Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Tis the season of “resurrection.” If there’s one thing I’ve learned after nearly a quarter of a century of preaching on the subject of resurrection, it’s that when it comes to resurrection, we look for what we have been conditioned to see. Just like Thomas, who had the good sense to doubt the resurrection, most of us have been conditioned to look for the physical resuscitation of a corpse; a bonified, pardon the pun, a bonified, actual physical body, complete with wounds and all. Sadly, far too many of us have been conditioned to look for what we have been conditioned to see instead of what is all around us, if we could only see beyond our conditioning. Perhaps a story will help us move beyond what we think we’re looking for to actual miracle of resurrection. I’ve told this story before, but then haven’t we all heard the story of Thomas, every Easter. The story I want to tell you comes from the Irish author Frank McCourt’s autobiography entitled “Tis”. McCourt was a schoolteacher, and he tells this story about a particular class in which he was challenging the assumptions of his young students. The story begins with a familiar nursery rhyme: “Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall; All the king’s horses and all the king’s men Couldn’t put Humpty together again.” McCourt asks his young students to tell him what’s going on in this nursery rhyme. The hands are up like a shot.
“Well, like, this egg falls off the wall and if you study biology or physics, you know you can never put an egg back together again. I mean, like, it’s common sense. McCourt asks: “Who says it’s an egg?”
“Of course, it’s an egg. Everyone knows that.”
“Where does it say it’s an egg?”
McCourt’s story forces me to confess that for most of my life, I believed that Humpty Dumpty was an egg; a magical egg to be sure, with a face, and legs, and hands, a jolly fellow, but an egg none the less. The truth is Humpty Dumpty was not an egg. But let’s just leave Humpty Dumpty up there on the wall for a while, and shift our focus to today’s story, from the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as John.
For a very long time, the story of Jesus’ appearance in the upper room where his followers were huddled in fear, conditioned me to focus my attention upon Jesus’ wounds, Thomas’ doubts, and back again to Jesus’ wounds, and then to Thomas’ belief. Occasionally, I was able to hear Jesus say, “Have you believed because you have seen me? For far too long, my conditioning caused me to see this story as the story about casting away doubts and believing in Jesus’ physical resurrection. But there is more going on in this story than just the literal words on the page. However, in order to see more we must try to see our longing for the physical resuscitation of a corpse as the product of generations of conditioning designed to have us believe in a certain way, that is to say to believe in spite of our doubts.
Today, it is Easter Sunday for orthodox Christians. In both Ukraine and in Russia a wounded CHRIST is struggling to rise from death. Today, it doesn’t matter how CHRIST rose nearly 2000 years ago. Today, it only matters that CHRIST rises in us, rises in the people of Ukraine, rises in the people of Russia, rises in people wherever they are, who long for peace. Today, during this season of Easter, our doubts about the possibility of resurrection are not as important as our doubts about the possibility of peace. Today, in the midst of colossal violence, it is long past time for us to see beyond our conditioning about what to believe about resurrection so that we can focus our attention on practicing resurrection.
This story with which we have been conditioned to look at the issues of our doubts about the resurrection itself, was written in the midst of colossal violence, violence which had escalated in the 70 years since the execution of Jesus of Nazareth. This story was written by the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as John some 70 years after Jesus’ death, some twenty years after the Jewish war with Rome in which the Empire destroyed the Temple, raised most of Jerusalem to the ground, and sent Jews and the followers of Jesus into exile. Our gospel-storyteller wrote his story within a deeply wounded community to provide the much need hope for their own resurrection.
According to this story, a bunch of rag-tag Jesus followers were huddled together in fear. Their beloved leader had been brutally executed by the powers that be and they were terrified that they would be next. Paralyzed by their fear, hiding behind a locked door, something happened which gave them the strength to burst forth from their own tomb and change the world. I believe that the anonymous gospel-storyteller wrote his story the way that he wrote to address the fears of the people of his community. According to the story, paralyzed by their fear, hiding behind a locked door, something happened that gave them the strength to burst forth from their own tomb and change the world. It wasn’t about believing in resurrection it was about practicing resurrection. Ever since they began to practice resurrection, people have been trying to figure out exactly what may have happened. What could have changed these bumbling, terrified, betrayers, abandoners, who seemed to be always getting things wrong, into a bunch of leaders who began a movement that spread throughout the Empire within their own life-times and then based on the power of their witness, spread throughout the world and continues to nourish and sustain millions of people from generation to generation?
Now there are those that insist that it was the power of Jesus having been physically resuscitated from the dead that motivated his followers to change their lives and the lives of millions who have come after them. But we live in the 21st century and we have access to all sorts of information that the generations who have gone before us did not. Our friend, Dom Crossan makes the point that, “it is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.” I believe that in order to understand the power of this particular story of resurrection we must move beyond simplistic literal explanations and open ourselves to the more-than-literal symbolic – dare I say it, spiritual understanding of resurrection. It is long past time for us to move beyond arguments about a physical resuscitation of Jesus’ body.
Let me remind you that a generation before our anonymous gospel-storyteller wrote his account of Thomas’ doubts, somewhere around the years 50 to 53, the Apostle Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthian followers of the Way, that such questions about physical resurrection were in fact “stupid”. That Paul didn’t much care about a physical resurrection ought to give us the courage to see the notion of a physical resuscitation of Jesus’ corpse for the late first century development that it was.
So, let us forget about what we have been conditioned to look for in order to see what needs to be seen, today in the midst the violence in which our world seems incapable of forsaking. What can we see in the wounds which are depicted in this story? Jesus suffered the worst of his world’s violence.
Yet the story of Jesus’ Way of being in the world continued to be present among those who sought to live as Jesus lived. Death, not even violent death at the hands of a powerful empire could keep Jesus’ commitment to compassionate resistance to the forces of empire from those who longed for the Shalom of the Reign of GOD which Jesus proclaimed with his life.
The basileia ton THEON, the Empire of GOD, the GOD which Jesus knew as ABBA, a LOVING PARENT, the basileia ton THEON, the Reign of the GOD that IS LOVE, where justice and not violence creates the kind of peace in which everyone has enough to live the abundant life Jesus insisted he came to give to the world. “I have come that you might have life and live it abundantly.”
Abundant life, where everyone has enough to live fully, love extravagantly, and be all that they are created to be, this is the basileia ton THEON, the REIGN of DIVINITY, the Empire of the LOVE which is GOD.
Abundant life is the Shalom we long for, for without justice there can be no peace, and without peace there can only be abundance for some and not for all. Can we now look beyond what we have been conditioned to see, and see the wounded CHRIST standing in the middle of fearful followers, a vision of the impact of violence, saying, SHALOM, “Peace be with you!” Can we look beyond what we have been conditioned to see the ONE wounded by violence bidding us peace?
Yes, I have my doubts about the possibility of SHALOM, especially now as we peer into the abyss which are the horrors of Ukraine, Syria, Myanmar, and countless other places where injustice has bred violence the likes of which seems unstoppable. I don’t much care about silly arguments about Jesus rising from the dead unless those arguments lead us to a place where we ourselves can claim the power of resurrection to create a hunger for SHALOM, a passion for the justice which creates peace. Just like the people in the story, I want to be transformed by the story of Jesus; transformed from someone who cowers in a place of safety, filled with fear and doubts, into a powerful member of a movement to create peace through justice.
We will never know what actually happened two thousand years ago. But we do know that whatever happened it transformed a people hiding from the endless violence into courageous followers of a Way of Being in the world which death could not destroy.
When I read the accounts of those early followers of the way who abandoned the tomb of the upper-room to gather together to build communities of compassion it is clear to me who was raised up by images of resurrection. The followers of Jesus were lifted up from a crouching or cowering position as they boldly proclaimed what they had learned from Jesus. The followers of Jesus stood up and got on with the business which was begun by Jesus. The followers of Jesus began to understand themselves in a whole new way.
The Apostle Paul wrote: “We who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” When followers of Jesus in the first century and in the twenty-first century talk about the resurrection of Christ, we are proclaiming that death did not have the last word in the Jesus story because his followers were raised up to be his body right here, right now. When we say that we believe in the resurrection of the dead, we are proclaiming that no matter how dead someone may appear to be, no matter how dead we may feel, new life is always possible. Practicing resurrection begins when we huddle together refusing to let our fears entomb us. Practicing resurrection happens when we gather to build communities of compassion. Resurrection is not a solitary endeavor. Practicing resurrection requires that we gather sharing our gifts, talents and treasure for the good of all. Practicing resurrection happens when we empower one another to rise.Practicing resurrection happens when we build communities of compassion that live fully, love extravagantly, and empower people to be all that they were created to be.
So, fellow followers of the Way, if Humpty Dumpty wasn’t an egg what was she? Anybody??? What we all missed is what was there all along, Humpty Dumpty you see was a cannon. The nursery rhyme dates back to the English civil war, when the Royalists were being attacked by the Parliamentarians, they put their faith in the size of their cannons, one of them was so large it went by the name Humpty Dumpty, which at the time was a term used to describe fat rich guys. The Royalists placed their biggest cannon on the wall which surrounded the city of Colchester. Somehow the Parliamentarians managed with their smaller cannons or battering rams to shatter the wall and the cannon, Humpty Dumpty came tumbling down, shattered, irreparable. And all the kings horses and all the kings men, couldn’t put Humpty together again.
Violence, how long will we put our faith in violence? The Parliamentarians victory may have looked like the way to peace, but it was no peace at all, it was as Dom Crossan puts it, just a lull in the violence. History should have taught us by now that that justice and not violence is the way to peace.
Resurrection is not about the physical resuscitation of a corpse. Resurrection is about the wisdom and the courage to proclaim with our lives that Jesus’ vision of the Reign of LOVE continues to rise in us. So, let us see the wounds inflicted by violence, and practice resurrection. Let us be resurrection by practicing resurrection, that is by resisting violence, resisting injustice, so that the Reign of LOVE ushers in the peace we long for the SHALOM which is abundant living. Peace be with you. Shalom dear ones. Shalom.
View the full Worship Video for the Second Sunday of Easter below