Because He Lives
Have you ever heard one of those stories that is so amazing that you just have to share it? I mean one of those stories that just blows your mind. It’s the kind of thing that changes the way you see the world, and it seems unbelievable even as you tell it. I heard a story like that this week, and I just have to tell you about it!
It’s about a guy named Adrian Owen. He is a researcher who has been mapping the brain through MRI’s since the late 1990's. In 1997, he had a breakthrough with a 26-year-old patient named Kate Bainbridge. What follows is a description of this event from nature.com, an online international weekly journal of science.
“A viral infection had put [Kate Bainbridge] in a coma — a condition that generally persists for two to four weeks, after which patients die, recover fully or, in rare cases, slip into a vegetative or a minimally conscious state…
Months after her infection cleared, Bainbridge was diagnosed as being in a vegetative state. [At the time], Owen had been using [a certain technique] in healthy people to show that a [certain] part of the brain… is activated when people see a familiar face. When the team showed Bainbridge familiar faces and scanned her brain, “it lit up like a Christmas tree, especially the [part of the brain dedicated to facial recognition]”, says Owen. “That was the beginning of everything.” Bainbridge was found to have significant brain function and responded well to rehabilitation. In 2010, still in a wheelchair but otherwise active, she wrote to thank Owen for the brain scan. “It scares me to think of what might have happened to me if I had not had mine,” she wrote. “It was like magic, it found me.”
I do not share this story with you today because of its significant contribution to medical science – truly the implications are still being explored. I share it with you for three reasons. First, because it demonstrates the power of belief in the possibility of life. Second, because of the power of relationships in healing. Finally, because of the power of imagination as it relates the reality of our faith.
I think that, as we go along, we’ll see all of these reflected in scripture today as well. For starters, let’s pick up where we left off last week – with a physically resurrected Christ.
Or is he? It is a little confusing. He is unrecognizable on the road to Emmaus until he breaks the bread. Then he vanishes. Then he shows up in Jerusalem while they are talking about him. He shows his wounds. He eats some fish. Then he opens their minds to understand what has happened, and what it means to them, before leading them to Bethany and ascending to heaven.
So, yes, his resurrection was physical, and yes, his resurrection was spiritual. It matters that it was physical, because we need to know that the scriptures were fulfilled. That’s not because God needs the contract, but because we were created with a need to understand. Not only that, we need to know that God understands – deeply, personally, and fully – what we experience when we suffer.
I maintain what I have said before, that it is through our wounds that we see the woundedness in others. Likewise, it is through their wounds that we see the presence of God confirmed.
Our passage from Acts reminds us that it’s not enough to see Christ through the woundedness of another. That vision should ignite in us a vision of hope, a vision of what is possible – even in the one who seems lost to all.
Now, I’ve said that it matters that the resurrection is physical. It truly does. One of the early Church Fathers, Gregory of Nazianzen, even said, “What Christ did not assume, he did not redeem.” But it also matters that the resurrection was spiritual, because in this way it demonstrates that God has acted through Jesus. In this way we come to see that this is not just about a man but about all of us – in fact all of God’s creation!
That’s where the rubber hits the road. In opening the disciple’s minds, he helped them understand that the core of it all is our separation from God. At the core of all suffering and redemption is the recognition of our separation from God and one another – and the realization that it all comes to an end in the resurrection of Jesus Christ!
None of it has any bearing on life anymore! In fact, the first thing he says to them is, “Peace.” and the next is “why are you afraid?”
Honestly, I can think of fewer questions that are more relevant in our world today. When unarmed black men and women are shot and shot at for knocking on a door and asking for directions, we must recognize that we are being manipulated by fear. When we find that we are unwilling to talk about the harassment of persons experiencing homelessness because they are publicly branded as a nuisance to our community, we have to realize that we are the ones that have lost our humanity in that exchange.
Fear has become so consumable that it drives our media content, it elects our officials, and it condones language that is simply harmful in the name of free speech.
In the midst of our culture of fear and the warring madness that masquerades as freedom, we hear the voice of God calling us “beloved children” and telling us to live without sin. For we know that we have been accepted by God through the love of Christ. And if we know it, really know it in our bones, then our response must be to live in a way that others can’t help but see.
Just like the lame man who waited all day, every day, until the gates closed after the 3:00 prayers. He begged, and he begged, and he felt sure those at the end of the day would be more generous. After all, they were probably on their way with cakes of bread to share with the priests for the meal offering. Then Peter did what no one else would do.
He looked him in the eye and recognized his deeper need and he called upon Christ to restore this man. Oh, how I wish it were that simple. But, maybe it is – in some way. Maybe restoration is found in the recognition of a human face. Maybe it takes getting to know someone and sharing experiences with one another in order to find that common ground where we know that God is real and present and restoring the sense of humanity that had once been lost.
There are certainly times when medical interventions are needed. There are times when the body and the mind become fragmented, and I thank God that there are those called to the healing arts. But that doesn’t really let us off the hook.
We are still called to proclaim the truth of God’s love. We are still called to put it into action. We are still called to begin with our own repentance of sin, so that the love we proclaim is the love that we have received.
In this way, we are caught up in the same unbelievable story that we have to tell. It is a story that is anchored in the power of belief in the possibility of life. It is a story of life that finds redemption through our shared humanity, and it is a story that recognizes the role of imagination in moving from a faith that is blind toward a faith grounded in vision and hope.
As a congregation, we have recognized over and over that a core element to our story is hospitality. We’ve recognized that Biblical hospitality is far more than putting on a good reception. It’s about welcoming the stranger. It’s about recognizing how we have been welcomed by God and then doing our best to do the same.
Today we recognize that everything we do is in response to the resurrection of Jesus. Everything we do is grounded in a call to repentance and the expectation of restoration and salvation that we experience in our lives together even as we long for the life that is to come.
So, I will leave you today with a question. So what? So what does it mean to you that Jesus Christ was raised in power by God? To that end, our closing hymn will be, “Because He Lives,” and it says things like, “I can face tomorrow.” What about you? What about us? How will you finish the phrase, “Because he lives…”?
In the back of the sanctuary there is a board and some colored squares. Over the next few weeks you’ll be encouraged to write out your ending to the phrase, “Because he lives…” and stick it on the board.
Be as daring as you wish. Make it theological. Make it practical. Know that someone may put something on the board that you disagree with – even hope that they might, as long as it is a faithful response.
For in this way, it all becomes real. In this way we begin to share our story in such a way that it becomes one of those stories that just blows your mind. The kind that changes the way you see the world and seems unbelievable even as you tell it. In this way, our story becomes one that will make someone say, “I heard a story about something that little church on the corner is into – the one that sits in the gateway to the city – and I just have to tell you about it!”
And to God be the glory, when that story is told. Amen!