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Ready to Soar

By The Rev. Dr. Christine Leigh-Taylor                                            

April 14, 2024                                             .

 

Luke 24:36b-48

Acts 3:3-10 and 12-19

 

We are progressing through the seven weeks of Eastertide. Last week Jim Taylor talked about how Bible stories never end, even though the Bible itself has a finite number of books. This week I’d like to focus on how we interpret resurrection, which is what Easter is all about.

 

One of the Biblical accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, which was read in many places on Easter this year, is from the Gospel of Mark, the earliest and shortest gospel. In the original ending, two women go to the tomb on the first day of the week, that is, three days after Jesus’ crucifixion, and are astounded to find it empty. An angelic figure inside the tomb tells them that Jesus is not there, that he has gone ahead of them to Gallilee, and they will see him there. But, according to this gospel, they are so afraid that they say nothing to anyone. It leaves one with the distinct question that somebody surely had to have said something; otherwise, how would we know about Jesus today?

 

In John’s Gospel Mary Magdalene sees someone she mistakes as a gardener outside the tomb, but when he calls her by name she recognizes him and answers “ Rabbouni!” or Rabbi. Matthew’s and Luke’s versions are somewhere in between, but Matthew adds an earthquake for emphasis.

 

Then, three of the gospels add post-resurrection stories. Let’s hear what Luke has to say in a portion of the gospel reading appointed for today.


Luke 24:36b-48

Jesus himself stood among the disciples and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.


For some people these accounts of Jesus’ bodily presence offer proof of his physical resurrection. Alternatively, some disciples sensed and felt Jesus’ presence, and that empowered them to continue his ministry of forgiveness and healing. On Easter Bob Thompson talked about his experiences in “thin places” where a spiritual power, such as the presence of Jesus, was palpable and transformative.


An excellent example of this is recounted in the third chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, when Peter and John were going up to the temple to pray at 3 in the afternoon. As they did, a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple, the one called the Beautiful Gate, so that he could ask for charity from those entering. Here is how the story is told.


Acts 3:3-10

When the man born lame saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms.  Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, ‘Look at us.’ And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, ‘I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.’  Peter took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately the lame man’s feet and ankles were made strong. Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God, and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.


The rest of the story is told in another of the appointed readings for today.


Acts 3:12-19

Peter then addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.


Here we see the reality of resurrection at work. Peter and John are not claiming their own power or piety to heal. They are relying on God’s power, something they witnessed and learned to count on as disciples of Jesus. I particularly like the note that Peter offered his hand to the lame man, helping or encouraging him to stand. And you can feel the man’s utter thrill to be able to walk, and even jump! He had a new life!

I believe that resurrection simply means new life. How any ways can you imagine new life being manifested? A change of heart is certainly new life. So is a new mission that utilizes your special God-given gifts. And so is a release from life-deadening fear.

 

One aspect of resurrection that we often get wrong is that it is not a one-time event. In fact, as an article asserted in the magazine Broadview, which used to be The Observer, published by the United Church, resurrection or resurrections might be as ordinary as the sunrise. The author, Sarah Bessey, writes, “I once dreamed of a big God with big plans. Not now I’ve learned to embrace the resurrections of everyday life.” 

 

I think resurrection can be thought of as any metaphor for a new beginning, and it can be totally real and physical.

 

I witnessed what I perceived as an example of a slightly grander resurrection two weeks ago. It was captured in a video I happened to come across on my cell phone. Three people placed a large cage on a high mountain cliff, and opened the door. Out waddled a very large bird, a raptor of some sort, or maybe a California condor. As soon as it was free and had room it spread its enormous wings – they must have spanned eight or ten feet. With those grand wings spread wide open – like this - the bird paced to the right. Then it turned and walked to the left. Then to the right again. It kept pacing back and forth about ten or twelve feet along the crest of that mountain, never once pulling its wings in toward its body, always keeping them fully extended. It was as if the bird didn’t know if it remembered how to fly. Or, perhaps it had been raised from infancy in captivity and had never flown. Did it dare try its wings? Anyone watching that video, like me, and the people who had brought the bird to that spot, had to be rooting for it. Finally, finally, the bird let itself jump into the air. The magnificent creature disappeared from sight for a few seconds, and emerged soaring away in the distance.  It was marvelous!

 

Trying our wings, testing our wings, spreading our wings – those are metaphors we use to express a desire to escape from the old, the routine, the fearful ideas we tell ourselves, and instead to trust in God’s unfathomable love for us. Where is resurrection waiting to be revealed to you this Eastertide? What have you been afraid to try or experience? Where might resurrection be waiting to happen in this congregation? Are you resisting or are you ready?

 

I want to see myself in that beautiful bird, waiting for the right gust of wind to carry me into new life. Sometimes we can’t tell if we are already soaring into new realms, or if we are on the precipice of leaping. Perhaps we will know when we have landed on a new perch. In the meantime, while I am ready to soar into newness, I can only rejoice in how God’s abundance of love brings fresh ideas and experiences into what was routine.

 

Where can you let yourself go and soar into new life, knowing that you are precious in God’s care? That, I believe, is resurrection! Jesus is alive! In us! And all around us! That’s worth an Alleluia!

 

 Segue:

 

A little meditation music as I invite you to consider where or how you might be wanting to spread your wings, as we share some God moments.

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