Our brains receive a lot of information. Those things that are important or significant to us we keep, the rest our brain deep sixes them. Most of this happens so fast that we don’t notice.
When there is something that our brains can’t figure out or makes no sense, our brains seem to stop. Do we keep this information even though it seems tainted or do we throw it away?
I listen to NPR, typically, when I am driving around. I heard a story about how babies process new information. They found that babies pay more attention to something that is surprising. Babies want to figure out new information. If you wonder why babies bang something or drop something, it is because they running their own experiments to see what will happen. When things do not happen as predicted, babies try to figure it out.
It seems somewhere along the way, we begin to doubt what we see. For example, a baby thinks a mail box is magic. This is because mom or dad will go to what was an empty mail box and then there are things in there that were not there before – magic! This is often called magical thinking and it is normal for small children.
We are always trying to make sense of the world. When we are very young, we attribute magic to fill in the gaps of our understanding. As we get older, we realize that there is no magic and that if we don’t understand how something works, it is because we don’t understand it yet, but we can find out. Turning a key of a car doesn’t magically make the engine start.
If we lived 200 years ago and someone said that there is a machine that can fly us in the air, we would think that person was nuts. When we get sick today, we don’t see a doctor for a bloodletting. George Washington would have lived longer if his doctor knew bloodletting made people worse not better. The likely scary thing is that 200 years from now, people look back at us and think how primitive our methods are.
A popular phrase these days is, “I don’t know what I don’t know.” How can anyone argue against that? I don’t know!
American society today sanitizes death. We have a whole industry to take care of people who die. The dead are taken care of in a building that we don’t see inside and don’t want to see inside. Most people can’t stand to say or hear the word. We typically don’t say someone died. We say someone passed. Passed what? An exam?
Not all that long ago, someone’s death was taken care of in the home and the community shared in the preparation of the body for the community burial. Death was real. It was part of living. Death was something that happened to everyone. And when you were dead, you were dead.
This is a really long way to get at the shock of knowing that the dead stay dead and our minds can’t conceive of someone being alive who was dead. There is no such thing as magic. Magic is not real and people don’t magically come back to life.
I know how a plane can lift off the ground and fly. I know that a car key closes an electrical circuit that causes the starter motor to turn the car engine. I know that bloodletting is a bad idea, though it is getting a new life for some treatments. I don’t know how someone who was dead can be alive again. I don’t know what I don’t know and neither did the disciples.
The disciple’s dead friend shows up and says, “Peace be with you.” Jesus likely just said, “Shalom.” I think my reaction would be no different than theirs, fear. Seeing something unknown can trigger the fight or flight response and it is fear that causes that.
Jesus had two tasks: he had to prove that he was who they think he was and that he wasn’t dead. He was real. I don’t know how many ghosts the disciples saw in their lifetimes, but Jesus tells them that ghosts don’t have flesh and bones. Once those tasks were done, Jesus could alleviate their fear.
Their fear and shock of seeing something magical was turned to joy. Even then, Luke and others noted that that their joy was accompanied by disbelief. There’s no such thing as magic. “It’s Jesus but I don’t believe it’s Jesus.”
Just a word about magic: Magic gets a bad rap. We like to watch magic tricks, because we know that they are tricks and just like babies we want to know how they were done. We use the word magic, at times, as a substitute for something we don’t understand. To someone 200 years ago, a flying plane would be powered by magic. Just because we don’t understand something doesn’t mean it isn’t real.
Back to our story. Jesus knew that he had more convincing to do. Jesus asked for food. Ghosts don’t ask for food. Ghosts don’t eat. So they give Jesus some fish and Jesus ate it right in front of them. See – ghosts don’t eat food, but Jesus did. What the disciples knew about how the world works was just turned upside down. It was hard for them to accept what they were seeing with own eyes.
They didn’t fully grasp Jesus’ teachings before the crucifixion. Now with the resurrection fully in their faces, Jesus teaches them again: The law, the prophets, and the psalms all pointed to Jesus’ arrival in history. The messiah had to rise on the third day. The message of forgiveness starts in Jerusalem and is to be taken to the rest of the world. And guess what? Jesus says, “I’m not taking that message to the world.” You are.
How the disciples told this story could have been very different. If they told it as a ghost story, it would have been a best seller. If they had told it as a ghost story, they would be popular with the Roman authorities. If they told it as a ghost story, they would not have been persecuted. If they told it as a ghost story, they would not have ever been arrested. If they told it as a ghost story, they would not have been executed by the state.
It would be easy for them to tell it as a ghost story – a lot easier than the story they told. They didn’t pick the easy way. Of course, to tell the story as a ghost story they would all have to agree to tell it that way. Instead, they told the truth.
The disciples could not explain the resurrection. None of it made sense. There was no theological paper, at the time. It is not until St. Paul’s letters do we get some theological reflection of the resurrection. Even then, Paul couldn’t explain what Jesus’ body was like. What these disciples did was tell stories. They said, “This is what happened. I can’t explain it. It just is the way it is.”
The resurrection was not magic. It was not a ghost story. It was an event that showed God was alive and working in the world. The disciples lived under a brutal military occupation. Twenty-one centuries later Christians live under brutal military occupations and perhaps worse under brutal fanatics. Then and now, Christians have hope.
If nothing else, the resurrection is all about hope. Hope for those being persecuted and hope for us that have life comparatively easy. When we provide food for those in need without condition, they can say, “At least today, I will eat.” To be a Christian is to be a person of hope and to share hope.
We are heirs with Christ and we are heirs of those early witnesses. We didn’t see what happened, but, I assume, we are here because we believe the stories of the witnesses. We can’t explain it either. But we don’t have to explain it. We just need to tell the stories.
Text: Luke 24:37–48