The Reverend John Allison
Easter 3B, April 18
1 John 3:1-7
April 18, 2021
Christ Church, Hudson
Around this time every year, in the early weeks of the Easter season, I find myself thinking about a collection of poems that I read when I was a young man. Indeed, it was a collection that meant a great deal to me at the time, though the reasons then were much different than the reasons now if I were to articulate them. The book was entitled, Living in the Resurrection, by the poet Tony Crunk, and in it the poet depicts the stuff of ordinary life—of work and family and place —in such a way as to show them, in all of their simplicity, as something more, as drawing us into communion with something outside ourselves. I no longer have a copy of this book and I can’t quote any particular poem, but what has remained with me all these years is that title—Living in the Resurrection. As followers of Jesus, as Christians, we recognize that we are living in the Resurrection, especially in these great fifty days of the Easter season, but here we are, only 15 days in, and I find myself forgetting, wondering what it means to live in the time of Resurrection and how I am to do it. Already the blooms of Easter flowers have begun to fall; my supply of Easter candy is mostly gone. In the larger world sin and death seem to continue onward, with 14 deaths in mass shootings since that first Sunday of Easter and thousands more from the ongoing pandemic. What strikes me in all of this is that in the face of such loss we often hold the experience of Resurrection as a state we look to after bodily death, which IS one aspect of Resurrection. We all look to that time after bodily death as a time in which we are raised to newness in Christ, a time in which we join the company of heaven and live life eternal with God. But to live in the Resurrection, to live in the time of Resurrection, to live as mortal beings after Christ has been raised, is to live in a world transformed. The theologian Karl Rahner said it this way: “The reality beyond all sin and death is not up yonder; it has come down and dwells in the innermost reality of our flesh.” To live in the Resurrection is to live, here and now, in a world made entirely new in the death and resurrection of Christ. Resurrection is not just for the physically dead. The difficulty is reminding ourselves of that promise in the face of a world that seemingly goes on as if nothing has happened.
In our Gospel readings throughout Easter, the disciples are learning this. Today we have the latest in a series of appearances Jesus makes to the disciples following his Resurrection and like those before it, first to Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, and then last week to the disciples gathered in the evening after the discovery of the empty tomb, and then again later to Thomas. In all of these, the reception he receives is one of surprise—to put it mildly. The disciples usually respond first with fear and awe, confusion and incomprehension. And that seems perfectly natural, especially considering that they didn’t have the benefit of two thousand years of hearing this story, of being taught, of living in that time after Jesus’ saving action changed everything. But even we, who do have the benefit of the record of these events. we don’t always understand. We don’t always know what it means to live in the resurrection. Or we do know but we allow ourselves to forget.
Several years ago, when I was a hospital chaplain, I met a man in the ICU. He had been admitted following some complications with a heart condition and he was very weak. We talked and he told me some of his story, some things of his family, and of his illness, and of his past. As he spoke, I sensed a man who was at peace with where he was in his stage of life—even in illness—and I said this to him. He was silent for a moment and then he said, “I wasn’t always this way. You know what changed everything?”
And then he began to tell me the story of Jesus coming to him in a dream. I remember this now because his first reaction, like the disciples in our gospel, was fear. He saw Jesus coming toward him, through a field of tall grass, and when he saw him, when he recognized Jesus, his first thought was, this means I’m going to die. Jesus is coming for me. But then, something changed. Jesus spoke. I don’t remember the exact words he recounted but Jesus offered essentially the same reassurance he does to the disciples—Peace be with you. This man shared more details about his encounter, which was largely silent, but my point in telling it is that it changed everything for this person, opened his eyes to a reality, a promise, that had been outside of his awareness. Death has lost its power. We are living in the time of resurrection. Christ has triumphed over death and we need not live in fear. If we believe that, really believe that and give our hearts to this truth, we cannot be afraid. We see that in our Gospel as the disciples move from fear to acceptance to understanding and, finally, to a charge to be witnesses out there, beyond the locked room in which they’ve been hiding.
The truth of Resurrection is not just for the dying or the dead. The Risen Christ comes to his disciples, comes to us, not just to show them what is to come but to teach them to live not from a place of fear, not to lock themselves behind closed doors, but to go forth in his name. He said it last week, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” and he says it this week,” repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed to all nations in his name.” This is our charge in a world made new by Christ’s death and resurrection. WE are witnesses to these things.
Fear turns to joy when the Risen Christ comes to us but we must remember that joy. We must live from a place of Christ’s peace rather than the fear and suspicion that all too easily clouds our earthly lives. I think often about the word, holy, how it’s root comes from an Old English word, halig, that means wholeness, or fullness. As holy people we are called to live from a place of wholeness. Our actions, what we take into the world, what we bring to our interactions with others, how we live, must come from our whole selves as creatures made in God’s image. When we forget that we are living in the Resurrection, we often drift into living from smaller parts of ourselves. We speak from fear. Or pride. Or anger. Or any of the smaller parts of ourselves that do not reflect the fullness of God’s love as given to us in Christ. Listen to yourself this week. Reflect in your prayers on your words and actions in the course of a day and listen for those times, those words, that spring from something less than love. So often we live from behind locked doors and never really know it, never recognize our fear, until Christ comes to us and says, Peace be with you.
The Risen Christ comes to those first disciples as an eating, drinking, and wounded body. His body is like ours. He is like us and we are called to be like him. The apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians (5:1), our body is an earthly tent. It is not our permanent dwelling, our home, but it is here, now, in this body, no matter how perfect or imperfect, or from behind what door it is locked, it’s here that we encounter God’s promise in Christ. It’s here in this body that we experience salvation. It’s here in this body, in our bodies, in our present realities, that is God’s place of transformation. It’s with our bodies, with our hearts, right here, right now, that we repent, that we reorient our lives to the Risen Christ. It’s here and now, in these bodies, that we ask what in our world, who in our world, needs the presence of the Risen Christ? We know God continues to work in the world; how are we to participate in the work? When we keep those questions before us, when we allow them to draw us to new life, that’s living in the Resurrection. That’s what it means to be raised with Christ. Amen.