Have you ever experienced the power of the word ‘BUT’? All looks dim and life is drifting towards an abyss that looks hopeless. There is no possible way out that you can see or imagine then someone steps in with ‘but’. The ‘but’ changes things and opens up new possibilities. ‘But’ is a powerful word – it is also an annoying word. Who hasn’t experienced a child who has a grasp of the annoying power of ‘but’ and intrudes into every conversation with ‘but, but, but’…
Today a colleague reminded a group of us of the power and significance of the word ‘but’ as it appears in our Gospel reading for this week. Luke’s version of the Easter story (Luke 24:1-12) begins with ‘But’. It doesn’t appear in many English translations but sits there like a beacon in the Greek – ‘BUT’. It is the great, Divine ‘BUT’. It is the ‘but’ that changes the world and transforms human life. It is the ‘but’ that speaks life into death, hope into despair and possibility into impossibility. It is the great Divine, intrusive, hopeful ‘BUT!’
Let us look at the context. Jesus is dead and the movement in crisis, dying and lost as its leader lies entombed behind stone. The disciples and followers of Jesus are grieving in a big way. Their friend, mentor, master, hope and God-inspiration is dead – against all expectations, Jesus is dead! Everything they believed and all the hope and expectation they had built up and placed upon Jesus’ shoulders was gone. It lay lifeless and hopeless in the tomb with the beaten body.
The powers of the world – the Roman Empire and Jewish religious system – that dominated their world at different levels worked together to destroy Jesus and his vision of God’s Reign on earth. In this One, they encountered and experienced God in the deepest possible manner but the powers of the world overcame him and killed him. What was left?
The last words of Luke 23, the story of Jesus’ death indicate he was laid in a tomb and the women went to prepare spices for his proper burial after the Sabbath. All that remained was the work of death and to go back to what was. The powers had won; they were victorious. The disciples should have realised Rome was too powerful, even for Jesus. Death’s finality finally embraced them in their despair and hopelessness.
In the midst of this despair, God screams out a Divine ‘BUT!’ That sorrowful story is not the last word! But on the first day of the week the women took spices to the tomb and found the stone rolled away and the grave empty! The Divine BUT intrudes on the work of death and pronouncements from men in the tomb claim that resurrection has brought new life, love has overwhelmed death and God Reigns in heaven and on earth – the eternal Kingdom of love and peace! When everything looks dead and buried, God’s BUT breaks into the world of hopelessness and loss promising something new and profound, something impossible!
Another group of us discussed what it means to live resurrection in our lives now. It soon became clear that we needed to understand what resurrection really meant for the disciples. What happened to them!? As we read the story, we focus on what happened to Jesus. The stories and commentary around Jesus’ resurrection are surprisingly diverse and mysterious – from visions and voices (Paul) to the presence of Jesus in their midst as they break bread (Emmaus journey – Luke 24), to mysterious appearances through locked doors and visual/physical encounters. Paul speaks of a spiritual body of resurrection versus the physical body of earthly life (1 Corinthians 15). Some responses are fearful and others filled with awe and others confused.
But, something happened to the followers of Jesus. What was the nature of the Divine BUT in their lives? Essentially the experience of resurrection said that the powers of the world that had crucified and killed Jesus did not have the final word. Death, destruction, hatred, violence, evil, power did not have the last word. Through the darkness and despair God’s love broke through declaring the love is all-conquering. Love cannot be destroyed: more specifically, God’s love for us cannot be overcome, destroyed or broken. As Paul says, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that can separate us from God’s love! There are no powers or principalities that can separate us from God’s love, revealed in Jesus!
The disciples and followers of Jesus discovered, in resurrection experience, that God would not lie down and die under the weight of Rome’s might. The disciples and followers of Jesus discovered that nothing in Rome (or even Jerusalem) could overwhelm the love and grace that Jesus promised in God. God’s Reign could not be challenged by any power, anywhere!
The experience of the Divine BUT for the disciples was that everything Jesus had done and said was still valid and alive because God was still God and Jesus was alive in God (however we might understand that in the light of the stories!?). The fear of grief and death; the fear of the world’s powers; the fear of violence and the overwhelming struggle of life all around them no longer had power over them. They experienced freedom in God and God’s love.
So resurrection (the Divine BUT) and us… What does it mean to practice resurrection in our lives? For a start it means to live without the fear that continually threatens to overwhelm us. In God’s love there is no need to fear. If God is for us, who can be against us? Life, nor death nor powers nor principalities – nothing can separate us from God’ love!
To practice resurrection therefore means to live with courage and hope in the face of overwhelming powers. It isn’t reckless or naïve but stands against all that is wrong and unjust and counters violence and hatred in the love of God. The resurrection life is about relationships that broaden and deepen as we share life with each other. It doesn’t allow materialism, greed and power to intervene and distort love and create alienated lives. Resurrection living has no room for jealousy or petty conflicts but seeks to bring out the best in one another and work together for the common good of the world. Resurrection living is hopeful because it knows God’s Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, is with us and will sustain and guide us. Resurrection life knows that God will not let us go but sends us into dark places to radiate light and love.
The Divine BUT changes everything!