“You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:48).
We certainly are. Thanks for the reminder, Jesus.
Because we need reminders of the resurrection -- and often. Left to our own devices, left to the way in which life returns to normal after Easter, it’s all too easy to forget the resurrection.
As a result, resurrection has the tendency to be a less than present reality, more likely a claim about a past event or a future assurance. Why is the presence of resurrection often overlooked? Understated? Even denied? Why do we seem to be more comfortable keeping resurrection in the past or postponing its promises for the future? Why is it so difficult? What are we afraid of?
Why is life, here and now, so hard to see?
I recall a series of pastoral visits with a young professional woman who worked around the clock. She had little time for a social life, her work moved her every three years and she was lonely for partnership, life-long partnership to be specific. She joined some of the online dating services you likely have heard of, Lavalife, Plenty of Fish, etc… To see this young woman was to see someone our culture would name as conventionally attractive and I say that only to underscore that this kind-hearted, well-adjusted, clever and attractive woman had no difficulty meeting potential partners. But she was restless, she felt she was missing out on Mr. Right and she had a checklist to ensure she would know him when she set eyes upon him.
This woman shared with me the list, none of the items were surprising, all qualities most of us might look for in a potential partner. But she was adamant this Mr. Right had to check off all these boxes or it just wouldn’t work out. Needless to say when men went on the website and saw her photo and read her profile she had no shortage of dates. Some nights she went on three dates, one after the other. At the end of week this woman would write me a short email to let me know how the search was going. She wanted me to keep her and her search in my prayers. I did.
Years went by, this ambitious woman was promoted many times and she moved to two new cities. I would hear from her periodically. Then out of the blue she wrote to say she was in town, here, and wanted me to meet someone. We three met at a local coffee shop and I met her Mr. Right, they were engaged, wanted me to perform the wedding. When he went to the washroom she leaned over and asked me what I thought of her new man. I told her he made an excellent impression, he seemed interesting, bright, thoughtful and funny. I liked him. As I continued I got caught trying to find the right words…she interrupted and said, “I know what you want to say, he is none of the seven items on my checklist. I can’t explain it, when I met him I just knew, my heart saw something my eyes did not.
New Testament Lutheran scholar Karoline Lewis believes that our doubts and lack of vision have more to do with our cultural assumptions. We live with the myth of meritocracy, the belief that if you work hard and play by the rules everything will work out for you. So we assume that those we are looking for will come in the guise of the kind of success we see on TV, facebook, in advertising. If we are looking for a sign that sign will come in the form of worldly success; looks, money, things, popularity, being conventional at all costs. That is what we think we are looking for, “one day our prince will come…on a white horse…to rescue us…to take us away from all this…to a mansion somewhere in the clouds.”
“The women in Luke’s Gospel return from the tomb, go to the disciples and testify to what they themselves heard and witnessed, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again” (Luke 24:5-7). And how do the disciples respond? They conclude that what the woman have to say is “an idle tale,” which, as many of you know, is the G-rated version of the Greek word better translated as “crap, garbage” or, yes, you guessed it, “bull… ”. Why? Because disbelief and doubt surround notions of sacrifice for a higher cause, humility makes no sense when might equals right and mystery is no match for cold hard reality. Resurrection? Are you kidding me? If the resurrection really is true, well then, there goes life as we knew it. In the words of Anna Carter Florence, “if dead people don’t even stay dead, what is there to count on?””
Life, here and now, is very hard to see. In the end, I think being resurrection people takes some effort, in fact, a lot of effort. And some weeks will demand more effort than others. Jesus knows this reality, our reality. And knows that we need a reminder. In fact, we probably need a lot of them, daily perhaps. Notice the tense of Jesus’ assertion -- not “you were,” not “you will be,” but “you are.” I have a feeling Jesus takes that seriously. You are witnesses, here and now, in this moment. In this life. In your daily life. For the sake of life. Jesus reminds us of who we really are -- resurrection people, resurrection witnesses.
While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him…The disciples spoke to this stranger and told him, “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel, it is now the third day since these things took place. Some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive…When the stranger was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him as Jesus.
When I was reading over the materials provided to me as a candidate for the Minister position at Bethany in 2015 I read the section where you were asked to describe the church you wanted to become. It was a litany words and images associated with some of the churches here in Halifax that have achieved numerical success, clearly a goal shared by many who participated in that visioning day. When I read the document I could hear echoes of the Rock Church, Bedford United and St. Benedict Parish. Now you might say there three churches have very little in common, and you would be right! But what they all share is a large congregation. It was clear to me the vision was less about how and more about what a successful church should look like.
In these last few years I believe we have been “witnesses of these things”, that our eyes have been open and we have seen the resurrection in our midst. I have! There are so many examples it would take another sermon to itemize them. But one small example is the ISANS Conversation Circle, a collective of new and familiar faces at Bethany who have participated in a dialogue with our newest Canadians, many who come from far away countries, who practice other faiths than ours. I have looked in the rooms of Bethany and seen you Mavis and Karen and Zenora and Pat and Mary and Pam and Shirley and Yvonne and other Mary and Donna and Nancy. I have seen the look on your faces, and the eyes being open. I know you have seen resurrection. So have I!
Those who followed Jesus expected to amass an army and overthrow the Roman Empire, King David style. Further, if he did die and come back to life he would return on a white horse with sword in his hand. Instead Jesus appeared as a stranger, in a simple meal, walking along-side their journey. Only when they broke bread together did their eyes open and their hearts burn.
God is doing something here and we cannot control it, thanks be to God! It is a gift and it is coming to life in ways we might never have predicted or even wanted. But the resurrection is here and it is full of new life. We are witnesses to this. You and me, together. Let us rejoice at what God is doing and see with new eyes the community we are meant to be. Amen.