Discovering the risen Christ

April 21, 2014

This blogger has been away for too long, but for a good cause. The “greater good” was an opportunity to present the traditional service of Evening Prayer to the people of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Little Rock. Along the way, I was foolishly led into the world of self publishing a set of modest worship leaflets for the five consecutive “work” days. An intelligent man would have handed the task over to professionals. The positive side of the experience was a warm interaction with musicians, clergy, readers and appreciative Anglicans. The scripture readings of the Daily Office are always confrontational in a positive sort of way and uplifting. I am a much richer Christian for paying attention to these wonderful voices.

Being reimmersed in the flow of scripture that is at the heart of the Anglican Daily Office has caused me to read the gospel accounts of the resurrection. It is a useful exercise. The Matthew rendition has two Marys showing up at the tomb around dawn, and just in time for an earthquake. It is a curious thing that the women encountered not Jesus but an angel, who sent them to quickly inform the disciples. Along the way, they do meet Jesus and embrace his feet. Mark reports Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James (this raises questions!) and Salome come to the empty tomb and meet the angel inside. They are dispatched to inform “the disciples and Peter” of the momentous news. (Isn’t Peter a disciple?) The “alternate” Mark recounts Jesus meeting Mary Magdalene first (16:9). In the Lukan account, the women from Galilee found the tomb opened and conversed with two angels inside. They were sent back to the disciples, who seemed not to care much for the story. However, Peter ran to the tomb and looked inside before returning home marveling. As John tells it, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb alone and saw the stone removed, but no angelic visitor. She ran to tell the disciples, which led Peter and the “other disciple” to race toward the tomb. The “other disciple” outran Peter and waited for him to enter first. Immediately afterward, Mary Magdalene rises from weeping and enters to discover two angels. Departing, she faces the risen Lord, but does not recognize him. Finally, she falls to her knees and takes hold of Jesus, but (contra the Matthew version) he instructs her not to touch him. Interestingly, it is Mary Magdalene who is assigned the duty of reporting the resurrection to Jesus’ followers, even though she has already informed them of the missing tomb!

The discrepancies found in the Gospels suggest God’s use of human authors to tell the essential truths of what he is up to down here. Jesus meets believers walking around, walking through doors, over breakfast, and in the upper room. Jesus seems unrecognizable to the people who knew him. He did not meet the temple Jews, Pilate, Barabbas, or any Roman executioners. Unlike what one might expect in an appealing story of human accomplishment, there was no payback.

We do not recognize Jesus today because his face is concealed in the destitute and disrespected. As Jesus says repeatedly in Matt 25, “as you did it to the least of these, my brothers, you did it to me.” Around these parts, Jesus is a household name. He is often ignored and discounted, even among his own disciples, but he will send the Holy Spirit who enlightens the mind and opens the eyes.

What will a Christian do with the gift of the Holy Spirit? If one has a true faith, this means acting on God’s word. Jesus is risen indeed and very much alive in this world. Actually, he is alive in two ways. He is visible in the poor who still bear God’s image. Jesus unequivocally identifies with the downtrodden. These are more than the objects of charity, they are to receive respect and true kindness.

The other way in which Jesus is present in the world is in his church, the very body of Christ. You can find the idea in 1 Cor 12 and Eph 2. Christians, united in a faithful spiritual fellowship, are the visible working living presence of Jesus in the world today. That is why we may never give up on the church, no matter its’ failings. Anglicans do have this part figured out. According to the 39 Articles of Religion, the church is the divinely authorized location where the word of God is faithfully preached and the Sacraments are duly administered (Article 19). This is not to say that the Anglican tradition is the only true faith. It means that the church of the gospel is devoted to preaching the whole counsel of God’s inspired word and faithfully performing the sacraments.

One particularly mysterious way in which the resurrected Lord makes himself made known in the world today is through the Eucharist. Somehow, and we are not able to say how, Jesus comes to be with his people when they gather for the remembrance of his death in the Lord’s Supper. It is our spiritual nourishment that assures of us God’s favor and gives strength for those good works toward the downcast. In Holy Communion, believers become one with Jesus and united with one another. So we have not been left in that upper room, but we have the assurance of God’s good will and encouragement of one another to move out in a troubling world. Jesus has not been left in the tomb, but he is present in every humble and truly converted Christian.

 

 

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