Thinking Resurrection

Gerhard Manley Hopkins has a poem in which he inserts the prayer, “Easter in us.” He uses the noun Easter as a verb. “Easter in us.” Let Easter get in to us, come where we live, permeate our souls.

Which sounds not only grammatically, but also theologically strange. But perhaps that’s how the resurrection feels to us – as an active verb, not a passive noun. Luke has a fast paced account of the startling events of Easter. The women arrive at the tomb and in amazement discover he is not here, he has risen. Then Luke turns to what happens later in the day.

“Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmau, talking with each other about all these things that had happened. As they were talking and discussing Jesus himself came near but their eyes were kept from recognizing him….”

They didn’t know Jesus. Two of his closest disciples didn’t know him! It had only been three days since they had dinner with him. Now, on Sunday afternoon, they didn’t know him.

Here is our question for today, class. Why didn’t they know him? Luke says, “Their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” Yes. But why?

Every now and then some sweet person will say something to me like, “I just don’t get it. God has never spoken to me. When I tried prayer, I was just talking to myself. This whole religion thing just seems like so much hooey.”

Perhaps their “I just don’t get it” may not be a testimonial to lack of intelligence but rather to their possession of a particular kind of intelligence.

There is among us a sort of intelligence that has been wonderfully productive of all sorts of things – bridges, penicillin, fax machines, quantum physics, Britney Spears. And yet that same intelligence – so enamored with empiricism, facts and figures, and common sense – has its limits.

As Douglas Sloane, in his book on higher education puts it, in American universities, at least since the early 1900’s quantifiable thinking (statistics, matter, money) has reigned supreme while qualifiable thinking (thoughts of beauty, right and wrong, good and bad) has had a rough go of it.
Augustine, as a bright young man with a superior classical education, confessed to Bishop Ambrose that he had tried to read the Bible but frankly, he was unimpressed. To him the Bible seemed like woefully inferior literature, crudely written, poorly edited.

“You young fool,” replied Ambrose. “You can’t get it because when you read in the Bible about ‘fish,’ you think ‘fish.’ When you read ‘bread,’ you think ‘bread.’”

Ambrose explained to him the spiritual depth of scripture, showed young Augustine levels of meaning beyond the surface appearance of things.

Thus, years later, after entering this strange new world of the Bible, Augustine is sitting under a tree in a garden. He hears a child singing, “Take up and read, take up and read.” Is it the voice of a child or an angel? By this time his imagination is so excited, his consciousness so heightened that he can’t tell the difference. He does what the voice says, takes up the Bible, flops it open to an obscure passage from Romans, and his life is changed forever. After that, we call him “St. Augustine.”

This week I’m speaking at Wake Forest University. When I was a college chaplain I realized that the students with whom I worked were quite smart but were also those on whom we had spent years of education, and a fortune in tuition, beating into him the notion that the world is flat. A tree is a tree. A mystery is to be explained. A miracle is to be disproved. Everything going on out there is the result of some easily discovered material cause and everything going on in here is due to something your mother did to you when you were three.

It’s the modern world – closed, fixed, flat, demystified, disenchanted and dull. Don’t expect surprises and, if by God grace a surprise really occurred, don’t expect to get it because you’ve lost the means even to know a surprise if you got one.

Why didn’t they recognize Jesus when they walked along the road with them? We get defeated by the limited, officially sanctioned, governmentally subsidized world view. Death blinds us, tells us that the world is closed shut and, if there is an intrusion, an invasion not of our own devising, we don’t get it.

Two followers of Jesus are trudging along the dusty road seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus when suddenly the risen Christ joins them incognito on their journey. The Risen Christ is to them a stranger. By the time they reach the end of their journey, they have moved from discouragement and despair to hope and faith. That’s the road each of us, if Sunday is half true to its promise, gets to walk.

The Road to Emmaus is the way. That was the first name for the church – The Way. The church, when it is half true to its promise, is a group of people on a road where, wonder of wonders, the Risen Christ meets us.

If you want to experience the resurrection of Jesus Christ, in your life, where you live, just get up in the morning and put one foot in the front of the other and head down the road. Follow the way. But please, go with a bit of imagination. Walk with the expectation of the possibility of surprise.

John Dominic Crossian says that there are three different places in the Holy Land which claim to be the Village of Emmaus. Three places! Furthermore, says that there is no record of any village called “Emmaus” in any ancient source. The only place in all of the writings in the New Testament where we hear of the Village of Emmaus is here in Luke’s Gospel.

He says, “Emmaus is nowhere. Emmaus is everywhere.”

Emmaus is wherever in your life journey, as you are on the way, either at church, or in a dormitory, at a family dinner table, where by the grace of God your eyes are opened and you see the Risen Christ present. Easter in you.

William Willimon

6 thoughts on “Thinking Resurrection

  1. Hey!I’m from Scotland (UK) and thought I’d let you know about a book we just used in my mission and church class at Bible College. It’s by David Smith called ‘Moving Towards Emmaus: Hope in a time of uncertainty’. He look at the Emmaus story is both insightful and provocative … well worth a look at.


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