WHAT’S REALLY REAL

The Third Sunday of Easter

TEXT: Luke 24:36b-48

Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’  They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. (Luke 24:36b)

I want to begin today with a quote from the American theologian and writer Frederick Buechner. It’s from one of his books, The Clown in the Belfry, where Buechner writes:

A year or so ago, a friend of mine died … One morning in his sixty-eighth year he simply didn’t wake up.

It was as easy a way as he could possibly have done it, but it was not easy for the people he left behind because it gave us no chance to start getting used to the idea … or to say goodbye … He died in March, and in May my wife and I were staying with his widow overnight when I had a short dream about him.

I dreamed he was standing there in the dark guest room where we were asleep, looking very much himself in the navy blue jersey and white slacks he often wore. I told him how much we had missed him and how glad I was to see him again. He acknowledged that somehow. Then I said, “Are you really there, Dudley?”

I meant was he there in fact, in truth, or was I merely dreaming he was. His answer was that he was really there. “Can you prove it?” I asked him.

“Of course,” he said. Then he plucked a strand of wool out of his jersey and tossed it to me. I caught it between my thumb and forefinger, and the feel of it was so palpably real that it woke me up. That’s all there was to it …

I told the dream at breakfast the next morning, and I’d hardly finished when my wife spoke. She said that she’d seen the strand on the carpet as she was getting dressed. She was sure that it hadn’t been there the night before. I rushed upstairs to see for myself, and there it was—a little tangle of navy blue wool.

(The Clown in the Belfry, HarperCollins, 1992, pp. 7-8)

 

Buechner himself says he does not know what to make of that experience. Was it merely coincidence? Or was it something else?

I suspect that many—if not most—of us could tell similar stories, if we had the courage to talk about them. Buechner—a few paragraphs later in the same book—has this to say about his dream experience:

Maybe my friend really did come to me in my dream and the thread was his sign to me that he had. Maybe it is true that by God’s grace the dead are given back their lives again and that the doctrine of the resurrection of the body is not just a doctrine. (p. 9)

 

Maybe. Maybe such moments as Buechner describes really are just coincidences. Flukes. Quirks. Then again, maybe they are divine intrusions into our oh-so-rational world view, sent by heaven to shake up all of our ideas about what we think is real, or possible.

Maybe such moments mean nothing at all. Maybe they are caused by glitches or blips in the electrical circuitry of the human brain … Or maybe they mean everything! Maybe they connect us with a reality that is so deep, so real, and so wonderful that—if we were to look at it directly, its glory would incinerate us! So all we get is a hint—or a peek at it. As Frederick Buechner puts it: “A coincidence can be … God’s way of remaining anonymous …” (p. 11)

A dream may be no more than wishful thinking—or it may be a glimpse into the inner workings of what is really real!

Maybe what we refer to as “paranormal experiences” are what God uses to penetrate all those rational barriers which block the transcendent from our view. We modern folk—with our empiricism, our facts and figures, our love of probability and statistics … How often, I wonder, do we walk past a burning bush without even noticing it?

Maybe we’re all like the man who has spent too much time listening to heavy metal music with the volume on maximum—whose eardrums are now impervious to Debussy!

If we no longer hear God speaking to us, perhaps it is because we have lost the capacity to listen. If we no longer behold God’s face, perhaps it is because we have lost the capacity to see. Or maybe it’s just that—as products of our rational and logical society—we’re afraid to admit that we hear or see!

Imagine with me, won’t you? Imagine what it may have been like on that first Easter evening. Jesus’ disciples are huddled together in a room, frightened and despondent and defeated. Jesus is dead; they had watched him die.

One of them says: “I wasn’t that close to the cross, actually. But from where I was standing, toward the back, I could see that he was dead.”

Another one says: “It was a good campaign while it lasted. But we didn’t get him elected Messiah. He’s dead. It’s over. It’s finished.”

But then they hear a familiar voice saying: “Peace be with you!” And so, they turn and look—and there is Jesus, standing next to them.

“Peace be with you, my friends.”

But what they feel is anything but peace! They are startled, and they are terrified, and they think they’re seeing a ghost. Then the apparition steps closer, his arms outstretched.

“Look at my hands and my feet,” he says. “It’s me. It’s Jesus. Touch me and see for yourselves; a ghost does not have flesh and bones like I do.”

Still they can’t believe it. One of them asks, “Are you really there, Lord? Can you prove it?”

So he asks them for something to eat, and they give him a piece of fish. Before their wondering eyes, he eats it. Then he opens their minds to understand the Scriptures. And so they become witnesses. Having seen—and having touched—they come to believe.

But—then, as now—their story is too bizarre for most people to swallow. And the skeptics—which most of us are—dismiss the tale, and want to explain it away:

  • “It has to be some kind of hoax.”
  • “Something in the wine, maybe.”
  • “Mass hallucination induced by grief.”
  • “Post-traumatic stress.”

Sometimes, a miracle walks into the room, and we cannot see it. Our eyesight is too dim, or our vision is too under-developed—or too undisciplined—to look with the proper combination of curiosity and intelligence.

But sometimes, a miracle steps right in front of us—and we refuse to see it!

Sometimes the voice of God booms from the heavens, and we plug our ears. Sometimes our hearing has been made so dull by the din and roar of this world’s logic, this world’s wisdom, that God has to shout at us—or shake us up—in order to get our attention.

And you know, I think maybe that’s what Easter is all about! So—in this Easter season, especially—we would do well to think upon these things, and to ask God—every day—to take our blinders off and our earplugs out, the better to see what the Spirit wants to show us, and to hear what the Spirit wants to tell us.

May it be so for us—in this season of Easter, and always.

“There is no worse screen to block out the Spirit than confidence in our own intelligence.” —John Calvin (1509-1564)

 

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