Still Wondering?

It’s been a busy two weeks since Easter.  Purple Door Coffee Shop had its first $1000 sales day.  We joined millions of fellow Americans in transcendent awe of a second solar eclipse (what one commentator described as the most non-partisan moment of 2024).  The Rockies. . . well, what can I say?  After losing big (like record-setting big) on opening day, the home opener was a joyous victory capped off by McMahon’s walk-off grand slam home run. Now they’ve settled at the bottom of the division.

I spent last weekend at the Presbyterian learning and retreat center in northern New Mexico–Ghost Ranch—where I’m a new trustee.  Somehow the usual discussions of stretched finances, big vision, and an upcoming capital campaign seemed, well, all right amid the stunning interplay of shadows and light on the high desert backdrop of Georgia O’Keeffe country.  The glorious strains of the Hallelujah Chorus accompanied by brass and organ, the packed church proclaimed Christ risen, the breathtaking beauty of the Resurrection Cross of flowers….are but a memory now in the speed of life happening.

Our text narrates a post-Easter encounter as well. The disciples, still reeling from the death of their Teacher, are holed up in the room where they had celebrated a last Passover supper with him before his betrayal and arrest.  They’ve received messages from some of the women and others that his grave is empty; he is risen. It’s unbelievable.  At least they’re together, and there’s some comfort in that.  I picture the scene at night; the mood is dark and uneasy.  What’s next?  What do they do now?  A reading from the good news according to Luke, in the 24th chapter, verses 36 through 45.   Listen for God’s Word to the church in our post-Easter lives.   [Luke 24:36-48]

I’m not making this up.  Among the email ads I (and presumably many pastors) received during Lent was one from a company touting their AI applications.  The ad read “Need content for Easter?  We’ve got you covered!”  Of all the Sundays I might struggle for content, Easter is not one of them (and frankly I’d like to see how artificial intelligence would handle Jesus’ resurrection…!).

This text is another example of why “content” is not the issue: Jesus appears and shows them his bodily wounds.   He sits down and eats with them.  Over the meal, he explains how their own Scriptures had told them of a suffering savior who would rise again.  And then he commissions them as witnesses to this great, life-changing news.

Friends, the rich content of this text reveals the heart of our faith as a mystery.  Jesus’ appearance does not prove that his dead body was resuscitated; even seeing and touching him, the disciples remained disbelieving and wondering.   And yet, they encountered his living presence; he is real.  And that experience was transformative, moving them out of rooms locked in fear and isolation into bold affirmation that the Crucified One is risen; Love has the last word and life, not death, is human destiny.

What the disciples came to understand is available to us as well.  And I humbly suggest it comes to us through wondering.  Questions, inquiry, search-and-discovery.  An unfolding process that draws upon knowledge including science, yet draws upon deeper knowledge, spiritual realities that go beyond mere intellect.

The verb Luke uses in the verse “[Jesus] opened their minds” is the same one used to describe how the eyes of the disciples were “opened” when Jesus broke bread with them; the same one used throughout the gospel to refer not only to visual sight but insight, inner awareness, spiritual illumination.   I wonder. . . . . and against my tightly-constructed world view that depends on the certainty of belief, a tiny crack is opened.  And we know what that means—that’s how the light gets in.

Not long ago I had a conversation with a member family whose 8-year-old daughter had declared she is an atheist.  Her parents weren’t particularly concerned as her growing mind tries out a variety of personae.  However, her twelve year cousin was not quite as tolerant.  “You are going to be in so much trouble,” the cousin warned. “Grandma is going to be really mad at you!”   The little girl responded “I don’t care.  God loves me anyway.”

Well, yes.  God does.  And that, my friends, is witness to the only good news we’ll ever need.   We hear in it not simply the astonishing Easter testimony of Jesus’ rising.  Our wondering creates a space for wonder.  For the equally astonishing news of our own rising.  The mystery and miracle of God’s love, once embodied in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus—-now it is real in the mystery and miracle of Church, the flawed community of believers and disbelievers, held by grace and an overwhelming conviction about God’s love.  It is for everyone. It’s unconditionally given. It’s generative:  Love births love.   As one of our young people put it: Love spreads to you and everybody.

We can kick fear to the curb.   We can let go of despair into a flood of wonder and hope. Jesus lives!  The worst thing is not the last thing.  Love prevails, and will prevail, and no mortal power —however depraved, however tragic, however resistant—- can overcome it.

We affirm the resurrection not so much when we intone the words of the Apostles’ Creed: I believe in the resurrection of the body but in the way we live.  By the witness we make as Central Presbyterian Church to God’s love, for us; for sweet Maggie whom we just baptized, and her family; for outsiders and elders; for neighbors in need and the wealthy and powerful; for the wounded and hungry; for immigrants and their detractors; for losers and MVPs; for a world in which violence is deemed an acceptable path to peace.

In my office hangs a poster that has informed my faith and practice (however imperfectly) over decades.  Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary use words.   

Friends, time marches on; life happens fast.  Maggie was born in 2019; Covid and a hundred other things delayed her baptism.  Same with our renovation and the interminable length of time it took to complete. It’s been a pleasure to get acquainted with Purple Door staff—young people with some experience of life on the streets, turning themselves into job-ready contributors.   The Rockies I guess will play their season with highs and lows.   We are busy and distracted by many concerns.

May yet this one task stand out: to preach the good news in the most compelling way possible: by demonstrating God’s love and Jesus’ way of life in everything we do, for everyone, every day.