Second Sunday of Easter

Reading 1: Acts 2:14a, 22-32
Reading 2: Psalm 16
Reading 3: Peter 1:3-9
Reading 4: John 20:19-31
By Bruce G. Epperly

We can experience resurrection power in miraculous ways. We can experience divine resuscitations, breathing with Jesus, restoring spirits and communities in ways we never would have expected. I believe that mainline, progressive, and process spiritual leaders and theologians need to reclaim words like “miracle” in new and creative ways, emphasizing transformation, energy, new life, and physical, spiritual, and emotional recovery congruent with the vision of an adventurous God moving in the lively interdependent realm of cause and effect. We need to be theologically and spiritually bold, expecting great things from God and great things from ourselves.

In the Acts reading, Peter proclaims the power of God revealed in the resurrection of Jesus. Death in all its forms, physical, emotional, existential, and communal, cannot defeat Christ or us. Ezekiel’s vision is spot on: these dry bones can live! Divine power is life-giving power. While Peter’s concepts of divine planning and foreknowledge can be problematic for those of us who see the future as open-ended and relational, we can affirm that God has an unfolding vision that is intimate and immediate, and global and long term. God’s calling through the gift of possibilities and the energy to embody them need not be coercive but can be liberating. Moreover, divine election can be all-embracing rather than exclusive. God’s presence is not homogenous or impersonal, but may be more evident, by God’s choice, in some places than others. Some moments can be Christomorphic, as result of divine lure, environmental factors, and personal decisions, and can accordingly reveal energy and creativity that is astounding and life-changing, transforming cells and souls alike. We can be little Christs, “shamans of the spirit,” mediating transformative power to heal our world.

Peter’s words open the door to survival after death, another challenging theological pathway for progressive Christians. Despite our humility, the most significant historical and biblical meaning of resurrection involves Jesus’ transcending the power of death and living on as agent and subject on earth and in heaven. Process theologians have often been far too humble in reflections on the afterlife; they have made agnosticism and sometimes even unbelief in survival after death an article of faith! Given the plethora of best-selling texts of near death experiences, offering glimpses of heaven, we need to both humble and hopeful in our preaching and speculation on the afterlife. We are rightfully worried about the temptation of being so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good. But, process theology’s affirmation of the interdependence of life and creaturely creativity enables us to imagine a relational, evolving, and creative afterlife, in which new energies of love and artistry, forgiveness and reconciliation, healing and transformation will be available to us beyond the grave. In claiming the complex interdependence of life and imagining continuity of personal identity in the afterlife, we can articulate an ethics of immortality, affirming that our life choices today, personally and politically, shape peoples’ experiences now and beyond the grave. Though we must recognize that we see in a mirror dimly, we can be both heavenly minded and earthly good.

Psalm 16 connects fidelity to God with a sense of joy and abundance. This is not a form of linear acts-consequences theology in which the righteous are always rewarded and the unrighteous always punished, but the promise of relationship that awakens us to God’s path of life. Faithfulness to God does not guarantee success but it opens us to this-worldly wholeness and holiness, and to the experience of divinity amid the chaos of life.

I Peter proclaims new birth, new life, new hope, and personal and communal rejoicing as a result of our faith in God’s ever-living love and fidelity. We can rejoice in our personal and communal trials, knowing God has a glorious future planned for us. This future comes moment by moment, and over the long-haul as companions in God’s ever-faithful, resurrection love.

On Easter night, the disciples experience another kind of resurrection. Jesus appears out of nowhere, able as a result of his resurrection body – perhaps a highly-charged energetic body – to go beyond the limitations of normal human bodies. Jesus encounters his disciples as embodied and still bearing his wounds. He breathes on his disciples, giving them a form of spiritual resuscitation, enlivening them by his power and energizing them for mission. In an interdependent universe, could we breathing Jesus’ Easter night breath? Can we today inhale divine energy and wisdom with every breath?

John 20 concludes with a portrait of the heroic Thomas, who misses the excitement of Jesus’ resurrection, but stays with the disciples, faithfully opening to what may come. He is rightfully agnostic, and so should we, given the many wild and unsubstantiated claims by spiritual leaders today and throughout history. His faithfulness is found in his willingness to participate in the resurrection community, despite his missing the community’s mystical encounter with the Risen Christ. Surely, he felt left out, and yearned for a resurrection experience. But, Thomas did not sacrifice his questioning mind for the sake of going along with the crowd. His agnosticism is an openness to experience, not a closed mind. He willingly opens to resurrection when he encounters the Living Christ.

John concludes with an invitation to imagine the many textures of Jesus’ life. The fullness of Christ cannot be contained by any text, including our Bible. We cannot think small about Jesus; there is more to Jesus than we imagine or contain in the written word. Resurrection expands our minds and inspires unexpected compassion. John’s gospel invites us to be part of the resurrection story and become living witnesses to new life in our worlds. We are writing the resurrection story in our time by our faithful opening to divine resuscitation and willingness to go forth with good news of life-transforming love.