A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Beholding Our Resurrected Lord

Resurrection Woodcut from Prüss Latin Bible (1489)

Easter 2 2020
Rev. Doug Floyd
Acts 2:14a, 22–32, Psalm 111, 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 20:19–31

Throughout this season we are meditating upon the Resurrection. One thing I like about the church year is the rhythm of pausing over certain themes of about our Lord and the life of faith.  During Eastertide, we are pausing and waiting with the mystery of the Resurrection for fifty days. We read stories from the Gospels and Acts about the resurrection of Christ and we meditate on them.

Church Life Journal recently posted a meditation from Hans Urs Von Balthasar called, “Easter: We Walked Where There Was No Path.”[1] Balthasar captures the oddness of the Resurrection. Part of the challenge in considering the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is our familiarity with the story. We need to see it with new eyes and face it in all its glorious and troubling reality. Sometimes art can help me to see with new eyes, so I was looking for a woodcut of the Resurrection. I found a woodcut from the 15th century Latin Prüss Bible. While there are several striking aspects to this image, I am most fascinated with the dark halo around the head of Jesus and his followers. I assume this is similar to the Eastern idea of luminous darkness. The glory of God is so overwhelming that we cannot grasp it. The closer we move into His Presence, the more our ideas and our images collapse.

This makes me think of the actual event of the Resurrection. It’s too much for everyone. They cannot understand or grasp it. In today’s Gospel, we hear the familiar Thomas passage where he demands to see the marks of the nails in Jesus’s hands before he can believe. Because of this event, he is called doubting Thomas, but I’ve never liked this term because he is also the first to offer the confession, “My Lord and My God!”

His story helps us think about how the Resurrection is bigger than the human capacity to grasp. As Balthasar says, “What God is doing in us is much too large to fit in the small container of our experience.”[2] If we go back through all the gospels, we discover a wide range of responses to the Resurrection. The first response to this glorious event in The Gospel of Mark is fear. There is also a trembling astonishment. They don’t have any way to understand what just happened.

When the ladies go to tell the disciples that Jesus is risen, the disciples don’t believe it. At this point, the disciples are not any different than Thomas. They, they don’t have any way to understand. In the Gospel of Matthew, the guards are overwhelmed with fear and fall down like they’re dead. Luke tells of two disciples on the Road to Emmaus. these disciples don’t recognize Jesus. They don’t recognize the Resurrected One. And if you go through Acts, you’ll find that there’s the same kind of stunned response. Some people are cut to the heart. Literally that’s the first reading in Acts. They’re cut to the heart, and they repent. Others respond with rage. They cover their ears and run towards Steven, trying to shut him up. This story this event causes a reaction. Now think about how we respond to the story of the Resurrection.

We’re so familiar with the story that it may be hard to even hard to understand those kinds of responses. We usually don’t encounter it in a dramatic, overwhelming sense. Now, that shouldn’t make us feel guilty because even the New Testament church does not maintain that trembling awe. The Galatians readily turn to other distractions and start believing they must be circumcised to gain a special status in the church. Some Christians turn to calendar observances, extreme asceticism, or other distractions that pull them away from Christ. In Corinth, we see competition and division and even immorality.  

As we read the New Testament letters, we discover people just like us who respond with joy to the Good News but later struggle with basic challenges like getting along with one another, staying faithful to their original, being distracted with petty issues. Somehow the human mind has an incapacity to grasp this story for any extended period.

In our second lesson today, Peter is encouraging Christians spread out all across the empire and facing challenges to their faith. He is encouraging them in the Good News of the Gospel he writes,

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5)

If we pause over those verses, we can reflect on this imperishable, undefiled, and unfading inheritance. What is the inheritance? Well, ultimately our inheritance is Christ himself. He is our inheritance. He is both the long-awaited mystery and the mystery that will be fully unveiled in the days to come. As the disciples reflect upon Jesus, they are trying to speak of the man they encountered, the one who passed through death in the Resurrection, and who they now confess as Lord. They use words like imperishable, undefiled, unfading, indestructible life. They keep trying to put words around this life that is overwhelming and glorious. Peter emphasizes that this salvation in Christ is kept in heaven for us.

This promise is being guarded and is ready to be revealed in the last time. If we look at Peter and other New Testament writers, we begin to encounter Jesus Christ, the Resurrected One who walks among us by His Spirit. At the same time, we can’t really grasp the depths of this mystery in a moment. It is a mystery that is being unveiled. Mere knowledge of this truth is not enough. The mystery of the Resurrection and the Resurrected One is not limited by our concepts and words. It is being unveiled personally in relationship with Christ by the Spirit. This relation of love is being revealed over time. In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul says that as this mystery is being unveiled, we are being changed. We are being transformed into the image of Jesus Christ, the Resurrected One.

We are being changed into the life that is undefiled, unblemished, and unfading. It is promised that we will be presented to the Father without blemish. For just a few moments, I want to this about this transformation in light of the love of God revealed in Christ.
One of the most common references to God is love such as “God is love,” or “Jesus loves you.” The Gospel of John is filled with images of this love. Consider John 3:16, “For God so love the world…” Or John 13, 14, 15, 16, 17. Love fills those passages where Jesus is revealing himself. Jesus, the Son of God reveals the love of God. What is it that he is specifically revealing? When we say Jesus loves you, or God is love, or when our culture repeats it, it is unclear what people mean.

By love, people sometimes mean something that is very human and very human centered. Some people mean, “Jesus is tolerant.” This is what some people mean when they say Jesus loves us, or God is love. God is tolerant. That God will love you no matter what you do, in the sense that he’s accepting of all lifestyles or, or something like that. We tend to humanize this love in a way that puts boundaries on it. We read this love in light of the stories of Jesus and the teaching of New Testament writers.  

Our time limits all the New Testament expressions of this love. One expression of this love is forgiveness. Jesus is teaching and modeling a way of love that forgives enemies. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45). Paul shows how Jesus lives into this command in Romans. He writes, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:10)

Jesus is breaking the boundaries of what we understand love to be. In the Resurrection, Jesus takes human life up into the divine life of God. Our concepts of life, love, and forgiveness are transformed. This love, this out-pouring of life is expressed in light of the communion between Father, Son, and Spirit. The Love of God and the Love in God is bigger that we can comprehend.

Consider Paul’s discussion of this love in Romans 8. This love of God revealed in Christ fully real to us in spite of actual suffering and pain and failure. Paul is not suggesting that the love of God will spare us suffering. It’s very clear in Romans eight that he suggests that we will actually face things like tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger sword, which in one sense, all those words seem alien to us because we don’t have any grasp of suffering on a historical or even a global level. And yet we have some form of suffering.

We suffer, and God is present in the midst of it. Paul says is that this love that has passed through death, this love, that could not be quenched by death, is now boundless. Paul writes,

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39)

I’m reminded that the love of God is now so all-encompassing that no matter what we are immersed in, it’s already on the other side of us. I want to suggest that just as we meditate on the Resurrection this morning, and as Christ is being unveiled to us, that very kind of love should be taking shape within us.  We are becoming a people who love without bounds.

We are not trying to follow some kind of system but rather we are being shaped into Christ and loving in a way that is even beyond our understanding. Consider Kallistos Ware, an Orthodox theologian in England. When he was young in ministry, he asked, a monk to teach him to love. The monk kept putting him off. Kallistos kept asking him to teach him to love like Christ and to love the world. Finally the monk told him that to become a lover is to become someone who cries because now you’ve entered into the pain of the world.

Love is not feeling warm feelings. It is to embrace the brokenness of our world. In that sense, as we enter into the resurrected life of Christ, it does not mean simply that we walk around in power and light shining out of us. But rather we become a people who literally live in that Resurrected power that can enter into the very depths pain and brokenness in our world.

We ourselves become those through whom Christ extends his hands. As Paul will say, we enter into the sufferings of Christ as we enter into the pain of the world. When we have situations like this pandemic or other situations, some fear that our government will take away our rights.

Instead of asking, “What about me?” Our first response would be, how do I respond to the suffering? It’s not about me as I enter into the resurrection of Christ, it’s no longer about me. Now I have let go, and the life and love of Christ are flowing through me to a world in need of redemption.

[1] Hans Urs Von Balthasar, “Easter: We Walked Where There was No Path,” April 3, 2020 <https://churchlifejournal.nd.edu/articles/easter-we-walked-where-there-was-no-path/>. This is originally from a little book he wrote on the church year, Light of the Word: Brief Reflections on the Sunday Readings.

[2] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Light of the Word: Brief Reflections on the Sunday Readings, trans. Dennis D. Martin (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), 73.


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