Benediction Online

Sunday, April 24, 2011

He is Risen!

Acts 10:34-43
Colossians 3:1-4 Matthew 28:1-10

Each day all over the world some people’s lives are irrevocably changed. It may be because of an accident or an argument, a diagnosis or a disaster or perhaps something joyful, a job offer, a birth, a new love. For the disciples, Easter morning changed their lives more than they could imagine possible. They probably thought that living with Jesus, they had gotten used to surprise and sudden change but this was the biggest yet.

They had seen Jesus’ broken, bruised and bloody body put in the tomb. They knew that Jesus was really dead; dead dead. That was as real and solid to his disciples as any experience they had ever had. And now the tomb was empty. The angel said he was alive. The two Marys were amazed. Everything they thought was solid suddenly changed to liquid. Even death was no longer as definite as it seemed.

From this point on, the rest of the New Testament, the rest of the history of the church, is an attempt to understand what this means. Christianity is not a neatly worked out system where everything fits nicely together – it is the attempt of ordinary people to make sense of a life-changing and bizarre event.

The stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty. Jesus got out. Somehow, somewhen, Jesus resurrected in a new body which could move through stone but could still eat breakfast. Amazing, weird.

What does it mean to you?

I doubt that any of us can remember a time when we didn’t know the story - Jesus died on a cross and was raised from the dead. It’s hardly life changing when you’ve known it for ever. We don’t have the startling and astonishing experience of the earthquake and the angel and then meeting Jesus on the road and grabbing his feet…

So is it even important?

It is important because it is an integral part of God’s Plan conceived in the creative and all-loving dance of the Trinity. We only get glimpses of this plan in which God created a universe, an ever-expanding, ever-changing cosmos of an infinite number of planets, stars, black holes and other celestial beings whose names I don’t know and probably cannot pronounce. And then on one small planet God created humanity. God made humans with the potential to wander away from God, and as she knew we would, we do.

In order to continue her creative process and bring this project into reconciliation with herself, God sent her Son, who is one with the Creator God, to become human, to die, to rise again to…to… to what? Why did Jesus the Christ die and rise again?

The writers of the New Testament describe their experiences in several different ways – the principal themes are freedom from sin, forgiveness of sins, salvation, peace, and new life. So let’s take a brief look at each one.

Physicists tell us that the world is not solid. It just seems like it is. In fact the whole of creation is made of infinitesimal particles moving very fast so that the blur of their activity creates matter that appears to be solid.

Perhaps through Jesus’ death and resurrection he showed us that evil isn’t solid either, that sin isn’t as powerful as we thought. If it were solid, if it were truly powerful, Jesus would still be trapped in Sheol, his body cold in the tomb. In our baptism we have mysteriously died with Christ and been raised again into a world where evil, sin and addiction only have the power we give them. Because Jesus’ resurrection shows that they are not solid.

Because they are not solid we can have freedom from sin – Jesus gives us the power to change, to become godly. It almost certainly won’t happen overnight and it may take the interventions of modern medicine and the faith community to help us let go of old patterns and destructive behaviors. But we no longer need to feel trapped by this powerful negativity, because Jesus has shown that it is hollow and weak.

Sometimes we define sin as separation from God but there is nowhere we can go where we are truly away from God. The psalmist says, “If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there.”[1] So sin is not separation from God as much as that which stops us experiencing oneness with the divine. Sin is what makes us question whether we are truly loveable, sin is what makes us feel guilty and ashamed at a gut level. Sin is everything we do and think which is less than godly. From the earliest days in the Garden of Eden, our willfulness and our longing to explore and to know have got in the way of a simple, innocent relationship with God. We are not infants sitting innocently and trustingly on her lap… we are people of wisdom and creativity and sometimes of anger and hatred.

Jesus’ life, death and resurrection assures us that God doesn’t even see all the things that we think get in between us. God became human… God moved towards us and has now fully experienced what it is to be human and mortal and to feel separated from the very source of life. God has open arms, waiting for us to come and be reconciled, to come back to God in a mature adult relationship of two free beings. God is waiting for us to soften our hearts and forgive ourselves and others and accept his free gift of loving mutual relationship.

Perhaps that’s a good description of salvation or redemption. It’s what brings us back into loving mutual relationship with the divine. It’s what brings us back into the relationship with God that we were created to have – a relationship like that of the Trinity with one another, a dance of free spirits bound to each other by love, joy, thanksgiving and mutual obedience and submission.

There’s an ancient prayer which talks of God “whose service is perfect freedom”, “whose service is perfect freedom”. As Americans we’re very attached to the idea of freedom. Although we can’t always define exactly what we mean, I am sure that most of us would not consider serving someone else “perfect freedom”. Yet we are made to live in service of God and each other and in that service we find the perfect freedom which is salvation because that is the life of the Trinity to which we are called and invited.

When we live in relationship with God there is a quality of peace which starts to permeate our lives. This is not a superficial feel-good peace. Jesus’ life was hardly peaceful – he found it difficult to get away from the crowds of people wanting his attention, he was constantly harassed by the religious authorities and finally he was betrayed, tortured and killed. Not an example of a quiet peaceful life. So the peace of God which passes understanding is something different.

It is the peace that comes from knowing that nothing, nothing can separate us from the amazing, extravagant love of God. As the apostle Paul said, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

And perhaps that is the secret of the new life which is in Christ. The incredible, unconditional love of God keeps us safe. Not from hardship or pain but from the fear that these things are all there is. When we know that the safety net is in position, we can fling ourselves with abandon from one trapeze to the next, trusting that even if we miss, all will be well.

Trusting in our ever-deepening relationship with the great triune God whose very nature is love, allows us to live life to the full. And that is what God wants for us. For each one of us God wants us to live the life we were created to have, abundant life in relationship with her. It will be different for each one of us – for some God is a tangible presence, for others more a longing and a burning desire, but however God manifests in our lives, she brings life and hope.

As the second century French bishop Ireneas said, “The glory of God is the human being fully alive”. The apostle Peter who preached forgiveness of sins in our first reading was not the bumbling fisherman but a new human being fully alive and empowered by God’s Spirit. The Jesus that the two Marys met that fateful morning was a human being fully alive in a resurrection body.

The fact that Jesus is alive gives us hope and new life so that we too can be the glory of God.

The Lord is Risen!

[1] Ps 139:8


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