Monday, April 05, 2010

Happy Easter! Now What?

Luke 24:1-12

It has been suggested by some theologians that, short of the Ascension of the Christ, this is the end of the story. The Resurrection has taken place, so life by the Father’s hand is without ending. The story itself “ends” here, according to these few, because judgment has been rendered; death has been defeated. This is the one and only time Messiah will appear on this earth, and those who failed to believe are still here. In case you were wondering, “here” is where you and I find ourselves now, according to these scholars: post-judgment.

It gives me something to think about, I suppose, but I am not quite able to grasp exactly how they could come to such a conclusion because we are taught, and Scripture bears it out, that Christ will return to render the “final” judgment. Get into the Revelation, and we find ourselves knee-deep in symbolism that is very difficult to understand. I would think it would all have to be lest we become too familiar, too “chummy” with the Lord our God, feebly try to put ourselves on a level equal to His own, lose our sense of reverence and awe, and forget that regardless of whether we would believe such things, we cannot escape the fact that we are alive now in a world that often makes no sense.

Such musings coming from “scholars” can be a little intimidating because we are hearing from people who have devoted their professional lives to theological study. These are the ones who know not only the Bible itself backwards and forwards AND in its ancient languages, but they are also well-versed in extrabiblical literature that did not make the “final cut” to compile the Bible we know today, those books that were dismissed by the early Church fathers as “Gnostic” or otherwise unorthodox.

Sometimes it is possible, however, to overthink religion to the point that faith itself gets lost in all the translations. We forget some of the very basic messages of Jesus Himself, that physically visible signs are not always the “proof” we think we need and that demand for such signs is actually a betrayal of faith itself.

Jesus said more than once that He would be killed but that He would be raised on the third day. For disciples of faith, this would translate to a “count-down” from the time He died on the Cross. In other words, faith would have compelled these disciples to perhaps sit at the tomb on Resurrection Watch, as it were, so as to ensure they would be present when the Lord returns, but this did not happen; most of them ran scared.

It cannot be said that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb “in faith”; she and the others were clearly in mourning. Their beloved Friend had been falsely accused and ultimately murdered on the basis of those false charges; their world had been shattered. Surely it can be said that in all the chaos and confusion, what Jesus had said days, weeks, or months before would have been forgotten – at least for the time being.

Something amazing happened at the tomb. The stone that sealed the entrance, which is described as impossible to move without a small army of very strong men, has been moved. The body of Jesus the women had come to anoint was missing. Now if we overthink this passage, we might wonder how the women thought they were going to be able to anoint the body of Jesus if they were not going to be able to enter the tomb. Maybe they didn’t know the tomb had been sealed, but this would not be consistent with the story. Maybe they thought there would be friendly soldiers on hand guarding the tomb who might be willing to let them in, but there is no indication the women were even aware that Pilate had ordered the tomb guarded at the behest of the religious authorities. Again, though, this is overthinking the story. What you and I can clearly see on Mary’s part is devotion in spite of the profound tragedy that had occurred only a few days earlier. Clearly the theologians and scholars are wrong: according to Mary, this story is far from over!

There is a transitional period evident in the lives of the disciples at this point. There was a time when they followed Jesus faithfully, listening but not quite understanding, seeing but not quite believing. Yet it was easy enough to know that what is right before one’s eyes is hard to deny. The many miracles, the healings, and even the confrontations with the religious authorities in which Jesus clearly trumped them with their own flawed understanding of Scripture and the appropriate application of the Law in faith and in practice. The tangibles.

It all sounds easy enough just as so many of us would argue that if we had witnessed with our own eyes the awesome miracles of the Lord, there would be no doubt in our minds! Our hearts, however, may be an entirely different story because we are mindful of the masses of people in Jesus’ own day who clearly saw what they saw but were somehow unable – or perhaps unwilling – to embrace all that they saw.

But where are we now? “We are Easter people”, as the late John Paul II proclaimed, “and Hallelujah is our song!” We are compelled far beyond the tomb, we are called out of the misery of mourning, and we are encouraged by the story Mary tells. Suddenly, perhaps, the words begin to meld. Suddenly, perhaps, things begin to make a little sense in a world filled with nonsense. Suddenly, perhaps, we realize that all we’ve been told may be coming to fruition. But this is a Bible story for the disciples of the day. What about us here and now, the contemporary disciples who believed according to what we have been told by generations far removed from our own but have yet to see for ourselves?

We see, perhaps, the same thing Peter saw. Recall that it was Peter who not only ran for his life when Jesus was in trouble but had actually – and vehemently – denied even knowing Jesus at all. While the women’s story seemed to the several an “idle tale”, Peter ran to the tomb to see for himself. And he was, according to Luke, “amazed at what had happened.”

But was it reality that finally confronted Peter, or is there a profound hope in what he has discovered? Surely Peter loved Jesus deeply and surely Peter was carrying an intense weight of guilt upon his very soul for having betrayed Jesus in such a public way. I think maybe “hope” was within Peter’s heart that day, the same hope Peter encourages us to defend (1 Peter 3:15) with “meekness and fear”, recalling perhaps that day when he came to the realize that the Resurrection of the Christ is the absolute POWER OF THE LIVING GOD made manifest in a dying world!

We know what hope feels like, and sometimes hope is more than enough to lift us up. Hope is what gives us a reason to crawl out of bed in the morning! Hope gives us a reason for living life day-to-day, not looking back but always looking forward - excited at the possibilities tomorrow may bring! What other reason to bear children, in fact, than to express a joyous hope for the future??

So “now what”? We live like we hope. We work like we hope. We pray like we hope. We fast like we hope. We worship like we hope. We even play like we hope! We hope for the day when the Christ will come once and for all and call His people home! We live like we hope He is coming in the next hour or two, and we want everything just so – and we want to show to Him our friends, our neighbors, and all others to whom we bore witness – that Christ has died, that Christ IS RISEN, and that Christ WILL come again!

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Glory to the Holy God of all Creation, the Father and Author of Eternal Life! Amen.

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