One of the common elements of the Resurrection of Jesus in all four of the Gospels is that no one expects it. No one expected the resurrection and, quite frankly, no one really believes it at first. The women come to the tomb expecting to anoint Jesus’ dead body. His dead body. It’s only when “two men in dazzling apparel” remind them of Jesus’ words that they remember.
Energized by this encounter, the women run back to tell the rest of the disciples…who greet their tale with sheer skepticism. St. Luke writes that the disciples took it as an “idle tale.” Now, that’s a kind translation of the Greek word. The word is the root of our English word “delirious.” The eleven disciples thought the women were crazy, that they had gone a bubble off plumb.
And, to be honest, who can blame them? I mean, the resurrection isn’t simply the claim that Jesus wasn’t dead after all. It’s not like one of those hospital stories, where the patient is pronounced dead, but then suddenly is alive again.
This is resurrection. The Jesus who leaves the tomb on Easter is not exactly the same Jesus who was laid in the tomb on Good Friday. He’s been changed, metamorphosed, resurrected. The mortal has put on immortality. The perishable has been clothed with the imperishable. And God has lifted the whole human story to an entirely new plane!
Which can be unsettling. The Resurrection breaks all the rules. It’s not something anyone can replicate in a laboratory. Which means that no one can really explain the resurrection of Jesus, at least not in any terms known to man or science.
Jesus’ resurrection throws everything off balance. Turns our neat and orderly lives inside out and upside down. If the dead don’t stay dead…now what? All of which means, that if you don’t find Resurrection of Jesus at least a little hard to believe, you probably aren’t paying attention!
And, truth be told, I suspect that’s where most of us really are. We’ve heard the story of Easter so often it hardly makes us blink, let alone send us into shock, wondering whether we have lost our mind. Which is too bad, because the resurrection is huge! When it sinks in and lays hold of a person, everything…absolutely everything…looks different.
In the late 1980s, there was a foreign film called “Babette’s Feast,” a Danish movie based on the novel by Isak Dinesen. Set in 19th century Denmark, it’s about two aging spinster sisters who care for a group of intensely pietistic Lutherans on the windswept coast of Jutland. Their lives are simple and hard. And the story powerfully demonstrates this by the food they eat. Mostly dried fish and hard bread, cooked together into a ghoulish looking stew. Taking these hardships as a measure of their piety—the harder their life, the more sincere their devotion to God—these believers tend to be equally hard on one another. Gossip. Petty squabbles. Grudges.
In the story, a French woman, named Babette, suddenly appears at the sisters’ door, a refugee from revolutionary violence in Paris. She was a cook, and becomes the sisters’ housekeeper. They teach this Frenchwoman their austere diet, and she complies in making it…but over time adds little herbs and other touches to humanize their austerity. The community notices the difference.
One day, Babette discovers that she has won the French lottery. Everyone thinks she will collect her wealth and move back to Paris, and they’ll have to go back to eating their ghoulish soup. But she surprises them all by spending her winnings on what she calls, “a real French dinner.” Babette returns to Paris to arrange for supplies to be sent. The ingredients are plentiful, sumptuous, and exotic, and their arrival in that austere Danish village causes much discussion. They can’t believe it! They’ve never seen such things to eat!
And as the various never-before-seen ingredients continue arrive—pheasant, quail, a great turtle, and all sorts of vegetables that never grow on the coast of Denmark…plus case after case of different kinds of wines and liquors—as the ingredients arrive and the preparations commence, the pious sisters begin to worry that the meal will become a sin of sensual luxury, if not something outright satanic. But they can’t be inhospitable. So the sisters and the other believers agree to eat the meal, but they swear not to take any pleasure in it, and make no mention of its flavor.
Well…although these stern and severe Christians refuse to comment on the earthly pleasure they find as they eat, Babette’s feast soon breaks down their misguided severity. The food elevates them physically and spiritually. The movie itself, predominantly black and white and gray throughout much of the story, begins to exhibit more and more color as the dinner progresses.
Old wrongs are forgotten, past loves are rekindled, and a redemptive glow, like a resurrection from the dead, envelopes the guests around the table. They are changed in ways they never imagined…like nothing their grim, stoic faith had ever known.
That’s the sort of feast which St. Luke and the other Gospel writers give us by their accounts of Easter. And all four of the Gospels are so different, although the menu is basically the same…Jesus lives, the angels say so, the women can’t quite believe it, the men don’t believe the women. But all four Gospels separately and together spread a glorious feast. No one seems to know what to do next. It’s mass confusion! And the whole lot of them are afraid and overjoyed at the same time! Oh, that we could have tasted the feast they enjoyed that day!
Because 21st Century Christian faith has grown grim in recent time, like those severely pious Danes. We watch while centuries of Christian influence in western culture is erased, unraveled, ruled out of order…even called bigoted and unloving. And we wonder, what happened?! Christians end up bickering among themselves, and in public we get more and more shrill. And an awful sort of severity permeates a faith which once was marked by great joy, a generous calm, and a steadfast patience in a pagan world that was hardly conducive to the faith.
But they tasted the great feast of Easter. No, outside of only a few, the early Christians didn’t know Jesus any more personally than we can. But while Christianity today just seems to heat and reheat the same old thin gruel of an entertainment-oriented faith or a bitter stew of resentments about the changes in our culture…those first Christians, who faced things we have not even dreamed of facing, they dined on the miracle of Easter, and that feast changed everything…in time, even their pagan culture.
Our Reading stops with Peter’s amazement, but the Easter feast goes on, as God continues to challenge the certainty of death with the promise of life in His Son. But go ahead, if you feel so compelled, and tell God that you think it’s outrageous to expect anyone to believe that Jesus has risen. Go ahead and tell God that you have to be realistic, and you will take no pleasure from His Easter feast. It wouldn’t be the first time someone told Him that.
“Why do you seek the living among the dead?” In the living Christ, God spreads great feast of faith, with awe and wonder, joy and laughter…a feast for today and forever. Do you think that He would offer you anything less?