This is a very nervous message to my brothers and sisters in DiscipleChurch about a very personal sermon I hope that I have the nerve to give this coming Sunday. I am not at all comfortable preaching it, and have talked myself out of it and back into it and back out of it and now back into it. I’m just not sure how it will received by you. But it’s one I feel called to share about an experience I had earlier this year. Frankly, I am sending out this email now to keep myself from backing out of it on Sunday. I may be making a much bigger deal about this than it is, but I am still very, very uneasy about talking about this. I will seem a fool to many of you. If our worshipping community were not so…close and intimate, I would not give it.
Generally, It’s kind of about how the resurrection because very real and personal to me recently. It’s about what I can only term a kind of, maybe, spiritual experience I had. (And it feels very strange even typing those words.) And it’s also about another level of religious experience that I wish all of us could have.
This Sunday is the fifth of seven Sundays of Easter Season. Easter is such a high point, we forget that it is a Season as well. The most inspiring (hopefully) and hopeful sermon of the year has been heard, the wonderful music has overwhelmed, the Easter eggs have all been found, the Eater lilies have been smelled, the new Spring clothes have been broken in, the family has gathered and the Easter lamb has been consumed. Those of us who attend church only for Christmas and Easter get our sleepy Sunday mornings (and, more importantly, our late, late Saturday nights into Sunday mornings) back, and those of us who don’t know what to make about the claim that God raised Jesus’ dead body from the tomb… well, we can all go back to our day-to-day business of trying to live faithfully as usual without such a strange claim in our faces.
But every Sunday in the Church is a celebration of the Easter event. We worship on Sunday, rather than the Jewish Sabbath Friday night to Saturday night, because Sunday was the day of the week that Jesus was raised. We are a church, as a matter of history, because of a conviction of a small group of people that God had — amazingly, unexpectedly, against all that had happened in creation to that moment — raised Jesus from the dead. And the Church believes that creation was transformed, and that a unique and definitive thing was said to us about God and our lives in the Easter event–a unique and definitive thing that transcends Easter day.
I am guessing that one of the reasons that the Easter event is put aside by us during the church year is that the event seems so foreign to us, so outside of our experience, so unreal. For whatever reasons, we are not even a church that regularly (or ever) experiences the Spirit of the risen Lord as the churches of Paul did. And no one since Paul has experienced the risen Christ. Those appearances, Paul makes clear, weren’t spiritual experiences. Those appearances stopped with the appearance to Paul.
So how can the resurrection seem real and relevant to you and I? How can we experience its meaning and its hope and its reality…personally? Through our imaginations? Through what the prophets describe as visions? Through our unconscious? Can things be real to us, when they aren’t…real? How can such an event be trusted? How can we open ourselves to such a different layer of reality?
The scripture is one we’ve heard before this season.
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
Okay, about to hit the send button. Do it.