Some things take getting used to.
There are simple things like figuring out where the buttons are on a new remote control.
Some things are more complex. Getting married is relatively easy. Being a devoted, loving married couple takes practice and perseverance.
Our chief challenge as followers of Jesus is getting used to the resurrection.
This may sound odd to you: getting used to the resurrection. I don’t mean by it merely learning to accept that Jesus is risen from the dead, although this is an early stage in getting used to the resurrection.
But accepting that Jesus lives is not all that’s involved in getting used to the resurrection. And as crucial as it is to see that Jesus has a wholly new kind of body—a body impervious to suffering and utterly beyond the reach of death—this too is but an initial step in getting used to the resurrection.
The resurrection happened to Jesus. As Peter said, God raised him from the dead. (Acts 2:24, 32) The life he lives is of a radically different order from the mortal life we all live. And the risen Jesus actually comes into our ordinary lives—right here on planet earth—to begin sharing that life with us right now.
Now don’t get me wrong. We will know eternal life in its fullness only once we have departed this life. When our hearts no longer beat and our brain waves have gone flat. In Christ God will raise us from the dead, not as disembodied ghosts but as human beings newly endowed with what Paul calls a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:44)
But in this life, Jesus offers us a foretaste—a partial participation in—the life that we will fully inherit one day. When we accept this foretaste, our whole lives begin to change. At least, that’s the idea. We get the beginnings of a new life. But that new life takes some serious getting used to.
That is one of the key lessons of Jesus’ first appearance to his male disciples. That appearance famously occurred in two scenes. Thomas is absent from the first. He is among his friends in the second.
Many readers of John’s Gospel assume that learning to accept that Jesus is risen is the principal lesson conveyed by the story of Thomas or Doubting Thomas as he is frequently called. (John 20:19-31) But a closer look at that story tells us that much more is going on. And as we’ll see, we face the same spiritual challenge today.
Here’s what strikes me about the passage. Jesus appears the first time, urges his friends to relinquish their fear, bids them peace, breathes the Holy Spirit into them, and gives them the mission of reconciliation.
They’ve been hiding in a locked room. Jesus sends his followers on God’s own mission.
In Jesus, God is reconciling all things to him and reconciling us to one another. Jesus imparts his life—he shares his resurrection—with those disciples so that they can be his hands and feet in the highways and byways, the shops and offices, the fields and the classrooms of their ordinary lives.
The same goes for you and me. Living into the resurrection means to act like someone sent on God’s mission of reconciliation.
Now, scene two.
Jesus returns to the gathered disciples again. They’re in the same room. The doors are still closed. I imagine them still huddled together jumping at every imagined footfall outside the door.
Jesus had stood in their midst and told them to head out into the world to carry out his mission. And their fear or their love of comfort or their attachment to their former lives or their mere denseness kept them within the security of their own walls.
Apparently, resurrection takes some getting used to. For them. And for us.
Getting used to the resurrection is not about merely acknowledging that Jesus conquered death and lives in a whole new way. We are recipients of that life by virtue of our relationship with Jesus. And we are given that life, that relationship, to spread reconciliation boldly in the world around us.
And yet, many of Jesus’ followers remain content to remain in the safety of their solid walls and closed doors.
Some congregations worship faithfully. Their members care tenderly for one another. And they even send money to needy causes or do good works for people beyond their walls. But they keep outsiders outside. They never truly make themselves vulnerable to the stranger as someone who can teach them about Christ. Teach them things that will change them and stretch them.
As individuals we may stay within the security of a different sort of walls. We may draw our friendship circles narrowly, assuming that only those who look like us or think like us can be an intimate part of our lives.
In social media, in face-to-face conversation, and in the news media I hear people say things about those with differ with them politically that I cannot imagine passing through Jesus’ lips. In fact, if Jesus were sitting there, these folks would never say such things.
News flash. He is sitting there. He loves the very people whose character and motivations we impugn. Jesus loves them so much, that we in effect are attacking him when we attach them.
Resurrection takes some getting used to.
Living into resurrection cannot be separated from reconciliation. Jesus said this as plain as the nose on your face.
Getting used to resurrection means to embrace difference with compassion and curiosity and courage.
Getting used to resurrection means to forgive injury. We seek to repair relationship instead of wounding those who have wounded us.
Getting used to resurrection means having the courage to be vulnerable, to take down walls and to open doors, because you can’t love by hiding.
Jesus is giving us the gift of eternal life. We don’t get it all at once. And making use of that gift takes practice and no small amount of effort and courage. Sharing the life that Jesus imparts is not safe. It is sometimes risky. But it is always good.
Jesus realizes this. He doesn’t judge and condemn us for our faltering, clumsy efforts. He is patient with us and helps us. He rejoices in every small step we take forward. Jesus understands that resurrection takes some getting used to.