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APRIL 24, 2011: EASTER SUNDAY

Readings: 

Acts 10:34a, 37-43
I Corinthians 5:6b-8
John 20:1-9

On this day of all days, it's important we understand the difference between resurrection and resuscitation. In the Christian Scriptures, Jesus of Nazareth is the only person who rises from the dead. Lazarus, the widow Nain's son, Jairus' daughter, and Dorcas are resuscitated. Though I have no doubt these four had been declared clinically dead, when Jesus (or Peter) brings them back to life, they continue to be the same persons they'd been before they died; they possess the same DNA, look the same, have the same likes and dislikes. When Jesus, for instance, tells Mr. and Mrs. Jairus to give their daughter something to eat, if the girl had a liking for ham and mushroom pizzas before she died, her mother would have quickly popped a ham and mushroom pizza in the microwave. The undisputed proof these four were resuscitated and not raised is that each of them eventually died again.

On the other hand, when someone rises (or is raised) from the dead, he or she becomes what Paul refers to as a "new creation." He demonstrates this in Galatians 3. At three o'clock on Good Friday afternoon Paul presumes a free, Jewish man died on Jerusalem's Golgotha hill. But the person who came from the tomb on Easter Sunday morning was just as much enslaved as free, as much a Gentile as a Jew, and as much a woman as a man. Resurrection brings a complete transformation. And, unlike the resuscitated, the raised never die again.

The new creation aspect of resurrection is one of the reasons our sacred authors are "guilty" of so much disparity and so many contradictions when they write about the risen Jesus. He/she defies being squeezed into recognizable categories. We're dealing with someone who goes far beyond our ordinary human experiences.

Yet, Luke, Paul and John - the authors of today's three readings - take for granted that anyone reading their works has already come into contact with the risen Jesus in his or her life.

Luke says that expressly when he talks about those who proclaim the faith to others. "This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead."

As we know from chapter 11 of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, the "eating and drinking" Luke mentions in our Acts pericope probably refers to the Eucharist. It's in that action that the risen Jesus becomes most present. But even here in chapter 5 the Apostle demands we create an entirely new way of looking at reality. Except for Jesus' mini-parable about the woman burying a small amount of yeast in her bread dough, our biblical authors always equate yeast with bad stuff. Here Paul talks about it being "malice and wickedness." Those who follow the risen Jesus will only experience him or her if they replace their old yeast with "sincerity and truth:" undergo a complete change of their value systems.

Though fundamentalist Christians rarely admit it, John's empty tomb narrative almost completely contradicts his three predecessors' narratives. But John, like Mark, Matthew and Luke, also presumes his readers already believe Jesus has risen. His goal isn't to pass on the facts; he's much more concerned with making certain we know the implications of the event. Among other points, the evangelist here tells us that even though we hear the word of others (Mary of Magdala) on the subject, we still have to go to the tomb ourselves and eventually reach a point where we begin to believe.

Perhaps one of the reasons some of us have yet to encounter the risen Jesus is because we're looking for someone who doesn't exist: a resuscitated Jesus.