Luke 24: 36b-48
God’s surprises! For those of you who missed last Sunday, I have to begin my sermon with one of the stories I told. A pastor was speaking to a group of second graders about the resurrection of Jesus. One student asked, “What did Jesus say when he came out of the
tomb?” Well, the pastor responded, “The gospels have a lot of details but not much about what Jesus said as he came out of the tomb.” Another child’s hand shot up- “I know!” She stood up and said “TaDa!”
This child told the Easter story as she saw it. Likewise the four gospels each tell the Easter story in their own way through their own experience. No one can really explain the Resurrection, not the disciples, not us. It is through our own personal experience with the risen Christ that we can even begin to explain Jesus’ resurrection and even then it is incomplete. Luke places the disciples in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was a “happenin” place. It was where “it was at!” Jerusalem was the center, the place where the young church received the Holy Spirit and where it began to spread out into the world in Luke-Acts.
We can imagine how the disciples were feeling (“frightened, terrified, doubting”) and what they were like. Can we imagine the same things about Jesus? Not really. Jesus was unlike anything the disciples had encountered before. Jesus was the same yet different. He was not like Lazarus, a resuscitated corpse. Jesus could eat like before the crucifixion but locked doors could not contain him. Just think how learning took such a radical turn for the disciples. We have had over 2000 years to try and comprehend the resurrection and we still can’t verbalize the reality of what Jesus was like. Initially, the disciples, at times confused when Jesus was still with them, were at a total loss trying to express what they experienced.
Encountering the risen Jesus is a powerful experience both for the disciples and for us. It changed them and changes us. Jesus, through scripture, opened the minds of the disciples as well as their hearts. When we, too, let the light of God’s Word shine on our lives, and when we listen for God’s surprising whispers in our ears, the Holy Spirit works to open our hearts and minds. How does the reality of Jesus bodily resurrection change us? Stephen Cooper puts it this way: “To insist on the reality of the resurrected body is to demand that we accept our present reality as the place where transformations of ultimate significance take place.” He says this makes us embodied creatures—a people of hope (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 2). Cynthia Lano Linder understands the resurrection as “God’s affirmation that creation matters, that love and justice matter, that humanity, in all its ambiguity and complexity, is still fearfully and wonderfully God-made” (Christian Century, April 21, 2009). The Resurrection was God’s reconciling of all creation. Each time we experience the risen Christ in our lives, God surprises us by does a new thing. What does that mean in our lives? How could this change our lives? In the remembering and telling this story, as witnesses to the Living Word of God, something in our very being changes—each of us in a myriad of ways.
Because of the Resurrection, everything changed for the early believers and everything is different for Christians both then and now. We tend to think that transformation is something big—an all at once happening—a completed event. But is that really how
transformation works? I suppose it can but in most instances it takes place bit by bit, in times of questioning, in moments of pure joy, during days of mourning and depression broken into by holy presence and commanding conviction. Isn’t that the good news? That resurrection, new life, transformation, however you want to define it happens in the most unexpected place and times. God’s surprises!
I want to set before you some examples of “bit by bit” transformation. Did any of you see the first performance of a Scottish woman, unassuming but expectant, on a talent show several years ago? Simon rolled his eyes and almost laughed as she expressed her dream of becoming a singer. The crowd had already judged her as underserving of their praise according to their standards for “star” material—how one should speak and look. But, as soon as she opened her mouth, and the most beautiful notes floated from her, everything changed. Susan Boyle had wowed the crowd. Her exceptional voice opened their hearts and minds. No longer could they depend on their old labels, their predictable reactions. They suddenly were moved to embrace this humble woman and her dream. Millions world-wide have joined them, “not able to explain what happens in their hearts and minds as they watch this unfold over and over again. Her God-given gift for song made her beautiful in the eyes of the audience. Susan Boyle was not transformed. No, it was the hearts and minds of the audience that had been opened so that they could see her radiance. God’s surprises! The risen Christ enters our lives and turns us around, too, when we are judgmental and are of closed minds and hearts. Resurrection—it is enough to move one to tears, every time.
Rev. Jennifer Brownell was having one of those days; one annoyance after another. “Pecked to death by ducks,” she thought as she drove home. She spotted a woman sitting on the curb staring into a sewer grate. The pastor stopped her car and went to the woman who “pointed at a chirping flock of ducklings perched on the edge of a PVC pipe that emptied into a cloudy square of water under the grate. A mallard nearby called and walked in nervous circles. “ The two women agreed the duck must have been crossing the road, and walked over the grate, when the chicks following her fell through – plop, plop, plop. She was too big to get in, and they were too small to get out.”
“After a bit, a man arrived and began pulling ducklings out of the pipe. It seems mallards can’t count very high, because as soon as she had four, the mama collected them under her wings, waddled toward the nearby creek and floated downstream.”
“The man was still pulling ducklings out of the pipe, so I got hold of one before it wandered away,” said Rev. Brownell. She continued, “Although they had seemed so important just a few minutes before, I forgot all the day’s annoyances as I lay down in the mud by the stream and set that fluffy, trembling little body in the water, to paddle away with its family.”
We think that resurrection, when it comes, will come with trumpets and earthquakes and angels perched cheekily on stones. But sometimes it’s not one big death, but a thousand small ones that bury you. You are witness; too, to the resurrection that comes as a flutter of life, so tiny you can hold in your hand. And when you stand up dripping mud and maybe tears, you will find it’s not just another life that’s been saved, it’s your own” (Daily Devotional, “Resurrection,” UCC, March 24, 2015). God’s surprises; Resurrection it is enough to move one to tears every time.
Ellie was a woman who had “adapted and adjusted to limitations caused by aging, redefining loss as opportunity.”
She was not content to stay at home. She was always doing, “full of contagious joy, prayerful and thankful.” She volunteered at the SPCA, walking dogs and cleaning cages.
“Then the “clincher” happened. Ellie lost the use of her legs and suddenly discovered how much of her life was based on mobility.”
“Then the SPCA director asked Ellie if she would be willing to sit on a small chair inside four of the shelter cages where new dogs were so timid and traumatized that they were virtually non-adoptable. Not walk. Just sit. For an hour visit with each one, Ellie sits and talks and scratches ears, if the dog is willing to approach her. Four hours a day, six days a week, she, in the words of Paul’s letter, “encourages the fainthearted, helps the weak, is patient with all of them” Daily Devotional, “Sometimes Spirits Need Shelters,” UCC, April 17, 2015)
Her life had been transformed not only once but twice—losing the use of her legs then becoming a comforting presence to frightened dogs. God’s surprises—transforming the lives of both human and creature.
Resurrection it is enough to move one to tears every time.
May your experiences with the Risen Jesus be transformative either in bits and pieces or in big ways such that your mind and heart will be opened and that might recognize God’s surprises in your life. In the greatest of hope in the time of Easter and every day, I offer this message of resurrection hope.