04/17/22 – Practicing Resurrection – Easter Sunday

PRACTICING RESURRECTION

April 17, 2021
Easter Sunday
Acts 10:34-43; Luke 24:1-12
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

For most of my life, when I heard the term “conspiracy theory” I thought of Area 51’s aliens from outer space or the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In more recent years, conspiracy theories abound on any topic evenly mildly controversial. In our environment of mistrust encouraged by fear-mongers with personal agendas, the internet has proliferated innumerable myths to capture the hearts and minds of frightened people. The Covid virus has sparked a plethora of conspiracy theories. One case has recently been dissected to show how such theories begin and persist. The subject is Tiffany Dover, a Tennessee nurse who was one of the first recipients of the Covid vaccine.

Nurse Dover was on live TV when she received the new shot. That would have been intimidating enough to create some anxiety. She fainted a few seconds after her shot. She quickly recovered and explained she has a medical condition that causes her to faint when she has pain or anxiety. This is a common phenomenon. However, 30 seconds after she fainted, word had spread on social media that she had died from receiving the vaccine. The story spread and grew. A few days later, conspiracy theorists supported their announcement that Nurse Dover had died because her social media posts had stopped. In fact, she discontinued her social media page because of the influx of mail she received from people asking her to prove she was still alive; but refused to believe her when she posted she was, indeed, alive. Despite those announcements from her, the Tennessee Police Department, the hospital in Chattanooga where she worked, and a video of her continuing to work her shift at the hospital, there were people who still spread the lie that she was dead. The clipped video posts of her fainting, but not her quick recovery, continued to spread around the globe. Her experience has become a case study of how conspiracy theories spread on social media.

Why did the story spread so quickly only 30 seconds after she fainted?  The answer: People who were anti-vaxxers were watching the newscast in hopes that something would happen to support their ideology. They posted the video of her fainting, but not her recovery seconds later. Why did people continue to believe she had died, despite evidence to the contrary? Perhaps, because their only source of news was their self-selected social media sites or faux news media; or, maybe because they wanted to believe the myth rather than the fact.

In this age of conspiracy theories and national propaganda, one must be a discerning recipient of what is presented as “news.” There are many news stories circulating, which the author of Luke might call “idle tales.” Truth is easier to accept if it is what we expect. What we expect is based on our worldview.

Would we believe the story of Jesus’ resurrection if it occurred today? I doubt it.

The women who came to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body for burial did not expect to find it empty. After the two divine messengers told them Jesus had risen, the women ran to tell the apostles, but the apostles didn’t believe them. It was not until they recognized Jesus in several post-Resurrection encounters and heard similar testimonies from others, that the apostles came to believe. It was Jesus’ post-Resurrection presence that transformed an “idle tale” into a movement that rocked the world. The speed and breadth of this movement, first called “The Way,” is unparalleled in history. Luke, the only gospel writer that wrote a sequel – The book of Acts – tells of Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances to his disciples and to Paul, the Jewish Pharisee, who had persecuted those who professed belief in Jesus as the promised Messiah. Peter and Paul experienced their own resurrections.

But, the point of Easter is not to explain the Resurrection. The gospels do not give us the answer to our “how” questions: how did Jesus come into the world? how did he return from the dead? What the bible does tell us is what this presence meant to the people who experienced it. With his healing, feeding the hungry, his eating with those the self-righteous would not, his revelations about the kingdom of God, Jesus demonstrated God’s love and God’s desire that we love one another. The bible doesn’t tell us how he was resurrected. What the bible does tell us is that Jesus had already taught them how to live resurrected lives. We can’t explain the Resurrection, but we can experience it.

Theologian Jürgen Moltmann, in his book,  Jesus Christ for Today’s World, wrote: “Believing in the resurrection does not just mean assenting to a dogma and noting a historical fact. It means participating in this creative act of God’s … Resurrection is not a consoling opium, soothing us with the promise of a better world in the hereafter. It is the energy for a rebirth of this life. The hope doesn’t point to another world. It is focused on the redemption of this one.”

In our reading from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, we are given an example of Resurrection power. After the Resurrection, Peter, the disciple who denied even knowing Jesus three times on the day of his crucifixion, stood before a crowd and testified to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Peter, with passion and courage, made a public affirmation of his faith and preached a new word of reconciliation. In a world in which people are judged by superficial appearances and self-centered values, Peter declares God shows no partiality. We are all beloved children of God, worthy of dignity, justice, mercy, and compassion.

Peter looked back at Jesus’ ministry and how he lived his life. He experienced the truth of God’s message to him through Christ. Looking back at his pre-resurrection experience with Jesus, he understood how that truth must be lived out in the present. Jesus gave his disciples the blueprint for Resurrection: gathering in worship, studying the scriptures and loving others in the tangible ways he demonstrated his love – healing, including, feeding. Peter was transformed from a confused, unreliable, and timid disciple to a great evangelist. Paul, who encountered the risen Christ on the way to Damascus to persecute Christians, was transformed from a bigoted, self-righteous religious leader to a church-starter. These two benefactors of Resurrection power become the apostles that are credited with the founding of the Church and the Christian faith. That is the Resurrection power that comes from a love that is selfless and unconditional.

Today we see that racism, xenophobia, nationalism, sexism, classism, ageism, and homophobia produce a fearful, self-centered society. Our world has wounds that need to be healed, the brokenness that needs to be made new and whole, an injustice that needs to be rectified, and oppression that needs to be overthrown. Accepting that God’s love and salvation are truly intended for all people, changes the way we perceive the world. It changes what we hope for and how we live into that hope. God showed the world with the sacrificial love Christ demonstrated with his death on the cross and his continuous transformative presence that resurrection happens again and again.

Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury described resurrection power this way:

“The believer’s life is a testimony to the risen-ness of Jesus: he or she demonstrates that Jesus is not dead by living a life in which Jesus is the never-failing source of affirmation, challenge, enrichment, and enlargement.”

We will not experience Christ in the tombs of our fear, anger, and despair. We will find him when we loosen the seals of our tombs and take his hand into the light of our resurrection.

Writer Wendell Berry penned the phrase: “Practice Resurrection.” Here is the last stanza of his poem, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, he writes:

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Theologian and biblical scholar, Eugene Peterson explained: “When we “practice resurrection,” we continuously enter into what is more than we are. When we practice resurrection, we keep company with Jesus, alive and present, who knows where we are going better than we do, which is always “from glory unto glory.”

Reach out for Christ’s resurrection power and live in the spirit of Christ. Practice Resurrection.

All power, honor and glory to our Triune God! Alleluia!

 

 

 

 

© Pastor Denise Clark-Jones, 2022, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church | 1420 W. Moss Ave. | Peoria, Illinois 61606
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