Denise Levertov, “On Belief in the Physical Resurrection of Jesus” [Poetry for Easter]

Each week during Eastertide I am posting a poem that helps me engage more meaningfully with Jesus’ resurrection. Here is Denise Levertov’s poem “On Belief in the Physical Resurrection of Jesus,” from The Collected Poems of Denise Levertov. Denise Levertov was a twentieth century poet, born in England and later residing in the United States.


It is for all
‘literalists of the imagination,’
poets or not,
that miracle
is possible and essential.
Are some intricate minds
nourished on concept,
as epiphytes flourish
high in the canopy?
Can they
subsist on the light,
on the half
of metaphor that’s not
grounded in dust, grit,
heavy
carnal clay?
Do signs contain and utter,
for them
all the reality
that they need? Resurrection, for them,
an internal power, but not
a matter of flesh?
For the others,
of whom I am one,
miracles (ultimate need, bread
of life,) are miracles just because
people so tuned
to the humdrum laws:
gravity, mortality-
can’t open
to symbol’s power
unless convinced of its ground,
its roots
in bone and blood.
We must feel
the pulse in the wound
to believe
that ‘with God
all things
are possible,’
taste
bread at Emmaus
that warm hands
broke and blessed.


Previous poems in this series:

George Herbert, “Easter Wings”

The Weekend Wanderer: 18 February 2023

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within these articles but have found them thought-provoking.


Turkey earthquake“Turkish and Syrian Christians Rally Earthquake Relief” – Jayson Casper in Christianity Today: “Local Christians were among the first responders to the massive earthquake in Turkey and Syria that left more than 5,000 people dead and more than 20,000 injured. They just don’t know how to make sense of it. ‘God have mercy on us, Christ have mercy,’ said Gokhan Talas, founder of the evangelical Miras Publishing Ministry in Istanbul. ‘This is our only spiritual reflection right now.’ His first instinct was to go. But as reports came in of deep snowfall and damaged roads, he shifted gears. His wife stayed up all night making phone calls to believers in Malatya, trying to coordinate aid. And with members of his church and Protestant congregations throughout Turkey, they bought blankets, medicines, baby formula, and diapers to send onward to the afflicted areas. ‘From this side of eternity, nothing is clear,’ Talas said. ‘But our sweet Lord is suffering with us.’ He warned of scams preying on the outpouring of generosity from around the world, even among the small Turkish evangelical community of roughly 10,000 believers. Their own supplies are being donated through İlk Umut Derneği—in English, First Hope Association (FHA), a Turkish Protestant NGO working closely with the local Red Crescent and AFAD, Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority.”


Asbury Univ revival“Why students at a Kentucky Christian school are praying and singing round the clock” – Bob Smietana in Religion News Service: “ast Wednesday (Feb. 8), students at Asbury University gathered for their biweekly chapel service in the 1,500-seat Hughes Auditorium. They sang. They listened to a sermon. They prayed. Nearly a week later, many of them are still there. ‘This has been an extraordinary time for us,’ Asbury President Kevin Brown said during a gathering on Monday, more than 120 hours into what participants have referred to as a spiritual revival. The revival has disrupted life and brought national attention to Asbury, an evangelical Christian school in Wilmore, Kentucky, about a half-hour outside of Lexington. Videos of students singing, weeping and praying have been posted on social media, leading to both criticism and praise from onlookers. News of the revival has also drawn students and other visitors to the campus to take part in the ongoing prayer and worship. ‘We’ve been here in Hughes Auditorium for over a hundred hours — praying, crying, worshipping and uniting — because of Love,’ wrote Alexandra Presta, editor of The Asbury Collegian, the school’s student newspaper, who has been chronicling the services on campus. ‘We’ve even expanded into Estes Chapel across the street at Asbury Theological Seminary and beyond. I can proclaim that Love boldly because God is Love.’ The ongoing meetings in the chapel — which have none of the flashing lights, fog machines or other trappings that accompany many modern worship services — have also brought back memories of a similar revival in the 1970s, which is recounted in a video produced by the university.”


article_63e416dc17537“A Wild Christianity” – Paul Kingsnorth in First Things: “hrough the mouth of the cave I watched the storm front move in from the east. I could already hear the approaching thunder; the low bank of cloud was gray with it. I was perched on a low ledge inside the cave, which was just long enough to accommodate a human body laid prone. I had filled the place with candles, which guttered and danced in the wind that was rising now with the coming storm. The storm broke in an instant, and then everything was roaring. Great nails of rain hammered down on the hazels, and the rumbles of thunder were replaced by an explosion right above me. The dimming evening sky was suddenly ripped from horizon to horizon by a great sheet of white lightning. More rain. More thunder. More electricity. It roared on and then, eventually, it roared past. Ten minutes later the rain had slowed, but the pause in hostilities was only temporary. I could see another front approaching over the mountains. For hours it went on. A night of storm and screaming skies. In the end, everything was black but for the light the candle flames threw on the weeping walls of the limestone cave, and the ­irregular explosions of light, which would suddenly imprint on my retinas a white cave mouth like an opening to heaven or hell. The roof of the cave was dripping now. Outside there was nothing to be seen unless the lightning came down, seeking the ground like a long-lost brother. No ruined church, no well, no spring, no wood: Everything that had surrounded me during the day had been swallowed by the Atlantic winter. This was how I spent the eve of my fiftieth birthday.”


MG-Jan-2023-800x533“What I Would Say to The Pastor Who Follows Me” – Mike Glenn at his blog: “As you might already know, I recently announced that I would be stepping down as Senior Pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church at the end of the year. By the time I step down, I will have served as pastor of this church for thirty-two years. That’s a good run in anybody’s book. My friends want to know why I’ve decided to make a transition at this time in my career. Wouldn’t it be easier to just ride it out? Not really. I’ve never been one to coast through life and the thought of trying to sit still when there is so much that can be done drives me nuts. Knowing that about myself, it’s better for me to move on and leave the stage for the next pastor. Here’s what I would tell the pastor who follows me: The age of the mega-church is over….Because churches will be smaller, they will be run by co-vocational staff and volunteers….While the rising generations give, they give very differently than the builders and boomers before them….Trauma is the new reality.”


Emmaus Trail“The Emmaus Trail” – Henri Gourinard in Bible History Daily: “Although the village of Emmaus plays an important role in the resurrection story, its exact whereabouts remain somewhat of a mystery.1 In the Gospel of Luke (24:13–35) we learn about a disciple of Jesus named Cleopas and his travel companion who were journeying from Jerusalem to Emmaus when they met up with an unassuming stranger. The men had been lamenting the crucifixion of Jesus, which had taken place just three days prior. The stranger approached and inquired about their grief. Cleopas explained that with the crucifixion the hope for redemption had been dashed, and further, that morning the tomb of Jesus had been discovered empty. The stranger reassured them that all these events had been foretold and that they were indeed signs that the Messiah had arrived. The men were comforted, and upon reaching Emmaus, invited the stranger to join them for a meal. It was then, when they sat together and broke bread with the stranger, that they realized he was actually the resurrected Christ. At that very instant, the stranger vanished. Cleopas and his friend immediately set off back to Jerusalem to share the good news of what they had witnessed. From this account, Christian commentators concluded that Emmaus could not be far from Jerusalem. Indeed, two of the earliest manuscripts containing Luke 24:13 reference Emmaus being relatively close to Jerusalem—one manuscript claims the distance was 60 stadia (7 miles), while another claims 160 stadia (19 miles). Since the two men would have set out late in the day and arrived in Jerusalem before dusk, the closer claim of 7 miles was traditionally favored. Thus, two villages, each located about 7 miles from Jerusalem, have traditionally been identified as the Emmaus of the Gospel: Abu Ghosh and el-Qubeibeh. However, a third site, located 19 miles west of Jerusalem in the Judean Hills, may be the real Emmaus for a number of compelling reasons. Early Christian writers living in the Holy Land were of the unanimous opinion that Emmaus was located at a major Roman crossroad in the lowlands area near the towns of Modi‘in, Gezer, and Lydda. This opinion is also supported by the Jerusalem Talmud (Sheviit 9:2). Formely, the Arab village of Imwas (reminiscent of the name Emmaus) stood at the site. And finally, pilgrims who chronicled their visits to the house of Cleopas, which had since been transformed into the Church of the Breaking of the Bread, describe a major city of the Byzantine period known as Emmaus Nicopolis, located here. Tourists and pilgrims alike can now embark on a newly inaugurated 20 km (12.5 mile) walking trail and discover for themselves the trail to Emmaus. The Emmaus Trail, as it is known, is part of a network of trails maintained by the Jewish National Fund.”


stockpkg_mj8857_asco“See the extraordinary splendour of ordinary chemicals” – Nina Strochlic in National Geographic: “What do you see in these images? A palm-frond jungle? Bright bird feathers? Taking the Rorschach test that is Peter Woitschikowski’s photomicrography, viewers often compare the shapes with the natural world. But he asks them to embrace the abstract instead—to see something entirely new. ‘The hope is to turn the fantasy on,’ he says. In the 1980s, Woitschikowski, who lives in Germany, bought a microscope after seeing a magazine spread of microcrystal photography. He wanted to reveal this wondrous world that’s invisible to the unaided eye. The shapes are formed on glass lab plates by heating chemicals, such as acetaminophen, or mixing them with water or alcohol. As the substances cool or dry, crystals appear. When illuminated by polarised light, some seem to leap into a ballet of form and colour. The process is so delicate that even slight vibrations can ruin it. That’s why Woitschikowski uses a remote shutter trigger and works late at night when vehicle traffic outside his studio has subsided. ‘It’s a great experiment,’ he says. ‘You don’t know what you’ll see when you begin.'”


Music: Porter’s Gate, “Slow Me Down

Our Hearts Burning :: Rembrandt van Rijn, “The Supper at Emmaus”

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Supper at Emmaus, Oil on canvas; 1648.

The resurrection of Jesus is shockingly miraculous but also astoundingly earthy. Nowhere is that more clear than in the story recorded in Luke 24 of Jesus’ walking and lingering with two disciples on the road to Emmaus after His resurrection. This apparently chance encounter involves various ordinary aspects of life: walking, travel, eating, conversation. Not until the end of the story is the miraculous revealed—Jesus is risen and in their midst!—after which Jesus vanishes. After the fact, these two disciples reflect on what was happening within them throughout their encounter with Jesus: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32). The ordinary is set ablaze by resurrection presence and power. Jesus is here with us, right down to the ordinary action of eating, drinking, and sharing of conversation. There are echoes of this mysterious mixture of the extraordinary and the ordinary in other post-resurrection appearances: Mary mistakes Jesus for a gardener (John 20:15), Thomas longs to see and touch Jesus (John 20:25), and Jesus makes breakfast for His disciples after they fish (John 21:7-9). Each episode is a beautiful conflation of Jesus in His resurrection glory and Jesus in His resurrected flesh and bone.

Rembrandt painted the supper at Emmaus twice in his life, once in 1629 and once in 1648. The earlier version of the painting is striking and larger than life, with Jesus profiled in shadow, illuminated with brilliance, while one disciple knocks over his chair in an effort to fall down at Jesus’ feet. The later version of the painting, which we see above, is less dramatic and more ordinary, but perhaps more poignant. Jesus is fully visible, with light shining on His face and hands, drawing attention to His words and actions. Jesus prepares to break the bread, and the first hints of recognition appear upon the disciples’ faces. In the ordinary moment of a table meal, the extraordinary work of God has been revealed. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, our ordinary moments and lives are transformed by faith in Christ. Our walking, eating, conversing, and all mundane things are now something different. Even here and now, His presence and power are with us. Such truth may just set our hearts burning, too.

Walk with Jesus: The Road to Emmaus as a Picture of Whole-Life Discipleship

image 1 - The Road to Emmaus I - Daniel Bonnell.jpg
Daniel BonnellRoad to Emmaus I; 2011.

The story begins like this: Jesus was arrested and His followers fled. He was tried and killed by crucifixion. His body was taken from the Cross by Joseph of Arimathea, who was a wealthy, secret follower of Jesus. The disciples scattered at Jesus’ arrest, but returned to one another in a gathering place in Jerusalem. Some women went to the tomb to care for Jesus’ body, but the body wasn’t there. They talked about angelic presences that informed them Jesus had risen from the grave. But it seemed so hard to believe, most of the others remained skeptical. Later the same day on which the women visited the empty tomb, two disciples walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a town west by northwest from Jerusalem. 

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.

15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

Look again at that phrase: “Jesus himself came up and walked along with them.” (Luke 24:15). If we look at this story as an image of discipleship it reminds us that discipleship is primarily walking with and in the way of Jesus.

image 2 - Walking the Road to Emmaus.jpg

Discipleship means to apprentice to someone, or to take someone on as a teacher. Jewish rabbis often invited their disciples – or apprentices – to follow in their steps, or walk in their way. This was more about taking on the approach to life of their teacher or master. 

Because of that, discipleship in the New Testament is often described as walking. We see this in Ephesians, when several times, Paul writes things like “walk worthy of your calling” (Eph 4:1) or “walk in the good works that God commanded ahead of time” (2:10). The Greek word περιπατέω literally relates to walking, but became a metaphor for living life under a certain leader’s way of life and teaching. For Christians, this means experientially walking with the Risen Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit but also walking in the way of life that Jesus modeled and opened to us through His life, death, and resurrection.

As these two disciples walk on their way, Jesus comes to walk with them. The way of discipleship – growing as a follower of Jesus – is essentially learning the way of Jesus. We invite Him to walk with us in our lives; sometimes, even recognizing that He is walking with us when we didn’t realize it. Discipleship means letting the everyday context of our lives become a setting in which we increasingly walk with Him and walk like Him; that is, we live with Jesus and learn His ways.

When we say the word discipleship, it is not primarily about a curriculum or about a book or about certain activities. Rather, we learn in the ordinary context of our daily life to walk with Jesus and in the way of Jesus. When we go to the store, we learn to walk with and in the way Jesus. When we go to our workplace or school, we learn to walk with and in the way Jesus. When we enjoy conversations with others, we learn to walk with and in the way Jesus.  Day by day, we grow as disciples, not just in the religious sphere of our lives, but in the totality of our lives. Jesus is not that interested in one slice of the pie of our lives called “church,” but in revolutionizing all of our lives as we walk with Him and grow in His way of being truly human. This is what discipleship is all about.

From Confusion to Understanding (discussion questions)

Here are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “From Confusion to Understanding,” from this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. This is the second part of our series “The Kingdom Life.” The text for this week is from Luke 24:13-35.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When did you have a spiritual breakthrough in your life of understanding who Jesus was? What happened?
  2. This weekend we continue “The Kingdom Life” series by looking at Luke 24:13-35. Begin your study in prayer and then read that passage aloud.
  3. How would you describe the situation of the two men traveling to Emmaus from Jerusalem (24:13-18)?
  4. How does Jesus engage in conversation with them (24:17, 19)? Why might this be important?
  5. What stands out to you about their summary of the situation of recent days (24:19-24)?
  6. Have you ever experienced doubt, grief, or confusion that lead you to question God’s work in your life? How did you deal with that?
  7. Jesus’ teaching takes them through the entire Hebrew Bible (‘Moses and all the Prophets’ was used as a summary term for all the Bible). Take a moment to reflect on passages from the Bible that draw attention to Jesus:
  • Genesis 49:8-12
  • Deuteronomy 18:14-22
  • 2 Samuel 7:11-16
  • Psalm 118
  • Isaiah 7:14
  • Isaiah 53:1-12
  • Zechariah 9:9-17
  • Daniel 7:13-14
  1. Jesus agrees to stay with these two disciples for a meal, but things change drastically in this situation. What happens?
  2. Recognition is an important theme in this passage, both in 24:16 and 24:31. What do you think the purposes of God were in delaying the recognition of Jesus here?
  3. What is one way that God is speaking to you personally through this study? If you’re on your own, write it down and share it with someone later. If you are with a small group, discuss this together.

Daily Reading Plan

To encourage us together in our growth with God, we arranged a weekday reading plan through this series. As you read each day, ask God to speak to you from His word.

Monday, Apr 24        Luke 24:13-35
Tuesday, Apr 25        Mark 16:1-14
Wednesday, Apr 26  John 20:10-18
Thursday, Apr 27      Luke 24:36-43
Friday, Apr 28            John 20:19-23