Notes on the Resurrection
Scripture Reflection on John 20:19-31
When asked to give a reflection on topic Resurrection, my thoughts turned to my childhood, to our white clapboard Baptist church in Kent, Washington, where on Easter we would enter to see Jesus stepping from the tomb, in the famous old Carl Bloch painting in narthex of the church, his arms raised in triumph, draped in white surrounded by soft white angels and white lilies! The service would usually hold an Easter pageant with children reciting scripture, singing, waving at their parents or looking down at their new patent leather shoes. This was the Sunday when even my Dad would attend church. And there were usually baptisms…(my own, at age 11). These were warm memories, perhaps not transcendent, but reassuring. Afterward we’d gather with relatives, my aunts bearing hot dishes while the uncles set up the cryptic egg hunt, which usually left some children in tears. Perhaps a bit of a let-down, after such a high and holy service. But what DO you do after a Resurrection? ~ it’s complicated! Do we just wait for next Easter?
Surprisingly, the clearest impression of Resurrection that surfaced was in 1953, when our family drove to Seattle one Saturday to see Walt Disney’s first documentary: The Living Desert. I was only 8, but as I sat in the dark of that large theater, watching the barren S.W. desert-wilderness burst into technicolor life before my very eyes ~I was transfixed! Here were all these animated flowers and cacti exploding into bloom. Astounding! It was the first time I’d experienced the new “time-lapse photography!” And it was both magic and miracle, capturing my heart in a way that clearly I never forgot! I was somehow an eyewitness that afternoon, of what? ~ I didn’t know! But much, much later, I understood it was a peek at the 4th dimension, called the “space/time continuum.” A glimpse of the deep & ancient secret at the heart of the universe that animates all God’s creation. Well, I was always a VISUAL learner, and I could almost “see” this fabric woven in, under, and over the earth ~ shot through with resurrection life! In spite of the fact that I was a math-impaired girl who knew nothing of real science, some of this epiphany snuck through some indulgent neural pathway and stuck! My heart knew something inexpressibly deep happened…it was something about resurrection!
This has happened to me many times since. Countless times! Once, recently, reading a book about moss and finding out about the underground network of neighborly communication between moss and tree roots—used for resource sharing of water, nutrients, alarm systems, even hormones! It links nearly every tree in the forest through subterranean circuits. It’s like whole Mr. Rogers Neighborhood down there! Only his little train is a more like subway system that makes our 5G wireless network look like two cans and a string. The humble moss is teaching us how we got it some science wrong, how are methods were ham-fisted and destructive. And now, environmental scientists and others are listening and finding resurrection in the forest.
In in the last decade or so, new and exciting articles about neuroscience and the body and brain connection have been published, it’s changing the way the medical field operates. Our nervous system seems to be network of communication speaking to every organ in our body! Echoing what’s going on in the universe: like the whispering of the Spirit of God, telling us of great unity & wonder, and interconnection…part of something more vast and animated than we ever imagined. Something like resurrection in body.
So, imagine my excitement, when I saw an article in the New York Times, during Lent this year, that affirmed yet another wonder! Astro-physicists have for decades been studying one of the most puzzling riddles of the universe, the question: “Can turbulent flow in fluid dynamics be understood and described completely?” (Hasn’t that always been a burning question for YOU?) Well, the folks at NASA have been tracing for many years some crazy movement that occurs around the birthing of stars. It seems an odd expanding halo of light. It’s an image they felt for years resembled Vincent van Gogh’s painting, Starry Night. This one! Well, finally, in Australia, two physicists, using some Hubble Telescope images, began running tests to map & study small squares of Vincent’s painting, and they just concluded: Yep! Vincent’s brush strokes have almost perfectly illustrated a concept that is not even understood by scientists yet! Stroke for stroke this is what they are seeing as patterns in deep space in star nurseries. My heart was filled with resurrection!!! And from an artist, not a scientist, and I suspect, another visual and tactile learner.
Maybe that’s why I relate so much to the story of Thomas, from our Gospel reading today. It tells us: Jesus appeared to the eleven: Thomas was not there. So when the tardy disciple arrived, the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" And Thomas shot back: "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in his side, I will not believe."
A week later ~ gathered again at the house with all twelve disciples, Jesus right away addressed Thomas: "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
And from then on, it seems that “Doubting” became Thomas’s first name. Nicknames and labels attach so easily. But, I will take his side, as a kindred spirit, as I, too have often suffered doubt while surrounded by people of certainty. I think Thomas just needed to SEE and FEEL to learn….to “behold and touch” his risen Lord. To put the “I” in eye-witness.
I’m sure Rabbi Jesus didn’t test the disciples’ learning modalities…but if he had, I think Thomas, may have been a visual/tactile learner like me! And Vincent. Perhaps, not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but curious (and more courageous than I ever was), to share his doubts, to use his voice and to ask for what he needed.
Thankfully, Jesus has a policy of no child left behind. Even those of us who arrive late for class, who suffer the same questions and agonize over doubts, can find the time and space to form whatever synapse they need to find an alternate path! Which is why I’m here…in this place! my long, certainty-riddled pathway, over time, led me(us) to St. Luke’s, a safe place, with a spacious liturgy… at a time of spiritual disintegration and I very slowly experienced resurrection. It’s why Jack & I still refer to it as Dr. Luke’s. It’s a hospital.
I grew up reading the verse: “Straight is the gate and Narrow is the way that leads to eternal life,” but I’ve had to reconcile myself to an alternate pilgrimage, it is very winding and wide & slow! But gives me permission to discover my best spiritual practice ~ which pretty much always happens ~ in the mystery & presence of my grace-filled mother...Mother Nature! Because, when I am in the woods, or mountains or any body of water, I am fully alive and myself. Even in my backyard garden keeping watch, until the tiny tomb of a seed bursts open with a green shoot coming through the soil! It's resurrection life. Or this month, after our frightful snow and hail and crashing limbs ~so afraid our baby hummingbirds might have died! But seeing them now, learning to perch on a limb by their nest, ready for flight! They are resurrection in the rhododendron! And, of course, I can’t leave out my sisters of Mercy, those crazy chickens, who brought ME back from the dead.
These moments are as moving and sacred—just as my beloved parish is to me. Full of something wild & messy, communicating healing and joy and freedom deep in my spirit.
I have no problem finding Jesus in these places with me. He’s a an outdoorsy, wilderness kind of guy, who was always spinning tales around the campfire, inviting stories – always a bit fuzzy at the edges - like metaphors. And now, once a year, after we have waited in the dark theater of Lent to Good Friday, we celebrate the gift He gave us: that premier time-lapse reel, where the stone rolls away…and Jesus animates from Death to Resurrected Life, to ground us in hope and possibility. And it’s not just a preview of coming attractions, pie in the sky, but it’s right here, all around us….“on earth…as it is in heaven!”
And so, disciples, we remain …WE are the ones Christ called “Blessed are they who have not seen ~ and yet believe!” But I cannot say, I have NOT seen…for I’ve seen too many stars… too many sunrises and sunsets… too many lunar-driven tides, too many mountain cathedrals. And so have you!
So, let us be Easter People! ALLELUIA, CHRIST is RISEN!