How Has Christ Risen? Let Me Count the Ways
A sermon based on Luke 24:1-12
given at Mount Vernon, OH March 27, 2016 *
by Rev. Scott Elliott
Back in 2010 just before Lent I ended up in the emergency room on Monday, which led to emergency gall bladder surgery Tuesday morning. Wednesday I was released to go home but a reaction to medication caused my upper extremities to tremor uncontrollably and I was rushed by ambulance to another hospital where a drug was administered that slowly stopped the violent flopping and shaking that had ceaselessly rattled my body for a couple of hours. In the process I actually felt my entire body stopping as well.
No one had warned us about this. And alone in the room with my wife Nancy I thought my whole being on earth was shutting down. I literally thought I was dying. From the look of concern in Nancy’s eyes as she held tight to my hand I could tell that she was worried I was dying as well.
I hope it is clear to everyone here this morning that I . . . um . . . did not die that day. I did not even have a “near death” experience, but I did have what sure felt like a very real final moment. I learned so much in that moment.
Once I realized I might be dying a lot happened. I said a quick prayer to Jesus to take care of me on the other side and my family here when I was gone, and then my mind was suddenly clear and all I could think about – absolutely all that was on my mind– was that I loved my wife and my children and was loved by them, and that I was thankful for such love. I had no flash backs, no regrets, no panic, just comfort that in life I loved and was loved by five amazing people, one of whom was holding my hand and looking into my eyes. I am not sure life gets any better than that.
Ironically it was the scent of death that gave me that moment and clarity about life. We talk a lot in this church about how “It is all about love,” and that moment six years ago in the ER, that moment of acute awareness and clarity verified for me how utterly true that is; and that has had a very powerful impact on me. It was eye-opening! Teaching and preaching and believing that “It is all about love” is one thing, to stare at the reality of that in no uncertain terms, face to face, is quite another. It notches up the authenticity; makes it feel as certain as it can be felt that, that is Truth.
I’ve mentioned a couple times since I’ve arrived in this church, that we can understand the fundamental precepts of Christianity as four main things: God is love, believe in love, love love, and be love. Jesus lived and died for love . . . and Easter is about him wondrously living and living on for love aiming us to God’s shalom.
Anything intentionally running counter to love, runs counter to Jesus’ life and love and death and resurrection, and the Truth of the Gospel, of Easter. At the end of the day . . . love wins.
It’s a beautiful thing to know that love is our purpose–and the goal of course is God’s peace, shalom which means the actual, not just the desired and working on it, well being for all. That is a fine and glorious Easter message. Though for all its power and clarity the good news that love wins and peace is our goal is not the only powerful thing I came away with from the emergency room a half dozen years ago where I believed I was dying.
A part of the Easter story is that there is a marvelous mystery to creation . . . and to God . . . and to love which can and should fill us with awe. We may not understand them, but we can and should revere them. It may have sounded unremarkable that when I thought I was dying I said a quick prayer to Jesus to take care of me on the other side and my family here when I was gone, but until then I personally prayed to God in Jesus’ name – there and then I said the prayer to Jesus.
I had my eyes closed and – I do not know any other way to put this– I sensed the person of Jesus’ very presence compelling the prayer, taking the prayer, clearing my mind, calming me and placing before me the Truth and beauty and importance of the deep personal love I have been blessed with in my life. I even saw Jesus’ bearded face smiling at me, it was a smile that made me smile and still does when I think on it.
That prayer that day was a part of a very mystical and Holy moment for me. I was awe-struck not just by the message of love and awareness of it fully in my life, but by what I can only describe as Jesus’ very personal and very real presence to me. It was profound, and I am still deeply affected by it. It adds a layer to my experiences of Jesus as a very present being. “Jesus lives” is more than an abstract concept to me. It has had a deeper experiential reality ever since.
I have, of course, long understood Jesus as a human who with capabilities available to all humans fully brought out the Christ within. And by “Christ” I mean the spark of God incarnate in creation.
I have known Jesus for decades as this amazing fully human being who found a Way, taught a Way and points to a Way, of bringing that spark of God out in each of our lives by our own words and acts on The Way of love and peace that Jesus gives us. It is my experience that through Jesus, Christ, the spark of God can be found and fanned into Spiritual flames that change the world by bringing more focus on God, so that God’s realm, which is shalom–peace– can come on earth as it is in heaven.
Jesus’ continual presence in “His story” and His Way causes us to do our part to bring about the reign of God; to make those Pentecost tongues of fire from the Spirit burn a brighter Light in the world. This was, and is the fundamental Truth, that I had already found on The Way Jesus showed us before my mystical encounter in a Florida emergency room.
Jesus’ humanness is very important because it speaks, actually shouts, out about the possibility of all of our ability to be Christ in the world. See, if a superman or superwoman or an otherwise non-human did not do what Jesus did, that means a human did it; and that in turn means that we, like Jesus, are capable of being Christ’s continual presence on earth. Which is what Jesus called, and calls us, to do and be. Jesus says “Follow me” over and over again in the Gospels; and 1 John (2:6) tells us that “whoever says, “’I abide in him,’ ought to walk just as he walked.” If we are called to follow Jesus by Jesus; and called by Scripture to walk as Jesus walked, it must be possible to do so. Which means we do not have to be supermen or superwomen or anything other than human to follow Jesus and walk as Jesus walked.
Easter, on one hand, is about the oppressive Roman Empire’s unsuccessful attempt at extinguishing the Christ spark that the fully human Jesus had fanned into a magnificent burning flame of Love– a torch that has been passed on for centuries. Despite the Empire’s use of power and brutality to execute Jesus it utterly failed to put out his Spiritual flame. Indeed once Easter arrives the flame miraculously burned brighter than ever. One amazing consequence is that Jesus has lived on and on and on in us and in history.
Jesus and his message have been validated by God and much of humankind and by history. There is a resurrection in that fact alone which we can affirm. But to many Christians Jesus’ resurrection means more, that is, from Easter onward Jesus as a being can still be experienced, he’s risen and he lives – He is here on earth now. Rome’s killing him did not kill him!
Many, many believe that Jesus was literally resurrected, brought back to life in his previous human form, that is his physical body was reanimated . . . and that is great. Others believe that there was not a bodily resurrection, but that the resurrection was something spiritual . . . and that is great too. 1.
I know that theologians hotly debate which is right, a bodily resurrection or a spiritual one, but the debate ultimately misses the point. What matters is not whether it happened how we think it happened, rather what matters is, what the resurrection can mean for us. Regardless of how we believe the resurrection happened or what form or forms we understand it occurred through, what it means is what matters. Even those of us who believe Jesus’ body rose from the dead do not think that his physical human body remains on earth, but that a few weeks after Easter Jesus ascended to heaven.
Consequently, whether we believe Jesus rose in body or in spirit, Christians can agree that he continues being experienced Spiritually: in church, in others, in mystical encounters, in prayer, in vibrations felt from stories in the Bible or by resonating through Jesus’ effects in history and in our lives and in other’s lives.
There are many ways to understand and experience that Jesus lives on, was resurrected. Any way we look at it, in whichever forms we believe in the resurrection – Easter– means that Jesus lives. On so many levels Rome did not, could not, extinguish his life or cause. From the first Easter onward Jesus is still experienced as both himself and in strangers, and not just by those who knew him in his lifetime, but also well beyond those he knew, and beyond his lifetime. Plus the very Body of Christ is believed to live on as the Church the now animated, or reanimated in new form, presence of Christ’s being.
The Gospels report that the resurrected Jesus had a new kind of existence, one in which he could not re- experience death, and time and space no longer applied to him 2. Jesus appears in the Bible stories in previously unknown ways, in a gardener, a traveler, a stranger on a beach; and he can be seen even when eyes are shut or blinded, and as light and sound. In Matthew 25 we are told that Christ is also encountered in the least among us. And as a part of the Body of Christ now we ourselves can reach out and be Christ to others.
So there are not just abstract and ethereal continuing experiences of Christ, but also very real every day incarnational experiences. Paul had the first recorded post-Easter experience of Jesus by someone who did not know Jesus before Easter. Paul did not encounter Jesus in bodily form, but as a presence in a sudden blinding light and voice. When Paul asked who the presence was the answer came back “I am Jesus . . .” The risen Jesus appeared to Paul long after the first Easter not as a physical body, but as a spiritual being who made his presence known to Paul.
My story from the hospital is that type of experience. I was not blinded by a Light, but Jesus made his presence known, took my prayer and guided me to not only complete calmness in a frightening situation, but to a profound understanding of the glorious news that my life was full of love (even literally staring me in the face in the ER) and also a validation that life is about love, and mystery that is awesome. In the process I was allowed to personally experience Jesus. And I love that he smiled at me and made me smile then and now.
From the Gospel stories, from Paul, even from my own much more modest story, there is dynamic continuing meaning in Easter. One way or another, somehow, Jesus, who died can be experienced in reality still. Jesus lived life so that the embers of God within himself were fanned to an everlasting Spiritual flame, as a consequence Jesus has been resurrected and is capable of bringing God’s loving and mysterious presence into the world still. This is not just in the abstract . . . but a breathtaking reality.
Modern theologian Marcus Borg put it like this: “the historic ground of Easter is very simple: the followers of Jesus both then and now, continued to experience Jesus as a living reality after his death.” 3. Simply put, the resurrection means, Jesus is “an experiential reality.” 4.
One way or another whether it be a bodily resurrection, a spiritual resurrection, a mystical encounter, an efficacious vibrating in the pages of the Gospels or a resonating presence through history, Jesus is a living reality two thousand years after he lived, died and rose again. This means Jesus lives. No matter how we understand the resurrection occurred is not the point. The point of Easter is that Christ lives . . .somehow, some way . . . and it is awesome.
Christ is risen. Risen indeed.
* Based in good part on a story and sermon I wrote back in 2010
1. Borg, Marcus, N.T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus at p. 131.
2. Ibid. at 135.
COPYRIGHT Scott Elliott © 2016 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED