Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

Between "the Troubles I've Seen,"
and the
"Glory, Hallelujah"

Message preached April 7, 2002
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:13-35, and John 20:19-31

Order of Worship

"And on the third day the One who died upon a cross rose up from the dead..."

It is much easier to understand the crucifixion of Jesus,
than it is to understand his resurrection.

            Of course, the crucifixion itself is nearly incomprehensible. The cross is, in many ways, a wretched symbol. It signifies a horrible death. To claim that the Son of God submitted himself to such a painful, humiliating death, is almost impossible to understand. If it were not for the fact that we know what it's like to feel pain, to experience humiliation, the cross would have no meaning for us. In many ways, though it is a wretched symbol, the cross plays out a melody that we've heard somewhere before. And the tune is comforting. There is, after all, a deep inner longing within us for someone to know what our pain is like.

            To listen, really listen, with a heart that knows what it's like to experience pain - this is one of the primary tasks of ministering to another person. That’s because all of us long for someone to "know what it's like." The melody of the cross touches us deeply at the point where we long for someone to "know what it's like." And for some unexplainable reason, being touched by the wretched melody of the cross, somehow transforms our pain - the hurt, the humiliation, the frustration, the fear - into something from which we can draw strength.

            Remember, if you will, the old Negro spiritual in which the first words are inexplicably transformed into the last words:
                    "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen, Nobody knows but Jesus.
                     Nobody knows the trouble I've seen, Glory, Hallelujah!"

            Though the crucifixion remains a hard teaching to swallow, for all its wretchedness it rings true with our experience. Because of this, it is much easier to understand the crucifixion of Jesus than it is to understand his resurrection. Jesus rising from the dead is something that is utterly and completely different from our experience. To what can we turn which will help us understand the resurrection? Ultimately, there is nothing.

            Oh, we talk about the changing of seasons and how the dying of Fall leads to the death of Winter, and then comes new life in Spring time. This is a wonderful analogy, and perhaps it's as close as we can come. But really, it's not very close. After all, the death of winter is not really death. Life remains, even if it is in the form of a seed. Biologically, life still exists, even if it is in some form of suspended animation. It may look like death, but it is not. In a sense, it is life after life.

            No, we can't really find any actual models of resurrection in the world around us. There are hints of resurrection here and there, but beyond this our experience cannot go. This is as it should be. For ultimately our faith must transcend our experience. It must go beyond what we know. Think about it. To say that "on the third day he rose," is to mean, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he was dead. He didn't go into hibernation, an altered state of consciousness, or suspended animation. He wasn't merely asleep. He didn't clinically die for just a few seconds, which seemed like an eternity upon an operating table, and then miraculously was revived intact. No, he was dead, utterly and completely. For a couple days, in fact...

            Nothing prepares us for what comes next. Absolutely nothing. Nothing prepared the disciples. Oh Jesus spoke of his suffering and his death, and also about his rising. But did that connect in the minds and hearts of any of them? Does it connect in ours? After all, what can it connect with? No one we've ever know has risen from the dead? Ah yes, you might say, the disciples at least experienced the raising of that fellow Lazarus, and he was dead for four days. Okay, so they were there when Lazarus rose from the dead. Did even that experience prepare them for the resurrection of Jesus? No way.

            Every single person who encountered Jesus after the resurrection was not prepared for it. None of them could at first believe it. The women went to the tomb to prepare the body of Jesus for it's final resting, something they could not do earlier because of the restrictions against work on the Sabbath. They did not expect a risen Jesus and were startled by the empty tomb. Mark's gospel captures their astonishment, when it says that they fled from the tomb trembling, and said nothing to anyone about what they had seen because of fear.

            What were they afraid of? Perhaps it was fear of rejection, for Luke's account says that though they did tell the disciples what they had seen, they were not believed, the men considered it all an idle women's tale. But, I don't think that is what they were afraid of. I think that they just plain didn't expect a risen Jesus, and so they were afraid of the resurrection. None of the other disciples expected the resurrection, either.

            The two on the road to Emmaus, they could talk about the crucifixion, but couldn't fathom the reports of an empty tomb. It made no sense at all. And then they met that stranger on the road to Emmaus. Take note - no one encounters the risen Christ first. The women meet a young man, or was he an angel? The two traveling to Emmaus talk to a stranger who only afterwards is revealed to be Jesus. They cannot comprehend a risen Christ. Nothing in their experience has prepared them for it. For them it is only something very simple, that helps them make the connection. Jesus is made known to them in the breaking of bread. Eating. That we can connect with, perhaps all too well....

            And finally the appearance of Jesus among the disciples, particularly to Thomas. Luke's account puts it this way: "they were startled and frightened and supposed they saw a spirit. And Jesus said to them, ‘Why are you troubled and why do you doubt in your heart?’" They did not expect a risen Jesus. You'd think seeing Jesus, there in their midst, would be an answer to all their questions. But, instead, more questions rise than can be answered. Even after he soothes their tired minds, "they still disbelieved for joy and wondered," as scripture says. Nothing prepared them for resurrection. Especially Thomas, the prime example of a skeptic. He had to see and touch before he could believe - which was perhaps what all the rest were just plain scared to do. All he could say afterwards was "My Lord and my God."

            Nothing really prepares "us" for resurrection as well. If we are honest with ourselves, it is not an easy thing to step out and say, "I believe in Jesus Christ who on the third day rose from the dead." For to do so is to admit that Jesus is not just someone who knows what 's like to experience pain and suffering. Jesus transcends our experience as much as he knows full well "the troubles we've seen".

            Consider, again, the words to that old Afro-American "Sorrow Song":
                    "Sometimes I'm up, sometimes I'm down, Oh, yes, Lord,
                     Sometimes, I'm almost to the ground, Oh, yes, Lord.
                     Nobody knows the trouble I've seen, Nobody knows like Jesus,
                     Nobody knows the trouble I've seen, .... Glory, Hallelujah."

            When you think about it, that song has a peculiar twist. The first part is a familiar melody. We all could sing it by heart. It's the gospel version of the blues. But then, out of the middle of nowhere comes that "Glory, Hallelujah." Now, maybe this note of praise flows from the fact that somebody knows my pain, rather than nobody. And there is truth to that. Solidarity - somebody standing beside you through the ups and downs - is so very important in life. It seems to me, though, that there's a mighty big pause between the "Trouble I've seen," and the "Glory, Hallelujah." More is going on here than "solidarity." I mean, it's essential for somebody to know our troubles. But is "knowing" our troubles enough? I think that the "Glory, Hallelujah" is a counter melody to the "Nobody knows the Troubles I've seen." They are a part of the same song, but something has happened between the two, without which they make little sense.

            "Nobody knows" is a Good Friday song, with Jesus hanging high on the cross. "Glory, Hallelujah" is an Easter song. Between the two is the resurrection. Since there is really very little in life that prepares us for resurrection, we experience it as a pause between the lines. We aren't exactly sure what happened or how, but a new melody begins to flow. We know that Good Friday was not the final word. He is alive! And if he is alive, then there is hope for all the troubles we've seen. These trouble aren't the final word. There is a new song to be sung, (which is really the "upbeat" of the same song, but it's experienced as brand new). There is a "Glory, Hallelujah" that helps transform the rest of the blues into good news.

            As I said, nothing really prepares us for this resurrection. It is much easier to understand the crucifixion of Jesus, than it is to understand his resurrection, which we often experience as a pause between the lines. Where understanding ends, there begins belief, as we stand face to face with a risen Lord, whom we must either accept or reject. You see, we do not so much believe in resurrection, as we believe in the One who said: "I am the resurrection and the life those who believe in me even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die."

"Glory, Hallelujah!"

©2002, 1992 Peter L. Haynes

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