Wembley Downs Uniting Church
Resuscitation vs Resurrection (Revd David Robinson) 6.4.2008
Readings: Acts 2: 14a, 36-41, Luke 24: 13-35
Over the Easter period the media shows a lot of interest in what the Churches are doing and saying– and especially if the views expressed are at all controversial. The Anglican Dean of Perth, Dr Sheppard, was quoted as rejecting the idea of a physical resurrection and he was partly supported by his Archbishop. The Bishop of the North West entered the argument by insisting on a physical resurrection and gave strong approval to all the different accounts in the Gospel. Then the Bishop of Bunbury said that the Archbishop had been misunderstood and stated that Easter was not about resuscitation but about resurrection – not a dead body being revived but a new body being created. A former politician accused Dr Sheppard of undermining the faith of his parishioners and a retired Bishop came to the defence of Dr Sheppard on the basis that many people appreciated a less fundamentalist interpretation of the Easter story. The more I have thought about that controversy the more I find myself on the side of the Bishop of Bunbury in that there is something very mysterious about the appearances of Jesus to the disciples. Today we had read to us the story of what happened as two people walked from Jerusalem to Emmaus – we are not told who they were except that it seems that they were close followers of Jesus. One is given the name Cleopas – perhaps the other was his wife. We just don’t know, but what we do know is that they did not recognise Jesus. Even when the stranger walking with them explained the significance of the scriptures they didn’t know who it was – it was only when he broke bread with them that their eyes were opened and they recognised him – but then Jesus immediately vanished from their sight. The different appearance of Jesus is a factor at other times as well – Mary Magdalene at the tomb thought that she was speaking to the gardener and it took the disciples a while to realise that the mysterious figure on the beach was Jesus. Jesus is said to have the ability to appear and disappear – including being able to come into a locked room – but, at the same time, to be able to display wounds to Doubting Thomas and to share a meal at Emmaus and on the beach. It isn’t possible to reconcile all of these recorded events except on the basis that in resurrection Jesus was exhibiting a new life and a new body – similar to his body before death but also different. I believe that following his crucifixion Jesus did return in a way that, in spite of their doubts, in the end absolutely convinced the disciples that death had been defeated and that they had present with them a risen Lord. For those disciples and for many others this was and remains a great mystery but for me it isn’t a mystery than confuses but one that engenders faith and hope. That was certainly the case for many who heard the testimony of the apostles ‘Let the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.’( Acts 2: 36. Many of those who heard these words responded in such a way that they were prepared to share everything they had with one another and, in their turn, spread this news so widely that, in a comparatively short period of time, Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire. And this was far more than words – the carriers of the good news were prepared to risk their lives – not only in that early period but in many of the generations since then. No one can prove that the resurrection took place, or even give a coherent account of what form it took, but we can certainly see what the effects of such a belief has had, and continues to have, on the lives of ordinary people. A hundred years before Martin Luther the Czechslovac reforming priest John Hus, influenced by the teaching of Wycliffe, challenged the way the Church was trying to prevent people reading the Bible in their own language. He was arrested, imprisoned and tortured and then given the last chance to save his life by recanting. Instead when being burnt alive in Constance he said ‘In the truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught and preached I will die with gladness’ In one of the great tragic ironies of human history copies of Wycliffe’s bibles were used as kindling for the fire. The issue of the resurrection has been a source of discussion, argument and controversy down through the centuries – and even amongst those who claim that they have actually met the risen Christ. When Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth he made the claim that Jesus had appeared to him and then went on to say that our human bodies die as a physical body but are raised as a spiritual body – in the language of very memorable poetry Paul declares that we shall be changed so that the perishable becomes imperishable and the mortal become immortal. In a very real sense Paul struggles to put into words what is profoundly a mystery and those words have been interpreted in many and various ways. One lady told me that she was absolutely delighted that Paul had said that her dog would be with her in heaven – a conclusion she had drawn from Paul’s words ‘not all flesh is alike, but there is one kind for men, another for animals, another for birds and another for fish’ I have no doubt that following his crucifixion the followers of Jesus became convinced that he had broken the power of death and that in a mysterious yet real way he was still with them. John Hus has many companions in every century who have made the same discovery – before our time Francis of Assisi, John Wesley, C S Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (together with many others who were imprisoned at the same time) and in our time Arthur Stace who became so famous for his writing of ‘Eternity’ on the streets of Sydney that ‘Eternity’ became the centre piece of the millenium celebration on the Sydney Harbour bridge. John Button wrongly imprisoned for manslaughter had a life transforming experience while in prison and became a member of the Churches of Christ. But there is another group of people who have been fortunate enough to grow up in a family where Christian faith was as natural as the air they breathed – they may never have had a dramatic conversion experience, they don’t necessarily believe that every word of the Bible is literally true – and yet their Christian conviction and commitment is very deep and very real. They too may be inspired by the saints of old but they know from personal experience that Jesus is alive and willing to walk with them. They may not worry overmuch about how the resurrection took place for they are content to live with a mystery which enlightens them rather than being a source of speculation or confusion.
130 Calais Road, (crnr of Minibah Street)
Wembley Downs, Western Australia.
Phone 08 9245 2882
Ten kilometres northwest of Perth city centre,
set amongst the suburbs of City Beach, Churchlands, Scarborough, Wembley Downs and Woodlands