You know, we just celebrated the most amazing holiday: Easter! This is the story of Jesus being resurrected from the dead! This is the ‘Greatest Story Ever Told!’
Maybe it is me, but as we celebrate this day (and we still liturgically do so), something felt a little different. Is it possible that many in the world simply seem uninterested in Easter this year? Has Jesus become un-cool? Has the resurrection story somehow become boring?
I sometimes wonder what it would be like if the Easter story could benefit from a little pop culture modernization. I’m not sure if you remember the movie, ‘The Santa Claus,’ but there was a part in the movie where they were thinking of re-branding Santa Claus as a bit more of a superhero; as someone who kicks butt first and takes names second. I was wondering: could that work for Jesus in today’s society?
And then I found my answer: the movie ‘The Revenant.’ Have you heard of it? The word ‘revenant’ actually can be defined as ‘one that returns after death or a long absence.’ Perfect! (A personal confession; this was one of the favorite movies that I have seen in a long time.) The story centers on a pioneer hunter/trapper named Hugh Glass, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who is part of a team of explorers in the 1820’s frontier West. After a series of unfortunate events including attacks by local tribes and ultimately a bear attack that leaves his body mangled and on the verge of death, things only get worse as the men who were assigned to care for him abandon him in the winter wilderness. Being left for dead, the story continues as we watch Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) struggle to survive in the frigid wilderness, only to seek ultimate revenge upon the man who betrayed him.
Now this is a resurrection story we can get excited for! (In fact, most people did, as DiCaprio won his first Oscar award.) Most people today LONG for a story of new life, of resurrection, in a world that continually seems to only beat us down more and more each day. Every day we wake up to hear more stories of dirty politics, bloodshed on the streets, global violence, outbreaks of disease, terrorism, sexual abuse…the list goes on and on.
In fact, perhaps the reason the resurrection story may not hold the power it once had is because today more and more people are only witnessing death and suffering, with no hope of new life in sight. We need a savior; not just of a story from long ago, but here, today.
With all of this in mind, I would like to talk a little about resurrection today. A friend of mine said, ‘Didn’t we already talk about that on Easter?’ Well, yes, we did. But maybe that’s just the problem. Perhaps we have somehow fallen into the belief that resurrection is only a thing of the past; something to be celebrated just once a year, with pastel colors and the Easter Bunny. Today’s scripture stories tell us something quite different. Today we learn about new life, again, and again, and again.
We read two stories from the New Testament today; the first is the story of Saul, who becomes Paul, and the second is the story of the resurrected Christ appearing a third time to the disciples.
As we read the Gospel account according to John, we read a wonderful story of the disciples returning from an evening of fishing on the Sea of Tiberias (a.k.a. Sea of Galilee). It took the disciples some time to recognize that it was Jesus who was on the beach waiting for them. They didn’t know quite who the stranger was, until a familiar figure within the Gospel of John says something. Verse 7 reads: “That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!””
Within this account we are reminded of the miracles of Jesus, first with the miraculous catch of fish as the disciples are told to throw their nets to the other side. Secondly, we read of a meal of fish and loaves, as we are reminded of the miraculous feeding of the 5,000.
Finally, the scripture reading ends with a three-fold conversation between Jesus and Simon Peter, much like Peter’s earlier betrayal of Jesus on the night of his arrest. Christ tells Peter to ‘feed his sheep’, and a last instruction in verse 19 that must have reminded him of the very first days of discipleship: “Follow me.”
This story, as with most of John’s Gospel message, is not merely a story of history, but inspiration for readers of future generations to live their lives in witness to the risen Christ each day.
In the book of Acts we read a story that some label as the conversion of Saul to Paul. Yes, this is a conversion story, but in a larger sense, this is a story that points to resurrection as well. We read of Saul of Tarsus who is confronted by the risen Christ on Saul’s way to Damascus. Saul will be blinded by the encounter, and Christ will move within Ananias, an assuming follower of ‘the Way’ (the name for those following Christ), who will create the opportunity for Saul to regain his sight, and in so doing, envision new life.
17So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”
Both stories, while not direct or literal stories of resurrection, offer us new life as we listen for God’s Word in our lives today. But where do we go from here? What does resurrection mean for us today?
Friends, I believe in resurrection. I believe in resurrection because of the story of Jesus being raised from the dead on Easter morning. I believe in resurrection because of stories like that of Jesus reappearing to his disciples, and Saul finding new life as Paul. And I believe in resurrection because I see it today. All we need to do, as Paul shows us (and God sometimes nudges us), is see with new eyes.
Resurrection is witnessed today in the stories of countless migrants and refugees who are forced to leave the hellish conditions that they considered daily life, cross the waters tempting death yet again, and start anew in unknown lands, surrounded by people who speak unknown languages, with unknown opportunities ahead. For these ‘fortunate’ migrants (if we can be so hopeful as to call them that), this is new life; this is resurrection.
Resurrection is witnessed when the local congregation down the road, after over a century of ministry and service to the community and the world, is forced to face its own death because of an aging membership and dwindling numbers that no longer allow for a healthy future as it is now. Yet somehow this congregation breathes anew. Out of the hearts and difficult conversations of its members, friends, and faith community, the building of the once thriving congregation will now be given new life as it is remodeled as a mixed income housing development. The poor will live alongside the rich and they will call each other neighbor and friend. The congregation will continue to worship within the new community. The Kingdom of God is here. This is resurrection.
Resurrection is witnessed in our lives, each and every day, if we only open our eyes to God’s mysterious movements. We have such an opportunity each time we wake up with our lungs filled with God’s breath of life and new eyes to see. Each time we greet strangers who become friends. Each time we get out of our comfort zones to share God’s love with the world to those who don’t act like us, look like us, or think like us. Who knows? Perhaps we will encounter the risen Christ on the beach as we return to shore (insert vacation destination here). Perhaps we will be like Ananias and serve as a messenger for the Lord. Perhaps we will see Christ on the street corner with a sign just for us. This is the mystery of daily resurrection.
We may not experience resurrection as on Easter Sunday, and most likely not like that of Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘The Revenant,’ but friends, the Good News is that God resurrects each and every day. Even in the mist of constant news of hardship, violence, and death, God will move in ways to share with us generosity, love, and life. May we be witness to these moments of new life as we continue to celebrate the Easter season, and as we live our lives in witness to the resurrected Christ. Thanks be to the living God, who calls us to ‘follow me.’