I saw a particularly sweet segment of CBS Sunday Morning while I recuperating from breakfast on Easter morning. It was about a man who lived across the street from the High School where Gwen used to teach back in the day in our old hometown of Riverside, California. A bartender named Donnie Edison had a stroke in that house when he was only 34. He was depressed and disabled and laying hopeless on the couch when he heard the ping of baseballs hitting metal bats as the high school baseball team practiced after school. His love of baseball got him off the couch. He made his wife load him into his wheelchair and take him to practice, even though he did not know a soul at the school. But just seeing the kids out there living gave him some purpose. Soon the coach made him an assistant. He learned to walk again. Before long he was volunteering in the high school’s special ed program and then he was going to college to become a special ed teacher. One of the things he did was get the regular team to play whiffle ball with the special ed kids. The segment ends with “There is nothing more beautiful than the sound of a found purpose.”
It is a small resurrection, isn’t it? — I was dead on the couch and now I can walk. Donnie was thankful for the stroke that saved him. His little death led to his unexpected life.
The Resurrection we celebrated yesterday is, however, much more than getting off the couch when you were dead in your depression, as blessed as that is. Once Donnie becomes a special ed teacher, there is a lot more to consider about how to follow Jesus through this dying we are living into the living into which he is leading. We celebrate the resurrection because it happened one time, once and for all. But we also celebrate it every year, religiously, because it keeps happening and it needs to keep happening. The big Resurrection we celebrated yesterday unleashes the many small resurrections we witness every day. The scripture we focused on from John shows that plainly.
As you probably know, one of the disciples named Thomas was not with the rest of Jesus’ first followers when Jesus first appeared to them. When they told him they had seen the Lord, he would not believe ALL of them until he saw Jesus himself. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
About a week later the disciples were together in the house where they met. The doors were locked because they were afraid the authorities were going to round up people who were saying Jesus had risen. Jesus came and stood among them. Almost immediately, he turned to Thomas and said, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
This story speaks to an entire segment of the population about how they relate to the resurrection. You need to put your hands in the wounds of the resurrected Jesus and stop doubting. Thomas was disconnected. He needed to latch on. We don’t generally respect “doubting Thomas” for needing something more than just hearing the story from someone else. But a lot of us do need more.
Donnie Edison needed to convince his wife to heist him into his chair for weeks and wheel him over to the baseball practice for whatever reason. You probably need to put yourself into a place where you did not belong before. Thomas had to put his hands into the Lord’s side. You think about him doing that and it seems so gross. Getting faith can feel so gross, so awkward, so out of line, so unacceptable, that you might just stay on your couch. A few people reading this might have no faith in Jesus, so the resurrected Jesus comes to you in a story, in the Spirit, and in the lives of people who give witness to their relationship with Him and questions your lack of faith. Others reading have the faith you used to have before you had your latest stroke, or got your latest job, or got married, or had kids, and now you need to latch on to the resurrected Jesus this year. Stick your hand in. Do it.
If you were at the empty tomb yesterday morning, you heard what happened on the morning Jesus rose. The message the Mary is essentially the exact opposite of what Jesus told Thomas, which I say was “latch on, stop being disconnected, lay hold of resurrection life.”
The scripture in John about the morning speaks to another segment of the population, as well. In the morning it was “don’t hold on to me.” After Mary recognized the risen Lord, she apparently fell at his feet and embraced them or hugged him. Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Like many of you reading, Mary was in a condition you might not want to leave. She as not skeptical about Jesus at all, she loved Jesus. She was connectable and she was connected. But she needed to let go of the Jesus she had known intimately as she followed him throughout his ministry after he had freed her from what tormented her. He was moving into what was next and she needed to go with him, not hold on and try to get him to stay where he had been or where she still was.
Some of you have had a great decade. You’ve shown great faith, made faithful choices. You connected to Jesus and his people. Now what? — ride it out at that level for the next 20-30 years? If you meet the resurrected Lord today in that assumption, thinking that tomorrow is going to be like today only maybe better, the first thing he will have to say to you after he speaks your name is to tell you, “Don’t hold on to me.” The same thing goes for the whole church, Circle of Hope has been great, but “Don’t hold on to where we have been,” Jesus says, “move with me into where I am going.”
The paradox that people could be told to latch on at night, right after they had been told to let go in the morning is the kind of thing that makes people not like Easter! It is too mysterious. They get frustrated with the death and resurrection and return to following religious law in one way or another. Today’s the day they do it – glad to be over Lent and the big Easter celebration and ready to get back into what is regular.
I want to follow Jesus and become like him in his death and so become like him in his resurrection. The fact is, just as that sentence shows, laying hold and letting go are both happening at the same time if you are following someone into new territory. With every step, we take hold of something new and let go of something old. As soon as we let go of one thing along the way of Jesus, there is something new to grasp. We don’t “get it,” we follow. I for one have loved that journey and I can hardly wait until next Easter to see what I have discovered about life in Christ next.