A change of heart and life...
Luke's account of the resurrection of Jesus has always left me intrigued. The testimony of the women who were the first to visit his tomb and find it empty is discounted. That is somewhat understandable: even though Jesus spoke often about the manner of his death, I am sure the trauma of being witness to it was more than enough to disabuse his followers from the hope of seeing him again in this life. As well, several of them had to have been witness to his being laid in tomb. Jesus was dead, and the dead do not rise.
And yet, the tomb is found to be empty. Moreover, two men are suddenly there...offering testimony that they should not look for the living from the dead. After the women rush back to tell the other disciples of the news, it is only Peter who runs to the tomb and sees for himself the empty tomb and Jesus' abandoned shroud. Good news, but it still takes time for that good news to sink in. Luke recounts a story of two disciples encountering the risen Lord on the road to Emmaus. Again, another witness is made and with their return to Jerusalem, we hear that Jesus has also appeared to Peter. It is not until they are all together in that place that Jesus makes his formal appearance. He offers them his peace, they are disbelieving. He shows them his hands and the wound in his side, they are afraid he is a ghost. He asks for food, a bit of fish (because everyone knows that ghosts cannot eat), and they rejoice. It is then that he commissions them: they are to go out into the world, soon, and proclaim the good news of the resurrection. They are to preach and offer to the world "a change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins." (24:47)
A change of heart and life: this is the fruit of our receiving the good news. Herein lies the challenge of new life in Christ. We share with the disciples an experience of the resurrection, and we join them in the narrative of Luke (and the sequel to Luke: the Acts of the Apostles) as we wait on the gift of the Holy Spirit to give us strength to proclaim the good news...but we are also challenged to allow God to change our hearts and our lives. We don't get to default back to patterns we held to before this witness to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. A new heart. A new life. How do we respond to these gifts?
I have a parishioner who is the recent recipient of a heart transplant. I was honored to walk with him and his family through this incredible experience. Before the transplant, he was dying. He had been struggling for a long time, but in those later stages, he could barely cross a parking lot before losing his breath and his strength. Waiting in the hospital for the transplant, he was confined to a bed (and then for a while, flat on his back on the bed).
And then came a new heart. God bless the donor's family, for this incredible gift of new life. God bless the heart teams that performed the surgeries that made the transplant a success. God bless my parishioner and his family for their witness to what new life, with a new heart looks like. That is the good news.
What is also good news is the way that parishioner continues to strive to live into this change of heart with a change in life. He has to be mindful, on a daily basis, of the care and maintenance of his health, surely...but he is also striving to live his life fully connected to the truth that the only way he can return the blessing is to offer his work, himself and his new life in deeper connection and service to God. Again, that requires a daily renewal of his resolve to choose a life transformed. The challenge he is embracing is the same one that Jesus asks of his disciples...to preach the good news with that change of heart and life. Everything else, all that we will become as the Church, flows from that gift of new life.