|Published by Josh Hosler on Sun, Apr 12, 2020 11:51 AM|
In her book Offering the Gospel to Children, author Gretchen Wolff Pritchard explains her method for quickly assessing the quality of a given children’s Bible. The first place she looks is the Resurrection of Jesus. How is the story told?
Perhaps the book tells children that Jesus’ friends were sad when he died. Then, suddenly, Jesus was alive again! Hey presto! The story may imply that after that happy moment, everything went right back to the way it had been before—The End.
This is how Pritchard can tell it’s not a very good children’s Bible … because it’s dishonest. In an effort to simplify the story for younger ears, the author has denied the reality of death and effectively destroyed the gospel. A child reading it might well wonder, “Well, what about my grandma? When will God bring her back, too?” If you’re a parent, good luck explaining that one! And if you were raised with a story no more mysterious than this one, well, it’s a wonder you’re worshiping with us today at all.
There’s a world of difference between Resuscitation and Resurrection. We do our children harm when we assume that they can’t tell the difference.
Two Sundays ago we heard the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead—a miraculous Resuscitation indeed, since the man’s body was already decomposing. Nevertheless, we are to assume from the story that Lazarus someday died again. This was only a sign of what was to come.
But this morning we hear a very different thing. For the Marys arriving at the tomb, it is totally baffling. It’s an earthquake, and an angel, and lightning, and blinding light, and the guards collapsing into a coma. And what does the angel say?
“Do not be afraid.”
Are you kidding me?
“Do not be afraid. He’s not here. There is no body in this tomb for you to cry over. He’s not just dead: he’s beyond dead. He’s risen. And he’s gone ahead and will meet you in Galilee.”
This isn’t just a shift from sad back to happy. Listen to the story. “So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy.” Resurrection is terrifying!
But the Marys don’t have to journey 60 miles to Galilee. It seems they barely make it the length of a basketball court before Jesus shows up. He’s not somewhere else—he cannot be kept from these beloved women! And then Jesus says something quite disarming: “Greetings.” In Greek it’s χαίρετε, and it can mean everything from “Rejoice!” to “Hey there, y’all.”
Maybe he meant both at once.
But … dead people don’t just show up and say hello again. Not outside our most bittersweet dreams. Yet Jesus isn’t a ghost—the women touch his feet and cling to him. Ghosts are dead echoes of the past. Jesus is the risen future brought into the present, not just physically solid, but even more solid than that.
For us, Resurrection is no less real, and it’s no less frightening. We encounter Resurrection all the time, just by going through life.
More about that in a minute, but first we have to understand that you can’t get to any kind of Resurrection without going through some kind of death first. And this is why it’s so scary. Those of you who were worshiping with us Thursday night, Friday night … you heard it. And we all know it. The whole world is just wrong right now. It’s all of us humans against a deadly virus. But it’s also those of us humans who love and trust one another versus compassionless people with fear-based agendas. And as we stow ourselves away in our homes, we just want to know … when can we get back to normal? When will things again be the way they used to be?
When can we get into that dreadful, poorly written children’s Bible and get our old lives back?
The only honest answer is … never. Because Death and Resurrection don’t work that way. This unprecedented world event will change all of us forever. We don’t yet get to see how. But we can decide what to do about it.
On the morning of Good Friday, while procrastinating on my sermon, I got out a big plastic bin full of assorted memories from my entire life—college papers, news clippings, greeting cards, journals, notes passed to me in class … you name it. I went through the whole box and treasured every item. All morning, I inhabited a vague, undefined past covering more than four decades. And I was happy there.
But it wasn’t Resurrection—it was Resuscitation. And it could only last for a little while. It would have been folly to try to stay there—like Harry Potter crouching, spellbound, at the vision of his dead parents in the Mirror of Erised, becoming of no use to anyone, including himself. Those times are gone, and they are not coming back.
Earlier in the week, on a whim, I reached out to a couple dozen former members of the youth group I once led at St. Thomas Church in Medina. With the support and blessing of the current priest at St. Thomas, I invited them to a one-time reunion on Zoom. Ten of them showed up: they’re all in their 20s and 30s now. And for that hour and a half, I was completely removed from COVID-19 and dropped back in time.
This wasn’t like my memory box, though, because these are living people. And some of them began to build on the foundation of old relationships to make fresh connections with each other. There were words of gratitude for times long ago, but there was also an eagerness to learn about each other now. Some were remarkably open and vulnerable about the hard times they’ve been through—disillusionment, death of loved ones, death of careers and romances, loss of health, the ending of old worlds. They were happy to be brought back together like this, and who knows what will come from it?
In both cases—the memory box and the youth group reunion—eventually I had to emerge from wallowing in the past to face the present, where we cannot mix and mingle, where death lurks casually on mouths and on hands. We need Resurrection. Where is it?
Well, it’s not in the past. We can’t go forward through old letters and photo composites and music recital programs from decades ago. But we can forward with each other now, in real time. We have been given an Easter life. We can accept it and decide how to live it.
Throughout Lent, I felt like our work at Good Shepherd was all about reacting—about cancelling things and struggling to maintain the bare minimum required of us. But could it be that a Lenten pandemic has stripped away our excess to make us ready for something new?
Could it be that our work now is to figure out how to activate as an Easter Church—how to create a new normal that can outlast this pandemic? We don’t need to settle for the bare minimum. The church is still the church, and we have a mission: to reconcile the world to God and all people to each other. How will we do that?
Well, for one thing, inspired by my former St. Thomas kids, I want to know how we can help our young people at Good Shepherd stay connected with one another and also bring friends along. The miles are no barrier now!
I want to know how we can feed the hungry, because you know there are suddenly a lot fewer ways to do that. Our Breakfast Ministry has shut down. Our Saturday community meal has shut down. What will replace them in these circumstances, and how will we make it happen?
I want to know how we can continue to implement the three-year strategic plan that we had just begun to create. Remember the three ‘f’s—formation, fellowship, and facilities? We’re not done with those!
I want to know how we can all look out for each other and become less lonely—even those of us who have never used the internet and don’t plan to. Our new neighborhood buddy groups are a good start.
I want to know how we can continue to invite people to church. And I don’t just mean online worship, which, let’s admit, must be pretty unappealing to a lot of people, especially those who don’t feel technically inclined. I wouldn’t miss it for the world, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it leaves others cold. So what else is the Church? Not just Zoom worship, but so much more. How do we invite people to join us in that?
There’s no question that we must do less for now overall, and that’s probably healthy. Wasn’t I just preaching about how part of the strategic plan would be choosing what not to do? So why let a silly pandemic dictate all the terms?
Yes, our old ways are dead, and they’re not coming back the same way. Even once we’re all vaccinated, the Church will be different from now on. We will have been through death, through loss and fear and disillusionment, through the great ordeal and out the other side. After all this, I hope we won’t even want to go back to the way things were.
The risen Christ is in the Church today, showing us the wounds on his body, ever preserved so we don’t forget the reality of death. But the risen Christ has also gone ahead of us into a new reality. And he is appearing inside the locked rooms of our quarantine. Indeed, we cannot lock him out, because he himself, in his death and rising to life again, is showing us how the very universe is constructed. And he is inviting us to live an Easter life within this universe called here and now.
Oh, how sneaky Resurrection is! It’s sneakier than any virus. We don’t even need to be within six feet of each other. No mask can keep Love out. Look and see—look very closely so you don’t miss it. Christ is alive! And he has gone unnoticed but by a few, like a tiny flame that his friends tried to protect from the wind until they could light some kindling. Amen.