In 2015 I bought my first new bicycle since, well, since I was a kid. If you are familiar with my history of sports injuries, you are probably thinking, “Why should Larry Benfield get back into biking trouble only six months after getting some new titanium in his shoulder as a result of a car and bike wreck? Isn’t he a little too old or daffy to be doing such a thing?”
I might be, but I had been saying for some time that I wanted a bike with bigger tires, and this one was on sale, and my right hand man in the office (an avid biker himself) kept tempting and goading me just like Satan with an apple, and in the end I could not resist. And then, having gotten on the bike and ridden it for the first time, I got the idea that I would start commuting by bike to work on occasion. My first such weekday commute was the Monday after Easter.
Clavicle surgery aside, it is healthy to ride a bike. That fact ought not be surprising to anyone. But the eye-opener for me is how much my world was turned upside down when I took a new path to work. We so see only what we want to see in our everyday world and block out so much that we really don’t want to see. In my case, instead of driving my normal busy traffic-filled street to get to my office, I took a new path in order to avoid the more dangerous streets.
Here is something you need to know about Little Rock. It is split horizontally into two worlds: north of I-630 and south of I-630. It is a different world when you cross I-630 toward the south, which is how I took the bike to avoid hills and traffic. There is some in-your-face poverty and abandoned houses. There are struggling businesses. There are a couple of places where I will admit that I would be fearful if I were walking, not riding. But there are also people sitting on porches as they enjoy the day, and groups of people chatting and working on cars and planting vegetable gardens and cooking on a grill. There are people with lives that I, who live primarily north of I-630, never see. On Monday in Easter week, the day after we celebrated resurrection, it was a sort of resurrection appearance for me to see with brand new eyes the same old world that has been there for ages, but that until then I had not seen, or had at least refused to see.
I tell this story because during Easter season the gospel lessons are full of appearances of the resurrected Christ. Easter Day we heard about Mary in the garden, and when I took that bike ride and saw people planting a garden, I was mindful of the gospel. Two weeks ago we heard of such appearances happening in a locked room, filled with fearful people and a doubting Thomas. That story truly resonates, starts to come alive, when I find myself in a part of town with which I am basically unfamiliar and indeed a tad fearful. Last week we heard of the resurrected Christ showing up at what we would call a cookout. I wonder how my eyes might be opened when I next ride along 12th or 15th Street and see people gathered around a grill.
For Christians who are immersed in the power of the resurrection, what happened in those gospel stories is not simply historical; it is present reality. Resurrection IS taking place. Eyes ARE being opened. The power of unconditional love to overcome any sort of hatred or death dealing situation is being shown. Lives and relationships are being changed. Resurrection in this day and age—and its daily implications—is what Christians ultimately have to offer the world.
What does that sort of story mean in our own age? How do we find ways to bridge the divides that so separate us, and in so bridging those divides, share good news? To believe in resurrection has tangible consequences. It changes how we live on a day-to-day basis. It might mean that we start taking a new path to work, or a new way to talk with our fellow employees when we get to work, or a new way to interact with the people whom we have been fearful, or a serious desire to see the suffering of others stop. We will likely be surprised at what we discover.
I am convinced that a lot of what happens for us Christians comes in form of surprise. To put it simply, we might be able to get ready for Easter, but we cannot plan resurrection. We are surprised when we see someone in a brand new way. We are surprised when we see our own lives in a brand new light. It is what breathes life into the church, generation after generation, as we find worth where there once seemed to be little of worth. That is the good news.