The Transforming Power of the Resurrection

I’ve always loved the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, that 6-year-old boy with his stuffed tiger that would come to life when no one else was around. Calvin would often play with cardboard boxes he found around his house, and he would turn them into different contraptions. My favorite was when the box was turned upside down, and it became the transmogrifier. Calvin or Hobbes would slide underneath the box and be turned into something else; they would transmogrify. In one strip, Calvin climbs under the machine and tells Hobbes to set it to “Tiger.” (Someone outside the box would need to set the arrow to the thing you wanted to transmogrify into and push an imaginary button, so in this case, Hobbes did it.)

An Eastertide sermon based on Luke 24:36-48.

After a loud “Zap!” Hobbes says, “So you’re a tiger now?” with an excited response from Calvin in the affirmative. Next, we see Calvin come out from under the box as a stubby little tiger standing next to the long and lanky Hobbes. Hobbes surprisingly looks down at Calvin. “Words fail me,” he dryly states. “I’m a bit disappointed too,” Calvin says looking down at himself, “But keep in mind that transmogrification is new technology.” 

What I wouldn’t do for that technology. I could turn limp celery into a chocolate chip cookie. Or Noah, Olivia, Melissa and I could take turns becoming our favorite zoo animals in real life: an elephant, a peacock, a giraffe, and a hippo respectively. If corrugated cardboard could do such things, life would indeed be good.

It’s Easter Sunday once again in our lesson from Luke this morning. It’s late that evening, and the two followers of Jesus who had traveled to Emmaus have just finished telling their story of how they had seen Jesus. Cleopas and the other disciple had rushed back to Jerusalem after their eyes were opened when Jesus took bread, blessed it, and then broke it and gave it to them. And now just as they finished, Jesus himself appears before all of them. But instead of loud shouts of joy, the disciples are terrified. They have just heard the account that these two had seen the risen Lord, and yet when he appears as if on cue, they panic. They think they are seeing a ghost that it’s not Jesus at all.

“Why are you scared,” he asks them. “Why do you doubt?” And then he shows him his hands and feet so they can see that he is flesh and bones and not some wispy phantom. “Touch me,” he tells them. Nothing doing. They still don’t believe. 

“Do you have something to eat?” he asks. So they hand him a piece of broiled fish. He takes it and eats in their presence. Ghosts can’t eat, so he shows them that it is him, he is physically in their midst. He then tells them that this is what he was talking about when he was still with them. But even though he was there in front of them, he didn’t appear in the same way. He’s changed.

Luke makes it a point to show us that Jesus is present. Yes is different, he can pass through walls and appear out of nowhere, but he is physically present as well—he’s made of flesh and bones, and he can eat. This resurrected body isn’t identical to the one Jesus had before, but it is still Jesus. Bishop Tom Wright explains that while for many of us “resurrection simply means life after death… in the Jewish world of the first century it meant a new embodied life in God’s new world.” He further explains, “In an act of new creation parallel only to the original creation itself, God will make a new type of material, no longer subject to death, out of the old one. In Jesus’ case, of course, this happened right away, without his original body decaying, so that the new one was actually the transformation of the old one. For the rest of us, whose bodies will decay, and whose bones may well be burnt, it will take a complete act of new creation.” God took Jesus’ dead physical body and transformed it into a new one, a resurrected body that will never die again. And according to St. Paul, we will all be changed at the resurrection of the dead. (1 Cor 15:51)

After Jesus makes it clear that he isn’t a ghost, he begins to give his disciples instructions about the work they are called to do, the mission before them. Jesus opens the minds and hearts of the disciples to understand Scripture, and he tells them “that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Or, as the Message Bible puts it, Jesus says, “‘You can see now how it is written that the Messiah suffers, rises from the dead on the third day, and then a total life-change through the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed in his name to all nations—starting from here, from Jerusalem! You’re the first to hear and see it. You’re the witnesses.’”

Total life-change through the forgiveness of sins. That’s the mission of the church. That’s the message that Jesus wants his disciples to share with the world. They are witnesses of all that he had done. They see how he overcame death and the grave and how he was raised. Jesus is in front of them, physically present and yet changed. They see the reality of what will be true for all of his followers: a resurrected body able to live in both heaven and earth, although in the end, those two realms will come together.

I’m not sure about you, but I can certainly see myself in the disciples. There are times when I am paralyzed, afraid, tentative, and uncertain. Even when I hear of the stories of others who have seen the risen Lord, sometimes I am hesitant to believe that Jesus can bring about the change that I so desperately need. I sometimes think it’s easier to believe that things won’t be different, that disappointment will always be present, that relationships will continue to fail, and that sin will get the upper hand. 

But then in my better moments, I know that that is not the way it is supposed to be. I see more clearly. I sense the longing deep within me believing that God will intervene and make all things right. Through Christ’s rising from the dead, he has already triumphed over the power of sin and death and the grave. He has already made things right. That’s why Jesus says to his disciples—and us—you’re my witnesses. You’re the ones who have seen it. You’ve experienced the power of the resurrection. And now you need to share that with a hurting world.

You see, he wants to embody transformation, to live the resurrection. To see for that new way in our life. To be that change to those we love. To offer it to our world. He wants to fill us so much with his presence that we cannot help but go out as his witnesses, as ones touched by his love, and share his message of hope with this world. 

Imagine what this world would be like if we became truly transformed through Jesus’ love and lived his message. Imagine the hope it would give to families dealing with brokenness and fear, to teenagers feeling that they are less than enough, and to those who are addicted and feel trapped. Imagine what change that embodied love could bring about for those who are food insecure, those who are marginalized, or the ones dying alone. Imagine what it would do in this parish if we truly allowed Christ’s resurrection power to flow through us and transform us, giving us the courage to proclaim Jesus’ message of new life through the forgiveness of sins, and live lives of transformation, of the resurrection.

And that’s the sort of life we invite these three little ones who will be baptized today to join us in. To live as people who have experienced the profound love of Jesus, to share his good news, and to work for justice and peace in our world.

We cannot climb under a box and flip a switch and be transmogrified into something different. But we can come to this table and receive the body of Christ, and feed on him, and allow his presence to change our lives. We can hear his words and believe the words of St. Paul that “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” (Rom 8:11). We are an Easter people, people of the resurrection. We are called to bring Christ’s message to our world. Will we allow ourselves to be transformed? Will we believe in the risen Christ? Will we offer ourselves in service to him?

Image by jan mesaros from Pixabay.

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