Sunday, April 14, 2013

Christ is risen!

Many churches often exchange a formal blessing-greeting with one another when they gather each Sunday. In the weeks before Easter the pastor says, “The Lord be with you!” while the congregation responds, “And also with you!”

On Easter Sunday and the weeks following Easter the greeting is changed. The pastor says, “Christ is risen!” while the congregation responds, “He is risen, indeed!”

I’ll be honest: I. LOVE. THIS.   Not everyone likes such “formality” in their gathered worship, but (for the most part) I do.

One thing I especially like about the second greeting is the intentional use of the word “is” in the greeting and response. Notice we do not say “Christ has risen”.  Though I believe Christ’s resurrection was a historic event that actually took place in a physical space at a particular time, I also believe it is equally important to recognize that the resurrection ignites us to love in the present and hold out hope for the future. His resurrection is ongoing. We have faith that the resurrection happened in the past so we may love now and hope always.  

I realized something this morning about this in the Scripture narratives that reinforce the ever-new quality of the resurrection.

When Jesus appeared to his followers in the days following his resurrection, they did not recognize him as the same person. They first encountered him as “someone else”—and then their eyes were opened.

This happened to Mary Magdalene first (John 20:10-18). She thought he was the gardener. When she heard him say her name, she recognized him for who he was.

Later, he appeared to two disciples on their way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). They walked with him for a long time and listened to him teach from the Scriptures about why the Christ had to suffer. They shared a meal with him but it was not until he gave thanks for the bread, broke it and gave it to them that “their eyes were opened.” (Luke 24:30-31)  The Scripture records “how Jesus was recognized by them” (emphasis mine).

In John 21, Jesus appeared on the shore while the disciples were out fishing. The story begins, “Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.” (v. 4)

The story continues: “He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’

“‘No,’ they answered.

“He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’” (vv. 5-6)

Still no recognition, even when they heard him speak.

But as they pulled in the miraculous catch of fish, John said to Peter: “It is the Lord!” (v. 7)

Peter then swam to shore while the rest followed in the boat. When they came face to face with him, Jesus said, “Come and have breakfast.”

Even after all this, the Scripture records: “None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord.” (v. 12).

Clearly, they still needed to exercise faith and see with their heart—because their eyes told them something else. “This man is different than Jesus, yet somehow…Jesus.”

“None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord.”

The point is: If following Jesus then required this kind of faith, how much more does it require faith to follow him today!

Faith is required because, when Jesus appears to us today, he does so as someone else. And this is perfectly normal for us because it was the way he appeared to the first disciples in the days immediately following his resurrection.

So, our part is to look for Jesus eagerly in the face of a friend. Our part is to see Jesus when we break bread together. Our part is to see Jesus’ wounds in the suffering of others. Now that he is risen, we get to see him everywhere, in the most surprising places at the most unexpected times in the most unlikely characters—a gardener in the cemetery, a teacher on the road, a stranger on the beach.

Where will you see him today? In whom will you see him tomorrow?

Look for him, because he is there. Pray that the eyes of your heart will be open to see him as he is today.

“Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!”

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