Rembrandt's Painting of Jesus and Mary Magdalene
Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, Colossians 3:1-4, John 20:1-18
Welcome to Easter. I am glad that you are here. Members and friends, visitors, passers-by, whatever your belief or unbelief, Christian or not or something else, you are welcome here today. Easter is public, Easter is not church property, Easter is a gift of God to all of you, so it’s good for you to be here to receive this gift.
If Easter were church property we would have done it differently. We would have been keeping vigil at the tomb so we could witness the moment of his rising and watch him actually come out. We would have brought along some impartial witnesses and even some hostile witnesses, like those who were present at his crucifixion, who could substantiate our claims. We’d have him go show himself to the opposition, not just to his followers.
His followers did witness him alive again, and ate and drank with him, but they missed his actual rising, because none of them expected it. They didn’t believe it either, not at first. So I don’t blame you if you find it hard to believe. This belief at the center of the Christian faith is maybe the hardest to believe of our beliefs. And it raises questions which we cannot fully answer.
If Easter were church property we would have arranged it to answer the questions which it raises. We would have held on to him, like Mary Magdalene wanted to, and kept him close for observation. But he kept departing, and came back only for six Sundays, until forty days after his rising he ascended bodily into heaven. What does that mean? It’s not a problem if he’s purely a spirit, but his witnesses all claim that he rose again in his body, a real body, with real physicality. Well then, where in the real universe is his body now? What is he standing on? What does he eat? Who cuts his hair?
Such impossibilities have led some theologians to suspend their belief in his bodily resurrection, like suspending the writ of habeas corpus. They say that Jesus does live on, but spiritually, not bodily. Well, that’s just Plato. We didn’t need the gospels for that. That means that God did nothing really new and different in the world, and that there was no gift, just flowers and a card.
It takes some faith to receive this gift, to choose improbabilities, to choose a different wisdom than the wisdom of the world. It also requires your imagination: for you to imagine the new world generated by his resurrection, a new kind of life, a new kind of ethic, a new kind of wisdom, a new way of loving your enemies, a new way of imagining what God wants from you and what God wants for the world, a new way of imagining your own body and your soul.
When I say imagination I don’t mean like, “just my ’magination, runnin’ away with me.” I mean as the physicist Arno Penzias imagined the Big Bang from the background radiation picked up by his telescopes, as Albert Einstein imagined the theory of relativity from looking at the town clock in Zurich, as Copernicus imagined a heliocentric universe from the same celestial evidence that gave everyone else to believe the earth was at the center, and as our dancer today imagined a resurrection both spiritual and physical, with physical strength and physical speed. I mean that kind of imagination which leaps forward from the evidence to make real advances in the world.
We may imagine the resurrection as long as we do not presume to capture it. Some of our images are better than others. The gospels correct our images as much as they inspire them. That Mary Magdalene did not recognize him at first suggests there’s something new about him, but then she recognized his voice immediately, which suggests the same vocal cords. That evening he showed his followers the same hands and feet, with holes in them. So our images have to be of his having his very same body, but somehow transformed.
We’ve been trained to imagine him up there in heaven. This seems confirmed by our epistle, Colossians 3:1, which says, “Seek the things which are above, where Christ is.” But that word “above” in the original Greek is not υπερ but ανω. Which means above, not like straight up over us, but above the horizon, upward and forward, like the dawn, like the rising of the sun. Let yourself imagine Jesus in the future, already in the future. Imagine that his appearances to his followers on those six Sundays are his coming back from the future to enter into their time and space. The future he comes back from is the new heaven and earth, the new creation, which already is, a gift of God, a Promised Land, which waits for us.
If you watch the sky, it looks so obvious that the sun is moving through it over us. Copernicus had to imagine that the sun is still, and that our earth is turning toward it. Just so let yourself imagine the new creation as already there, where Jesus is, and that our time and history are turning toward it. We are approaching it because its light and energy are drawing us to it. That’s where Jesus is, already, in his resurrected body, the firstborn of the dead, not floating in the heavens, but standing on the pavement of the New Jerusalem, eating the food of the great celestial banquet. Imagine and believe that you too, when you die, will jump there forward, to join him in the final future, and join each other too, in the company of all those who have gone on before you, from death to enter into life.
This new creation started on that first Easter Sunday, inside the old creation, a new heaven and earth, within the old heaven and earth. This new creation was a small bang, not a big bang. It was only the size of a human body. Of course, even the Big Bang began quite small. Scientists suggest that the original singularity might have been no larger than a basketball, it just got very big very fast. We don’t know for sure, because no one was there to witness it. Arno Penzias had to imagine it from the extra radiation in the universe. If we had been there maybe we could answer many questions still outstanding, like the unsolved problems of dark matter and quantum gravity. Yet we believe in the Big Bang because we trust the scientists, and if it’s true it does explain a lot The resurrection is like that. You can believe in it, you can trust its witnesses, and if doesn’t explain everything it does explain a lot. Which questions are the ones that you want answered?
Easter is not church property. The gift was such a surprise to us because we did not see it as in our interest. We keep looking for confirmation of ourselves, and this gift offers transformation. We are bothered by guilt and fear and death, and we seek to be excused and preserved and kept alive. This gift does not excuse us, it rather judges us and forgives us and sets us free for love. This gift does not preserve us but it reconciles us and set us free for joy. This gift does not keep us alive, but it is in dying that we are born into eternal life.
That life is already born in you, a very small bang inside you. It comes from the future, here into your life right now, the future you that you will be, you can start already living here right now, in this world, living by the physics and the science and the laws of that new world. Already. Maybe you can’t see it directly, but you can sense the extra radiation in your life, the reverberations of reconciliation, the hints of healing, the counter-intuitive selflessness, the unfathomed forgiveness, the unlikely love, even in all the dark matter that remains. You can live your life right now by making the choices which anticipate the future that began on Easter. You cannot generate it on your own, it is a gift of God to you, but it will give you joy.
Dearly beloved, this gift is for you. I invite you to give your life to it and seek in it your transformation. I invite you to imagine your life as an example of its evidence and to make real on your images. I invite you to seek the signs of it in the people you deal with in the world around you. And I invite you, whatever your belief or doubt, simply to receive this gift for the joy of today, to take the pleasure of God’s love for you, to accept the privilege of God’s irrepressible and unfathomable love for you.
Copyright © 2011, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.