My friend Lisa is blind. When she’s walking by herself, she uses one of those white canes to get around, but if she’s with a group, she’ll take someone’s arm and just let one of us guide her. Walking with her the first time was an incredibly humbling experience. I don’t think I actually ran her into anything, but it was pretty close. I’m used to navigating my self around crowds and obstacles, and it was a pretty big adjustment for me to suddenly have control of where she was going as well!
I felt a little bit like she was putting her life in my hands. Of course, she’s used to it by now – it’s as normal as breathing, or walking. But how much trust does that take! To recognize that someone else has a different perception of the world that you don’t have yourself, and then to just let yourself follow, trusting that perception which you’ve never had yourself.
Now, I get the sense that Saul was a pretty big deal when we meet him in this story. He was on a mission, and he was used to getting what he wanted. He had gained quite a reputation among the followers of the Way for his vicious persecution of those who claimed Jesus as Lord. Here was a guy who was used to knowing exactly where he was going, and then going there with purpose.
So being blinded, even temporarily, must have shaken him up pretty deeply. A change like that is a massive shift in perception! We all of us grow used to the unique ways we perceive the world, even though we all have some slight differences due to losing our hearing as we grow older, or color-blindness, or a super-sensitive nose – I confused my mom a lot as a kid because I could tell that the bread was getting moldy two days before anyone else could! We get used to it – that’s just what the world looks and smells like for us. But for someone who has never been blind before to suddenly find himself without sight altogether! That must have been pretty shocking and overwhelming. Letting himself be guided by someone else is not at all what Saul is used to.
And yet, this conversion, for Saul, requires exactly that shift in perspective. The way you have seen, says Jesus, none of that is the same anymore. You must trust your friends to lead you through this new darkness.
And in a vision, Saul gets a message about a disciple of the Lord called Ananias. Moments before, he would have persecuted Ananias to his death. But now, Ananias is the only one who can restore his sight. His whole future rests in the hands of someone who knows him only as an enemy. We don’t get to hear Saul’s reaction to this news, but Ananias is of course skeptical!
I love the words Jesus used to convince Ananias – he is an instrument whom I have chosen. The Greek word is something like “vessel,” or just “thing,” but I love the imagery of an instrument in particular. Whether it’s something in the spotlight, like a trumpet or a violin, or something that gets a little less flash, like a ukulele, or a tuba – an instrument holds within it almost limitless potential.
But to be an instrument of God – that’s a whole new thing. That’s not quite the way we’re used to approaching the world. An instrument is not what makes things happen! A musical instrument doesn’t just play, and a medical instrument doesn’t just perform surgery; it requires a doctor, or a musician, to make something happen. An instrument of God is something, some one, through which God’s music flows. The breath of the Spirit moves through us in a precise and dramatic way, and the unique size and shape and materials of our contours create a new sound unlike any other.
One of my students at UD is a music education major, and her specialty is tuba. I went to her senior recital a few weeks ago – and I have to say, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a tuba solo before – but she did a fantastic job. She got Bach out of that tuba!
It’s an instrument not quite like any other, but without someone to play it, it is more or less useless. But when the instrument comes together with a talented musician, and then other musicians on other instruments, then the magic happens.
Without the words and breath of God flowing through him, Saul was more or less lost. His main purpose in life seemed to be tearing down what others were building. But when God chooses him as an instrument, it knocks him down and changes his perceptions forever. As God’s instrument, there is something flowing through him that is not entirely his own. He is a part of something greater.
Saul’s unique self and his particular history are essential to that greater whole. There is no other instrument with quite that same shape and resonance – but he himself will never quite be the same. Soon after this story, even his name is changed. Saul, persecutor of the people of the Way, who has enabled so much destruction, becomes Paul, luminary figure of the early church. The Holy Spirit that fills him has changed his very self, and there is no going back. This one will set the course of thousands of years of church history, much to his own surprise.
Encounters with the risen Christ have a tendency to do that, don’t they? Because on a fundamental level, resurrection changes things. Easter changes things. The rules of death as we understood them have somehow changed, which in turn means that life has somehow changed. We live knowing that in some way we don’t quite understand, death is no longer the end. Life is more than that, and we are more than that.
But the change that is Easter is not necessarily going to be an easy one. Sometimes the risen Jesus just bursts into our lives with a flash of light and knocks us to the ground. Most of us don’t have conversion experiences that are quite as dramatic as Paul’s. But we too are called to be instruments for God, and I think that’s going to be a pretty dramatic shift in perspective. We are not used to the idea of being vessels, not in control of where we are going. We are mostly not prepared to let someone take us by the hand and lead us. But can we really be instruments for God if we keep trying to play ourselves?
The newness that is Easter means a whole new way of seeing the world. The risen Christ bursts in and blinds us to everything that we have known before, and leads us into a strange new place onto the arm of someone who we thought was our enemy, and God says, trust them. From now on, the world will look different. The world will even smell different.
God says, I will make you new! But you have to relax a little and walk with me. God will make beautiful music with us, but it will probably not be the music that we ourselves imagine. If we let the strangeness and unreality of Easter resurrection change our hearts and change our seeing, and change our very names, we will be resurrection people. And through us, Easter will change the world.