By Pastor Dan
I contacted Pastor Dan, a wonderful man of God. Years ago I visited him in my hometown church. The message that Sunday clasped the tightness of grief away from my heart. I have shared it with others, and now have received permission from him to share it publicly. I will protect his full identity from others who do not share in these beliefs.
About a year after one of my loved ones dies, I usually have a dream. I call it the “resurrection dream.” In the dream, the real life happenings leading up to the person’s death get reviewed.
‘But, I thought you had a stroke and were in a nursing home.’
‘But, I thought you dropped dead of a heart attack.’
‘But, I thought you were run over by a drunk driver.’
‘But, I thought you were thrown from the vehicle.’
And the person who was dead tells me, “It was a mistake. I am alive, and I’m ok.” And in the dream they are concretely alive. I can see their person. I can hear his or her voice. I can touch them like I used to. I am always confused, relieved, mystified, apprehensive, joyful….all at once. But I awake in peace. The dream always unlocks something for me, sending me on my way toward life after death.
I always think there must be some archetypal truth to that dream. I always hope that there is some kind of universal truth of the human experience of resurrection in it. When I read the post-resurrection appearance stories like Jesus’ encounter with Thomas, I do so from a vantage point of one who has lived through the trauma of parting. I do so as one who has been confused, apprehensive, and relieved. I do so as one who has lived in the joyful mystery that somehow, someway, the power of life outlives the power of death.
In post-resurrection appearance stories, I always imagine that the disciples go through something like I do in my ‘resurrection dream’. It doesn’t take much to conjure up an understanding of their confusion, their apprehension, their polarities of sadness and joy as they mourn the end of the three years of ministry with Jesus, the three days of conflict and loss, and now deal with the ambiguity of a rising.
The fact is; they were touched by this Jesus….they bought into the things He said and the way He lived. They had experienced in Him the way the world ought to be. They walked with Him in His life, in His work, and in His suffering and death albeit in varying degrees of admirability. No matter how we scrutinize their behavior, they were there with Him through it in some degree of proximity.
So there they were in today’s story, alone but together, fearful, hiding in a locked up room on the night of the first Easter Sunday. They undoubtedly were trying to process the fast events of those days that were like a dream, nay, a nightmare, while they also lived in fear over what was next. “What was I thinking”? “If I’d have only done this instead of that!” “Where did the body go? Is He really risen from the dead?” “What’s going to happen to us?”
It was then that Jesus came to them, as they hid, locked in fear. The power of the resurrection began to shine forth for them when they saw their beloved Lord and they hear His voice saying, “Peace be with you.” He once again became a reality for them when he let them touch the wounds in His hands and side and breathed on them the Holy Spirit. Jesus unlocked for them the paschal mystery in which they had been participating. He was unlocking them in order to set them on course toward new life. And He did so by reminding them of their orientation to His way of life that they bought into: “As the father has sent me, so I send you. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any they are retained.”
I always think it must have been like a dream; like a quiet, amazing, beautiful, real, intimate dream Jesus quietly arose and began appearing to the people He had chosen to live His way of life, and carry out His mission. It must have been like a dream that, in a finite way, points to a reality that is so awesome, so moving, so profound, and so infinite.
The stark contrast between the finite and the infinite was exactly Thomas’ problem, and it’s a reasonable problem. Thomas, like any of us who were not there, as much as said, “I don’t get it. Y’all are nuts…going around talking about seeing Jesus alive. Unless I see I cannot believe.”
And in case we didn’t get the boundless character of Jesus in the first appearance to the disciples, we can’t help but to get it when Jesus appeared to Thomas. Not bound by death and the grave, not bound by fear and locked doors, not bound by even time and space, Jesus came back again for Thomas. “Peace be with you, “ Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt, but believe.”
At that moment, Jesus gave Thomas exactly what he needed for faith. The finite and the infinite converged. The bound became unbound. The locked became the unlocked. And Thomas uttered that moving faith declaration, “My Lord and My God!” And it echoes down through the centuries to us, who have not seen and yet believe.
As for the disciples on that first Easter night, form our perspective all these centuries later, the resurrection sometimes seems like half-dream and half-reality; half finite and half infinite. But the fact of the matter is that we live on this side of it and in its power. We are literally affected by Christ’s boundlessness to time and space. We live deeply, concretely in His real presence at our core and that does something good to our daily lives. It makes us rise.
So, do not doubt, but believe.
John 20:19-29New International Version (NIV)
Jesus Appears to His Disciples
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Jesus Appears to Thomas
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
In my own understanding of Pastor Dan’s message, I am risen. Yes, I will admit that I too have had those “resurrection dreams.” I am not the only one who has besides him. Where is that cord that connects the finite to the infinite in Jesus? Faith to believe.
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