If Paul, Ananias and Peter were here today, we would tell them we were sharing stories of resurrection. We would tell them all about Easter, and how it has become this annual remembrance of Jesus’ death and resurrection, among other things, and that for this season in the life of our congregation, we are talking about how we experience resurrection in our lives – how we see life coming from death, hope born out of despair.
We would tell them about last week, and how we heard stories from Sue, Dee, Cyndi and Dick, stories of faith and of life changing, joy growing out of pain, stories of great tragedy and loss and of new, different, surprising life emerging out of those places. And if they were here today, we’d ask them to share their stories of resurrection.
And they might look at us quizzically, they might wonder what we mean- we followers of Christ who believe not having seen, we followers of Christ who have known only the Risen Christ, who encounter Christ in the world in hidden and surprising ways, and who have been the Body of Christ with and for each other. They might look at us and wonder what we mean, resurrection.
And then a light might go on, and they might share their story – each one different, but each one a glimpse for all of us of how resurrection happens, because each one is an encounter with the Resurrected Christ, with the Risen One himself, it is not resurrection as an idea or a theory, not resurrection as something we do, but Resurrection as a person, as in “The Resurrection and the Life,” Resurrection as in Jesus Christ coming face to face with YOU, and your life changing because of it.
We saw Mary’s encounter with the Risen Lord- she went to care for his dead body, she went in resignation. She didn’t believe the empty tomb, she didn’t believe the angels, she didn’t believe Christ himself - didn’t know him, until she heard him call her name, heard her own name in his voice, and then she recognized him. That was her moment, her encounter with the Risen Lord. And the disciples who chatted with him all along the road to Emmaus didn’t believe, they didn’t think life was possible after death until they saw this stranger break bread at dinner with them as he had done before, and their eyes were opened to the Risen Christ.
Thomas’s resurrection story came next, and we saw that when he came across the story of Jesus’ resurrection as told by others it wasn’t enough for him – he had given so much, committed so deeply, and was so disillusioned by the loss of it all, by the loss of him, that he needed to see Jesus for himself. He needed to touch him. And Jesus appeared to him, and showed himself to Thomas, and let Thomas touch the wounds, and told Thomas to believe. And he did.
And today we are hearing more resurrection stories. Stories of encounter with the Risen Lord.
The first is Paul – who was known as Saul at that time. His story is a complete 180 – the drama-filled testimony of a former drug-dealer, or a wealthy corporate cheat who finds Jesus and overnight his whole life is different, the kind of testimony that packs stadiums and sells books. He had made it his mission in life to stamp out this movement and rid the world of Jesus-followers. Until God knocked him to the ground and left him blind and helpless, at the mercy of those he had come to destroy.
Paul’s resurrection story bumps up against another story of resurrection, Ananias – a follower of Jesus, one of those in Damascus who had dreaded Saul’s arrival. He already believes in resurrection, has committed his life to the way of Jesus, but then God tells Ananias that he is supposed to go find Saul where he is staying, and pray for him, in Jesus’ name. Probably the most fearful thing he can imagine, a stupid, dangerous thing. But he does it. And the scales fall from Saul’s eyes – and Ananias’ too – and Saul is baptized, then he stays a while with this small group of Christians – much to everyone’s great amazement – and the resurrected Christ is encountered again as they become for him the community of faith, the Body of Christ.
Then we have Peter. Dear Peter: heartbroken, shattered, finished Peter – his last encounter with Jesus was to deny ever knowing him – three times, right in front of him – before Jesus was killed. Peter had gone back to fishing. It was all he could do. And Jesus appears to them, and once again, nobody recognizes him until he does something so Jesus-like, something so familiar, something out of their own relationship and experience of him, he tells them to put the net to the other side and it comes up busting with fish.
Peter panics with excitement, and even though they are fairly close to shore, he puts on his heavy clothes and leaps in the water – one can only presume panting into shore after the boat had already landed. And Peter’s resurrection story – just like each one of the others – was exactly what Peter needed.
It spoke right to the place of death within him, the place where all hope was gone, and it stirred up that place, painfully healing it.
“Do you love me?” "Yes, Jesus, I do love you." I’m sorry I denied knowing you! I am so sorry!
“Then feed my sheep."
"Do you love me, Peter?"
Oh Jesus! I do love you, you know that I do!
"Then care for my lambs."
"Peter, do you love me?"
Oh God! What are you doing to me? I love you, I’m sorry, please!
And he looked at him right in the eye and said to him, “Feed. My. Sheep.” Three times you denied me, three times you are forgiven. You are restored Peter, you are called. You are more than forgiven, you have a part to play, I trust you to care for what is mine, I trust you to be part of what I am doing. I need you. You’ve known the darkness within, you’ve known brokenness and sorrow and you’ve even denied me – whom you love more than any other- you are the one that I choose. Feed my sheep.
And he does.
In the weeks that follow we will hear more resurrection. More stories of encounters with the Risen Christ. Stories of Jesus going right to the place of death, standing in the place of emptiness and calling us to see him there. Calling us by name, calling us from the places we’ve known the love of God, places that deep inside ourselves recognize grace reaching out to us because we’ve seen Jesus like that before.
Resurrection stories begin in death, in the place where fear lives, and where anger breeds, the place where impossibility resides. Those are the places Jesus goes.
Places, Paul would say, where we’ve built up our own power over against others, so convinced of being right, and often in God’s name, that we mistreat others and bully Christ himself in our arrogance. Jesus goes there. Sometimes knocking us on our face, disorienting us and showing us ourselves and our actions as they truly are, and then giving us a chance to experience mercy through the love and acceptance of others – often the very others we’ve called enemy.
Places, Peter would add, where we haven’t forgiven ourselves, where we’ve stayed in the darkness of the wrongs we’ve done against others and written ourselves out of the story, Jesus goes there. He sees who we are, forgives what we’ve done, restores us, claims us, aligns himself with us, and gives us a purpose and a calling.
Places, Ananias would describe, where we’ve closed the door of possibility – labeled people or circumstances unreachable, irreversible, impossible, Jesus goes there. Breaks our stereotypes and challenges our fears and invites us to join in the kingdom of God unfolding in surprising people and unexpected ways.
This is how Resurrection happens. And it is happening all around us.
So this week, in our own lives and in this world – for which we are called and to which we are sent- watch for the Resurrected One.