During my last semester at seminary, I took a course on Environmental Ethics. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I registered for the class, but the course sounded interesting, and I really liked the professor. I learned a lot throughout the course lectures, assigned readings, and class discussions. And several key ideas and concepts that I was exposed to during that course, have had a major impact on me and how I see the world.
One of those concepts that has stuck with me is known as plant blindness. It’s the cognitive bias that keeps one from seeing or noticing plants in one’s environment. Elisabeth Schussler and James Wandersee, two botanists and biology educators, noticed this widespread tendency, and in 1998, they coined the term “plant blindness.”
I remember being shocked by the reality of plant blindness in my own life, as soon as I learned it in class, because I often didn’t notice or see the plant life all around me. For a large part of the year, I lived in a sea of green on the plateau that is Sewanee. Many days I’d walk to class, immersed in the green plant life of trees, grass, and other vegetation, and it was common for me to not see them or notice them. I would notice people, buildings, the cars on the road, even the sidewalk, but the green that enveloped me wouldn’t even register.
Life surged all around me in every shade of the color green, and I often didn’t see it. I didn’t notice it. And this tendency of mine to be blind to life around me, has me thinking of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke’s Gospel. Like you and me, who often walk blindly past the green life around us, they failed to see the risen life of Jesus present with them.
We aren’t told the reason they can’t see Jesus. Luke only says that “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” We aren’t told the specific reason, but it’s easy to imagine their difficulty. They had hoped Jesus would overthrow the Roman occupation and restore Israel. They weren’t expecting Jesus to die at the hands of the Romans. Now, they are sad. Their hopes have been dashed. And even though Jesus told his disciples that he’d die and rise again, the disciples didn’t understand what he was talking about, and certainly weren’t expecting to see the resurrected Jesus. We may not know the specific reason they couldn’t recognize Jesus in their midst, but surely you and I can identify with their struggle.
During these Great Fifty days of celebrating the Resurrection of Christ, it’s good for each of us to examine the reasons that make it hard for us to recognize the risen Jesus in our midst. And I believe one of the main reasons is the same reason it was hard for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: the resurrection is unexpected.
The resurrection doesn’t make sense in how we normally understand reality. It doesn’t fit. Things live and die. That’s it. It doesn’t make sense that Jesus dies, lives, and will never die again. That goes against how we expect things to go in the universe.
Some people think that the resurrection is hard to believe today because we are more modern and scientific than the people in Jesus’ day. But I’m not so sure about that. I think it was just as incredulous in Jesus’ day as it is today in our time.
In the book of Acts we read about Paul sharing the good news about Jesus in the Areopagus. It was a thriving center of philosophical debate. And Paul tells them about Jesus and how God raised him from the dead, and this is what Luke writes about that moment: “When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, “We will hear you again about this.” Two thousand years ago some philosophical minds immediately scoffed at the idea of a person being raised from the dead, while others said they’d let Paul tell them more. But it isn’t the case that in earlier eras, people heard about Jesus’ resurrection and easily believed it.
The resurrection of Jesus is hard to believe because it’s unexpected. The Christian claim is that the resurrection was a singular and new event in history. That’s what makes it hard to believe in. To believe in the resurrection is to believe that something new and unexpected happened in the universe unlike anything that happened before. That’s a huge claim, and for some, it’s simply not plausible.
But this morning, I’d like to offer you something that has helped me in my faith, and it’s this: we do know of things that have happened in our universe that were totally new and unexpected.
Imagine you and I travel back to the beginning of our universe as we know it. We see the expansion of the universe and the formation of its elements. If you and I were there those many billions of years ago, we could not have looked at those newly formed elements and the expanse of space, and somehow surmised that at some point in the future something called life would exist. We would have been even less able to expect that something like consciousness would emerge.
In the history of the universe, life itself was new and unexpected. And if that’s the case, then the new and unexpected event of the resurrection seems like a plausible possibility. At least it does for me. And it has for many throughout out the history of the community that has formed around the risen Jesus.
I don’t think the resurrection of Jesus is something you can argue anyone into believing. I believe that’s to approach the resurrection in a totally wrong way. I don’t believe the resurrection is an idea you try to convince someone about. I think the resurrection is best understood in terms of a person you trust.
It’s about trusting Jesus who is always coming to us in new and unexpected ways. With his good news that you and I are loved by God beyond our wildest dreams. With his rising to life and defeating sin and death. And the ways he comes to walk along side of us, even when we don’t believe or recognize that he’s there.
You may be in a strange part of your journey, in a place you didn’t plan on, with life turning out in ways you never expected. You may be sad. Your hopes may be dashed. And even though you have heard about the resurrection of Jesus, you may find yourself like the disciples not understanding what that’s about, and definitely not expecting Jesus to be with you in your present circumstances.
But although it may be new or unexpected, trust in the resurrected Jesus who comes to walk with you today. You don’t have to be convinced. You just have to trust.
He is with you and me. Full of life, and as easy to miss as the color green.