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April 21, 2015, 11:04 AM

A Resurrection Event


Luke 24:36b-48    CEB
Jesus himself stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 37 The disciples were terrified and afraid. They thought they were seeing a ghost.
38 Jesus said to them, “Why are you startled? Why are doubts arising in your hearts? 39  Look at my hands and my feet. It’s really me! Touch me and see, for a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones like you see I have.” 40 As he said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 Because they were wondering and questioning in the midst of their happiness, he said to them, “Do you have anything to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of baked fish. 43 Taking it, he ate it in front of them.
44 Jesus said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the Law from Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. 46 He said to them, “This is what is written: the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47  and a change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48  You are witnesses of these things.
 
“A Resurrection Event”
(A huge thank you and acknowledgement to Rev. Dr. Nancy Hale, pastor at Broad Street UMC in Norwich, NY for her profound influence on me regarding body theology and for sharing same named chapter with me from her dissertation. Thank you, Nancy!)
 
It was a resurrection event…and I was honored to have witnessed it, to have participated in it. It happened on a Monday, in the Spring of my first year in seminary. There had been an incident on a college campus near the university I attended, a racial incident. It had upset the entire region; the cities in the tri-city area, the universities, and even the Divinity School. People were tense, distrustful. They pulled away from one another, retreating to the small groups of those like themselves. A few student groups within the seminary came together and decided this fracturing needed to be addressed directly, head on. We needed to be a united community again.
 
So, these few groups of students planned an event they hoped would be observed annually going forward, a week dedicated to Unity in Diversity. And the first activity to ‘kick off’ the week started at 10:00 am on Monday morning, in the student lounge (a space akin to our Embury Room). The entire Divinity School was invited to a time of story sharing—anyone who wished could stand and tell their story. Around 50 of us gathered in that space that Monday morning—mainly students. After some opening devotions and remarks, we sat in silence, waiting for that first brave soul to stand and to share…and she did. Slowly a young, African-American woman stood, and with a quivering voice, shared the pain of discrimination she had experienced in the community, on the university campus, and even in the seminary itself. I couldn’t believe these things had happened to her in 1990s America, and within a community of people who profess Jesus Christ.
 
She sat, and another minority stood, and then another and another. Slowly they shared their pain and their struggles and their heartbreak. As the telling continued, more and more members of the seminary community joined us, until the room could hold no more. Every flat space in that room had someone perched upon it and the door was crammed with people—students, faculty, staff. The dean joined us at some point and cancelled classes for the rest of the day, as the stories continued to flow. We heard from African-American students, Asian American, Native American, Latin American. We heard from women, from those told they were too old to return to school, from lesbian and gay students. And as the time continued, students who were privileged to have never experienced these discriminations stood. They apologized for their ignorance, for being so unaware of the pain experienced by their fellow students. They apologized for any way in which they contributed to the systems that hurt those gathered around them. They expressed their horror and their sorrow.
 
Something started to happen as we moved further and further into this sharing. People started to lean in closer to one another. Hands reached out to hold one another. Hugs were shared by friends and strangers alike. As the event reached its natural conclusion—3 hours after the advertised ending time—a member of the community stood up and testified, “This is it! Right here, right now! This. Is. Resurrection!! We are witnessing resurrection right now!” For ignorance had perished, and a lack of understanding had fallen away, and a piece of privilege had died. A new community rose in that space. New life! A resurrection event!
 
Chapter 24 of Luke’s gospel is the resurrection story, from the first verse to the last. The chapter begins with that beautiful Easter morning story—the women journey to the tomb, find it empty, encounter two messengers dressed in white who proclaim, “He is not here! He is risen, just as he said!” These women rush back to the disciples, gathered in the upper room, and share what they have experienced…and they are absolutely dismissed. The English translations try to soften the blow by stating that the disciples thought it “an idle tale.” The Greek is harsh and much less kind—the disciples thought the women’s story a load of crap.
 
The story then moves to two followers journeying back home, from Jerusalem to Emmaus. On the road a stranger joins them and expands their understand of scripture. At journey’s end, as the bread is broken, they suddenly recognize Jesus, and he is gone. They rush back to Jerusalem to share their experience with the remaining disciples, only to discover that in their absence, Simon too has seen the risen Christ. Which leads us to today’s reading, with scared and disbelieving disciples encounter the risen Jesus. I always thought the disciples a little dense when we get to this portion of chapter 24. The women told them that Jesus rose from the dead. The Emmaus disciples testified to seeing him. Simon proclaims Jesus alive. And yet, when Jesus appears in their midst, they tremble, terrified, and believe him a ghost. Jesus must jump through some hoops to prove to them that his alive and physically present—“Look at my hands and my feet! Do you see the nail holes? Here, give me something to eat. See, I am real!”
 
But then I realized…bodily resurrection is hard to wrap our heads around. It is hard to conceive. We have inherited century upon century of philosophy, ideology, and schools of thought that teach otherwise. Long before Jesus, Plato spoke of the flesh as a shadow on the wall, and that one day we would bask in the full light of the spirit. In the early church, the ideology knows as Gnosticism swept the Roman Empire, teaching that flesh was evil, and only the spirit is pure and to be desired. One day we would rise above this ugly flesh and be pure spirit. Even today there are many spiritualisms that value the spirit above the body. We have trouble with this ‘body’ stuff. Even when we might stop to consider the idea of a bodily resurrection, we grab Isaiah’s visions of the lame able to walk, the blind to see, the deaf to hear. We imagine having these perfect bodies, bright, shiny and new. How quickly we forget the risen Christ, holding out scarred hands and feet, showing a wounded side.
 
Does it matter if we believe in a bodily resurrection? Yes, I think it does, especially if we wish to live as a resurrection people right here, right now. For, you see, part of being that resurrection people is the death of privilege, and that is a very embodied thing.  Whether we like it or not, we are a physical creation. Jesus became human to connect with us. We were lovingly molded by our Creator out of the very fabric of this world. Do we dismiss our physical frames so quickly…then it is a privilege that we can do so.  Perhaps we have not heard the stories from the lips of those who yearn for a time when they can live in their bodies and not have those bodies fail them, again and again. Perhaps we have not heard the stories of those labeled as ‘disabled’ who long for a time when they will be seen as whole and wonderfully made just as they are, no labels attached.
 
If we dismiss a bodily resurrection, we risk dismissing those who yearn for privilege to die and for new life to dawn, physically within and around them. We miss the stories of those who yearn for ‘spouse’ to not assume opposite gender, for romance not to be reserved for heterosexual stories. We miss the stories of those who long for beauty to be a universal concept, and not a standard against which people are measured. We miss the stories of those who dream of a time when uniqueness is cherished, weirdness is loved; a time when the stray threads on the tapestry of the community are not snipped but admired.
 
We can be that resurrection in action! We can be witnesses of resurrection in our midst, right here, right now! We can be a resurrection people when ignorance perishes, lack of understanding falls away, and privilege dies! It can happen! And it begins by creating a space where the voiceless are given voice and we all seek to listen…a Resurrection Event. May it be so! Amen.

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