April 21, 2019–Back From the Dead

Posted on April 16, 2019 by faithlens

David Delaney, Salem, VA

Warm-up Question

  • Surprise! Some surprises are welcome and others are not. When was the last time you had something truly unexpected happen to you? Can you think of an example that thrilled you and another one that devastated you? Did you get an A on a test when you expected a C? Did your trip get canceled because of weather? Was there a fantastic plot twist in a movie you saw or a book you read? Did someone who you thought was a friend betray you behind your back? Ever have a surprise where you couldn’t figure out whether it was good or bad?
  • We all know someone who has such a track record of making up or embellishing stories that we’re never sure whether to believe them or not. And now it sometimes seems like social media presents mostly suspicious or unconfirmed information. How do you decide whether to believe something you hear or not? Do you tend to quickly believe something that sounds sensational or are you more of the skeptical type?
  • We have come to the end of the Lenten season. Did you take on any special extra faith-forming activities for Lent this year as people often do, such as depriving yourself of a certain food or treat? How has that Lenten discipline gone this year for you?

Back From the Dead

Recovering from opioid addition can be like dying and coming back to life.

Too many of us know someone who has lost a loved one to a drug overdose or whose life has been dominated by a friend’s substance addiction disease. As noted in a recent report from Spectrum Health Systems, “There’s a stigma against people who struggle with addiction that often exists because people believe it could never happen to them – but it can. Addiction is a disease that knows no boundaries, has no preconceived notions and leaves no clues as to who it will touch next.” Our prejudices also make us presume that someone who develops such an addiction is probably young and reckless.

The report then goes on to tell the story of a man named Jeffrey Born, aged 65, who seemed like a very unlikely person to develop an addiction, but who received heavy doses of painkillers while hospitalized for a life-threatening workplace injury. While still in the hospital, he developed an addiction to those medications, which he realized when the doctors tried to wean him off of them. The ongoing pain was so severe that it affected Mr. Born’s normal good judgment, and he began seeking other sources of pain management, eventually turning to heroin, the only thing that gave him some relief. His near-death experience came when he unknowingly injected himself with a much stronger drug – fentanyl – and immediately fell into a coma. His girlfriend, who was with him at the time, quickly called EMTs, who arrived in time to administer Narcan to save him, but the experience left him in a terrible dilemma.

In what he described as a turning point, Mr. Born realized how much his life had deteriorated. “By then, my life was in shambles,” he said. “I was about to be evicted and homeless. My family barely spoke to me. My life was a horror story because of drugs.” He decided that the pain of withdrawal and the work of recovery was the only choice he had to avoid dying from his addition as well as continuing to burden those around him, so he sought out a treatment program. “My life has changed so much in long-term recovery … I made amends with my family and friends, who I drove away with the lies I told to cover up my addiction. Making amends with them was the most important thing to me, especially restoring my relationship with my son.”

Discussion Questions

  • Can we think of any stories or experiences of hopelessness in our own lives or in the lives of our friends? What is it like to feel like you have no good choices in a situation or that there is no future?  What was the outcome of those situations?
  • The key turning point in Mr. Born’s life was realizing that he was completely unable to help himself.  Early death was his inevitable future unless he turned to someone else who could guide him to new life.  Doing this is harder than most people realize, because it’s so hard to envision new life while still in the grip of impending death.  What things to people often love or cling to that are destructive but so familiar that they can’t surrender them?
  • Mr. Born’s choice to do the hard work of recovery happened because he saw others whose lives had been on a path toward death but had sought out the help needed to turn things around. In a way, he had to experience a kind of death of his old self in order to experience new life. If Lent is often thought of as “giving something up,” Easter is the celebration of a new life. How can we develop habits year-round of leaving old destructive things behind and allowing God to lead us to new life?

Resurrection of Our Lord

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

All four of the gospels have a scene with the women coming to the tomb and discovering that it is empty, but only Luke has two men in dazzling clothes who say, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”, suggesting that surely they should have known Jesus would not be there, especially since Jesus had told them long before that this would all happen. Some interpreters have suggested that “The Living One” was a very early title used by Christians to refer to Jesus. That may sound silly – surely anyone who is alive could be called “the living one.” But for these early believers, it’s as if they knew that Jesus was somehow more than alive and that even life itself was being redefined by the new, resurrected life of Jesus. That title gets repeated in Revelation 1:18, where Jesus appears to John with the reminder that Jesus’ new life is permanent and that he alone now holds authority over death.

Discussion Questions

  • For an Easter day gospel, this passage has the odd feature that Jesus himself does not appear! Does that suggest that the story is just as much about us as it is about him?  Go back through the passage and take note of all the verbs and adjectives that refer to the women and the disciples. Nothing remarkable about them is said until after they realize that Jesus’ body is not there. Then they are perplexed, terrified, remembering, returning, telling, doubting and amazed. If we reflect on this episode about Jesus, that he truly died and truly lives again, we might have many of the same reactions.  What do we discover if we just pause quietly for a minute and pay attention to our own internal reactions to the claim that Jesus died, rose again, and still lives?
  • Many skeptics over 2000 years have claimed that the report of Jesus’ resurrection was just the product of a group of people “in denial,” who were engaged in wishful thinking and talked themselves into a fantasy story as a way of coping with their grief. And yet, none of the gospels portray people acting this way. In fact, every single one of these early believers were suspicious at first, and some – like Thomas – very much so. They only believed in the end because they were told by someone who had either seen the vision at the empty tomb or encountered the risen Jesus himself, and then those first-hand reports were shared with others in an unbroken line down to the present day. Who are the people who have shared with you that they are convinced Jesus was raised on that first Easter? What stories have you heard from them about how they came to believe that Jesus was risen?
  • Jesus and the disciples lived in a time when information provided by women was regarded with suspicion, if not quickly ignored or dismissed. Women were not allowed to testify in court or serve as witnesses to any business or legal activities. The disciples’ reaction, then, when they heard the report that these three women brought from the tomb, is not completely surprising. Peter, however, seems to have had a change of heart that led him to go and look for himself. In our own time, do we have prejudices or assumptions that would keep us from hearing God’s good news from someone we’ve been taught not to trust?  How do we, like Peter, have a change of heart so that, when God speaks in an unfamiliar way, we are able to listen? And how do we repent from those prejudices that made us mistrustful in the first place?

Activity Suggestions

  • “Two truths and a lie” is an old familiar group game where Team 1 makes three statements to the other team about one of their members, one of which is made up, and Team 2 has to guess which one is the “lie.” A lot of times a plausible lie is harder to come up with than the true statements.  A variation on the game is for Team 1 to come up with three “lies” and Team 2 has to decide which one is the most believable. Would you have believed the women who were reporting the empty and the vision of angels?
  • We often think of Easter Day as just one day, but it is a whole season of the church year lasting almost two months! In this day of mostly electronic communication, everyone loves getting something in the US Mail! Encourage your group to send weekly reminders to each other to continue celebrating the risen Lord Jesus throughout the entire season and beyond.
  • Since Easter is a public holiday, we shouldn’t be surprised that its central meaning – the resurrection of Jesus from death – can get lost in the middle of all the decorations and other celebrations. Have someone in your group with a Pinterest account do a search for Easter decorations. Then, as the group looks at them, notice which ones really seem to be conveying the church’s Easter message about Jesus’ death and resurrection, the witness of the women and other disciples to each other, and the call to faith that would follow as they spread the news

Closing Prayer

Glorious God, we offer you thanks for gathering us into the power of the resurrection of Jesus.  We pray for all who celebrate the Easter festival this day, that joyful celebrations everywhere might be places of welcome for those who are in need of new life. Help us to be struck with awe once again by the story of how you shattered the earth to bring Jesus from the grave. For all those in our lives who are convinced that they are stuck in a path toward death, fill us with confident hope and bold good news for them.  In the name of the risen Lord Jesus, Amen.

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