Easter Sunday. Or, as we’ve been calling it at our house, Easter Fry-day! (As in French fries.) Resurrection Day. So….Do you believe in resurrection? An annoying question, I know. I mean, you’ve gotten all gussied up and come to church to hear the most revered part of the Christian story. If coming to church in your best threads on Easter Sunday isn’t proof that you believe in resurrection, what is, right? So, Do you believe in resurrection?
I was surfing the web the other day when a pertinent headline caught my eye: “Resurrecting Extinct Species.” Hoping to pick up a few pointers for this Resurrection Day sermon, I read the article. In it, I learned that scientists currently are looking at bringing back from extinction 14 species. In laypersons’ terms, they’re taking DNA from one of those extinct species and implanting it in the egg of a contemporary cousin species and trying to resurrect the extinct species by cloning it.
Fascinating. Going to the zoo and seeing a wooly mammoth, or a saber tooth cat, or a ground sloth? And who wouldn’t want a pet dodo?
They haven’t completely resurrected any extinct species yet, but in Australia, they’ve made really good progress with a type of frog that went extinct in the 1980s. With that species they’ve gotten nearly to the embryo stage. Exciting stuff!
All this talk about resurrecting frogs and mammoths and dodos has gotten me thinking—What if archaeologists found a piece of hair or a first century toothbrush that was confirmed to have belonged to Jesus? Are you thinking what I’m thinking? If we found a piece of DNA that could be confirmed to have belonged to Jesus, then, maybe we could resurrect him! And just think! If we could scientifically resurrect Jesus, then we could put all our questions about his resurrection to rest. We could gussy up and come to church on Easter Sunday guilt free because we wouldn’t have to feign belief in Jesus’ resurrection; we’d know he’d been resurrected! We’d have proof! If we could clone Jesus and he could be born again–yes, “born again”—then we would know for sure that he was back among us. We could see for ourselves that Jesus was alive. If we could clone Jesus, then believing in resurrection would be a cinch.
And not only that! Can you imagine what good Jesus would do in the world if he actually were here among us? He’d probably solve the problems in the Middle East his first morning, then deal with North Korea that afternoon. Then after peace had been restored in those places, he’d deal with poverty in India and AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa and violence against women in the Congo and drug production in South and Central America. If Jesus were really here among us—in flesh and blood—there would be no human trafficking or child abuse or sexual exploitation or homelessness. And if the Buddha and Mohammad and Mahatma Gandhi all were resurrected at the same time, Jesus probably would meet up with them down at the Starbucks for some stimulating interfaith dialogue.
Oh, man! Wouldn’t it be great if we could really resurrect Jesus? All this good would happen AND we wouldn’t be called on to use our sophisticated 21st century minds to believe in, quite frankly, unbelievable things.
Except…Jesus was alive once. And they might have been different, but problems still existed. And he tried. Jesus tried to confront and deal with those problems. But even when he was alive he couldn’t solve them…in fact, trying to solve them is what got him killed.
So, as nice as it might be to have a down-to-the-DNA-level resurrected Jesus, I don’t know that that would solve the world’s problems. And I don’t know that having an actual flesh-and-blood Jesus would solve our riddle of believing in resurrection. In fact, genetically resurrecting Jesus could get in the way of our believing in resurrection.
Think with me for a minute. What if those women who came to the tomb two days after Jesus’ death had seen a flesh-and-blood Jesus? And what if, when he came to the empty tomb, Peter saw a real live Jesus standing there? And what if those two friends on the road to Emmaus didn’t see a version of Jesus that was here one minute and gone the next, but had instead had to find fresh linens and towels and make a run to the store for OJ for breakfast in the morning because the real life Jesus with his old body and brain and charisma was really there?
What would you do if a genetically resurrected Jesus appeared? Wouldn’t you want to spend all your time listening to and learning from him rather than getting out there and doing the work of the kin-dom on your own? Don’t you imagine the disciples would have done the same? Jesus had been their teacher, their leader, their friend. If he’d come back just as he’d been, it’s a good bet his disciples would have gone back to being just as they’d been—followers.
That’s why I’m thinking that an actual DNA resurrection would not have been that helpful two days after Jesus’ death. In fact, I’m not thinking the actual bodily resurrection of Jesus with DNA and everything is really what this story is about at all. Oh, it’s a story about resurrection, all right….I just don’t think its main focus is the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
Now you’re probably thinking, So why did I get gussied up this morning if we’re not here to focus on the bodily resurrection of Jesus? If this story isn’t just about Jesus’ bodily resurrection, what other kinds of resurrection is it about?
If we set aside the Jesus-is-gone part of the resurrection story—just for a minute—and look carefully, then we begin to see a whole other resurrection story taking place. This resurrection happens in the women who come to the tomb early that first Easter morning. There they come, weighed down with grief and cloths filled with burial spices. Death spices. They come to the tomb certain of only one thing: Jesus is dead. The first sign of resurrection—the stone rolled away—doesn’t faze them. Still immersed in death-oriented thoughts, they enter the tomb ready to prepare Jesus’ body for burial….because, in their minds, he is dead.
When they enter the tomb, they encounter the second sign of resurrection—no body. On the face of it, the message of that sign is pretty clear—no body, yes resurrection. But still, the women don’t believe in resurrection. They are perplexed now, but not yet believing. By the next sign of the resurrection—the message from the men in dazzling clothes—the women are beginning to wake up to the fact that maybe something unusual has happened. Maybe Jesus really is gone. “Then they remembered his words,” Luke tells us. And when they do, they take their first decisive action in response to resurrection—a sure sign that they now believe. They run from the tomb, find the disciples, and tell them what they’ve seen.
The women’s resurrection in this story happens slowly, step by step. They come to the tomb still focusing on death. But step by step, as they encounter each new sign of Jesus’ resurrection, they slowly experience their own resurrections.
If you think about it, the reason we even know about Jesus’ resurrection at all is because of the resurrections of these women, their slow journey from thoughts of death to certainty of life. If there hadn’t been witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, we never would have known about it. If the women hadn’t allowed themselves to experience resurrection, to believe in new life, the new life we find in Christ would never have been possible.
What I’m trying to say is that, while Jesus’ resurrection is important, just as important are our own resurrections. The movement from thoughts of death to certainty of life…especially in places where you’d only expect to find death—that is what resurrection is all about.
And it’s what the world saw on Thursday when the new pope washed the feet of 12 detainees in a juvenile detention center. It’s tradition for the Pope to wash the feet of 12 priests on Maundy Thursday as a way to re-enact Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in the Bible. Rather than wash the feet of priests, though, Pope Francis did what has become tradition for him. He went to a juvenile detention center in Rome and washed the feet of 12 young inmates, two of whom were women. And one of those young women was Muslim.
“The Vatican released a limited video of the ritual, showing Francis washing black feet, white feet, male feet, female feet and even a foot with tattoos. Kneeling on the stone floor as the 12 youngsters sat above him, the 76-year-old Francis poured water from a silver chalice over each foot, dried it with a simple cotton towel and then bent over to kiss each one.” (AP)
Pope Francis went to a place of little hope, a place where few see life, and he showed those young people—and the rest of the world– resurrection. He showed them life in the midst of death. And he was able to do it, because—somewhere along the line—he has experienced his own resurrection. “Don’t lose hope,” he said. “Understand? With hope you can always go on.” Pope Francis was asking those young people to believe in their own resurrections.
So, it’s Easter Sunday. Resurrection Day. Do you believe in resurrection? Not so much Jesus’ resurrection. What I’m asking is, do you believe in your own?
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2013
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,3but when they went in, they did not find the body.*4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.5The women* were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men* said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. *6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again. ’8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.*