Living By Resurrection Expectations
I’ll never forget a short reflection I heard at a church anniversary years ago. The speaker began with this question: “Is this a backward day or a forward day?” Of course his point was, is this a day we look backward and pine for the good ole days that have passed through the filter of our selective memories where we sift out all the bad and romanticize the good? Or is it a forward day when we celebrate this moment in time and look forward to the future with anticipation to new opportunities that are waiting to be embraced. His question is a good question for us on this Easter day. Is Easter a looking backward day or a looking forward day?
The church I served in Anchorage, Alaska had an annual Spring rummage sale that raised money for a designated outreach project. One year Marcia decided to donate an old chair that we had dragged around with us that had never made it out of storage. It was a musty, worn old chair that was covered with a rather hideous green and beige paisley upholstery. However, it wasn’t just any chair. It was a chair that had belonged to Marcia’s beloved grandmother.
When Marcia decided to donate that chair, a little voice went off in my head that said, “I hope she doesn’t regret giving that chair away.” So what I did was secretly buy the chair back at the rummage sale. I brought it to friends who were in the custom furniture manufacturing business and asked them if they would restore the chair.
I picked out a nice piece of fabric with which to recover it and left the chair with them. Months went by and a few weeks before Christmas they called and said the chair was finished. I excitedly drove over to their shop to get it. When I got there I had to wait a few minutes in the reception area, so I sat down. After a few minutes one of the owner’s came out said, “Joe, how do you like the chair?” “Chair?” I asked with puzzlement, “Where is it?” She said, “Joe, you’re sitting in it!” I had been sitting in the restored chair and hadn’t recognized it! It was beautiful and transformed! The old image of the ugly, worn-out, musty chair was so dominant in my mind, I wasn’t prepared to behold the new reality that was so far beyond my expectations.
I gave the chair to Marcia for Christmas. She recognized it instantly, bringing tears to her eyes and joy to her heart! Since then, that chair has occupied a significant place in our home, and I sit on it all the time.
For me, that is a kind of Easter story. It reminds me that my view of life can be obscured, and my experience of life can be limited by my short-sighted expectations.
As I reflect on the resurrection stories of the four gospels, I am struck by the reality that those post-Jesus communities’ experience of the living Jesus, decades after Jesus was gone, moved them to a place beyond their short-sighted-expectations that had been shaped by culture and religion, and they began to live their lives by a new set of expectations – a new set we could call resurrection expectations. For example:
First, the resurrection changed their expectations about women. One thing all four gospels have in common, even though the details vary greatly, is that women were the first bearers of the resurrection message – women were the first ones entrusted with the message. This was a radical and outrageous thing in a rigidly patriarchal culture where women were marginalized under the crushing weight of male hierarchy. In a culture where women were only known through their husbands, these women of the gospels stand alone on their own and are no longer anonymous but named. They are portrayed as hanging in to the bitter end, especially after all the men had scattered, leaving Jesus alone, betrayed, denied and abandon at his most desperate hour.
The resurrection changed expectations about those that culture and religion had conveniently marginalized. An astute reading of the New Testament reveals that it threw those early faith communities into conflict over the treatment of women and other marginalized persons. Some faith communities lived by resurrection expectations and elevated women and other marginalized to equal standing with men. Other communities did not and continued to live by the old expectations of the rigid hierarchies of culture and religion.
The question for us is, who are those in our world who are marginalized by the short-sighted expectations of culture and religion? Isn’t it about time to be guided and informed by resurrection expectations and recognize the full humanity of marginalized persons?
Second, the resurrection changed their expectations about the Jesus way of life. Those gospel faith communities decades after Jesus were questioning the validity of living the Jesus life. Jesus had invited his disciples to follow him into living his way of life: the way of grace; the way of compassion; the way of pursuing justice for the oppressed; the way of inclusive love – and what had it got him, but a hideous execution. Why should they follow Jesus? After all, look what happened to him!
But also, for many in those early gospel faith communities, the resurrection validated Jesus’ way of life as the authentic way of the kingdom of God. The resurrection convinced them that Jesus’ way was God’s way, so much so, that in the face of hardship, persecution and threat to life and limb, “took up their crosses” and continued the ministry of Jesus by boldly living his life in the world-no matter what the cost!
Third, the resurrection changed their expectations about living in the tyranny of the past. In my own life, and in the lives of many I have ministered to, I have experienced that the past is not past, but that the past can tyrannize the present. I would dare say that many of us live our present lives in the grip of old failures and regrets, old wounds that have never healed. Their influence upon us can drastically limit the way we live our lives in the present.
I think of Peter who denied Jesus. In an intense but yet tender encounter in John’s gospel, the risen Jesus encounters Jesus on the beach and is forgiven and set free from the oppressive power of his past denial, and Peter is launched into the future. It is John’s way of saying that the living Christ sets us free from past things that limit us from loving and living life fully now.
What makes Easter so glorious is that we rejoice in a present reality, not reminisce a past memory; not a day we look backward with nostalgia, but a day we are fully alive in the present and look to the future with hope and anticipation as we participate in the life of Jesus by shaping our lives around resurrection expectations.