Living the Resurrection in a Good Friday World

Carol Jacobson—April 14, 2010

Readings:
Acts 5:27–32
Psalm 150/6
Revelation 1:4–8
John 20:19–31

O God of life, you reach out to us amid our fears with the wounded hands of your risen Son. By your Spirit’s breath revive our faith in your mercy, and strengthen us to be the body of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

You know, it’s not just Jesus of Nazareth who gets his life back on Easter Day. John tells us that on Easter evening, the frightened, grief-stricken disciples get Jesus back, and because of his presence there in that locked room, and because of his words to them, they get their own lives back too. It’s almost as if those disciples have been holding their breath since Good Friday. Locking the doors. Living in fear. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. “Peace be with you,” Jesus says. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” he says. Does this mean they can start breathing again?

And, no matter what Thomas does or does not see on that Easter evening—regardless of what Thomas does or does not believe about what the other disciples tell him—Jesus was dead, but now it seems he is alive again. Nobody expected that—not the disciples in the upper room, not Thomas, perhaps not even Jesus himself. Nevertheless, and in spite of all expectations to the contrary, Jesus is alive, and he finds a way through those locked doors—on Easter evening and one week later too. Jesus finds a way to pry open the grip that Good Friday has had on his disciples and on his beloved Thomas too—by letting him touch his wounds, In so doing, Jesus gives Thomas his life back. Thomas can start breathing again. And his “exhale” is a most amazing one at that. It is a powerful testimony. “My Lord and my God,” he says.

So, when Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have come to believe,” I think he does so knowing that Thomas surely will not be the last person to get his or her life back as a result of his resurrection. After the cross, after the empty tomb, after the vision of angels, and after the outpouring of the risen Christ’s Spirit, there is no going back to the same old life—not for Jesus, not for Thomas, not for any of the disciples in that upper room.

Now consider the author of Revelation. Long after Easter day, he too has gotten his life back on account of Jesus’ resurrection. And, as difficult as it may be to equate getting one’s life back with ending up exiled to the middle of nowhere, the fact is that Jesus’ resurrection has landed John right where he is—alone—and inside a life that he would not have chosen and presumably could not have imagined for himself. Jesus is alive, and among other things that means that even on Patmos John lives out of an understanding of God and a vision of God’s kingdom that Jesus’ death and resurrection have shown forth for the world to see. Because God raised Jesus from the dead, John has been telling anybody who would listen that Jesus is Lord and the Roman emperor is not—that the peace of the risen Lord is life-giving and the pax Romana is not.

God opens Jesus’ tomb on Easter day and look what happens: it is not just Jesus’ life but Thomas’ life also that is restored. And that is just the beginning, apparently. God raises Jesus from death and John of Patmos has a vision of a new heaven and a new earth breaking forth—a vision in which death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more. Before the events of Good Friday and Easter morning, Thomas’ testimony and John’s vision would not have made much sense. After the events of Good Friday and Easter morning, though, I think they begin to.

Or consider yourselves. God opens Jesus’ tomb on Easter day and because of this, you find yourself having relocated—perhaps even across the country or across the sea—away from friends and family. Here you are—being assigned to vocations, tasks, and sometimes even to synods[!] that you could never have imagined at one time. Jesus is alive and that means that you have received your life back, but it’s anything but the same old life you once imagined for yourself. Which leads me to ponder the questions—why and how so? How is it exactly that Jesus’ cross and resurrection restore our lives? What changes, exactly?

Let’s look back at the text from Revelation. “Grace to you and peace,” John writes, from “the one who is and who was and who is to come…and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth” (vs. 4b-5a). In the same way that Thomas’ understanding of who God is has to change after his meeting with the wounded and risen Jesus—causing Thomas to testify that Jesus IS in fact his Lord and his God—so I think John of Patmos’s understanding of who God is has changed in the face of cross and resurrection as well. Thomas recognized his wounded and risen rabbi as God, and John of Patmos sees in his wounded and risen Lord a “faithful witness, the firstborn of all the dead, and the ruler above all earthly rulers” (vs. 5a) Jesus’ cross and resurrection make him a faithful witness to who God really is—a God “who loves us, has freed us from our sins, and made us to be a kingdom.” (vs. 5b-6). I think this can help us answer, at least in part, how the cross and resurrection give us our lives back. The events of Good Friday and Easter Day have pulled back the curtain, so to speak, revealing something unexpected about who God really is to them and also to us. God is the One who loves us to the end. God is the One who frees us from death by dying. And God is the One who makes of Thomas and John and you and me members of the king’s household. Jesus’ cross and resurrection have a powerful and effective revelatory capacity—that is, they show us more fully who God is, and what the realities of the world are. Once the curtain has been pulled back, we can’t go back, even if we try.

But this is no pie in the sky kind of revelation or unveiling about who God is. After all, torture and the death stand right in the middle of it. And like Thomas and John of Patmos, you and I are called to proclaim a God of grace, peace, and resurrection in a Good Friday world that is still holding its breath, still enthralled with war and still trapped inside endless cycles of individual and institutional self-justification. Because God has opened Jesus’ tomb, and has shown us who he really is, so to speak—you and I are committed to becoming a community of servants in the midst of a world desperate to serve its own interests.

It is still a Good Friday world. This we know very well. Death still comes for us all. Hans fell to his death for no reason. Friends still betray one another, and brothers and sisters in Christ still shun us when we need them most. So much loss, so much injustice, so much suffering—it’s enough to make us feel like locking ourselves away from it all, holding our breath as we wait for the other shoe to drop. The violence and greed in our culture test our faith, sometimes in shocking and unexpected ways. Barack Obama expressed the complexity of practicing Easter faith in a Good Friday world this way in a meeting Tuesday with 90 Christian clergy from a variety of denominations. “It’s not easy,” he wrote, “to purge these afflictions, to achieve redemption. But as Christians, we believe that redemption can be delivered—by faith in Jesus Christ. And the possibility of redemption can make straight the crookedness of a character; make whole the incompleteness of a soul. Redemption makes life, however fleeting here on Earth, resound with eternal hope” (Barack Obama, cited at politicsdaily.com, 6 April 2010).

Because Jesus’ grave is empty and because he is alive, we can begin to breathe again, to speak up again about what God is up to in the world, and to testify to who we know God finally to be—the One who loves us, the One who frees us, and the One who gives us our lives back—lives in, but not of, this Good Friday world. Because Jesus is alive, our broken world also resounds with hope—an eternal hope inaugurated at the foot of the cross and at the entrance to an empty tomb. This kind of hope is indeed “the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” Amen.