In a recent essay, Nora Gallagher talks about practicing Resurrection. It is a splendid phrase, “practicing resurrection”. She wonders whether we spend too much time in the church discussing whether we believe in the resurrection or do not believe in the resurrection. By doing this, she thinks, we may miss the point.
She writes: “When I think about the resurrection now, I not only wonder about what happened to Jesus, I wonder what happened to his disciples. Something happened to them, too. They went into hiding after the crucifixion, but after the resurrection appearances, they walked back out into the world. They became braver and stronger, they visited strangers, and healed the sick. It was not just what they saw when they saw Jesus, or how they saw it, but what was set free in them. What if the resurrection is not about the appearances of Jesus alone, but also about what those appearances point to. It’s finally what we do with them that matters; make them into superstitions or use them as stepping stones to new life. Maybe resurrection, like everything else, needs to be practiced.”
At the beginning of the Lenten season Christians are encouraged to choose a particular discipline to practice during that forty day time. One might choose the spiritual practice of meditation, forgiveness, attending a retreat, daily prayers or worshiping in church every Sunday rather than only on special occasions. It is an odd phrase isn’t it, though I agree we ought to practice resurrection.
My mother, bless her heart, was very determined that my two brothers and I should each learn to play a musical instrument. Now you know nothing magical happened when at the age of about eight years I first sat down on our piano bench with a “Learn to Play the Piano Beginners Edition” in front of me. Thus began nearly nine years of daily practice, practice, practice. I can still hear my mother’s voice reminding me, “Lorraine, it’s time to practice your piano lessons.” It’s true, resurrection like everything else, needs to be practiced.
It does seem like in so many ways, people are longing for the practice of resurrection in their lives. A widow whose husband died at a much too early age. A neighbor searching for a new job fearing his ability to cope with new challenges. A dear friend who falls into deep clinical depression and struggles to live through the day. In so many ways, so many people are longing for new life, for the practice of resurrection.
I suppose one could say that the women who arrived at the empty tomb on that first Easter morning really needed to practice resurrection. Think about it. They had gone to the tomb on that morning to attend to Jesus’ body. This was to be the last, loving service they could do for their Lord. They had witnessed Jesus’ death. They knew there was not time for a proper burial. So they came with spices to complete the burial rites. Their beloved Lord was dead. They could at least perform this one last act of love for him.
And yet their hearts must have been heavy. Their life with Jesus was over. The one whose call had been irresistible, the one whose service was like no other service they had ever known, now lay lifeless in a tomb. And there must have been fear mixed in, with their grief. Not just the fear of death. But the fear that all their hopes and dreams had died along with Jesus, that they too lay lifeless in the grave. This is what happens to love in the world. They had known perfect love in Jesus, and the world had killed him. The world can sometimes be a cruel and fearsome place.
But something amazing happened when they reached the tomb. When they arrived there they entered into the place of death. And yet, what did they find when they entered this place of death? Nothing. No thing. No body. Nothing.
We are told that they were perplexed when they did not find the body, which is understandable because they thought their story with Jesus was over and his dead body was the final period. But the angel reminded them that this is not the end of the story. The angel said, ”Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners. And be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”
They needed to be reminded of resurrection. But then they needed to practice resurrection. They needed to go and tell all this to all the rest of the disciples. They got the good news that Christ is risen from the dead, and now they needed to change from people who perform rites for the dead to apostles who bear witness to the living Lord. They needed to practice resurrection. They needed to change from people who are fearful and frightened to people who boldly proclaim that God’s life is stronger than any hate. That God’s peace is more powerful than human violence.
So they practiced on the disciples. They told all they had seen and heard to the eleven and all the rest. And it must be said, they were a little slow on the uptake. The words of the women seem to them to be an idle tale. But they eventually got it, ad together with those first women, they became a courageous group of apostles who changed the world.
The good news of Easter is that Jesus Christ, who was crucified, has been raised from the dead. This belief, this truth, this resurrection, changes everything. Cruelty is not the last word. Sin and evil are not the ultimate powers of the universe. Death does not get the final laugh. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Forgiveness and love and life are the final realities of the world. Jesus Christ is risen today. The power of God is stronger than any tomb. Jesus Christ has risen.
The good new of Easter is not only that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead and lives now, but also that the power of the resurrection can transform our lives now as well. New life is possible, now, here, today. But for that to happen we need not only to be reminded of resurrection, but also to practice resurrection.
Is it possible to practice resurrection in our own cities and streets? Can we, like those first women who came to the tomb, practice resurrection in our own lives?
Practice is the doing of our faith. It is not about believing. It is a way of life practiced in the world which awakens us to God and others. The promise of Easter is that we can do this. We don’t need to be reminded of the truth of the resurrection over and over again. The truth of Easter is that the promise of new life doesn’t just await us in the future, but that we are able to live new lives, here and now, by the power of the resurrection.
Yes, the resurrection, like everything else, needs to be practiced.
Attributed: The Rev. Dr. Joseph S. Pagano