Interventions: The Final Intervention is Also the First (Luke 24:1-7)

Compost

This is the text from my sermon last week.

Compost: What do you notice about compost? What does it do? Observe the compost — what can you tell from it. Is it at all like resurrection, in what ways, how is it different?

What I want to stress this morning is this: the resurrection itself is the last intervention in the Gospel of Luke, but it is also the the first. Like compost, the resurrection is the “stuff” that brings new life. Christ is risen. Had he remained dead we would hail him as a great rabbi, a good moral teacher, or an annoying activist. But because he rose from the the dead he is the cosmic Lord over all, even death itself.

Christians not only believe that Christ was raised from the dead, but that he is present with us now, helping us make sense of our lives, reading and interpreting the bible and the times along side us, guide us in the ways of the kingdom, and calling us to a deeper truer humanity in him.

[On July 5th I said:] Our reflections this summer, the Interventions in the Gospel of Luke, not only draw on the text itself, what it says, what it teaches, but it suggests that by hearing, and re-telling these stories we encounter the text in a way that transforms us. And when we open these words in our world new interventions can take place. With every re-telling the possibility for God’s kingdom is reborn.

So we have interventions in the text, and in our own lives as well. This second part is because of the resurrection.

The resurrection is itself an intervention. On the one hand it problematizes old assumptions, quite literally Jesus’ resurrection was unexpected within a Jewish culture even though he often predicted that it would happen.God intervened in human history to change the course of history. On the other hand, it is the one intervention that upon our hearing and experiencing in our day to day (Rob Bell says you be the resurrection) we are encountered not with just a really good story, but a living one, one with the risen Christ who transforms us into disciples.

NT Wright says of the resurrection it “the final intervention, that is to wake us up to all new incoming interventions” (Everyday Luke, 289). It is the last, and it is also the first.

Let me explain how this is in three ways. [The resurrection is an intervention that can be viewed in (at least) three ways. (McClendon)]

1. It was an intervention in the life of his own disciples who still did not understand. (This is because within a Jewish religious culture there were differing thoughts on resurrection).
2. It in an intervention in our lives, it has transforming power.
3. It is an intervention that offers new life out of the old.

1. It was an intervention in the life of his own disciples who still did not understand.

This passage we read this morning (Luke 24:1-7) is primarily about the resurrected Christ, but the subtext is about these faithful women and their role in making known that Jesus was risen from the dead. It is obvious that they did not expect to find Jesus raised from the dead. You can tell this by observing what they were carrying. In the same way that if we were to ask each other to reveal what we have in our pockets, wallets, purses, man purses, etc. we could make all kinds of observations about each other that we may never know of otherwise. We don’t know what’s inside the hearts of these women, but we can observe what they carry, and the things they carry of items to care for the dead. [Sometimes the very things we have with us, betray our lack of readiness and preparation for God’s intervention.]

NT Wright says that, “In Jewish culture it was believed that resurrection would be a large-scale that would come after Israel’s great and final suffering, and that all God’s people would be given new life, and new bodies” (290).

The thought was that Israel would be “redeemed from suffering, but the message of the Gospel and the point of resurrection is that we are redeemed through suffering, not from it.”

One common assumption is that these woman had no faith, but it’s more likely that these people just never dreamed that one person would be raised to life in this manner. Their way of understanding the world just didn’t have this kind of category available.

It’s like in the movie Life Aquatic when they are searching for the Jaguar Shark (no one believed Zissou) — The Shark killed Steve Zissou’s best friend, and he wants to set out to destroy it. “What’s next for Zissou” I’m going to set out to find the shark that ate my best friend and destroy it” Festival Director: [translating] That’s an endangered species at most. What would be the scientific purpose of killing it? Steve Zissou: Revenge.

When everyone aboard saw the tiger shark they were stunned, they didn’t have the category to even imagine something like this.

In a similar way to the discovery of the Jaguar shark Jesus’ resurrection totally reconfigures everything. The impossible is once again shown possible in the Gospel of Luke. We can now add to the list of barren and virgin women giving birth to revolutionary leaders, the resurrection from the dead.

The intervention, the resurrection of this man Jesus from the dead is announced by two men in dazzling clothes! Why Luke? Why Dazzling clothes?

I love the question they ask the women: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

The question could be put more literally, why do you desire to find what cannot be found here, your desire is for life, not for the uselessness of death. The word here for “look” is really about desire, a longing to find something but are not sure where it is.

The men in dazzling clothes say, “wake up, you’re looking in the wrong place! Haven’t you been paying attention? Or in the words of Jesus, listening with your ears? This should no surprise you, this was Jesus, son of Man, God of the impossible.”

2. It in an intervention in our lives, it has transforming power.

And after hearing, this time really hearing, the words of these angelic men, “remember.”

Here’s an important part of this text — they don’t simply hear these words and remember, when they hear they are transformed into messengers who respond in belief and turn around to go and spread the news. Whereas from Luke chapter 9 and following the disciples just don’t really seem to get a handle on Jesus’ mission, now here is a break through. Now, with these women, there is an intervention that wakes them up to who Jesus really is and they respond accordingly.

The word remember here gets repeat a few times in this Luke 24, it is also the word that is used in Luke 22:61 when it says following Peter’s denials, “Then Peter remembered the words of the Lord.” It means to recall, think about again, to have something brought back to the forefront of the mind.

It is the echo of Jesus’ words in the last supper as well.

“Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:18-20 NRSV)

I think that this suggests, among other things, that even when we don’t fully grasp what’s going on, when we are guilty of misunderstanding, disbelief, or are caught in a moment of despair as the women (and disciples surely are here) we need helping remembering, recalling. But in this act of recalling we can be transformed in that moment.

Have you ever been in a moment like that? Where you’re totally off target and not paying attention, and something (or someone) grabs you and says hey wake up! God is here, God loves you, God is present in this situation! Remember, recall, that even the most wretched of situations God is present.

–>It’s noteworthy that the disciples do not believe still after hearing the women, and while Luke shows that God trusts women with the tender message of his son being raised from the dead, even those who heard Christ talk would not believe their message and questioned their credibility. [The word for idle chatter is actually a technical medical term that means “deliruim brough on by a high fever]. Even Peter’s running out to the tomb and is amazed, but does not return with a new message as the women had (Joel Green).

It is only later in the text of Chapter 24 that Jesus, once he reveals himself says, you are witnesses to these things, but we know that these people are transformed, they are the birth mothers and fathers of the church.

The resurrection was an intervention, a final intervention in the lives of Jesus’ disciples. It was the kind of intervention that finally woke them up, transformed them and made them witnesses who would birth the Jesus movement which has continued until this present moment.

This is our heritage, our story – that the resurrection of Jesus is paramount to the Christian church. It is the very thing that wishes to consume us, to grab ahold of us. James McClendon writes, “the resurrection of Jesus Christ lays its claim upon the life of the believer.” Either it really did or it didn’t happen. If it didn’t then we are living out a lie. But if it did happen, our lives really will be completely and totally different. We will not merely change doctrinal allegiences, but will see the all of human life, “the human-self is transformed in all its spheres and strands” in the wake of resurrection.

3. It is an intervention that offers new life out of the old.

And now I want to close with one final thought about resurrection. Earlier we said: Israel thought that it would be “redeemed from suffering, but the message of the Gospel and the point of resurrection is that we are redeemed through suffering, not from it.”

Because the resurrection really happened the world, our way of thinking about reality is completely restructured (or at least it should be!). How are we implicated in this?

The last is also the first. How we live as the church is in direct relationship to the resurrection.

The power of the resurrection and how it shapes the church is seen in early Quakerism and George Fox’s constant mantra “Christ Jesus is here to teach the people himself.” In other words, Christ is risen, and because of that he is here to lead us, to guide us, to give us life, to interpret the scriptures with us, etc. No matter how bleak things may look at times, we live in the wake of the resurrection. [everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:16-17)]

But here’s what I’m really trying to get at, because of the resurrection a new time is here, we might call it the inbetween times (rather than the end times), the old is still present, all things dying around us and in us, it still lingers but the new is here and we live out of the new (McClendon 271).

Resurrection is about new life emerging out of death. It is about being redeemed through the suffering, not escaping it.

And this is how I arrived at Compost. When I first started thinking about this idea of resurrection, and things being made new the first image that came to my mind was Compost.

Compost is usually in a kind of middle-state between total decay, rot and fresh food. There is a process that takes place that requires time, but in the end, we can imagine new life emerging out of death.

And I think this is how our lives our. We as the church recognize that we’re in this middle-state. That we’re trying to live out the commands, the ethics, of Jesus Christ that foster fresh and new ways of living and loving in our world today, but we’re trying to do it in a world that is dying, with bodies that are tired, in situations all around us, in our work and home that are decaying. [ We can surely identify with the women in our passage, unprepared, caught off guard, but truly desiring to respond.]

Our lives our a lot like compost, and so is resurrection. New things come out of this, fresh life. Our way, the Christian way of looking at the world, needs to remember this. That there are signs of life all around us, even in midst of death and decay. That we can help add to the compost heap and help the process along. That our own lives are often life compost, something that was once dead but now is alive. This is surely part of what it means for us to live out the resurrection.

“The deep truth is that all of our life is changed by resurrection newness: Our delights now are tinted by the color of his presense, our guilt is redeemed from futility by his sharing it, our blame devoles into the task of judging all things human in the light of his cross, and our willingness to forgive is shapend by one who lives to forgive us (McClendon).

Christ is making all things new, where in our lives have we had our delights tinted? our Guilt redeemed? Everything shifted because of the cross, or experienced forgiveness from one another because of the forgiveness received?

Query: “When was a moment when you were witness to resurrection?” You can take this one of two ways, there’s a play on witness: either you were an eyewitness to resurrection, or you yourself were a sign of God’s resurrection.

Finally, Take some Compost with you and apply it to your garden or a house plant, let it remind you that God can even use dead stuff to bring to new life.

[photo form http://www.flickr.com/photos/shadowpainter/]

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Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.