and started to cry. I remember every detail of that moment: Marshall’s blue work pants, his funny mustard-colored corduroy coat, the damp warmth of his hands. He laid his head in my lap while I held him, and all thoughts of sickness and operations and cures dissolved. Everything around us slowed and hung there, until there was just God’s breath between us, rising and falling in our two chests, not separate at all. It was an experience of grace. It faded. Marshallsat up, blew his nose, and went off with his groceries.”
Sara “called the VA hospital the next week but couldn’t locate him.
“Many Fridays later,” Sara writes, “someone came up to me outside the church and grabbed me from behind. I turned around. It wasMarshall, and he was radiant. ‘I died!’ he shouted. ‘I died, twice, on the operating table, but I came back each time. They said they thought I was gone for good. You’re not going to believe it, but I’m here!” (230)
“I didn’t believe in miracles,” Sara writes. But “I had begun to believe in resurrection.” She explains: “I didn’t mean, by resurrection, havingMarshallstand up alive from the operation table and walk: I saw no cause and effect between our prayers together and his improbable recovery. Resurrection didn’t mean what I still yearned for in my loneliest moments: to see my best friend,Douglas; or Martin-Baro; or my beloved father materialize again, even for just a moment, next to me.
“I actually couldn’t imagine that I would see them again, in the flesh, in a drift of pink clouds in a place called heaven. Resurrection, to me was mysterious and true in a way I could only glimpse for a second, before my mind refused to stretch that far. It passed, as the Bible said, human understanding. But I sensed it had to do with time, like the timeMarshalllay in my lap and we were both completely present and connected. It was about the eternity available in a fully lived instant.” (231)
How can we believe in the resurrection? By being completely present and connected to each other. The risen Christ is here all around us; all we have to do is look.
I want to end by reading an email I received recently. I share it because it describes this way of living resurrection and how one person has experienced it here at Pilgrimage.
“I was just watching NCIS, and there was a quote at the end that really hit me: “I want to see the people around me, not just the blurs as they fly by.” I think that is what is wrong with society today and what is unique about Pilgrimage. We really see the person in our church family. We take time to know them and embrace them.” The quote “spoke to me because life has gotten so hectic; we rarely see the people right in front of us. We are so consumed with ourselves, that we don’t always look at our fellow human beings. How different would life be if we actually stopped and saw just how alike and different the people are that we interact with everyday. How wonderful would life and the world be if we really saw the person in front of us and embraced that person at that time and moment.”
And how well we would be living resurrection.
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2012