Easter Sunday was a few days ago and for my message at church I offered up some thoughts on what Easter has been teaching me. One of those thoughts has to do with this idea that Resurrection is not the same as Perfection.
In other words, a life that has been restored and renewed by the transforming love and power of God (resurrection) is not going to be free and clear of any signs or markings of having been beaten down (perfection).
The Jesus Story affirms this for us, doesn’t it? Upon appearing to his friends in his new resurrected form he says, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!” (John 20:27 CEB)
In order to demonstrate that he was indeed Jesus, and he did indeed endure the cross, Jesus drew attention to the fact that his hands still bore the scars and his side was still mangled from having been pierced. Though he defeated the powers of sin and death, and though he emerged victorious from a tomb that could not contain him, he retained the wounds and the scars of having experienced his dark night of the soul.
Resurrection is not the same as perfection.
Live It Beautifully
The other day I heard this jingle on the radio: “It’s your life, live it beautifully!” A nice message, to be sure. I can get behind that. But then the ad went on and I discovered that it was for a company in town that does liposuction and body sculpting.
Confession: I’d never heard of “body sculpting” until that moment. Turns out it’s a thing.
Now, this is not meant to be a judgment in any way shape or form on plastic surgery or anyone who has had any work done. Please hear me when I say that.
But what struck me was how this company was connecting these two messages: “it’s your life, so live it beautifully,” with “but if you don’t like how your body looks, then let us change it for you.”
In other words, get the perfect arms or abs or chin or back or thighs, so that you can live beautifully. Erase the evidence that you used to be that person, and now emerge brand new as this person!
Which is all fine and good. As long as we know that now we’re talking about perfection, which has very little to do with resurrection.
A New Face
I’m reminded of episode four of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, “Kimmy Goes to the Doctor.” (For the uninitiated, this new comedy series from Netflix is about how one young woman, Kimmy, emerges back into the world after having been trapped under ground in a bunker for 15 years by a cult leader. The show comically traces her naive attempts to do life in New York City).
Kimmy, unnerved by being recognized as one of the Mole Women (one of the four women trapped under ground) goes to the office of a plastic surgeon and says, “I want a new face!” To which Dr Franff answers, “I have some!”
In wanting a new life, and with hopes that it would bear no resemblance to her old life, Kimmy sought an unblemished face. One that would have no connection to the horrors she experienced for 15 years.
And again, I’m not judging this approach, nor am I suggesting that some people don’t have a very good reason for wanting to put the past behind them in a real and concrete way. What I’m chasing after is a more clear distinction between resurrection and perfection.
In 2007 WIlliam Paul Young wrote the best seller, “The Shack.” The fictional story of Mack, a father of five who’s youngest daughter, Missy, gets abducted, taken to a shack, and murdered. Mack’s life is forever altered as he enters his Great Sadness, refusing to live life again without his daughter in it.
One day Mack receives a letter from God who invites Mack to meet him at the shack where they discovered Missy’s bloodied clothing years before. Mack was invited back to the place of horrors, back to the destination where his life forever took a turn for sorrow. He shows up at the shack and discovers that God is there waiting for him (brilliant personified by an African American woman, a Middle Eastern carpenter, and a wispy Asian woman). The weekend at the Shack was enough for Mack for to eventually find a path towards healing, hope, forgiveness, and restoration.
You could say that Mack left the Shack as a new man, having experienced a resurrection from the powers of darkness that had been holding him back.
But I came across an interview a while back where the author, Young, says that he made a mistake in writing “The Shack,” and it had to do with the ending. You see, at the end of the book Mack returns to the shack. And he returns as someone who has emerged out of his Great Sadness, someone who has experienced the transformative and healing power of the love of God. And when Mack opens the door to the shack once again he looks and, where previously there was his daughter’s blood stain on the floor, there now lays a beautifully polished clean surface.
But Young regrets that ending.
Rather, he realizes that he should have left the blood stain there.
Why? Because as the Jesus story affirms, Resurrection is not the same as Perfection.
Confusing the Two Holds Us Back
What this all boils down to for me is this: I wonder how many of us are not experiencing a new and abundant life in Jesus because we are waiting for a day when the pain stops. When the wounds are no longer there. When we no longer feel or see the evidence of the trials of our life.
Are we subconsciously controlled by a narrative that expects perfection, when really what we are invited to is Resurrection?
Because here’s the thing, when Sunday finally comes, and we find ourselves on the other side of the bloody Friday and the long dark weariness and uncertainty and sorrow of Saturday, we don’t come out as though Friday and Saturday didn’t happen!
Resurrection is about taking what happened and transforming it in to something more beautiful and true and real. It’s not about erasing it. It’s not about receiving a new face. It’s not about a pristine floor that shows no trace of what happened.
Jesus’ hands, feet, and side all testify to his Friday. And when Sunday came, with the breaking in of new life, his scars remained.
God is wanting to give you and me a new story. One where we can point to the wounds of the past and say, “see here? this one, and that one? Let me tell you how I got those, and let me tell you how that’s not my story any longer!”
And when we confuse it with perfection I worry that we miss out on the realization that new life, and hope, and joy, and meaning, and peace, all these things are available to us now! You don’t have to wait until the wounds disappear and the scars are gone.
You Already Have It
Remember the story of the Prodigal Son? Remember how the older brother refused to attend the party his father was throwing on behalf of the younger brother?
28 Then the older son was furious and didn’t want to enter in, but his father came out and begged him. 29 He answered his father, ‘Look, I’ve served you all these years, and I never disobeyed your instruction. Yet you’ve never given me as much as a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours returned, after gobbling up your estate on prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’ 31 Then his father said, ‘Son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. -Luke 15:28-31
“Everything I have is yours,” God says to you.
“I am always with you,” Jesus says to us.
People, listen closely, you can have and live and be Resurrection Life RIGHT NOW. Seriously. No joke.
It may not look or feel like Resurrection Life (especially if we are confused by expectations of Perfection), but it doesn’t make it less real.
So today maybe you just need to hear me invite you to wake up.
I know Friday was painful.
I know Saturday was scary.
But friend, the sun has risen on Sunday. Breath in the fresh air. Look down at your wounds and your scars that still remain (some fresher than others) and say, like Paul, say
“We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. 9 We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out. 10 We always carry Jesus’ death around in our bodies so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies.” -2 Cor 4:8-10
Peace be with you.
(If you’d like to hear the whole sermon, where I touch on this a bit, go check it out. It’s a doozy.)