Last week I was with some folks who for twenty-plus years have committed to gathering together for what they call an Ecumenical Lenten Renewal. I offered three presentations on the John texts for Lent 3, 4, and 5 and preached on Sunday. After my last lecture, a woman approached me, “I need to tell you something,” she said. She grabbed my hands, and with tears in her eyes, said to me, “My cup was empty. Today was my road to Emmaus.”
Dear Working Preachers, as you know, this doesn’t happen very often. “Good sermon, Pastor,” is about all you get on a Sunday morning as you greet people at the back of the church. Of course, “good sermon” matters and matters deeply because it was good for that person. The Spirit did something and as a preacher, you trust that the Spirit managed to help your proclamation connect with what hearts needed to hear. We know that. We trust that. Yet, when someone offers specifics, you take notice. Not because you wonder what you said, but because you realize what the Gospel did.
When someone basically says to you, “today was a resurrection moment,” it stops you in your homiletical tracks. So, I retraced my steps. I went back and asked, “What did I do that could have caused this kind of response? What did I say that this woman would have this kind of reaction?” And then I began to realize that it had very little to do with what I said and everything to do with the stories that were told.
I talked about the Samaritan woman at the well. The healing of the man born blind. The raising of Lazarus. Not Luke 24, but this woman was right. These are all resurrection stories. Jesus says to Martha, “I am the resurrection AND the life.” Fast forward to 17:3, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” The raising of Lazarus is not justification but salvation. Not proof but promise. Not evidence but experience.
Resurrection is not something you have to believe; not something just conveniently confessed; not that which can be comprehended. No, resurrection can only be experienced. Because when you experience resurrection, you start to feel resurrected. If you have not been resurrected, well, it’s awfully hard to believe that it’s true.
Simply to believe in the resurrection comes nowhere close to what resurrection means. Once you get it, you don’t. Once you think you have it all figured out, you don’t. Once you are sure in your confession, “Christ is risen,” you should stop and think. Really? Christ is risen? What makes me so sure? What convinces me of this creed? What secures this so-called salvation?
I suspect that the people sitting in your pews will be relieved by this kind of proclamation. Wait, what? I don’t have to get it? I don’t have to understand it? I don’t have to have it all figured out? God will just appear as God’s resurrected self and all I have to do is, well, nothing? God will make certain that I know abundant life now and not let me wait until I die? God will make sure that I experience resurrected life here — in this life?
This is the heart of the story of Lazarus. Resurrection is not a confession. Resurrection is not a theory. Resurrection is not some sort of ambiguous promise. No, resurrection is real. Resurrection is relationship with God. Resurrection is now.
This is the true miracle of this sign. We are so determined to say resurrection is… followed by something boringly theoretical. We are convinced that somehow, someway the means of getting more people in the door is certainty of that which is inherently uncertain. We desperately preach that Easter matters for some sort of guaranteed future when actually, at least for Lazarus, Easter is first nothing other than reclining on Jesus and having dinner.
If we were to preach that resurrection is the experience of a conversation with Jesus that then transforms you from a woman rejected to a witness of God’s love; that resurrection is the experience of Jesus putting mud on your eyes so that you might see you are a sheep of Jesus’ fold; if we were to preach that resurrection is the experience of hearing your name being called to come out from the darkness of your tomb and then sharing a meal with Jesus, leaning against Jesus, your head on his shoulder, your cheek on his chest? Then maybe resurrection moments might happen a little more frequently and road to Emmaus days might happen a little more often.