Thursday, April 4, 2013

Resurrection as Idle Tale: Moving Beyond Myth and Legend

One of the things pastors are quite good at is storytelling. We are able, some better than others, to transform random encounters with family members, congregants, youth, or cashiers at local grocery stores into anecdotes for our next sermon.

My wife knows this. She also knows that we are quite good at adding details, or at least hyperbolizing them, so to make our point and solidify a theological platform. "That didn't really happen as you told it," she will say as we reflect on the sermon. "It at least didn't happen like that."

When we are aware of this trend in pulpit fables, myself included, we become suspicious of anything and everything being said by the preacher or teacher.

But when we find out that the event really did happen in that way, we discover the preacher was able to awaken our senses and give fresh movement to the biblical text of the day.

These stories have the potential to change us, transform us, and awaken us to how God is indeed alive and well in both every day moments and innovative expressions of love and compassion. They are more than idle tales and nonsense.

When we stumble upon Luke's telling of the resurrection story, we discover similar suspicions about the reports of Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the "other women" in the doctor's account (Luke 24). Maybe it was because they had grown accustomed to their exaggerated stories. Maybe it was because men had a particular machismo stereotype against women as gossips. Maybe it was because they had been so let down by their Teacher who made promises about the kingdom, new creation, justice, peace, and new life, only to encounter the horror of the cross.

So when Peter is told that Jesus is no longer in the tomb and has risen from the dead, he has to find out for himself. He needs a first-hand experience with this myth of resurrection:

"But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened." (Lk. 24:11-12)

Resurrection was no longer an idle tale or mere nonsense.** It had movement. It had power. It happened right in front of him. As a pastor friend of mine said this Sunday, Jesus was on the loose. So Peter lifted the bottoms of his robe and hauled tale back to the disciples with confirmation of the report.

The cynic and skeptic had been transformed into a witness of the good news that death did not have the last word and God's work of new creation had indeed begun. His spirit amazed and hope awakened.

What about us?

Is the resurrection yet another idle tale taken for granted by modern disciples situated in contexts of luxury and comfort?

Do we have the eyes of wonder and amazement that provoke us to run towards new opportunities to live into the hope we have discovered?

Does our celebration end at midnight on Easter Sunday or continue for the next 50 days of the liturgical season...and every day thereafter?

When new members join our congregations, when confirmands are received, when seminary students are trained, when new pastors are ordained, when seasoned church leaders serve, when all God's people gather and scatter from Easter Sunday worship, do we send these very disciples on full sprints to discover the resurrection as more than an idle tale.

Because resurrection is practiced.

Resurrection has movement.

Resurrection has happened and is happening.

When a youth who has been bullied in previous schools, only to move into a new neighborhood and be received by the local youth ministry as though family- RESURRECTION.

When Honduran youth gather for a workshop to discover how their voice can be celebrated in the work of the church and the transformation of their communities- RESURRECTION.

When a couple struggles for years on end with infertility, is loved on by doctors who are members of the same church, and then witnesses new life through miraculous medical treatments- RESURRECTION.

When young women are rescued from human sex-trafficking rings- RESURRECTION.

When a high school youth uses her weekly wages to pay her way and partner alongside youth in Central America, working together for God's justice, peace, and reconciliation- RESURRECTION.

When marriages are healed, when employment is recaptured, when addicts are liberated, when the terminally sick enter the life after, when family and friends extend comfort in their presence, when a child is adopted, when a youth sprints across the aisle on Easter Sunday to tell her youth pastor her older sister made the middle school softball team- RESURRECTION.

Yep, all of this really happened and happens.

And so did Jesus' rising from the grave on the first day of the new creation week.

That's because resurrection is more than an idle tale. It's a story that's on the move and inviting us to come, follow, and live into it this day and every day.

Let's get moving...can you see it!


*Photo above by Lisle Gwynn, created during Palm Sunday Worship at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 2013.

**The word used here is λῆρος, which means "idle tale or nonsense talking."