How We See


Rev. Dr. Joyce Antila Phipps

Old First Church, Middletown

April 28, 2019

Texts: Isaiah 25: 1-5; Luke 24: 13-35

       The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., has many extraordinary paintings but one of my favorites is “The Sacrament of the Last Supper” by Salvador Dali, a surrealist painting in which the figure of Christ is almost transparent through the glass background. Depending on which angle you approach, Jesus is either very real or seems to disappear. Dali, who was often known for his more outlandish and bizarre behavior, developed the art of the holograph to make his theological points in many of his paintings of religious subjects. The story we read this morning inspired Dali’s painting.

         All four Gospels have at least one post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus to his followers; it’s an interesting historical point that in Paul’s letter attesting to his vision of the risen Christ, he never mentions the ones that include Mary Magdalene or the other women. But the real issue we face as Christians in a post-Resurrection world is our response to what is clearly an extraordinary claim, namely that some-how this person Jesus, now transformed into a risen Christ, did not just shrivel up and die to become a footnote in history.

       There’s a great deal of debate, of course, about the historical Jesus, whether he is worth “studying,” as it were. Biblical scholars talk and write about approaching Jesus as an historical figure in some value free context; however, is that really possible? Does not our theological approach, that is, our mind’s attempt to shape our experiences into some organized and rational structure, frame how we look at Jesus and ultimately how we view the risen Christ?  

        Our theological approach also shapes how we think we are to respond to what some biblical historians call “the Jesus message” in light of his death and the experiences of his followers after the event we call the Resurrection, for that event, or term, means something different to each of us. Well, certainly, all of us have experienced what we call “eureka moments,” those special times when all of a sudden we understand something that wasn’t clear to us in the past.          The term “Eureka” comes from the Greek heureka, meaning “I have found it,” and reportedly was uttered by Archimedes of Syracuse, the Greek scientist who lived in the third century BCE when he stepped into a tub of water and noticed that the level of the water rose because his body mass displaced an equal volume of water, something that we commonly understand today because the theory of displace-ment has become part of our assumptive world. But at that time, there was no theory of displacement. The apocryphal story goes that Archimedes was so excited that he jumped out of his tub and ran through the streets of Syracuse stark naked shouting heureka!  

        The text tells us that after they recognized the risen Christ, Cleopas and his friend hurried back to Jerusalem where they found the eleven and others gathered with them to tell them what they had experienced. It was clear that others had similar experiences. What were they to do next?

It was at this point that they stopped huddling in fear and began to return to the world, the world in which Jesus had lived and brought the good news that a new world really is possible. That is the heart of Easter: that the forces of death will not win in the end. It is at the heart of every single action we engage in that works to create the world that Jesus opened to us through his parables, his sayings, his activities, indeed, through his life.  

         When we experience eureka moments, something actually happens in our brains. EEGs show that gamma waves emanate from our brain’s right hemisphere just before the insight occurs and then the alpha wave moves to the cerebral cortex at the very moment we have the insight. The question for us really is what we do after our eureka moments. Some are small ones; others, earth shattering ones. But they do change how we perceive reality and ourselves. We don’t go on living as if nothing had happened. 

        For us as Christians, one question should be how our experience of faith shapes our lives. What do we do as a result of that experience, not just belief but experience? Life cannot be the same, just as it was not the same when we married or had children or went to school or work. The ex-perience of Easter is different than some abstract belief in whether there were one or two men in dazzling garments at the empty tomb––usually referred to as angels–– or whether the risen Christ walked through doors or ate broiled fish or even whether he actually walked on the road with Cleopas and his friend.

         The experience of Easter is more than a eureka moment. It is the complete and total internalization of faith that allows us to live in spite of our fears and doubts. I say in spite of because we will have fears and doubts; those exper-iences are part of the human condition. We live on the edge of a precipice, working out salvation, as Paul says, with fear and trembling. Because our experience of Easter is intern-alized, that is, personal to us as individuals, our responses are personal as well and usually derive not just from our faith but how all our other experiences and beliefs have shaped our comprehensive view of life and the world.   

        But we are not totally atomized. We are part of a community of tradition that helps us to develop a common core of values in response to Easter. Those core values are found in Scripture. We heard some of them through the reading from Isaiah this morning: God is a stronghold to the poor and needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm, a shade from the heat. It’s worth remembering that the aliens referred to in the reading were the Assyrian invaders who were attacking the Northern Kingdom, not the ones who resided within Judah and who actually helped the people fight against the invaders.

        Our core values include what Jesus taught: that God’s love extends to all and that all persons are equal regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic group, immigration status, or disability, and that we can build a world where the rule of love creates justice and righteousness. Another world really is possible.The question for us is how we move beyond the eureka moment to achieve it.

        Let us pray: We are amazed by the testimony of those who experienced the Risen One in the past and humbled when we experience the Risen One in our lives today. You, O God, who has created us, help us to move beyond the moment into the world with your promise of justice and mercy, of peace and reconciliation. Amen.