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Bible readings: http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=265


 

 

Proper 10 Year C (June 5, 2016)                                    St James', Peace River

 

Reading about resurrection is mind-blowing. Or perhaps I should say, reading about resurrections, since that's really the issue about the Bible passages we've heard today. First Elijah in Zarephath, then Jesus in the town of Nain – each of them intervening to bring a widow's son back to life. As modern Christians, we are caught in something of a bind. We can choose to distance ourselves from our own Bible, shrugging off the stories as something that belongs in the distant past, saying “Who knows what God got up to back then,” or even more dismissively, “People used to believe all kinds of things.” Or we can try to believe ourselves – but can we? Wouldn't that make us, and our religion, look absurd?

 

When I'm looking for a way into a challenging Bible passage, I usually ask myself a question you may have heard me ask in a Bible study, or in a previous sermon: When has this happened to you? But even that question, at least on first glance, fails us here. This just doesn't happen. We don't have this experience. People don't come back to life, that's one of the very few things we know for certain. Isn't it odd that we would say that, though, when our faith depends on its opposite? Somehow we manage to file away our conviction that Jesus rose from the dead in a separate compartment. I guess he's different, and different rules apply to him. But that's not right, either: the whole point of our faith in Jesus who died and rose again, was supposed to be that we are now part of his story, and he is part of ours.

 

So let's try again. Instead of looking for a direct equivalent in our own experience, let's look for some way that these raising-from-the-dead stories might at least ring a bell with us. Has something happened to you that would at least make you feel like the people in these stories felt? There are at least three different directions you could look for that kind of parallel. The stories themselves seem to focus more on the widows than on their sons. Their lives were over too, when their children died. They would have had no one left to provide for them, to advocate for them, to comfort or even to talk to them. In a world where women had no status, they would have become living ghosts. Does that ring a bell? Have you ever felt like that you were disappearing from view, only to have someone do something which made you visible again, and gave you the sense that you mattered?

 

Our second point of contact might be with the dead boys. It would take a particular kind of oblivious journalist to run up to one of them with a microphone and ask, “How do you feel now?” The very fact of feeling at all would have to be overwhelming. To make a completely new beginning – to open your eyes as if for the first time, to see and experience the world again in all its detail, and know that it has been given back to you for a fresh start: what would that be like? Perhaps you have the seeds of an answer to that question in your own experience, as a result of coming through a literal close brush with death, or from something more metaphorical – coming out of the fog of depression, or the death of a core relationship which emptied your life of meaning, only to have it gradually warm and fill again. In those moments you really are making the story of resurrection into the story God is telling about you.

 

Our third connection, odd though it may seem, could be with Elijah and with Jesus. On a certain level, we have their experience all the time. Tragedy, loss and death come at us in so many ways that we usually learn to look elsewhere and to watch for some good news instead, perhaps hoping that we can pretend none of those bad things will happen to us. But once in a while it breaks through. We see someone hurt that is close to us, or we are simply blessed with the gift of caring about someone we barely even know. We actually want to do something about it, and we decide for once not to turn away in hopelessness as though there is nothing we can do. At that moment we are working with God to breathe new life into a dark place. There were a few moments on Thursday night, talking with Zak and Saeed and Rahaf and Maysa, when I thought I knew exactly what that felt like – not just for me, but for all of us as we have made that choice together, to go along with God's life-giving intention for them.

 

So there are some ways in we which we can and do actually know, and feel, and experience the impact of resurrection in our real lives. But in the light of the Bible readings, maybe that doesn't go far enough – maybe you feel I've been pulling my punches. After all, the stories don't talk about how people felt, at least not very much – they talk about events, things that really happened. And as a real event, resurrection is outside our experience. But maybe that's a good thing! If you put it next to the ways in which we live out the story of new life by analogy, maybe it's an important and necessary thing. Because all those incidents in our own lives which ring a bell, which resonate with what was going on in the Bible, are moments that draw us out of ourselves, our of our comfort zone, out of our familiar places, and they make us grow into new life. And we are not done growing. There are experiences of new life we have not had, and which we cannot yet even imagine.

 

Resurrection is at the extreme end of that line of growth. We say that we believe it for ourselves, (“We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”) but for now we only have the merest hints of what that will actually be like. And the hints come from two places: from the story of the Bible, and from the moments in our own stories when we experience something that reveals God's power to bring new life. Between now and then, though, there is a lot of room for us to grow, in discovering what resurrection means when it erupts into the world we are actually living in. If it is in God's power to do something so far beyond our experience or imagination as to give new life beyond death, then what else can God do, which our imaginations have not yet laid hold of?

Think about how that works. Sometimes we imagine the world in some way and we call it a fantasy – it could never happen, but it's nice to think about. But then by God's grace we might say, OK, what if that actually could happen – what would it take? And piece by piece, God's new possibility begins to fall into place. We've seen that happen, we know what God can do. So now, let's back up one step further. What about the possibilities we never even imagine? The faith and the fact of resurrection invite us to grow into those possibilities too. We can observe, in world history and in our own personal histories, how both prominent and ordinary people have somehow been able to imagine what no one had ever conceived of before, in a way which adds a new dimension to life – of healing, of reconciliation, of peace, or justice, or fulfilment. Those are the steps on the way, to new life which conquers death.

 

So, what is it that lies just on the tip of your tongue today: what is it that God is calling you to imagine that is beyond your experience? Whether that is something that you desperately need for yourself, as the living widows and their dead sons desperately needed God's intervention – or whether it is something you see in your world, which you hope beyond hope that God may have the power to change, as Elijah and Jesus called on God to give life in a way no one would have thought possible. God's invitation to you is to imagine life, and God's promise to you, made and fulfilled in his own action of raising Jesus from the dead, is that what we can only imagine, God can make real.