Resurrection Faith – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David VryhofActs 3:12-19  / I John 3:1-7  /  Luke 24:36b-48

There are many interesting variations in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, but there is one theme that is absolutely consistent, and that is that no one believes in the good news of Jesus’ resurrection when they first hear it.  No one.  And that includes Jesus’ own disciples, those who were closest to him and spent the most time with him.  In fact, the disbelief begins with them.

Luke tells us that the disciples dismissed outright the testimony of the women who had been to the empty tomb.  “These words seemed to them an idle tale,” says Luke, “and they did not believe them” (24:11).  Actually, “idle tale” is a polite translation.  The Greek word that Luke uses – leros – is the root of our word delirious.  When the disciples heard the women’s report they considered it crazy; they thought these women were out of their minds!

Not surprising, really, when you think about it, because what happened defies rational thought.  Dead people don’t just get up and walk out of their tombs; we’re sure about that.  So when someone insists that a dead person has actually been raised – well, it upsets the natural order and causes us to lose confidence in pretty much everything we thought we could count on.

So it’s not terribly surprising that the disciples shook their heads with disbelief at the women’s testimony.  What’s more surprising is that when the Risen Lord actually shows up in the place where they’re gathered later that same day, they still have a hard time believing!  He is standing there with them, extending his hands and inviting them to touch him, wanting them to see that it’s really him.  Even with all this, Luke tells us, “in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering…” (24:41).

Isn’t that amazing?  Even in his presence they still are struggling to believe.  And even more amazing is the fact that they are both joyful and disbelieving at the same time.

So, let me just say it: It’s okay if you have doubts.  Doubt is not the opposite of faith.  If fact, it is a necessary part of faith because faith, by definition, implies trusting even when it is impossible to prove that in which we are putting our trust.  We exercise this kind of faith every day, in countless ways.  We trust that the lights will come on when we flip the switch, even though we can’t be absolutely certain they will.  We trust that the grocer has not sold us contaminated food, even though we have no proof.  We trust that winter will eventually give way to spring, and the night will yield to the dawn, even we see no evidence of it in the moment.

Faith asks us to trust even when we cannot prove that in which we are putting our trust.  The mystery of the resurrection transcends our ability to comprehend it.  It lies outside the realm of our experience and defies reason.  We shouldn’t be shocked that people find it hard to accept.  We need not be dismayed if they, or we, harbor doubts.  Faith can accommodate doubt. Faith is about trusting, even when we lack the certainty of scientific proof.

So it is not shocking that the news of Jesus’ resurrection is initially met with disbelief and doubt; that is understandable. What eventually overcomes the initial experience of disbelief is the first-hand experience of these followers of Jesus, and their testimony that they have seen him, spoken with him, eaten with him, touched him – after they saw him die.  There is also the evidence of their complete and total transformation, from a frightened little band hiding behind locked doors and trembling with fear that those who put Jesus to death would also find and kill them – to fearless witnesses, boldly proclaiming their conviction that he is RISEN and that their lives have been forever changed.  They testify to this without a shred of fear, refusing to withdraw their words even when persecuted and put to death.  Somethingsomeone – transformed them, sweeping away their doubts and filling them with power and conviction and joy!

Considering what they have seen and have now come to believe, it hardly surprises them that a lame man at the entrance to the temple stands up and walks when they extend their hands to him in Jesus’ name.  The people who see the man “walking and praising God” and who recognize him as “the one who used to sit and ask for alms” are astounded – “utterly astonished,” Luke tells us.  But Peter responds as if the healing was not at all unexpected or out of the ordinary!  “Why do you wonder at this?” he asks, “[and] why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?” (Acts 3:12).  It’s GOD’s doing, not ours, Peter insists.  It is GOD who is bringing life out of death, overcoming evil with good, scattering darkness with light, renewing and restoring the brokenness of creation.  What else would you expect from the God of heaven and earth?

This is the truth to which the disciples have awakened.  This is the good news to which they now testify with power and great might: that God has broken the power of sin and death by raising Jesus to life, and that God is restoring the whole created order – including each of us – to its original beauty and purpose.  This is God’s mission, they insist, and God will not rest until it is accomplished.

Seeing God’s power at work in the world breathes new life into these frightened disciples and sets them on fire.  Their lives are charged with new meaning and purpose.  They see what God is doing and they recognize that they are called to participate with God in this great work.  They are meant to be channels of God’s grace and power to others, bringing LIFE and HOPE into a defeated world.  This is the conviction that has set their hearts aflame.

The God who is making all things new is also making them new.  St. Paul, an early apostle, explains: “If anyone is in Christ,” he tells the Corinthians, “there is a new creation:  everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new” (II Cor.5:17).  “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself… and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.  So we are ambassadors for Christ” (II Cor. 5:19,20a).  This is the truth the disciples now see.  That God is reconciling all things, the whole world and everyone in it, in Christ – and that we are witnesses to this, agents and co-workers with God in this process of reconciliation and renewal. We are ambassadors of this good news.

We not only have a new mission and a new message in Christ; we also have a new identity.  “See what love the Father has given us,” remarks the author of First John, “that we should be called the children of God; and that is what we are!” (I Jn. 3:1)  “We are God’s children now,” he goes on to say, “what we will be has not yet been revealed” (I Jn. 3:2).  God is renewing us, transforming us, changing us into the very image and likeness of Christ.  We have an amazing future ahead of us – every one of us!  God is at work in us, bringing about an amazing transformation.  “We are God’s children now, [but] what we will be has not yet been revealed.”

I’m reminded of a young couple who once lived next door to me, whose hobby was collecting antique furniture.  I have to confess that their passion for old furniture was a bit of a mystery to me.  I would see them head off on Saturday mornings to the flea market and return some hours later with the most hopeless pile of castoffs.  I couldn’t imagine why they wanted these beat up, broken down chairs and dressers; it all looked like junk to me!  I wouldn’t have paid a dime for it!

But then they would set to work – stripping off layers of paint and varnish, sanding and smoothing the surfaces, re-attaching broken handles or legs, and applying a shiny new finish.  The results were beyond anything I could ever have imagined.  Their home was filled with the most beautiful antiques, each of which had been carefully selected and lovingly reclaimed.  They saw the hidden beauty that I could never have imagined, and knew exactly how to bring it out.

God is like that.  God looks over this broken and scarred world – and over the broken and scarred people who inhabit it – and reclaims it, and them, with love.  God sees what we so often cannot see: the hidden beauty and the glorious purpose of every thing he has made, and God reclaims it and sets about to renew and restore it, and bring it back to life.  That is God’s work.  In and through Christ, God was reconciling the whole world to himself – rivers and rocks, salamanders and snowflakes, human beings and animals, plants and trees, everything that exists – God is breathing new life into his world, and making it new.

“To this we are witnesses.”  Witnesses to the power of good to triumph over evil.  Witnesses to the power of light to overcome darkness.  Witnesses to the power of life to conquer death.

The world needs this witness because there are times when the world seems very dark indeed, and when evil seems to be winning out.  There are days when we ourselves are tempted to doubt and to despair, when we too are in need of this witness – which is why we need each other, just as the early Christians needed each other, to keep before us and within us an unquenchable hope, and the faith that God will have the final say.

I am an admirer of Mahatma Gandhi, the great spiritual leader of India in the 20th century.  Even though he was not a Christian, I am convinced that he grasped the Christian vision.  He firmly believed that goodness would overcome evil in the end.  “When I despair,” he said, “I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won.  There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall.  Think of it – always.”

This is the faith that overcomes the world.  The faith that God is at work, healing and renewing the whole creation; overcoming hatred with love, darkness with light, evil with good.  Our hope lies not in what we have done for God, but in what God has done, and is doing, for us.  We put our trust in God alone.  And we pledge ourselves to God’s work in the world, seeking to be God’s agents of peace and reconciliation and renewal.

“Peace be with you,” the Risen Jesus says to his frightened and confused followers. “Do not be afraid.  ‘In the world you face persecution.  But take courage; I have conquered the world!’” (John 16:33).

Take courage today and do not be afraid.  Christ has overcome the world!

ALLELUIA!  CHRIST IS RISEN!  THE LORD IS RISEN INDEED!  ALLELUIA!

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11 Comments

  1. Anne Kennedy on April 7, 2021 at 10:02

    Tell me more about The WALK to Emmaus. I appreciate your thoughts. Thank you

  2. Elizabeth Hardy on April 5, 2021 at 10:12

    This is such an important message. We take for granted the Easter message – but if we were the first to bring it to others they would think we were crazy – many folks now dismiss the concept as something made up or a fairy tale or myth. I disagree with Margo and Pamela. This is not focused on the gender of the first messengers, it is focused on the understandable reception of such an outlandish claim, even within the cultural context that dismissed women as reliable witnesses. The importance for us is that even though we hear the message we are often lazy or unresponsive to its requirements. Unlike the first disciples who were moved to surrender their lives and safety to live in to it, I’m not sure how many of us experience the impetus to witness or the radical transformation of character. It is a reminder to me that the events of Easter are meant to move me to a more passionate testimony to my faith and more rigorous discipleship. Elizabeth Hardy+

    • Margo on April 5, 2021 at 14:58

      Where the focus is in any writing is in part a subjective reader based judgement. Casual disregard of the female , as Br. David wrote it, a non participant or certainly not one to be considered is certainly a criticism that could be leveled at the piece. Historically ‘doubt’ is always present otherwise the ‘kingdom would have come.’.

  3. Margo on April 5, 2021 at 06:28

    Pamela, Alleluia. You take the words right out of my mouth! Thank you Margo

    • Barb Lawrence on April 5, 2021 at 08:32

      Sorry Ladies, I have to disagree with you. They believed BECAUSE they saw Jesus. He sent them to tell the disciples. Of course they questioned. God has sent us to tell the world>Do people believe us when we first tell them of Christ and all His wonderful blessings.
      We know He is risen, yet many of us still doubt. Go easy on the poor men. They had not yet seen Him.
      Yes.
      HE IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED!!
      Barb

      • Margo on April 5, 2021 at 14:49

        I left two comments on two different occasions. This is not the one I made recently.

        My comment was not intended to be critical of the text but to how Br. David’s made his comments that just assumed that the women where not to be considered in the same way the men were. It’s I think a unintentional negligence which one always needs to be brought into the light! Margo

  4. Pamela Forbes on April 24, 2019 at 19:26

    Dear friends! I would never have thought I’d ever feel moved to write a criticism of anything any of you said, and yet here we are with this otherwise wonderful homily from Brother David. The women who brought the news to the male disciples were people. And they believed in Jesus’ resurrection the first time they were told. Granted that the male disciples were formed in a culture that dismissed women as unreliable, but we were still accounted as people. Please rethink and modify the premise in this post.

    Thank you, and peace and light this Eastertide.

  5. Kathy on April 23, 2019 at 20:43

    I found new clarity in this sermon, even though I have heard and read the resurrection account so many times in my life. We don’t always fully understand!

  6. Rhode on April 23, 2019 at 13:53

    A group of us volunteer through a non-profit spiritually oriented program at a women’s prison near our town. 20 years ago one woman writing her PhD thesis on women’s life in prison saw a need and addressed it. Thanks to her hard work, patience and faith along with volunteers and donors we now have a successful umbrella program overseeing rehab, re-integration, social, educational services, mother and child programs, labor!! coaching and a vital spiritual ‘house’ of healing, I am a witness that Christ is alive in this prison, that darkness does not reign. One lovely outcome is the program’s national low rate of recidivism. They walk out and most do not return. Grace and change happens on both sides of the bars. Resurrection faith! God is alive and mighty is his love. Alleluia!

    • Maryan Davis on April 16, 2021 at 08:33

      What great news Rhode! The Gospel is surely alive in your program and in those you serve.
      Definitely there is a sense of resurrection here. God finds the places we need to be and the people we need to be with to bring God’s message of love to a place where it can be seen with a newness of heart and body and mind.. New life can now embrace these woman and give them the trust and courage to go forward as children of God in this troubled world. “God is alive and mighty is his love for all creation!” Alleluia! Alleluia, Alleluia!

  7. Margo on April 23, 2015 at 16:23

    As someone said “if you had certainity why woudl you need faith?”

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