When God is Beyond Our Believing

by susan on March 27, 2016

STAINED-GLASS WINDOW OF THREE WOMEN DISCOVERING CHRIST'S EMPTY TOMBBut on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. – Luke24:1-12, NRSV

What does it mean for you and I to believe this resurrection story?
What does it mean for us to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead?

Truth be told, we have little hard evidence of it. We have very few if any solid details to confirm it, only several conflicting reports…and, we weren’t there to validate any of them.

It’s a bold claim to say we believe this resurrection story. It’s total foolishness to many. Maybe that’s why at one time or another, we’ve all had doubts.

Author & seminary professor, Lauren Winner, recalls the story of her friend Julian’s doubts. Julian was twelve and preparing for confirmation (the catholic process of declaring your belief), when she started having doubts. “A few days before the confirmation service, she told her father – the pastor of the church – she wasn’t sure she could go through with it. She didn’t know that she really believed everything she was supposed to believe, and she didn’t know that she should proclaim in front of the church that she was ready to believe it forever. ‘What you proclaim when you are confirmed’, said Julian’s father, ‘is not that you will believe this forever. What you promise when you are confirmed is that this is the story you will wrestle with forever.” (from Still by Lauren Winner)

Wrestling with resurrection. If we are honest, that better describes what we do:
Wanting to believe, yet not sure how.
desperate to know there is something more,
Hoping for something beyond our chaotic, violent & at times corrupt world,
yet resisting anything that can’t be measured, controlled or categorized.

We know about wrestling with resurrection.
So did those men & women who were the first to encountered it.

women at tombThe women, the first to arrive at the tomb certainly wrestled with their unexpected discovery:
a stone rolled away, no body there to anoint and the appearance of two men in dazzling clothes.

Their initial response is total confusion. They have no idea how to respond to this turn of events. It’s like nothing they have experienced before. Confusion quickly turns to fear. They know what to do with death: you mourn, bring spices to anoint the body. They have no idea what to do with an empty tomb, especially considering all they have just been through.

Before they can even process the scene, these angelic messengers begin asking,“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”

The words of these grave intruders jog the memories of the women. There is something very Jesus-like about this death-defying news. Maybe they can’t pinpoint it exactly, but there is enough there to send them running to tell the disciples.

Well, the disciples think these women have gone crazy, which is what many still think about women who dare to preach the gospel. They call this news an “idle tale” – that’s our translation although the origincal Greek is the word that forms the root of the word delirium. The disciples can’t believe a word these women are saying! Their grief has clearly gotten the best of them.

Just to be sure though, Peter runs to the tomb. And, as if this resurrection account could not get anymore anticlimactic, Peter is amazed by what he finds, yet he runs home and apparently tells no one (??).

Doubt, chaos, confusion and maybe even suspicion surround the resurrection of Jesus,
but thank God, the story doesn’t end here.

Resurrection faith came slow to most of the disciples.
But when it came it changed everything.

The kingdom of God kind of life Jesus taught & lived began to take hold of them.
It consumed them so completely that they were willing to die for it.

Their response to resurrection looked less like a system of beliefs about God and more like:
The hungry being fed.
Possessions being shared.
Strangers being loved & included.
Healing, forgiveness, enemy love & new life being discovered here and now.

When they discovered God wass beyond their believing, the first followers of Jesus did not wait until they had everything figured out. They began to live into this hope-filled reality.

In my own wrestling with resurrection, I have found that more often than not, resurrection experiences happen in tomb-like places – in places I’d rather not be, like at a funeral I attended recently.

Jeff was part of Resurrection Episcopal Church, where his wife Carrie is the pastor. His death was sudden and the cause unknown. As a community gathered to deal with this unexplainable loss, there were prayers prayed, songs sung and a life well celebrated, but one part of the celebration struck me in a powerful way. It was my friend’s entrance into the sanctuary. Just after the casket, she emerged with her head down and shoulders slumped, weeping over her loss. He grief was so heavy that it seemed she would barely make it to her seat.

Yet, as I watched, this group of mourners surrounded her and began to walk in rhythm with her every step. It was like they were carrying her forward in a slow, steady dance. It was so beautiful. In the middle of despair, there was hope & love & signs of life.

More than two thousand years after Christ’s death & resurrection, God’s life-giving presence was being embodied by this community. I left a place of mourning compelled to live more fully.

When I saw my friend a few weeks later, still struggling to cope, she began sharing all the ways this resurrection community had been carrying her. Still weary, she began sharing what she was learning in the valley. Her life was not over. Nothing is impossible with God.

Resurrection is not just a story in a book, it can’t be boiled down to a set of truths.
It’s found & lived all around us.

What will we do when God is beyond our believing?
When God moves beyond our categories and explanations & busts open old ways of thinking,
when nothing seems to make sense anymore,
when God seems absent & out of reach,
when bombs explode & terrism seems to be winning the day,
when the suffering is too much or the blessing too good to be true.

Instead of waiting to figure everything out, would we dare to find a place in this revolutionary story of new life?

Even as we doubt, would we dare to dance, to run, to serve, to share, to stumble our way forward into the life-giving way of Jesus that still holds the power to change everything:

It still speaks hope to the hopeless.
It still welcomes the stranger.
It still prooves love is stronger than hate.
It still whispers and sometimes shouts: He is not here. He is risen!

May it be so on this Ressurection Sunday & every day.

[Images above – Top right: A stained-glass window depicting three women at the tomb of Jesus is seen at St. Peter Church in Albany, NY.  Left: “Women Arriving at the Tomb” by He Qi]

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