Background Scripture: Luke 24:36-53 Devotional Reading: Acts 2:22-32.
I confess that last week’s column gave me quite a bit of trouble. As you may remember, the scripture passages for each week are selected, not by me, but by a committee representing 40 denominations that use the Uniform Lesson Series.
The passage the committee selected for last week was Luke 24:1-12, the story of Mary Magdalene and other women followers of Jesus visiting the tomb to anoint Jesus, finding his body missing from the tomb, encountering two angelic figures, and the women’s returning to tell the apostles, who dismissed their report as “an idle tale.” My problem was that I was attempting to write an Easter column on the Risen Christ with a prescribed passage of scripture that included only an empty tomb. But the Easter faith is founded, not on an absence of something – a tomb that is empty – but a presence of something – the resurrected Lord! Without the Easter account of a Risen Lord, there would be no Christmas, no Pentecost, no New Testament, and no Christianity. And all of that is dependant upon, not an empty tomb, but the experience of the resurrected Christ. All four gospels and Paul concur on the centrality of the resurrection. DIFFERENT REPORTS
Some people, however, have a problem with the different ways in which the resurrected Christ is variously depicted in the New Testament. Luke tells us: (1) on the Emmaus road the two disciples did not recognize Jesus until he broke bread with them in the Emmaus Inn, Lke. 24:30-32; (2) as soon as they recognized him, he vanished from their sight, 24:31; (3) when he appeared to the apostles, he challenged them to see him, not as a hallucination, but as a being of material substance, “flesh and bones,” 24:37-43; (4) at Bethany he ascends out of their sight, 24:50-53.
So, within Luke’s own Easter accounts there seem to be some inconsistencies – between Christ as a physical or a spiritual presence, and also whether these appearances were in Jerusalem, Galilee or both. These same inconsistencies can be noted between Luke, Matthew, John, and Paul. (Mark speaks only of an empty tomb.) For me, the discrepancies are supportive of faith in the Risen Lord rather than destructive. I would be a lot more concerned if all resurrection accounts were alike, because that’s not the way it is in human spiritual experience. Lots of different strokes for lots of different folks! NOT JUST ONE WAY
We are different people with different perceptions and different spiritual capacities. There is not just one right way to experience the resurrected Lord and it is at the very least presumptuous for us to tell God, “You gotta do it this way, Lord!” Jesus may come alive to us in dreams, visions, extraterrestrial voices, persistent thoughts, Biblical testimony, human relationships, and/or numinous feelings that can, at best, be described, but not reduced to, a formula or a photograph.
God doesn’t demand or expect uniformity in our spiritual experiences. He doesn’t call us to explain or devise theories of the resurrection, nor are we expected to rationalize it. According to Luke, what God does challenge us to do in our diverse ways is to experience the Risen Lord and share that experience with as many others as we can.
In his book, Witness, Whittaker Chambers writes: “A man is not primarily a witness against something. That is only incidental to the fact that he is a witness for something. A witness, in the sense that I am using the word, is a man whose life and faith are so completely one that even when the challenge comes to step out and testify for his faith, he does so, disregarding all rules, accepting all consequences.” God gives us, not a suggestion, but a command: “You are witnesses of these things” (24:48).