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At the beginning of my senior year of high school, I bought my first car – a used 1967 VW Beetle. It was pretty old and beat up by the time I got it, but I loved that car! The Bug gave me freedom and mobility. It taught me about working on cars. And together, the Bug and I drove around, up and down the east coast, for almost 6 years before it finally stopped running.
I know this is kind of a “guy thing”, but many guys like me feel a special attachment to their first car. And even after the Bug stopped running, I couldn’t bear to part with it, so it sat in the parking lot of the Seminary dorm for a couple of years, even after I had to get a different car. Finally, with graduation approaching, the Seminary President and I made a deal. If I got the Bug out of the parking lot, he’d let me graduate! So, I did and he did!
But before the Bug got hauled off, I removed the VW logo from the hood as a memento of my first car. I put it in a safe place so I could always remember and have a little piece of that time in my life. It was just a small keepsake, but it was a special little piece of what had once been a whole car.
And sometimes, when Christians imagine eternal life with God, I’m afraid that that’s the way we think of Resurrection – in heaven, God will preserve a small, little piece of what we once were. After all, that’s really what we often think a “ghost” is – a small, spiritual piece of the person who once was. But a “ghost” is not the whole person – there’s no body. A “ghost” can’t regularly be seen or interact with people the person loved. And a “ghost”, at least as most of us envision “ghosts”, can’t do so many of the things we love to do – a ghost can’t eat, play sports, or even sun him or herself on a beach!
A “ghost” is like that VW logo – a small little piece of what once was, that God keeps safely in heaven as a memento of who we once were.
And so in today’s Gospel reading, when the disciples see Jesus, that’s what they figure they’re seeing – a ghost – an otherworldly memento of the person they once knew. And that is indeed what they would have been seeing if they were seeing a “ghost.” But in fact, they were seeing Resurrection. And Resurrection isn’t about God preserving some little piece of who you once were. Instead, Resurrection is about God making you more than who you once were.
And so Jesus spends some time showing the disciples that they shouldn’t be expecting a ghost – they should be expecting more. They should be expecting Resurrection.
And Resurrection means that in his Risen life, Jesus:
- Can appear in locked rooms – but still has a body that can touch and be touched;
- Can be everywhere – but can still be seen and interact with people he loves;
- Doesn’t need to do things to sustain his daily life – but can still eat if he wants to … (I mean, seriously, how can eternal life be better than now if you can’t enjoy eating…!)
Resurrection isn’t resuscitation to the way life was. But it’s also not a memento of what it was either. Instead, in Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus became much more than he was, not less.
And so the Resurrection appearances were intended to show the disciples that they, too, should expect more from God, not less. The Resurrection appearances were intended to demonstrate to the disciples that God intended to recreate them, not simply to preserve a memento of them. The Resurrection appearances were intended to help the disciples expand their vision of what was possible for God, instead of thinking that God was only capable of keeping memories.
And so the Resurrection of Jesus means that we, too, should expect more. Instead of thinking of heaven as a place where spirits float around on clouds, we should expect to be like Jesus – more than we are right now. We don’t know how that happens. And it sounds outlandish to think that the God who created universes over billions of years should care about preserving and re-creating our individual lives. But the Resurrection of Jesus shows us that this is true – and that we, too, should expect more.
Oh, so I should tell you about that VW logo! I haven’t seen it in years. I can’t find it. I would not have thrown it out, and it may be stuck in the bottom of a box of stuff in a closet somewhere. I still hope to find it again.
But that’s how it goes with mementos. They’re small. They get lost. They go unnoticed. If I still had the whole Bug, I wouldn’t wonder where it was.
And that’s also the point of the Resurrection. Because we’re more than a memento to God, the Resurrection is the promise that God will never lose us. The Resurrection is the promise that God will never forget about us. The Resurrection is the promise that God will never lose sight of us.
So we, too, should expect more.