Saturday, April 22, 2017

The meaning of the resurrection

John 20.19-29, Romans 8.31-39
We often wonder what the story of Jesus’ resurrection is telling us about life after death. But there’s another question we should ask, what’s it telling us about life here and now? 

We believe that God became human in Jesus. That means God shared everything we experience, including birth and death. Yet the story of the resurrection reminds us that becoming human, and subject to human weakness and suffering, cannot diminish God. Even dying, while it's very final, cannot be the end of God. 

So rather than asking what God becoming human reveals about God’s nature, we can also ask what God becoming human, and dying and rising with us, reveals about human nature. I think it expands our horizons beyond this life and our understanding of what human existence can be like right now. 

First, God becoming human shows us that the human body can be infused with God’s presence. Incredible as it may seem, our bodies are capable of being God’s dwelling place or Temple. He is with us, dwelling in our bodies, through everything that happens to us, in all our living, and our dying. 
The resurrection simply takes this on to the next stage of existence. God is still with us, or we are with God, inseparable from him as St Paul puts it, even in what comes next after death when our bodily life ceases. 
Second, the wounds that Jesus suffered on the Cross are clearly central to Thomas’s understanding of what it means for God to continue to be with us both in this life and beyond death. Even before he sees the risen Jesus Thomas makes the wounds the key test of what God overcoming death must be like. Without them the Jesus whom the disciples have seen in his absence cannot be the real thing, only a spectral imprint of his former self, left behind when he died, like a ghost. 
His wounds confirm what we learned on Good Friday, that believing in Jesus is not a lucky talisman which protects us from harm. Resurrection doesn’t turn back the clock and undo all the bad things that have happened in the past. Jesus is not like Jairus’s daughter, or Lazarus, or the Widow of Nain’s son. He’s not been given another chance to live the rest of his life as if nothing had gone wrong. 
In the immortal words of Mr Spock of Star Trek fame, the resurrection is, ‘Life Jim, but not as we know it!’ It’s life in a different dimension, that doesn’t prevent death from happening but transcends it. 
In times past people used to swear oaths on ‘God‘s wounds’, the wounds suffered by Jesus on the Cross. Even in our much freer society, where almost anything goes, swearing on God’s wounds seems distasteful so the oath has fallen out of use, except in Shakespeare's plays. But it was a reminder that although God can’t be diminished by death he’s certainly not unscathed by it. God can bleed, just like us. And God carries scars, just as we do. 
It’s often said that God is changeless, but the wounds inflicted on Jesus when he was crucified contradict that idea. They must have changed him. They not only changed his outward appearance, but they also show us that God is powerfully affected by what happens. Where there are physical scars there must be emotional scars too. Perhaps God experiences post traumatic stress even if he isn't disordered by it.
The wounds are a visible reminder that God continues to be affected by suffering because he still enters into our suffering and pain. One of our older hymns describes his wounds as sweet injuries because they reveal the depth and the enduring character of God’s love and commitment, to be alongside us in all that life might bring. 
And that brings us to final thing which the resurrection teaches us, perhaps especially but not exclusively in his appearance to Thomas. It teaches us that the Good News about Jesus being human can never be reduced to a set of beliefs which we’re just asked to accept in our hearts. 
As Thomas instinctively realised, to be real - and certainly to have real impact - it must have tangible outcomes. We must be able to touch and feel the Good News.
Princess Diana showed this when she held hands with someone dying from AIDS. In that simple act she recognised that it was meaningless to say that people with HIV or AIDS should be treated normally. She had to live the message. She had to take the gloves off and hold out her hand. 
For the Good News about Jesus to be real today it has to be incarnated, or resurrected, in us. It has to come to life, and be lived out, in what we do. Someone has said that we should never imagine helping other people, or caring for them, is just a warm-up act for the real task of winning their hearts and minds for Christ. That would undermine the very heart of the Good News itself, which is that God took on human nature in order to touch us, and heal us, and share with us in our moments of deepest need. 
The risen Jesus never appeared to anyone without asking them to do something. The resurrection is a call to serve others and give ourselves for them, as Jesus gave himself for us. As someone else has said, ‘The only way to interpret the Christian message for today’s world is to live it.’ But hasn’t that always been the case?

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