April 15, 2018: A Future Unfinished by Rev. Beth Hayward (Luke 24: 36b-48)

We tend to think that we know how stories end. Tragedies end in heartbreak, fairytales end in happily ever after, birth stories end with a beautiful healthy baby, terminal diagnosis end in death. We learn early on how to know what story we’re in and then we get to work living into the conclusion.

Jesus’ friends knew they’d come to the end that day at the cross, the end of his vision and certainly the end of his life. They’d lived enough to know what death looks like, to know that a revolutionary cause, no matter how noble, is not a cause without a leader. It was finished.

And so you can’t blame them for being a little frightened and disbelieving when Jesus starts appearing all over the place on Easter day. Early in the morning the women head to the tomb expecting to find the smell of death, and instead are met with life. Later Simon and then Cleopas and companion on the road to Emmaus also meet him, risen from the dead, made known in the breaking of the bread. Now back in the safety of one another’s company they regroup. Maybe they knew that if they went their separate ways it would be too easy to tell themselves that this unexpected ending was a lie,  a one off. And so they gather together because they seem to know if you’re going to be telling unbelievable stories you’ll need the support of others to stay the course.

There, in the room together, at the end of a long and unbelievable day Jesus appears one more time. And what does he do? He shows them his wounds, it’s like a kid who skins her knee and can’t wait to show you the gory details; like those post-op hospital visits I do where some folks are strangely eager to pull back the sheets, lift up the gown and show me the doctor’s fine work. He shows them the holes in his hands and feet to prove he’s not a ghost but also to convince them that he lives. I suppose it’s not that surprising, most of us wear our scars quite proudly, tangible signs that we’ve been to hell and back and still we’re here!

Then he says: “I’m starving, bring on the food.” Three days dead makes one hungry. Who enters a home and demands to be fed? Even if you arrive at a dinner party ravenous the only polite thing to do is patiently wait until your host brings out the food. I don’t think Jesus had bad manners. Clearly he felt at home with this crowd. You’d only make yourself that familiar if this was your home, your people, your tribe. There’s a tender intimacy here, a familiarity, a sense of belonging.

There is a Zulu phrase, ‘Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu,’[1] which means ‘A person is a person through other persons.’ That’s what’s happening here. These people are becoming through the experience of community. We find our identity in community, where we witness to the wounds of one another, where our bellies are filled physically and spiritually and where it is okay, in fact it’s good, to practice holding the tension of joy and disbelief.

In their joy they were disbelieving. So many people have said to me over the past few years something along the lines of: I’m not religious, I’m not sure I believe all this Jesus stuff, I can’t use the word God, I don’t know if I believe BUT I need to be here, this place makes me feel connection or joy or love. In our joy we are disbelieving. I just want to hold that truth – that promise. Even the very first church, if you will, was a place for fearful, doubt-filled, questioning, folks.

A community that roots itself in the Jesus story is one where joy and unbelieving reside side by side, where you ask for what you need and give what you can…. Where you eat broiled fish or huge slabs of grocery store cake, as the case may be, where you lay your wounded hands and feet before one another a witness to the truth of your life, an invitation for others to touch your pain and offer you joy. A community of Jesus followers should have nothing to hide. You should be able to bring your whole self, your incomplete self, your in-process self, your questions and heartbreak, the entire scope of your real and precious life.

Do you know that place? You know, the place where celebration and heartbreak reside together? Where you feel permission to let go of your need to be in charge, to shape the future to your liking? Where you can let go of the desire to have it all figured out? Where you can be real, really real? Where you feel safe enough to speak your mind and make your needs known? That place where you can name your fears and your joys without having to numb either one? That place where you can be still enough to witness the new life arising in your very midst, not at all how you expected it, not even how you would have wanted it but there nonetheless. Where you stay and feed one another until you are clothed with enough power to get out there and share your light?

Evolutionary theologian Ilia Delio says that: “Christ is the power of God among us and within us.” She says that: “We humans have the potential to make Christ alive; it is what we are created for. To live the mystery of Christ is not to speak about Christ but to live in the surrender of love, the poverty of being, and the cave of the heart.”[2] To live in the surrender of love, that’s what Jesus calls them to that night as they regroup. That’s what we come here on Sunday morning to practice, a surrender to love. To stop for a moment, stop thinking we know how stories end, stop holding on to that idea that we can save ourselves with our addictions and distractions, just stop: surrender to love.

Another theologian, John Haught, says that “The universe is a creative project yet unfinished and because it is unfinished it still has a future.”[3] There is always hope, always a future. It’s when we surrender to love, when we let go that paradoxically we begin to know what is worth living for. This story is a call into the unfinished future, not a future where we escape death and hardship and the starts and stops and random failures but a future where we surrender to love. To follow in the way of Jesus is really to live into our own Christ identity where we stay the course and trust in the power of life, to move us forward.

Joy and disbelief reside together all the time. Sixteen young people killed in a tragic highway accident. Others left paralyzed, broken, bruised, surgery after surgery. That’s Good Friday if ever there was one. That’s death, real and tangible death. What has arisen from this unbearable cross, this my God my God why have you forsaken me reality? Eleven million dollars and counting, hockey sticks placed outside doors across this country and the world, children wearing team jerseys to school, hashtag Humboldt strong. One young man from his wheelchair less than a week after the accident speaking of the new career he envisions as a sledge hockey player.

If a tragic accident half a country away can evoke such genuine compassion for the other imagine what you can do in the flesh moment by moment, when you see the holes in the hands and feet of the person in front of you. Imagine the power to be part of this unfolding of a yet unfinished future. When you do this you are the hands and feet of Christ in the world, you are tapping into the divine light within. You are testifying to the reality revealed in Christ revealed in the whole of the cosmos.

The very last thing Jesus says to this joyful, disbelieving community, before elusively slipping away again is that you are a witness. You don’t need to be have been in Jerusalem 2000 years ago to be a witness to love, a witness to the Christ light within, you are a witness to the power of love in every single moment. To be a witness is to be called to testify. Testify to a way of being in the world that is present focused knowing that the future is yet to be decided. Testify to life born from tragedy.

When we exit these doors each week, we’re not to show up in the world with answers, but to testify to the truth that it is in emptying ourselves of all our certainties, of that tendency to say the story always ends this way, to be a people who can dare to see the wounds in the hands and the feet of the people we meet but even in the earth itself all creation. To practice feeding, sometimes literally but certainly symbolically all those who are ravenous.

It’s in those places where we come together for the most basic of human things to see and touch and taste the every day things of life, it’s in those places that we can begin to embrace resurrection and sort out what to do next, how to live into a story whose ending is not what we expected.

Testify! Testify to Love. It’s you who has the potential to make Christ alive. The future isn’t finished yet. Testify!

[1] https://aeon.co/ideas/descartes-was-wrong-a-person-is-a-person-through-other-persons Read more about this saying here

[2] Ilia Delio, Christ in Evolution, Orbis Books, New York, 2008. 180

[3] John Haught, God After Darwin: A Theology of Evolution, 2007. 26.