Breathed into Resurrection Community: A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter, 2018


 Are you tired of this weather already? Snow last week, snow forecast for tonight and tomorrow morning, bitter cold. It feels more like February than April, and while we didn’t have a particularly hard winter, this prolonged cold has put me in a rather bad mood, and I’ve got a persistent cough. The daffodil and tulip bulbs that we carefully planted last fall and nursed throughout the winter in the garage that are intended  to go in our window boxes are in full bloom, but they’re in the house, not outside, because it’s just too cold for them. Continue reading

Discipleship and Resurrection: A Sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, 2016


We are in Easter tide—the fifty days following Easter Sunday that ends on Pentecost. And although Easter is the Church’s commemoration of our very reason for being, for the most part, we don’t take much notice of it, certainly not in our individual spiritual lives. While Lent is a time for reflection, repentance, and fasting, there are few, if any devotional traditions surrounding the season of Easter. That’s why, if you’re interested, some young adults in our area, led by Fr. Jonathan Melton, chaplain of St. Francis House UW, put together a devotional for the fifty days of Easter. We might reflect on how our personal spiritual lives might be different if we consciously and attentively focused on the joy of resurrection during these 50 days of Easter—the joy of a Risen Christ, but also our hope for resurrection, for the bringing together of body and soul in new beings, new creations, made alive through Christ, remade in God’s image. Continue reading

Poetry for Easter: Seven Stanzas for Easter by John Updike

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

John Updike, 1960.

NT Wright on the Resurrection

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Jn 21:16

There is a whole world in that question, a world of invitation and challenge, of the remaking of a human being after disloyalty and disaster, of the refashioning of epistemology itself, the question of how we know things, to correspond to the new ontology, the question of what reality consists of. The reality that is the resurrection cannot simply be “known” from within the old world of decay and denial, of tyrants and torture, of disobedience and death.

And this is the point where believing in the resurrection of Jesus suddenly ceases to be a matter of inquiring about an odd event in the first century and becomes a matter of rediscovering hope in the twenty-first century. Hope is what you get when you suddenly realize that a different worldview is possible, a worldview in which the rich, the powerful, and the unscrupulous do not after all have the last word. The same worldview shift that is demanded by the resurrection of Jesus is the shift that will enable us to transform the world.

NT Wright, Surprised by Hope, HarperCollins, 2008, pp. 72, 75

N.T. Wright on the Resurrection and the gift of the Spirit

But I know that God’s new world of justice and joy, of hope for the whole earth, was launched when Jesus came out of the tomb on Easter morning, and I know that he calls his followers to live in him and by the power of his Spirit and so to be new-creation people here and now, bringing signs and symbols of the kingdom to birth on earth as in heaven. The resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit mean that we are called to bring real and effective signs of God’s renewed creation to birth even in the midst of the present age.

N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church

A garden of grief and resurrection: A Homily for Easter, 2014

Yesterday morning, my wife and I came downtown at about 8:30 am. I was coming to participate in our brief and moving liturgy for Holy Saturday. Corrie was going to participate in one of Madison’s annual rituals: the first Dane County Farmer’s Market of the season. As we were driving, I remarked to Corrie as I was looking at the bare trees and the few signs of new life in people’s yards and gardens, that it was hard to believe it was April 19. After a long, hard winter, it’s still not quite clear that spring has arrived. Perhaps by tomorrow the bulbs will be begin to bloom. But who knows? It might snow, too. Continue reading

Mortals, Can these bones live? A Homily for the Great Vigil of Easter, 2014

“Mortal, can these bones live?”

It’s a wonderful passage of scripture, powerfully evocative of resurrection and new life, full of earthy and eerie images. The reading from Ezekiel 37 practically shouts itself out and as a lector, it’s hard not to succumb to the temptation to add one’s own dramatic effects. We imagine ourselves Lawrence Olivier, or Maggie Smith, or Morgan Freeman declaiming it from the stage. Continue reading

Resurrection: It’s not about zombies! A Sermon for Proper 27, Year C

Every Sunday evening these past few weeks, my Twitter feed and facebook page have filled up with messages about a TV show called The Walking Dead. Given that many of those I follow on Twitter are younger and hipper than me, perhaps that’s not surprising. What did surprise me was when an Episcopal bishop I know declared on twitter and facebook that he was settling down this past Sunday night to watch the current episode. In case you don’t know, and I only know thanks to social media, The Walking Dead is something of a cult hit. It’s about a zombie apocalypse. A guy wakes up in his hospital bed and discovers that everyone is either dead or has become a zombie. I watched an episode yesterday so I could talk about it and I’ll admit that I used to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and when I was a teenager I loved the Creature double feature on Saturday late night TV that was hosted by the Ghoul. Our culture, film and tv are awash with tales of the undead, vampires, werewolves, and zombies. We seem to be fascinated by the prospects of life after death, even if we find it hard to believe in it. Continue reading

Resurrection and the Authority of Scripture: Lectionary Reflections for Proper 27, Year C

This week’s readings are here.

The Gospel reading this week is one of the most interesting pericopes in any of the gospels. It offers a view into the world of first-century Judaism and the lively debates that were occurring over the nature of scripture, of scriptural authority, and of the doctrine of the resurrection.

First, a little background. Jesus has come to the end of his lengthy journey to Jerusalem (it began back in chapter 9 of Luke’s gospel; for us it began back in June). We’ve jumped over the Triumphal Entry and the Cleansing of the Temple. Luke has returned to Mark’s chronology here and like Mark, he has Jesus teaching in the Temple. As he teaches, he is confronted by various groups of his opponents–Pharisees, for example. They pose questions to him, they are seeking to trap him in some way so they can bring him up on charges.

In this week’s gospel, the group challenging Jesus are the Sadducees. They are aristocratic, well-connected, conservative. It’s likely that they are among the chief beneficiaries of Roman rule. As leaders of the Temple cult, they are also in position to benefit economically from their position. We know relatively little about them; in fact, much of our knowledge derives from what the gospel writers tell us in this incident. They reject the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. It’s also the case that they believe only the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible are authoritative. That narrow understanding of scripture helps to explain why they reject the doctrine of the resurrection. It’s very hard to find evidence for that doctrine in the Pentateuch.

They come to Jesus trying to force him to take sides on the resurrection (it’s common belief among the Pharisees, for example). So they use the example of Levirate marriage; the custom that if a man dies without an heir, his brother is obligated to marry the widow and provide an heir.

Jesus doesn’t take the bait (he never does in these confrontations). He points out that life in the age to come is qualitatively different than life in this age–that there is no marriage, or taking in marriage. It’s interesting, though, how he argues against the Sadducees. He quotes from Exodus (one of the books of Torah), to make the case that “God is the God of the living and not the dead.” He appeals to Exodus because the Sadducees consider it authoritative. Had he quoted this week’s reading from Job, or any of the other texts in the Hebrew Bible that seem to imply resurrection, the Sadducees would not have considered it valid because they didn’t think those texts were authoritative.

What makes this text so interesting is that it opens up the internal debate within first-century Judaism over the nature of scripture, of scriptural authority, and over the resurrection. It’s easy for Christians to read the Hebrew Bible and Jewish history through the lens of 2000 years of Christian history and theology and to assume that ideas that are now considered central doctrines were contested in earlier centuries. The resurrection of the dead was a topic of much debate in first-century Judaism for one simple reason. It was an innovation. We can see its origins in Daniel and Ezekiel (remember the dry bones?) but even centuries later, in Jesus’ day, it remained a controversial doctrine.

And so it remains today. I wonder how many “good” Christians really believe that one day their physical body will be raised and reunited with their souls.

The Resurrection of the Body: On Gardening in Easter Week

On this Friday after Easter, I’ve been pondering the resurrection. Perhaps because it’s because I was working in the garden this morning and was amused by the images I encountered. Up by the house, there was still snow and two inches of ice on the path that goes around the side of the house. In the front yard, crocuses are blooming and the daffodils will be very soon. Overhead, a lonely sandhill crane flew and called.

We were cleaning up after a long and very snowy winter. Signs of new life were all around; the bulbs shooting up through the mulch; buds on the trees. But there was also a lot of death and decay. We removed branches that had broken under the weight of ice and snow. There are still some evergreen branches that we can’t deal with because they are frozen in bent the lingering snow and ice.

I’m not sure I saw Jesus Christ in the garden today, unlike Mary Magdalene on Easter. Perhaps a sandhill crane and a robin searching for food on a snowy bank will have to do. And my muscles’ aching after several hours of work remind me of the frailty of my aging body. But the very physical reality of how I spent my time today, the very physicality of the soil, decayed plant material and the new life that is springing up around it is a reminder that the physical world matters in Christianity and that the resurrection of the body matters, too.

I’m not preaching on Sunday but the gospel is one of my favorite texts–the story of Jesus’ appearance to Thomas. It’s wonderful because it faces head on our doubts as well as our faith. Thomas gets a bad rap in the tradition; “Doubting Thomas” he is called. But his refusal to take others’ words for Jesus’ resurrection is not that different than any of the other disciples; Peter and the Beloved Disciple run to the tomb to make sure when Mary Magdalene tells them it’s empty. Thomas expresses what we would all express when he refuses to believe unless he can see it for himself.

A couple of other things to point out in the story: First, although he demanded that he touch Jesus’ wounds, he doesn’t actually touch them; seeing was enough. Second, his confession, “My Lord and my God” is in many ways the gospel’s climax. It’s the clearest confession by any of the disciples of the identity of Jesus Christ and God. Although Jesus had been talking about it throughout the gospel, it’s not apparent that anyone understood what he meant until this point.

Some others’ reflections on the resurrection of the body. From Greg Carey, “Bodies Matter:”

Whatever we believe about the nature of resurrection — how it works, whether the language is metaphorical — early Christians insisted that the resurrection involves bodies.

Very early in Christian history, some believers argued that the Savior could not have inhabited a real human body. Bodies, they argued, come with problems. We all get sick, experience limitations, decay and eventually die. Therefore, what matters is not the body but the spirit. These “docetists” believed Jesus only appeared to be human and to die.

The larger church rejected the docetic view. Bodies are important, the church testifies. When we say the Apostles’ Creed, we do not say, “I believe in the immortality of the soul”; we say, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” To put it simply, we believe that God redeems all of creation. The resurrection embraces all of who we are, body and soul. Indeed, it’s probably a mistake to think of body and soul as separate categories. Bodies matter.

From Sam Wells: Easter and the resurrection of the body tie together forgiveness of sins and everlasting life:

But the resurrection of the body is about us as well as about Jesus. Remember where I began: there is no such thing as the present tense. Well, there isn’t any present tense if there is no forgiveness and no life everlasting. But if there is forgiveness – if the past is a gift – and if there is everlasting life – if the future is our friend – then we really can live, we really can exist, we really are a new creation. Every detail of our lives is then precious and meaningful, rather than passing and pitiful or feeble and futile.

This is our present – God’s present to us, God’s presence with us, now and forever. This is resurrection. This is Easter.

And from Beth Maynard, John Updike’s Seven Stanzas for Easter