The Rev. Hal Chorpenning,
Plymouth Congregational UCC
Fort Collins, Colorado
If you’re at all like me one of the questions you probably ask yourself each Easter is, “Well, did the resurrection really happen the way the Bible said it did?” Ask yourself, then, “What does the Bible say about the resurrection?” You just heard Jane Anne tell the beautiful story from John’s gospel about Mary Magdalene seeing Jesus outside the tomb and not recognizing him at first. In fact, John gives us two detailed chapters of stories about the resurrected Jesus. There are more than a few resurrection stories in the New Testament, and John’s is the very last to be written.
Mark, the earliest gospel writer, says that there are three women followers of Jesus who show up at the tomb expecting to find Jesus’ body so that they could anoint it with aromatic spices. But they find a tomb that is empty except for a young man in a white robe who says, “He has been raised; he is not here.” That’s the end of Mark’s story. Nobody sees the risen Christ…just his empty tomb. Poof! Done! Short and sweet.
Matthew adds another layer…when the two Marys show up on Sunday morning there is an earthquake, and an angel appears to roll away the stone from the tomb. Then, as they run to tell the disciples, the risen Christ meets them, tells them not to be afraid, and to let his brothers know that he’ll meet them up in Galilee, and then he meets the disciples there.
Luke adds some elements to Mark’s empty tomb story, but the women encounter two men in dazzling clothes, who ask them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” and tell them, “He is not here, but is risen.” Then, Luke tells us the wonderful story of the two disciples who walk along the road to Emmaus with a mysterious stranger and how he (the risen Christ) is made known to them in the breaking of bread.
The earliest biblical accounts of resurrection are actually not in the gospel accounts that we read every Easter, but rather from Paul, who wrote even earlier than Mark. Paul has a different story of what resurrection is all about because not only did he miss the Sunday of Jesus’ resurrection, he never even met the man who was a walking, talking, teaching, breathing, preaching, table-turning prophet. The only encounter he had was with the risen Christ, years after the crucifixion. He wrote to the church in Rome about 25 years after Jesus’ crucifixion and says, “Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in the newness of life.” And to the church in Corinth he writes, “So it is with resurrection…it is sown in a physical body, it is raised in a spiritual body.” That’s an interesting and an early twist, isn’t it? What is a spiritual body? Is that part of the reason that in John’s gospel, Mary Magdalene doesn’t recognize Jesus at first and that Jesus tells her not to touch him?
I want to propose an idea to you about the nature of resurrection. If there is a lifeless corpse before us, and it comes back to life, isn’t that really freaky and gross? Basically, we’re talking about a zombie. What I don’t hear in any of the gospel stories is the zombification of Jesus. What I hear in John’s gospel is that when he is raised, he is raised with a spiritual body…whatever that means. John’s Jesus walks through walls and closed doors…clearly without the same physical body. And yet after coming through closed doors with Thomas, he allows the disciple to probe the holes in his hands. Still…not a zombie.
What if resurrection is less about revivifying or resuscitating a corpse and more about what Paul says: “Just as Christ was raised from the dead … so we too might walk in the newness of life.” What if resurrection and resuscitation are two entirely different things, and if resurrection looks nothing like a scene from Shaun of the Dead? For me, resurrection is a mystery with a capital M, and I suspect none of us will ever figure it out, at least in this life.
What if resurrection is about new life, new beginnings, do-overs, fresh starts, the life-giving spring following the dormancy of winter? What is it in your life that could use a fresh start or a new beginning? God invites you into that! God lures us from our stuck places into “the newness of life.” It takes courage to step out into something new, and that is what Jesus offers us through his example…that even crucifixion and the bonds of death don’t hold him.
I’ve also been thinking about what resurrection might mean for us at Plymouth in a post-pandemic frame…as we return to in-person worship and having the ability to interact with one another and be the church in the same physical space.
It’s been a long time since we were together. A lot has changed. You’ve changed. I’ve changed. The world has changed. Are you expecting to walk back into Plymouth some Sunday and have worship be exactly like it was? Is your expectation that it will be basically a resuscitation of the church just as it was on March 10, 2020? I hope not! There are going to be some limitations as we start because the pandemic is still in play, and there are likely to be things you miss (like singing and hugging and coffee hour and handshakes). More affirmatively, I hope that you and I have learned some things about ourselves, our community, and our faith in the process of living through a pandemic in the past year…lessons that we won’t simply chuck out the window.
What have you learned about what is really important during the pandemic, both personally and for the whole church community? I’ve learned not to take hugs, face-to-face conversations, shared meals, singing hymns together, and communion for granted. I’ve learned that church buildings are important, but they aren’t everything. I’ve learned that the church is about relationship: with God, with each other, with our neighbors…and we can do that without face-to-face presence if we try hard. I’ve learned that people love and feel deeply connected to God and to their church, and that people show up and make a difference, even when it’s inconvenient, and that gives me a sense of warmth and hope. I’ve learned that you can do a strategic plan during a pandemic, and that an amazing team of people are willing to overcome obstacles to help learn about where God is calling you and all of us together. And I’ve learned that you don’t need to live in Fort Collins or neighboring communities to be part of Plymouth.
My hope is that we, as a church, will not experience mere resuscitation…but resurrection. That together we won’t look like a revived corpse when we return, but rather a spiritual body infused with the newness of life. Think about it…if the church is the body of Christ in the world today, do we want to be a worldwide zombified corpse or a renewed spiritual body?
Friends, we have lived together through more than a year of pandemic, and at times it has felt like endless months of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday with no Easter Sunday in sight. It has been a year of death and disease and fear…a year of political animosity and violence…a year of reawakening to the realities of racism in our nation…a year of the worst forest fire in Colorado history just over those hills…a year when the building was shut down. But we have made it through the hardest part. With more of us getting vaccinated every day, the end of this phase is in sight. The glimmers of Easter sunrise are here, bringing new beginnings and new life with them. Let’s grasp this moment with courage and be ready for resurrection.
Christ is risen! We arise! Hallelujah! Amen.
© 2021 Hal Chorpenning, all rights reserved. Please contact hal at plymouthucc.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.
 Romans 6.4
 First Corinthians 15.42-44
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.
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