The Rev. Tom Callard – April 18, 2021
I have a friend who went up to his car one time on the street, and he opened the door and sat down, and he realized after about ten seconds that it wasn’t his car, but it was a car that looked a lot like his. And moreover there was a woman in the passenger seat who wasn’t his wife, who didn’t look at all like his wife.
And I bring that up to say that in life there are moments when we perceive things a certain way. Those perceptions of course can change, for example when we realize that it’s not our car. And the perceptions are different from person to person. Two people can see the same thing very differently. If you remember from a few years ago, but there was a big debate on the internet about a dress, whether it was blue or it was gold. It was the same picture, the same dress, but a totally different way of seeing it from one person to another.
So in the question of Easter and in these stories of the resurrection of Jesus Christ which we hear about at Easter, sometimes we may wonder what really happened that morning two thousand years ago? Because the stories in the Gospel are all different. At one place on Easter morning you have Mary Magdalene alone as the first person who encounters Jesus. In another Gospel, you have Mary Magdalene and another Mary as those who first see him. In another Gospel, it is Cleopas and an unnamed man who first find him.
And then at the tomb, one of the Gospels has Mary Magdalene encountering a young man dressed in white. Another has two Marys finding an angel at the tomb. And in another there are two angels. And in the fourth there are two men who greet the women at the tomb, no angels and no man dressed in white.
It is confusing trying to make sense of all of these accounts and you may want to know, well what are the facts? What really happened at Easter? It’s helpful to remember that the Bible is of course Word of God, but the Word of God has come to us filtered through people. The Bible was inspired by God, but it was written by people each of whom has their own unique experiences of life. Each of whom may see the car as their own, even if its not. Each of whom may see the dress as yellow or as blue depending on all sorts of things. People are all unique and each of us sees the world in our own way.
And so the Bible, while inspired by God, records not so much the facts about God as it does perceptions and experiences of people’s encounters of God. I don’t know if you noticed, but the Easter story from last week had Jesus appearing to the disciples as they are locked in a room. And Thomas isn’t there. So when Jesus appears again, Thomas has to touch and see Jesus for himself.
But this week, the resurrected Jesus appears to the disciples, in the same basic story, but Thomas is there. Jesus appears to all of them at once. And this week none of the disciples really believe that it’s Jesus. So he has to say- look at me, everyone. Look at my hands and my feet. And see that it is I.
So the facts of Jesus, the facts of the resurrection, and the facts of Easter are hard to pin down in something so humanly inspired as the Bible. And in some sense it’s helpful to realize that in certain contexts the facts don’t matter.
I don’t know if you do this, but lets say you sit down at night at the table in your house at the place where you pay your bills. Someone recently was talking about doing their taxes in their home, so if you do your taxes at home you have a place where you sit and you do them. I know I have a spot at the table in the dining room where I pay the bills. That’s the spot for me. Or maybe you have a place in your home where, when you can’t sleep, you get up and go to that place, and you sit there thinking about the facts of your life. I imagine this place as the place to see the facts of your life.
And as you sit there and look at the facts of your life, you might say something like this – it is a fact that as I sit here at this table looking at my bills, I do not have enough money to pay them. It is a fact that I’ve got more bills than money. It’s there in the numbers. Or, you might say, it is a fact that my medical test results came back and the news is bad. Or, it is a fact that this person I love so much is in trouble. Or a fact that I lost my job, and I don’t know what’s next. Or that my child is struggling or my marriage is bad. Or this other thing out there that I can bear to see.
So you imagine this experience of sitting there looking at these facts in your life that can be overwhelming. Or you could even look at the world and the facts out there. For example: the fact that the climate is changing and we are heading for environmental collapse. Or the fact that some people hate others because of the color of their skin, or their sexuality, or because they’re immigrants. Or the fact that in the united states so far this year there have been more than 126 mass shootings. Or the fact that there are children sleeping on the streets today as well as people who don’t have enough food in a world of plenty.
And you can look at these facts of life and the facts of your own life. And you can try and deny them, as some politicians do. But the fact remains that these things are real. And as you sit there at your table, as you sit there pondering the reality of your life and you just let these facts wash over you, imagine how much you are just like the disciples in the Gospel today.
And as they sat at their table, or wherever it was they did their thinking and they looked at their life, they may have said something like this – it is a fact that we gave up everything to follow Jesus, and now he’s gone. And it is a fact that we saw him get arrested, and he was tried and put to death. And it is a fact that we saw him up there on the cross.
Talk about facts, they may say, I stood under him as he died on the cross, and I saw him dead and I took his dead body and I helped to take it down and wrap it up. And you know the fact of death is that death is final. And then I helped to put him in the tomb. And then they covered it with this big stone. That stone is a fact.
So these are the facts the disciples say to themselves in the time after Jesus is gone. And they gather together, wherever it is, with this set of facts out there, just like the facts we face of bills and concerns and all that keeps us awake in the middle of the night.
And here’s where the story goes next. Because after this time of dealing with facts, here comes the truth. And the amazing thing about the truth is that the truth is not necessarily the same as the facts. We get these two things confused at time, and we tend to think of facts as truth. But the reality is that the facts tell you one story. And the truth tells you another.
The truth is if you see the dress as blue, you see it as blue, that’s the truth, and if you see it as gold, you see it as gold. You sat down in the car because you truthfully thought its your car. Even though its not. But that was your truth at the moment.
And so we have to appreciate that the Bible isn’t so much concerned about facts of Jesus’s life and death and resurrection as it is about truth. And the truth is that Jesus appeared to those disciples in that locked room and Thomas wasn’t there. And the truth is also that Jesus appeared to the same disciples in another Gospel and Thomas was there. Both things are true.
And the truth is that he appeared to a bunch of people on the morning of the resurrection, and these appearances were all different and contradictory and the facts may not coincide, but that doesn’t mean there’s no truth in the way Jesus appeared first to Mary and also to two Marys also to Cleopas. And there was a young man in white at the tomb, and there was an angel at the tomb, and there were two angels at the tomb, and there were no angels at all.
And all of that is true, because here in the space of Spirit, when we find ourselves in the presence of God and the things of God, we are dealing with more than facts.
We are dealing with how each soul encounters the personal experience of God.
What does real truth look like to God? What does Biblical truth look like on Sunday morning at church or in those moments when we step back from everything and open ourselves to Jesus and open our hearts to the narrative of the divine? Real, Biblical truth looks like this: It comes to us and it says to us this word, it says: peace. And you look at it, and you say – peace, what are you talking about? Look at the facts: I’ve got these bills, I’ve got these problems. I can’t pretend they’re not there. It’s like saying: He died. I took his body down. It’s in the tomb. There is a stone.
That’s what we say. We respond like the disciples today. And then truth comes back, like Jesus and says, why do you doubt? And what’s great about truth is that we may not accept it, especially at first, especially if we’ve been wrestling and living so long in the world of facts. But what’s great about truth is that it is persistent. Truth will out as someone said. Jesus is persistent. Come on, he says back to the disciples. Look at me. Don’t you see it is I?
They can try and reject the truth, but there it is. This is his power, Jesus’s power, that once he has us, he doesn’t want to let us go. He doesn’t want to let us sit there at the table and fester in the fear of our facts. He doesn’t want to let us stay locked in those rooms like the disciples. He comes back again and again and he says to us these words: don’t you see that I am here? In other words, don’t you see the truth right before you.
I like to think that at some point after we struggle, be it on Sunday morning or at times of prayer, or in moments of clarity, I like to think that at some point we just kind of accept what’s true. That we let ourselves believe it. It can be hard to do, it can be challenging, it can be mind-boggling, especially if like me you love to dwell in this world of facts.
And what is the truth you can accept? We can believe in Jesus. Don’t necessarily believe in what I say, don’t believe what they tell you on TV, or your computer or your phone, don’t necessarily believe what the media tells you. I mean you can believe these things. Most of what people say is not a lie. But when it comes to finding within you that which is honest and true, believe Jesus.
Believe it when Jesus says that God loves you. Believe it when Jesus says that you have been freed from sin. Believe it when Jesus says that he will never let you go. Believe it when Jesus says that you have been empowered to do amazing things in his name. That’s true.
Easter, the experience of Easter, is another way of describing the moment that each of these men and women in the Bible discovers for themselves the truth, not the facts of life, not the facts of death, not the facts of the crucifixion and the facts of the tomb. But the truth of life that goes beyond death. The truth of the power of good which is stronger than evil. The truth of God’s love in which we live, that there is always hope.
The experience of Easter is the experience of facing the facts of the tomb, or sitting there at your table looking at the things that most challenge you, and then in the next moment realizing that everything will be all right. For Jesus has risen. And he has appeared to you. May the risen Lord bless you and keep you this morning and forever. Amen.