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The Practice of Resurrection

Updated: Apr 5, 2018

Lesson: John 20:1-18


So here it is, Easter Sunday. We are plagued with this mental trick of “processing fluency.” It’s the era of “fake news.” On top of that, today is April Fools Day. And our Bible passage this morning presses us to believe the unbelievable, to accept what’s impossible to confirm. Some of you are here this morning because you already believe. Others are here in spite of questions, doubts or skepticism. What I want to share with you this morning is that, either way, there is good reason to celebrate.


“Believing” is an important theme throughout John’s gospel, but John didn’t mean what we usually mean when we say we “believe” something. The Greek word for “believe” might be better translated as “trust.” Again and again in John’s gospel, when Jesus says, “believe,” he means rely on, trust in, live as though your life depends on it. Presbyterian author Frederick Buechner captures the difference by distinguishing between “believing IN” and “believing.” “Believing in God is an intellectual position,” writes Buechner. “It need have no more effect on your life than believing in Freud’s method of interpreting dreams or the theory that Sir Francis Bacon wrote Romeo and Juliet. … Believing God is something else again. It is less a position than a journey, less a realization than a relationship. It doesn’t leave you cold like believing the world is round. It stirs your blood like believing the world is a miracle. It affects who you are and what you do with your life like believing your house is on fire or somebody loves you.[1]

It affects who you are and what you do with your life like believing your house is on fire or somebody loves you.


So when Jesus says, “Believe in me,”[2] he’s not asking whether you can recite the Apostle’s Creed without crossing your fingers. He is asking whether you will trust that God so loves the whole world[3] that more than anything God wants us to love each other the way God loves us.[4] He is asking whether you will trust that not even death can stop God’s love, so that you never again need to fear death, which means that you never again need to fear the forces of death, whether that means Caesar or greed or hatred or oppression or domination or any of the other ways people try to deny life and freedom and justice to God’s beloved people. He is asking whether it affects who you are and what you do with your life.


In John’s story of Easter morning, we see that not everyone takes the same path to this kind of “believing.” Peter entered the tomb and saw everything and yet nothing. The beloved disciple saw the empty tomb and believed – even though he did not yet understand the scriptures. Mary believes only when Jesus speaks her name. So some respond to words, others to evidence, still others to relationship. This morning, in keeping with our theme throughout Lent, I’ll offer another path, which is something of a hybrid. It’s a path anyone can try, regardless of where you fall on the “believing” spectrum. It is the path of practice. Practicing resurrection. As the beloved priest and author Henri Nouwen put it, “You don’t think your way into a new kind of living. You live your way into a new kind of thinking.” Do you want to see the power of death defying love? Just practice it.


How do we practice resurrection? It’s hard to come up with a precise recipe but to quote Justice Potter Stewart, “I know it when I see it.”[5]


I see it when the National Geographic Magazine figures out that for decades, their coverage of people and cultures has been racist, and that in order to rise above their past they need to acknowledge that with a Race Issue that explores how race defines, separates, and unites us.[6]


I see it when high school students and hundreds of thousands of their allies say, “Enough is Enough” to gun violence. And I see it when people of color lift up the truth that gun violence was part of the landscape of being Black or brown in America long before it became an issue in predominately white schools.


I see it when kids in our own neighborhood, elementary school kids who have nothing to do with the church, clamor to volunteer at our rotating winter shelter, and then make friends with the guests, the men who are experiencing homelessness.


I see it in the earnest hope of the movie, “A Wrinkle in Time,” inviting us all to be warriors to serve the good in the universe.[7] I see it when a Massachusetts judge rules that protesters who tried to stop a gas pipeline aren’t guilty because their actions in trying to stop climate change were a legal “necessity.”[8] I see it when the movie “13th,” connecting mass incarceration with slavery, is nominated for an Oscar.[9] I see in efforts to feed the hungry, provide clean water and medical care, and offer sanctuary. I see it when folks keep on showing up at Twelve Step meetings. I see it when, day after day, people care lovingly for an aging parent, a sick spouse, or a teenager who believes she really does know more about life than her parents.


I see it wherever people take Jesus at his word when he said, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me” – who trusts me – “will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.”[10] I see it wherever people partner with God in transforming despair into hope, apathy into compassion, hate into love, and death into new life.


When Mary first saw him, Jesus warned her, “Do not hold onto me.”[11] He’s saying it’s no longer just about him; it’s no longer about their former teacher and friend; now it’s about all of them, because they know, now, that death does not have the final word in the human story. Not only can the disciples face opposition, scorn and even death with confidence; they can offer to others the truth and the fellowship they have been given. And they have to do so, to be faithful to what they’ve experienced.[12]

My friends, that is the experience of practicing resurrection. You may not be able to say this morning, as Mary said to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” But you can practice resurrection. You can be part of something inexplicable but nonetheless true. You can be part of something that gives a superabundance of meaning to life and that erases the fear of death, something that has to be shared. You can be part of something that changes the world.[13]


That is worth celebrating. And – worth practicing.


May it be so for you, and for me. Amen, and alleluia!


© Joanne Whitt 2018 all rights reserved.

[1] Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1988), 22.


[2] John 14:1, John 11:25-26, John 12:44, John 3:16-21.


[3] John 3:16.


[4] John 15:9-17.


[5] In his concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184 (1964), a case deciding whether the 1st Amendment protected a movie that the state had deemed obscene, Justice Potter Stewart wrote about obscenity: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”


[6] Susan Goldberg, Editor in Chief of the National Geographic, “For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It,”

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/04/from-the-editor-race-racism history/?src=longreads&utm_source=Weekly+Longreads+Email&utm_campaign=13fe5b7b8d-Longreads_Top_5_March_16_2018&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_bd2ad42066-13fe5b7b8d-241731249&mc_cid=13fe5b7b8d&mc_eid=65da248dd5


[7] Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell, “A Wrinkle in Time.” Directed by Ava DuVernay. Los Angeles: Disney, 2018; based on the 1962 novel by Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time.

For the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhZ56rcWwRQ


[8] Andrew Buncombe, “Anti-pipeline campaigners found not guilty by judge because ‘protest against climate change crisis’ was legal ‘necessity,’” March 28, 2018, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/pipeline-protesters-boston-protest-not-guilty-climate-change-karenna-gore-mary-ann-driscoll-a8276851.html


[9] Spencer Averick and Ava DuVernay, “13th” Directed by Ava DuVernay. Oakland: Kandoo Films, 2016. See http://time.com/4662871/ava-duvernay-13th-documentary-interview/.


[10] John 14:12.


[11] John 20:17.


[12] George Weigel, “The Easter Effect and How It Changed the World,” The Wall Street Journal, March 30, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-easter-effect-and-how-it-changed-the-world-1522418701.


[13] Weigel, ibid.

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