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The Proof of Easter

Cathy Zall - Lesson notes, March 31, 2024, John 20:1-18

Two peaks in the Christian year—birth and resurrection.


Birth—Incarnation God revealed in creation—specifically human life of Jesus.


Resurrection—God beyond the bounds of creation.


Today the focus on resurrection.  What does resurrection mean?  While words will always fall short, we still need to use what language we can to engage with this mystery.


Not resuscitation—Lazarus or the Roman official’s daughter


Something different—Even in the gospel accounts the risen Christ is not simply the human Jesus brought back to life


Not recognized—by Mary, on the road to Emmaus


Walking through locked doors, appearing and disappearing


The gospels use the name Jesus to refer to this different manifestation.


But for me it has been helpful to name the change.  The Jesus of history and the risen Christ are related but also different.


Capture with different terms-- Marcus Borg—pre Easter Jesus of Nazareth and the post Easter Jesus we call the risen Christ.


Christ as the ongoing presence of the spirit that animated the Jesus of history.  In the life of Jesus of Nazareth, we can see what this spirit of Christ looks like when allowed to be fully expressed in a human life. In the resurrection we see something of what this spirit of Christ looks like beyond the bounds of one human life.


The Easter story is about how human attempts to crush this spirit through killing Jesus did not succeed.  The Easter story say that this spirit of Christ we see in the life of Jesus continued after his death. 


We see in the gospels that this spirit of Christ continued as a very real presence in the life of the disciples even after Jesus’ death.  In fact this ongoing spirit of Christ eventually transformed a fearful group of followers hiding in the shadows into a powerful ongoing force for the message of Jesus. 


I do not understand but accept that appearances have happened—I believe the historical record of the gospels points to powerful experiences of the post Easter Jesus/risen Christ—appearances that powered the development of the early Christian movement. I also accept the multiple accounts of —Paul, St. Francis, Marcus Borg and many others—who also report a very direct experience of the risen Christ.


But these reports—while interesting and amazing--do not have a transformative impact on my life.  Largely I think because they have not happened to me.  So I need a broader understanding of the easter story.


The key for me is to understand Easter not simply a one-time miracle or even continued experiences of a very tangible presence.  Rather, I think of Easter, as a revelation of a truth/pattern at the very heart of creation.  Resurrection as pointing to the mystery of God’s ongoing presence in the world.  Resurrection as pointing to the way God’s love emerges anew in every moment.  Resurrection as pointing to God irrepressible love always bubbling up, never tiring, never defeated.


It is connecting to this profound truth/pattern that I find transformative.  In other words, the “proof” of Easter is, for me, to be found not only in the stories from the past but also in the transformation that can take place as we come to trust in and experience God’s never ending energy of resurrection in every present moment.   As Clarence Jordan said:


The proof that God raised Jesus from the dead is not the empty tomb, but the full hearts of his transformed disciples. The crowning evidence that he lives is not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship. Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church.”


Full, spirit filled, carried away hearts.  That is the proof of Easter.


Some will be blessed with a more direct experience of the energy of the risen Christ. The challenge for most of us, however, is connecting to more subtle, less obvious energy of the risen Christ in the present moment.  Not as a claim to be believed intellectually but as a deeply felt truth to be experienced. This isn’t easy.  


How do we move in that direction?


Look to Mary in our scripture lesson today for a few clues.  Mary is filled with love for Jesus.  She is the first at the tomb while it is still dark. She acts decisively and urgently when she sees the stone has been removed.  While the other disciples go home after they see the tomb, Mary stays in the garden still seeking, still grieving and weeping.  She continues to search even when she sees what must have a remarkable sight of two angels. Her only thought remains searching for her beloved.  Mary has passion, love and desire.


But even that alone is not enough to facilitate a direct experience of the risen Christ.


The story tells us she turns around from the angels and comes face to face with the risen Jesus—but still with no recognition only a continuing searching—asking the person she assumes to be the gardener--where have they laid him.


What it the turning point that lets her see the risen Christ?   The text has a very quick pivot point.


Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). 


It is hearing her name that opens her eyes—lets her see the risen Christ.


What might we draw from this that would be relevant to our own search for encounter?


I hear a few things.


Being seen and named—Mary!—allows her to see what even great love and longing did not reveal.  The power of being seen and named points to the key role relationship plays in experiencing the truth of resurrection.  We can have a fierce desire for spiritual insight, can search diligently but somehow it seems that opening ourselves to knowing and being known—is a key to the experience of the presence of Christ.


We know something about relationships from our day-to-day experience.  Relationships are acts of the heart.  Relationships flourish where there is openness to the other, where there is vulnerability, where there is curiosity about the other, where time and space are allocated.  How do we bring those same attitude of the heart to our search for an encounter with God’s grace and love we call Christ?


As you know, in my view from God’s end this openness, invitation, welcoming is always extended to us in every moment.  We are already fully known and named by God at the most profound level.  The spirit of the risen Christ is welling up in every single moment waiting to be welcomed/embraced. God is speaking our name, calling us to relationship at all times.


The challenge, I think, is on our end.  How do we melt away the barriers that prevent us from hearing our names spoken with love in every moment?  Melt away what holds us back from the ever deeper relationship with this mystery we call the risen Christ?


My favorite Podcast host Dan Harris always presses for specific suggestions.


This will, of course, be different for every person but I offer a few thoughts.


Open up our imaginations to let the stories of an ongoing presence of Christ plant seeds that expand our sense of what is possible.  It is hard to experience what you cannot even imagine.  Relax our modern obsession with rationality and enter into the story.  Walk in the garden with Mary.  Imagine being on the Emmaus road with Paul. Read and enter into the stories of others—St. Francis, MLK and so many other.


Look for hints of spirit.  This may be in nature…in service to others…in music…in poetry…in relationships…in scripture…in prayer.  Like building human relationships, putting ourselves in places auspicious for meeting and getting to know the spirit. Learning to pay close enough attention to notice the ways God is still—and always—speaking.


Cultivate the spaciousness/openness provided by silence, quieting the chatter of our minds, taking the time to slow down and listen.


Our hope to not just believe things about the risen Christ with our minds but to deeply experience the risen Christ in our hearts.  Able to say Christ is risen…Christ is risen indeed.  Risen 2,000 years ago and risen today.




Cathy Zall

First Congregational Church of New London

Easter 2024



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