Each Gospel writer has a different account of the resurrection. The differences are not subtle. For example, Luke, as you heard, has three women come to the empty tomb and two angels appear. Matthew has two women, an earthquake and one angel. Mark includes Salome and only one angel, and John is the only other gospel with two angels but has the unique story of Mary Magdalene alone with Jesus who she thinks is the gardener. There are many other differences, but you get the picture. Perhaps like the game telephone, each one heard the story differently over the years as it was told over and over again, or like any good writer, they wanted to make the story their own, put their own mark on the holiest of days. Skeptics can point to the discrepancies in the resurrection accounts as proof that it’s all made up, they can dismiss it as an idle tale just as Luke tells us the disciples dismissed what the women had told them they had witnessed. They dismissed it as nonsense. One wouldn’t be wrong to call it nonsense if we’re talking about sense in the ways we talk about common sense. Logic and reason can’t possibly enter in if you’re trying to make sense of what happened. It makes no sense, to think of a bodily resurrection of a human being, even a divine one, who walked and talked in a very real human body. No sense at all. We just can’t wrap our heads around it.
That’s why we’ve come to love all the metaphors for Easter this time of year. New growth on trees, butterflies, ducklings…those things make all the logical sense in the world. We can wrap our heads around new life, thanks to the ways we witness nature each spring. And thanks to science we can understand the ways it all works. We can both marvel at it and also wrap our heads around it because we understand it.
We can also wrap our heads around other kinds of re-birth experiences. The profound personal kind. Those times in our life when God has brought us back from despair, back into relationship with life from the depths of depression and anxiety, back from illnesses we thought were a death sentence. When we are lifted up and out from the depths of addiction, or given provisions like food and shelter after natural disasters that destroy homes and whole communities, when God brings new life to what we thought was gone forever, in ways we could never have imagined, we call those resurrection experiences. We can wrap our heads around all of that because either we or someone we know has experienced them.
And if we went around the room, there would not be any two stories that are the same. Like the Gospel writers, we would each have our own account, our own set of details, but all would point at the universal truth of resurrected life from the shadows of defeat.
And that all makes sense. Those are not idle tales. They are experiential.
Most recently, we can also wrap our heads and our hearts around the destruction we witnessed this week with the burning of Notre Dame. Our hearts broke with those all over the world as we watched and waited to witness the extent of the damage. And our hearts broke not just for ourselves, but for what this cathedral represents because the cathedral represents more than any one religion, one city or even one country. Notre Dame is a testament to what human beings can accomplish together when inspired by God.
Rev Bob Conover, Stated Clerk of our Presbytery, said it best in his Holy Thursday blessing for Easter;
The fire at Notre Dame de Paris reminds us of just how tenaciously we hold to the wonder, light, and life. Even amidst horror and ashes, the focus shifted to rebuilding and new life. There is an unshakable human insistence on moving toward life. This must reflect the image in which we were created, for this is God's insistence, too. It is the center and depth of the whole holy story. Life is the direction. Life is the final word.
Those who began the construction of the cathedral never lived to see it’s completion. We may or may not live to see the completion of rebuilding what’s been burned. Could the disciples who ate and drank with Jesus, ever imagined what the resurrection of Jesus Christ would mean 800 or 2000 years later? How could they possibly have imagined or wrapped their heads around the millions of people who have come to know a resurrected Christ? We’re limited in our ability to wrap our heads around what God has done, what God is doing and what God will do when we are gone. But God is not limited, will not be limited, and this is the day, that God triumphs over the limitations of human beings, the limitations of hatred, the limitations of even death on a cross. This is the day we can’t wrap our heads around precisely because as human beings, we aren’t meant to. We’re meant to embrace it, experience it in our own lives, and then live the truth of resurrection into being in the world.
Jennifer Michael Hecht is a poet, a philosopher, and a historian. She is most recently the author of Stay, A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It. Hecht writes about how suicide has touched her life as it has touched many of ours. She wants to change the way we talk to ourselves and each other about suicide — starting with her insistence that we are not alone and that “we believe each other into being.” “we as human beings, believe each other into being.”
She writes about a time when we were living in communal villages that relied on the existence of one another just to get through life, through moments of flood or drought. We worked together and depended on one another and as a result, were naturally aware of our connection to one another. But we don’t live that way anymore, we’re more isolated.
Imagine yourself alone on this planet. Would anything be the same? Would you wash a dish? Would you think about productivity? What would you think about when you slept? How would you conceive of what your life means? ….We make the meaning for each other. And the culture makes the meaning.… we believe each other into being. We’re not much when we’re not in the eyes of someone else, at least some of the time.
Maybe that’s why for Luke, one angel wasn’t enough. We’re not much when we’re not in the eyes of someone else. Especially when that someone else is, like you, on an impossible mission of relaying the good news that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. When a message or a mission is one that is God inspired and God sent it’s always good to deliver it with back up. Faith is like that. Faith doesn’t live in a vacuum or in solitude. It lives in the communal experience of a God-inspired love. God sent love into this world, in the form of Jesus. And on Easter morning the angels proclaim that love cannot be found among the dead. It lives in the world now. It lives with us. It lives in our ability to believe that love and His life into being through the ways in which we now live our lives. This is the day, more simply put, He becomes the holy center of our lives. The ways in which we love, we serve, we work, share meals with friends and enemies, the ways in which we bring hope to the hopeless, food to the hungry. We are the ones whom God sends now, to believe into being what Jesus Christ began, through His resurrection. Because we are never alone in it. We are a part of Him and he is a part of us. We’re one now.
The poetry of the Prophet Isaiah calls this way of living a new heaven, a new earth. God doesn’t wait for destruction to call upon our commitments to life, to fixing what is broken, to imagining together a world that you heard Isaiah describe, one where cries of distress are no longer heard, infant mortality becomes a thing of the past, a world where the wolf and the lamb feed together….God is always doing a new thing and we’re called this day to defy common sense, logic, and reason and embrace the infinite possibilities of new life through the resurrected Christ.
As Christians, we believe each other into being through the inextricable love that binds us together in the risen Christ. A Christ who on this day moved beyond death into life and asks us to embrace it and believe it into being in the way we live our life, embrace this world, and allow God to work with us far beyond our rational mind and into the imaginable realm; a place where God and human beings create together a new heaven and new earth, even if we like the builders of Notre Dame, can’t witness it’s completion, in this lifetime. We are inextricably bound to all God’s children past and future, not just present. Eternal life in Jesus Christ makes sure of that. Gone is the idea of individualism and looking out for number one. Born this day, is the resurrected Christ who lives beside us, within us and among us so that we might believe into being all that He began in love, for us. Wrap your head around that. Wrap your heart around that and watch it’s construction begins again, for God is doing a new thing through Him and us together, eternally.