We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Lawrence – Easter 3B – The difference that resurrection makes

By Lawrence Moore

"Jesus Christ and the Apostles" – George Roualt (1938)

Jesus has a very busy day on that first resurrection Sunday in Luke’s gospel! He rises, walks the seven miles to Emmaus with the two disciples, returns to Jerusalem, eats a meal with the other disciples, takes the group to Bethany and then ascends. This is concentrated drama!

It is not biography, but symbolic narrative. In Acts, Luke tells us that there was a period of 40 days between his resurrection and ascension. Here in the gospel, his concern is to make clear the significance of what is happening. By compressing everything into a single day, he is making the point that everything that happens is part of the unfolding drama of resurrection. Resurrection is a “new day” – not just chronologically, but qualitatively too. Although there will be many subsequent “days”, they, together with all of human history, take this event as their starting point. It is the dawn of a new creation. In it, the disciples meet their risen Master and learn the meaning and significance of all that has happened. The seismic tremors of resurrection are already beginning to spread from their epicentre in Jerusalem throughout the whole world.

The difference that resurrection makes

This week’s gospel passage has two striking parallels. The first is the one we noted last week, with John 20: 19-23, which, in all likelihood, John knew and was reflecting upon; the second is Luke’s second version of this incident in Acts 1: 3-8. The essence of Luke’s message is very simple: God has vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead, so that all that Jesus proclaimed and promised will come about; Jesus is alive – alive, and not a ghost; Jesus wants his disciples to continue his work in the power of the same Spirit that came upon him at his baptism and empowered his ministry.

The message of the resurrection is startling, amazing and exciting! This is the faith by which Luke’s community lives, and is a matter of ongoing, genuine rejoicing – holy glee in the best sense! That’s reflected in the way Luke tells the story, where he almost caricatures the disciples’ inability to grasp what has happened. Here are the disciples, gathered in a room, listening to the astounding story of their two companions, breathless from having hot-footed it straight back to Jerusalem from Emmaus. This is the second bunch of possible crazies from among their number: first the women, back from the tomb in the morning, and now two of their number from Emmaus in the evening. Perhaps they’re thinking, “It’s not safe to go outdoors! It must be grief – or is it something in the water? After all, everyone who steps outside the room starts seeing Jesus! Better to stay right here in this room, where it’s safe!”

At that moment, Jesus appears in their midst! And he says, “Peace be with you.” There’s something deliciously ironic here, isn’t there? After all, “peace” is probably the last thing Jesus’ entry and comment provokes! They’re hallucinating – seeing a ghost – and the ghost is saying, “Relax! It’s ok!” Then the ghost goes on: “Why are you frightened?” Is Jesus being serious? Wouldn’t you be? What a ridiculous question! Then another killer: “Why do doubts arise in your hearts?” Well, Jesus (or whoever you are), do you really expect us to just roll over and say, “Oh, it’s you! Good to see you back. Come sit down – we were just talking about you!” Can’t you hear Luke chuckling as he plays with his readers?

In verse 39, Luke hammers his main point home: this is the risen Jesus. Not a ghost. Not his spirit. Not some wonderful hallucination. This is the flesh and blood Jesus! There’s the invitation to touch and see, and he eats with them.

Belief in resurrection is not something akin to whether or not one believes in fairies or the Loch Ness monster. It’s not even a question of whether or not one believes in miracles. The stress on faith in the bodily resurrection of Jesus in the gospels is the question of whether or not one believes in salvation as the transformation of this world.

The key question is whether this world and these bodies of ours have a future with God. It’s a question, therefore, about the meaning and content of salvation. Resurrection says that salvation is recreation – salvation for this world. God could have done at least two things differently. The first is to have abandoned us and our world because we rejected God. Resurrection tells us that God doesn’t do that – even when we have resisted God’s companionship to the point of murdering God’s Son! The second is to abandon creation but not human beings. In this case, salvation would be escape or rescue from the world. God could say, “You are not your bodies. The ‘real you’ is non-material. And this world isn’t ultimately ‘real’ – ultimate reality is another place altogether, called heaven. So let me rescue you from all this mess of creation (bodies, earth etc)”. God, in other words, could be a dualist.

But resurrection is anti-dualist. God isn’t a Hindu, or Buddhist, or classical Greek deity. The Hebrew and Christian God is a God who is inextricably linked to creation by love and a determination to save what has been created. Matter matters! Bodies matter! God embraces body in Jesus (Incarnation) and enters into our world. God becomes part of our world. And God does so in order to save it by transforming it into all that it was always intended to be.

Bodies matter (1 John 3: 1-7)

That is why God is so concerned about what happens to the earth and to human beings. That is why God is distressed and angry when people starve, or are mistreated, or murdered. Suffering matters – not just because it is unpleasant and distressing, but because our bodies are integrally us. How we treat our bodies and the bodies of others is therefore enormously significant. That is why Jesus healed people, rather than just telling them not to worry about suffering and this life and concentrate on pie in the sky when they die. That is why Jesus says that giving a cup of cold water to someone who is thirsty, or clothing someone who is naked, is ministry to him.

It’s also why John says what he does about sin. If matter and bodies don’t matter, then what we do with our bodies here and now is hardly significant. They do, however. We are already God’s children because of resurrection (1 John 3: 2). Our bodies are made for living differently from the way we used to live. Hence John’s concern with authentic, Spirit-inspired Christian living. We are in a process of becoming (v2b). That transformation is taking place both in us and in the world – because as we are being re-made through the Spirit, we are to be involved in remaking the world in the shape of the Kingdom of God. Our hope is in a transformed world, in which there is no more sorrow, or sighing, or pain, or death; in which those things have passed away (Revelation 21:4). But note: it is not a hope only in a world in which those things have merely passed away, but also in one in which everything has been made new!

This earth and these bodies have a future with God. That is why there is resurrection: it is recreation. Salvation, in other words, is as physically real and significant as that from which we are saved – disease, despair and death. It is not some other world, or some sort of ghost-life that is the substance of salvation. That is why Jesus is raised from the dead. There is life for human beings beyond death – and human beings are both body and spirit equally. Those transformations to the body are no less important and can be no less physically real than the transformation of this world into a place where peace and righteousness kiss.

That, at least, is what both Luke and John want to tell us.