Over the last few weeks I’ve been challenging myself to see the resurrection in unconventional places. Usually, when Christians, and non-Christians, speak about the resurrection we tend to focus on life after death. Furthermore, when we speak of the resurrection we speak about the resurrection of the soul and not the body. The concept of the resurrection of the soul has nothing to do with the Christian belief in resurrection. Rather, the resurrection of the soul is a Greek understanding and Buddhist belief. Christian resurrection is a bodily resurrection. We confess in the Creed that “We believe in the resurrection of the body.” We confess this because on Easter Sunday the tomb was empty and Jesus whole body was raised from the dead and he is the first fruits of the resurrection we will all experience.
It is in this misconception of the resurrection of the soul that makes me wonder where else we have missed the mark in regards to resurrection. Why do we limit the beauty and power of the resurrection to merely physical death? Even Jesus in his Easter resurrection broadened the understanding, and therefore, the power of the resurrection, to encompass all aspects of life. The belief in the power of the resurrection to transform lives in the present was embraced and proclaimed by the disciples too. The disciples understood the broad and amazing power of the resurrection because they themselves had been the recipients of Jesus resurrection grace.
The beauty of the resurrection for life here and now is enveloped in the life, ministry, and crucifixion of Jesus. In our readings today there is a beautiful emphasis on the reality that in Jesus’ bodily resurrection he still bears the scars of the crucifixion. The point is that in the resurrection Jesus doesn’t transcend his bodily nature, which suffered and died, Jesus transforms his suffering. The marks of Jesus’ life and death are an essential aspect of the resurrection because it means that Jesus hasn’t abandoned our human pain, but rather reveal that he is ever present in our human condition. The truly awesome part for us is that in Jesus we have hope that suffering and pain isn’t the final say, but rather resurrection and new life is the ultimate destination. It is in the resurrected Jesus, with his marks, wounds, and all that the disciples received peace and forgiveness. It is with their own wounds, and failings that they were able to spread peace and forgiveness to the rest of the world.
In our reading from Acts Peter and John demonstrate just how powerful the resurrection is to transform lives. When Paul heals the man in Acts he doesn’t walk past the man and say, “Hold tight and embrace your suffering because if you believe in Jesus you’ll get to go to heaven and then everything will be hunky dory.” No, Peter heals the man in the name of Jesus and the man’s life is transformed.
So, my question for us today is why are we looking for resurrection life only among those who have died? Why have we limited the power of the resurrection and placed it in a box? The resurrection is the ultimate definition of thinking outside the box! The tomb is empty. Where among us are we seeing new life in the things we believed to be dead?
Personally, I began to realize how I put the resurrection in a box. I read an article on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination. In the article the writer interviewed two people who were present in Memphis with King the moment he was shot and killed. The writer asked the two men, “Where do you think black/white relations would be today if King had lived.” Both men replied, “Oh he never died. His message, writings, beliefs, and values are still held today. The beauty of the resurrection is that it takes many forms. A gun couldn’t kill Martin.” I was stunned by that comment and thought well, “Isn’t that the power of scripture. It lives.”
When Jesus returns he proves that God is the God of the living and not the dead. All those stories in the Old Testament are living stories. They reveal the human condition and God’s unconditional love. Furthermore, scripture reveals the ultimate length that God will go to make us whole and be in righteous relationship with Him and each other. It is in these great lengths that we see the resurrection at work in relationships.
Jesus’ returning to the disciples and proclaiming peace, is God’s way of restoring relationships that were dead due to denial, betrayal and desertion. All the hallmarks of broken relationships that most of us would deem dead and buried God brings back to life and transforms. It is in Jesus’ forgiveness of Peter and the other 10 that we should never give up hope in the broken and dead relationships of our lives. Where we feel hurt and betrayed God can, and does, bring about new life.
Ultimately, God brings life to what we kill and destroy, which is why I have hope for traditional churches, especially Lutheran churches. If we take a close look at Lutheran history in the U.S. it is a history of broken relationships and splits. Scandinavians and Germans have split over theology. ELCA Lutherans have split over piety. Congregations have split over personalities. In all this brokenness the church has suffered almost to the point of death. However, God loves to bring life to dead things and God especially loves to raise His Son. Considering the church is the Body of Christ I think we’ll be okay. However, we need to embrace the Spirit and pickup our cross and follow him.
Over the next few weeks we’ll be trying to build new relationships with our Lutheran brothers and sisters at Faith Lutheran and Our Savior’s Lutheran. Furthermore, we will continue to build relationships with our neighbors around us here in SE Albany. Jesus meets us in our brokenness and breathes life into our pain. Our sole obligation is to breathe in the Spirit deeply and let God perform His miracles.
Embrace the resurrection. Look for new life in your life, the life of our church, and in our world. God’s at work we just need to open our eyes and realize the tomb is empty and God is out of the box.