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Sunday, January 03, 2010

The New Years and the Resurrection

Texts: Matthew 28, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24, John 20-21

I read all four resurrection stories last night in an attempt to understand what it means to start over. The new year for me is culturally a time of transition when people make resolutions and, enlightened by the joy of Christmas, really want to make some positive changes in their lives: eat healthier food, quit smoking, be kinder to their parents, stop nagging their children, work out so they can live longer and enjoy life more… those sorts of things. And I think this is a good thing. Resolving to change can be a bit like starting over. Revelations can be a bit like second starts. Like being reborn, I guess.

So that’s why I read the resurrection stories. I started off reading the first and second chapter in Matthew: the story of Joseph, Mary and the baby's trek to Egypt. That’s starting over, I thought. A new culture a new language, but it wasn’t what I was looking for. So I headed toward the back of the book.

Matthew’s resurrection story is short sweet and has the treasured Great Commission. Mark’s is even shorter unless you count the longer ending complete with snake-handling, but most scholars don’t, so I skipped that part. Luke has the great story of the two travelers who get the whole biblical story re-told to them - Moses and the prophets - and interpreted for them by none other than Jesus… man I would have like to be a fly on the headdress of one of those guys. What was the point really, Jesus? But after the men reach their destination and Jesus appears to the other disciples Luke also has the sentence I like even more than the Great Commission, that “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all the nations.” Yeah, I thought. Maybe now we’re getting somewhere. So I turned to John, the longest of all the post crucifixion, resurrection texts with several stories of Jesus’ appearance. Like the others you’ve got the women at the tomb, but also the race of Peter and “the loved one.” You’ve got the breathing on the disciples that Pentecostals like to call the baptism of the holy spirit and they breathe into microphones and all sorts of things to pass that spirit onto us today. And there’s the famous “I’ll believe it when I see it” story compliments of Thomas’ doubt. And finally, an outing at sea. It’s this last story that I like the most.

I find it’s read the least out of all resurrection stories. Perhaps because it’s so peculiar. I mean everyone likes the disciples behind locked doors hiding from the Jews and we like the bold women who get to see Jesus first and the ever delinquent male disciples who have to see for themselves or just flat out don’t believe them. We like revealing of the truth exposed to the disciples like scales that shed off your eyeballs. And we like doubting Thomas probably because we relate to him the most.

Resurrection, really?

And then there’s the story of the fishermen.

After the crucifixion and the appearances of Jesus the disciples return to doing what they know how to do best. Like a kid who finishes Summer Camp and then has to go back to school in August, the disciples return from their journey with Jesus to… their fishing boats. I suppose Luke went back to his hospital clinic and Matthew went back to the IRS office and Peter, James, John and Andrew, I guess, joined back up with their partners and went back out to sea with their nets in tow.

With New Year’s Eve, we too come off the high of Christmas. For some, Christmas is terribly depressing, but usually it’s a time when everyone is a little bit nicer, a little more giving, an a little more repentant. From that we move straight into New Year when our culture offers us a great opportunity to take our repentance and really “do” repentance by making resolutions and changing numbers on the calendar, a constant reminder that we have started something new.

Two Thousand and Ten
Twenty Ten
Two Oh One Oh

It’s not 2009, it’s 2010. And for our culture it’s a time to start over, if you will.

Last year, I needed the transition from 2008 into 2009 so badly that I held a funeral for 2008 in my back yard just to make sure it was good and dead.

This year, I don’t feel quite so traumatized by 2009 and so while I’m glad we’re starting a new year, there were parts of 2009 that I’ll actually miss. It was a great year.

But what happens now? And that’s what the disciples faced after Jesus’ ghostly appearances. What now?

“Well, I guess we go back to work.”

And that’s what happens to us too. We have an encounter with Christ and then we have to go back to work. Our lives don’t change as radically as we feel they should. We don’t get new parents or a new city to live in or a new job or a new body or a new wardrobe. What changes is within us. And when the external parts of our world keep on going and we’re standing there wide-eyed and gape-mouthed, at some point we have to push our jaw back into place and go on with our lives.

And that means going back to work.

“Cast your nets on the other side,” Jesus called to them.

Returning to work after an encounter with Jesus can mean doing things a little differently.

“Come have breakfast with me,” Jesus invited them.

Taking a break in our busy lives for communion with Jesus can be necessary for nourishment.

“What is that to you what I do with your friend’s life?” Jesus asked of Peter.

Following Jesus doesn’t mean making comparisons between you and others in your community, neither does it mean passing judgment on them.

It’s pretty easy to spiritualize this text as I’ve just done. And it’s pretty easy to just leave it alone, write it off as one of those strange resurrection texts. But the disciples had to carry on just like you and I carry on. So how did they do it? How were they changed by their encounter with the risen Christ?

We read some of that in Acts, and we gather information about how life went on from some of Paul’s letters. But other than that, we don’t know.

And in our lives we know that, like the writer of John says at the end of his last chapter, “there are also many other things that Jesus did.” And it’s true. Isn’t that why most of us are here (in Sunday School at church) today? Isn’t that why we got up early on our day off and put on high heels as uncomfortable as they may be. Isn’t that why you attend church and participate in mission projects even though our Austin culture prefers secular humanism to what they see as quaint, Christian religiosity? Most of us could say, yes, there are also many other things that Jesus has done.

And that’s why we’re here, trying to figure out what it means to live in the world after being radically changed by Jesus Christ. What now?

And that’s what New Year’s has reminded me of: to put it in religious terms, my conversion or my continual process of conversion. This time of the year reminds me of what it means to start over in our hearts and minds, but carry on living in the same world as before.

And so I leave you with a couple of questions (just in case resolving to go to the gym every day weren’t enough of a burden).

If you found God (who was there all along) as an adult, what are some of the ways it changed how you lived? This isn’t a “look at what a good Christian I am” opportunity to gloat, but a chance to reflect.

If you chose God again as an adult (grew up in the church but took some time off in college and maybe for a while after), how did that change how you lived? What made you re-choose Christ? How did that affect you?

If you grew up in the church and have never really not known and loved God, how do you distinguish between the world and Christ’s spirit in the world? If you don’t know the world apart from Christ, how does that affect how you live? How do you get energy to keep seeking newness and goodness when you were never really apart from it?

1 comment:

James E. Snapp, Jr. said...

Hi Ann,

That was a nice devotional thought for the new year.

I would invite you, though, not to surrender to groupthink, and to engage Mk. 16:9-20 along with the other resurrection-accounts. (The prediction about snakes is no more of a problem than Lk. 10:19.)

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.