We need resurrection

Preacher: Nathan Hosler

Scripture: Luke 24:1-12, 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

We need a resurrection.

We need a resurrection.

I first thought this phrase while in church last Sunday, feeling beleaguered and discouraged in this very sanctuary.

We need a resurrection.

The next day on Monday, the 5th Anniversary of the abduction of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok and burning of the 900-year-old glorious Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and the death of the mother of a colleague my age—these had me groaning or whispering, “we need a resurrection.” And not in a triumphant way or in a “I know I’m going to use this in a sermon” sort of way that might make me somehow more pious or spiritual or less prone to despair.

We need a resurrection.

But then on Tuesday there was that bright red cardinal in the tree. In the low dawn light of the street it’s red popped just a bit more than usual. First on the tree and then on to the long dead sunflower skeleton still standing in our yard lashed to the neighbor’s fence. The same bird as the day before (I presume) gathering seeds from the small seed heads that have long lost their radiant yellow petals.

At the end Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem last Sunday, amid cries of hosanna and the waving of palm branches, Jesus responded to his critics. He said if these people had not cried out, the stones would have shouted. The bright petals and blossoms of spring feel like a resurrection but these old bodies left from last year, having passed through winter, lacked a resurrection.

The stones will cry out! The creation surges forth eager to cry out in praise for the creator. The Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was present at creation and participated as the agent of this creation. The creation which was declared good and remains good even against the continued abuse by humanity. This very creation which surges as a river or lies in the still water of the marshy river edges. The rivers which, if cared for (or at times even just left alone), can be healed and contribute to healing. It is the creation in the stones which are worn smooth or remain jagged these stones and this river will cry out—will shout out, raising their voice in praise of the one who brought them into being and brings healing through the reconciling word.

If the people had not cried out, “hosanna,” Jesus says, if these people of Jerusalem had not cried out waving their branches in praise and celebration then the seemingly inert stones would have raised their stony voices. For even these stones know the one who redeems.

Creation cries out. It is both a groan of waiting for the coming savior, the need for resurrection, and a glorious shout of praise. It is not valuable simply because commercial value can be extracted from it. It is not of value simply because it can be molded or cut or diverted into something more “practical” or something for humans to consume. All of creation cries out on its own.

“For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace;

the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” Isaiah 55

We, along with creation—as part of creation—we cry out. Last Sunday we cried out “Hosanna!” with the coming of Jesus—a triumphant donkey riding One of Peace. This week we cried out—“we need a resurrection.” The desperate cry of despair at the crucifixion makes even the groan, we need a resurrection, seem too hopeful.

This morning after days of sorrow and the knowledge that on the third day the death is real—this morning the women who followed Jesus, and who will become the first apostles, went to the tomb to care for the corpse of their hope. The pierced hands through which powerful healing flowed—stilled, and the mouth from which words of peace and repentance proclaimed—silenced. The back which bent to lift and wash feet laid flat without power. This is what they knew. Death had dealt a crushing blow. The women, whose hope seems to have died, knew this.

They needed a resurrection.

We need a resurrection.

Who will bring new life? Who will resuscitate hope lost?

Do you have that power? Do I have the wherewithal to bring hope, much-less life? This task is far beyond us.

In the book of Job, God challenges Job, highlighting his limitations in relation to God. The Lord asks,

“Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this.

“Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness, that you may take it to its territory and that you may discern the paths to its home?”

We have such little power—we need a resurrection.

As it turns out—we have a resurrection.

Which you already knew.

We have a resurrection!

And which I knew earlier this week when all I could mutter was the need for a resurrection. I knew it but didn’t quite feel it—somehow it felt distant or elusive.

The women at the grave—those for whom embodied hope had literally died—the women at the grave were confronted with a startling announcement. Jesus is alive! Christ is risen! [congregation]—“He is risen indeed!

The power that had created all and had blown the breath of life into humanity, this same power acted in the Crucified One and brought life and in the process conquered the grave.

Christ is risen! [congregation]—“He is risen indeed!

At least this is eventually how this mysterious disappearance and announcement of Easter morning come to be understood. At first it is just startling, perhaps confusing, too good to be true. But then the pieces start coming together. It is noted that with a little prodding the women remember that Jesus had in fact talked about being raised but that they had not understood him at the time. Not only do the disciples begin to understand this shocking event in light of Jesus’ own teaching but they begin to see how this relates to their scriptures—the first part of our Bible. They also begin to think through the implications and read it theologically.

While our own thinking is certainly not as definitive as the writers of the New Testament we join in this task. Naim Ateek, a Palestinian theologian writes, “The prophetic imperative directs that the Church should dare to analyze and interpret events theologically” (Ateek, Justice and only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation, 152)

The resurrection of Christ, according to Apostle Paul, is not simply a flourish or add-on snappy ending. He writes,

“17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have died[e] in Christ have perished. 19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. 21 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22 for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

Death is conquered. Futility is conquered. We are called to live in light of this. We are filled with the same Spirit and as such is not simply us trying slog on through. The memory and reality of this animate us. It is not simply an inspirational poster on the classroom wall but the very shape of the universe. All creation calls for proclaiming, in calling out in great joy—the power of death has been overcome!

I HAVE SEEN THE LORD!

Preacher — Micah Bales

Scripture Readings – Isaiah 25:6-9, Acts 10:34-43, and John 20:1-18

He is risen! Hallelujah! Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. (Can I get an amen?)

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And how did this world repay him? How did we respond to the love and prophetic challenge of Emanuel, God-with-us? This dark and fallen world put Jesus to death by hanging him on a tree. Blinded by fear and violence, they crucified the Lord of glory.

The forces of death, chaos, and confusion thought that they had won. The evil spirits were laughing in delight. They had defeated truth and love once again. The rulers of this world were breathing a sigh of relief; they were finally rid of this trouble-maker, Jesus. Like so many prophets before and since, Jesus paid for his faithfulness with his life.

But we are here this morning, because we know that this was not the end of the story. Can I get an amen? I want to hear you this morning. This is our victory celebration!

The cross was not an end, but a beginning. Not a wall, but a window. Not defeat, but triumph. The kind of death that leads to new life, like a seed that falls on the ground and dies, so that it may grow into something new, and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, a hundred fold!

On the third day after Golgotha, God raised Jesus from the dead! Early that first Easter morning, Jesus appeared to Mary, the first apostle.

Mary had come to anoint Jesus’ body for burial – there hadn’t been time on Friday. She came to give Jesus’ the loving care that no one else had the courage to give. She came to care for the body of Christ.

But the body wasn’t there. The tomb was empty. Not knowing what to do, Mary ran and found Peter and another disciple. She told them what she had seen: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

The men went off running to the tomb. The leaned down inside and saw that the body was missing. And then they returned to their homes.

But Mary wasn’t ready to return home just yet. Mary was in shock. Where was the body of her lord, her teacher, her friend? She lingered outside the tomb and wept.

Through her eyes, blurry with tears, Mary Magdalene saw what the men disciples did not. As she waited, present with her grief, she witnessed the angels of God sitting in the tomb. And then, something even more amazing. Mary was waiting for Jesus, and he also was waiting for her. Just outside the tomb. In the garden. Calling her by name.

Have you heard him call you by name?

This is how Mary became the original apostle. Apostle to the apostles, to the ones who we now call the Twelve. Mary proclaimed the word of God, the light of the resurrection, to men who didn’t understand yet, didn’t believe yet, but would soon be transformed into leaders that Jesus would use to gather his church and proclaim his gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.

Jesus didn’t appear to all the people, but he chose some to be eye-witnesses to the resurrection. Mary was first. Then Peter, then to the Twelve, and to others who especially needed his presence. Remember our brother Stephen, the first Christian martyr; he saw a vision of the Lord Jesus as he was being stoned to death for his faith. Brother Paul the apostle, who had been a notorious persecutor of the church; his life was transformed when met Jesus on the road to Damascus. To this very day, Jesus continues to appear to those who need him. Along with Mary, we can also say, “We have seen the Lord!”

John writes in his first epistle:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.

For those of us who have seen, or heard, or tasted, smelled, touched with our hands the presence of Jesus – for those of us who have become his friends through the power of the resurrection – he has commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that Jesus is ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him. Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins in his name. The kingdom of God is within us and among us. Hallelujah!

Have you heard the voice of Jesus in your life? Have you seen with your eyes and touched with your hands? Have you experienced in your own body this Word of life, the resurrected Jesus?

Eleven Easters ago, I was in my first year of seminary at Earlham School of Religion and Bethany Theological Seminary out in Richmond, Indiana. When I had arrived the previous fall, I didn’t consider myself a Christian. I knew I liked Jesus a lot, but I wasn’t sure that I was ready to identify myself with the Christian tradition.

But by the time Easter rolled around, I had gotten to the place where I felt like I could take that step. I had begun calling myself a Christian. I got to that place after reading Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12:3, where he says that no one can say, “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. I thought a lot about those words, “Jesus is Lord.” What did it mean to me, for Jesus to be Lord in my life?

By Easter that year, I knew that Jesus was my Lord. He was my friend, my teacher, my guide, and my example. He was master and commander of my life; where he led, I wanted to follow. I didn’t know what I believed about all the deep theological questions that great thinkers have been debating for the past two thousand years, but I knew that I wanted to follow Jesus wherever he would lead, to surrender my life to him. That was good enough for me.

That Easter, my first Easter as a Christian, I attended Sunday morning worship at West Richmond Friends Meeting. It was a really strange experience. It’s an atmosphere of celebration. Everyone is saying, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” And here I am, the new Christian in his first year of seminary, and I have no idea what they’re talking about.

Of course, I knew the story of the resurrection. I was actively studying the New Testament at that time; I knew what the texts said. But reading stories is one thing. These people were talking like these things actually happened. I had been reading the resurrection story as metaphor, but these people seemed to be taking it literally!

I didn’t want to seem too sacrilegious, so I asked my questions quietly. But I did ask. “Do you really believe this? You think that Jesus really, literally, physically rose from the dead? What’s your basis for that? And if you don’t think that, isn’t it a little weird to go running around proclaiming “he is risen!”?

I can’t remember exactly what kind of answers I got in response to my questions. On the one hand, I suspect that the people I was asking wrestled with the same kind of doubts as me. When you really examine some of the stuff that we believe as Christians, it’s a little ridiculous. Bodily resurrection? Ascension into heaven? We’d never take these kinds of claims literally if any other religion made them.

And yet… And yet. Despite the doubt, in spite of the preposterous nature of the Christian faith, I didn’t walk away from that worship service disillusioned. I was intrigued. I still didn’t know if I could believe this whole story. I didn’t know if I could really accept the idea that Jesus rose from the dead. But some part of me wanted to. Even if my rational mind couldn’t readily accept it, my heart wanted to believe.

Why? What would make me want to believe in this kind of fairy tale?

Joy. In these fully-grown men and women celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, I sensed the joy of children. If you ask a young child why they love their parents, they’re not going to give you some kind of coherent philosophical answer. At best, you’re going to get something along the lines of, “because they’re my mommy and my daddy!” The love of children for parents is rooted in the established reality joy and trust.

The resurrection is like that. It’s not a set of facts to be known, but a relationship to experience. This is what Mary discovered in the pre-dawn light that first Easter morning. She was distraught; her love for Jesus was so strong, and she thought she had lost him forever. She was so upset, and the reality of the situation was so unexpected, that she didn’t even recognize Jesus when he was standing in front of her.

Then he said her name. “Mary.”

Then she knew who she was talking to. Jesus. Friend. Lord. Brother. Teacher. Her heart was filled with astonishment and joy to overflowing. “Rabbouni!” She couldn’t believe what was happening, but her heart and her spirit told her that it was the most real thing she would ever experience. Jesus is here. “I have seen the Lord.”

Like Mary, we don’t have a relationship with Jesus because we believe in the resurrection. We believe in the resurrection because of our lived experience of Jesus. The resurrection is not just a story that we tell one another once a year. It is a lived daily reality. Jesus shows up. Even when we don’t recognize him. He calls us by name.

We don’t all have to have spectacular visions of Jesus to know him. Through Jesus, all things on heaven and earth were created, and we can experience him in all things. He’s with us when the trees sway and the leaves move in the wind – because Jesus is like that. We experience the resurrection when the truth is spoken and love is shared – because Jesus is like that. We know that Jesus is alive and well and active in the world when we see people caring for one another, sacrificing for each other, even when they’ve got nothing to gain – because Jesus is like that.

We have seen the Lord. Can you say it with me? We have seen the Lord. Hallelujah.

I know that some of us probably feel just like I did eleven years ago. Let’s be honest: This whole resurrection story sounds totally insane. It defies everything we know about the way the universe works. Dead men don’t come back to life after three days. Angels don’t show up in tombs. People executed by the state don’t get the last word.

But what if our conception of how the world works is the problem? What if the resurrection – our faith that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead – reveals the way God’s universe really operates? We worship a God of impossible things, and we live in a mystery.

This world says, “money makes the world go round” – but the resurrected Jesus says, “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” Our culture says, “might makes right,” but Jesus says, “blessed are the peacemakers.” The world never tires of telling us that we need to be afraid, be prepared, be on guard, or we’ll get left behind. But the God of Jesus is the loving creator who has his eye on the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. In the face of fear, he has commanded us not to worry. In a world where nothing seems secure, Jesus teaches us to live in trust.

Maybe the resurrection of Jesus isn’t crazy after all. Maybe it’s of one piece with everything that God is teaching us in Jesus.

The power of the resurrection is here this morning. Don’t just believe it. Live it.

We welcome you, Lord Jesus. We welcome you, Holy Spirit. We welcome you, God and Father of all. We see you.

We have seen the Lord.

Let me hear the church say, “amen!” Hallelujah!

YEARNING FOR SUNDAY

John 20:1-18, Romans 6:1-14

Jenn Hosler

A Saturday Vignette

At the end of the meal, one of us stepped out. Judas was often heading in and out, so I assumed it was something with his duties as the keeper of the common purse. We didn’t think anything of it, I guess, but I wondered a little what would be so important that he needed to leave our Passover meal.

Our Teacher spoke to us after the meal, teachings that were both difficult and confusing. It seemed like something might happen but we didn’t know what. We women stayed behind to clean and then rest for the night, while the brothers went with teacher Jesus to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. We were woken in the middle of the night with news that the teacher was arrested. Brother Judas had arrived with the chief priests and the temple police. They were armed with clubs and swords, as if our teacher was a rebellion leader. Brother Peter started to fight as soon as they went to grab the teacher, madly swinging a sword and hitting a servant in the ear. The teacher stopped that, right away, and healed the servant’s ear. Then he went willingly: the temple leaders took our teacher, bound him, and arrested him.

Brother Judas—someone we’ve walked with, shared meals with, and learned from the teacher with—he has betrayed us and betrayed the Teacher. And for what? Now he is dead, he took his life after he was sick with his guilt. Maybe he didn’t mean for it to go that far. I don’t know what he intended. I can’t believe that he is dead too. Brother Judas.

Brother Peter’s wife told us that Peter and John had followed the Teacher to the high priest’s family home. Peter almost wasn’t let inside and when he was, people kept asking him, “Are you one of this Jesus’ followers?” “Aren’t you from Galilee? You’re with him, too?” and “Weren’t you in the garden last night?” And brother Peter was scared. Scared what they would do to him and his family. So, he said, “No. I don’t even know the man.”

The chief priests interrogated the Teacher and had him beaten. They asked if the Teacher was the Messiah or the Son of God, and he wouldn’t give them a straight answer. The answers he gave were enough, though, that the chief priests said it was blasphemy and beat him further. Then the temple leaders and priests dragged the Teacher off to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. The chief priests told Pilate that the charge was blasphemy and that the Teacher was claiming to be king. The Romans wouldn’t deal with Jewish theological problems, normally, but claiming to be king—encroaching onto Caesar’s territory, threatening the occupation—that… will get you onto their radar and onto a cross. Pilate seemed skeptical but the chief priests started inciting the crowds to free Barabbas, the militant, instead. Pilate was keen to keep things from getting out of control, so he gave in and sentenced Jesus to death. What was one Jewish insurrectionist for a would-be Jewish King? Not much different, in his view.

They beat the Teacher. Flogged him with a whip. Pushed him around. Kicked him, tripped him. Twisted acacia branches into a thorny crown and jammed it on his head. Put a purple robe on him to mock him—King of the Jews. Then he went to his death. Not just any death. The Romans seem to be fond of the cruelest deaths. They think it will scare us into complacency about their rule. Obey the Romans, rejoice in your Roman Peace, and you won’t get nailed to a tree.

The Teacher, by now, had been beaten a few times and hadn’t eaten; he was in rough shape. The soldiers chose a person from the crowd to carry the crossbar that his arms would be tied to. And they walked outside the city.

By this time, a lot of us had gathered—me, Mary and Martha, Joanna, the Teacher’s mother Mary, and other women. Brother John was with us but the other 11 had scattered. We couldn’t believe that it had come to this. Hadn’t we just marched behind the Teacher on the way into Jerusalem? Instead of shouting hosanna, we wailed a lament and cried. We beat our chests like we would at a funeral.

The Teacher arrived at the spot, Golgotha, the place of the skull, and before we knew it, some screams, and there he was, raised up above us on the cross. Still so close but unbelievably far. And we waited. People in the crowds laughed and spit, mocked and cursed. The sign that Pilate had made, with the Teacher’s crime, said “King of the Jews.” Hours went by, mostly in silence. The teacher’s body was so exhausted. It was hard for him to breathe—you need to keep holding yourself up, lifting yourself up to take a breath. Teacher Jesus asked brother John to come closer with his mother, and I was with them. The Teacher asked brother John to take mother Mary as his mother. We knew it must be close. Teacher Jesus said that he was thirsty, and someone brought forward some sour wine. Then, the Teacher breathed out and cried out and he died.

It was only yesterday, barely more than a day. It all feels like a dream. A really horrible, painful nightmare. I just want to wake up and be in Galilee, be on a hillside, be listening to the Teacher, to see the Teacher heal a sick man, care for a child, break bread with us. But I need to realize that he is dead. Jesus of Nazareth—our teacher, our rabbi—is dead.

Brother Peter’s wife said that yesterday, her husband seemed like he was in a trance. Hopeless. Stunned. Ashamed. Unable to eat. I think the brothers will be gathering tomorrow, the eleven close ones, to talk about what happened, where we go from here. Several of us women went with brother Joseph to the tomb on Friday right before the Sabbath started, to see where it was. We are going in the morning to make it more of a proper burial. It will be hard. Normally preparing a body brings some closure. Anointing it, giving one last effort of love and beauty. I don’t think I can have closure with something like this, I don’t know what to think. The power of God was walking among us and now, where is it? Is God gone from among us? What was the point of all that goodness, all that healing, all that love and mercy, if we are only left with pain?

Reflection on the Saturday Vignette

In the Church of the Brethren, we don’t spend much time on Friday or Saturday in Holy Week. Our Love Feast is on Maundy Thursday. We commemorate the meal that Jesus had with his disciples. While the twelve are mentioned, there likely were other disciples in the room, potentially some of the women who came from Galilee to support and learn from Jesus. Perhaps they were reclining at another table or eating in the food preparation area, as women in many countries often eat in the kitchen and not at the table.

In the Church of the Brethren, we don’t typically have Good Friday services (though I often go to an Episcopal one) and don’t have Holy Saturday vigils. We move from Thursday to Sunday.

In college, Nate and I went to a church that encouraged us to linger on the emotions of Saturday. What would the disciples have felt? As I prepared for this sermon, I read all of the gospel passages where Jesus was crucified. I was struck by Luke’s description of the women disciples who followed behind Jesus on the way to the cross, beating their breasts and wailing. In every gospel passage, the women are there at the cross. And so, I tried to picture what it would have been like for one of those female disciples, Mary of Magdala, also known as Mary Magdalene (who, by the way, was not a sex worker; the woman described as being so in the gospels is never named as Mary Magdalene; somehow popular culture has called her a prostitute, but there is no biblical evidence for that. The main story of Mary Magdalene—what she should be famous for—is that she is at present at the cross and at the tomb in every gospel. Every gospel explicitly mentions her at the tomb. And as we see in our scripture, she is the first one to truly hear the Good News.

I think it is useful to spend time thinking about those Saturday feelings, those early Sunday morning feelings: how would I have felt waking up to say goodbye to my leader, my teacher, the One whom we thought was the Messiah, the One who had raised Lazarus and others from the dead? Now he was dead. How would I feel bringing the spices and oils to that tomb?

Hopeless. Destroyed. Despairing. And as I sat in these emotions, I couldn’t help but think, isn’t this resignation and hopelessness and confusion what we are facing every day? When we hear of a family member taking his life, unable to find hope and healing. When our families are fighting and bitter. When we hear news of more cancer. When we are confronted with of massive bombs and endless wars. The darkness and hopelessness of death weighed down on the disciples of Jesus that Saturday—and they weigh down on us too.

A Sunday Vignette

Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, I walked to the tomb and saw that the stone was moved away from the entrance. I dropped my jar of perfume. I ran back the way I came and went to where brother Peter and brother John were staying. I told them, “They took the Teacher from the tomb. We don’t know where they’ve put him.”

Peter and John looked at each other and ran. I ran after them, back to the tomb. Out of breath, I stood back. Then it hit me again. He’s dead. He’s gone. His body’s even gone. The brothers looked at the grave linens and left, bewildered. I just broke down and cried. I made my way over and knelt down, crying and praying without words—and I looked inside the tomb. There were two people sitting there in white clothing and one spoke to me, “Lady, why are you crying?”

There’s always some ignorant person that you need to answer to when in your deepest distress. I looked up at them. “My Teacher was buried here and someone took him. I don’t know where he’s been moved to.” At that moment, I saw another person nearby, standing close. As I was wiping my eyes, I said, “Sir, if you took the body, can you please tell me where it is? I just want to dress it and care for it.”

The man replied, “Mary.” And it was him. Jesus. “My Teacher?” I stood up and walked over to him. It was the Teacher. Alive. Breathing. He told me to go and spread the news. He was alive. So, I went to the brothers and sisters and told them, “I saw the Teacher. He is alive.”

Reflection on the Sunday Vignette

The resurrection is unexpected, startling, confusing, and difficult to even recognize. It doesn’t make sense, it is so far out of the schema of expectation. The resurrection is an impossible thought—until Jesus calls Mary by her name in the early morning light of that resurrection Sunday. The gospel, the good news, is bewildering and confusing and sometimes so difficult to see in our world. But Jesus calls our names and makes clear to us what we should be seeing: that the power of God is bigger than the grave, that the miracle of the empty tomb and the resurrected body will someday spread to all the areas of our lives and of this world. All creation waits and groans for this to be revealed. When we can’t utter words, when we are trapped in hopelessness, the Spirit of God cries out on our behalf.

We are looking toward the day–yearning for the day—when that Sunday morning resurrection dawn will break through the darkness and touch our whole world, when the power of the Messiah’s resurrection will transform our hearts and our relationships and our lives and our bodies.

During our suffering and the world’s suffering, we walk with a crucified Lord who knows what it is to suffer, suffers with us, and promises us that the breaking dawn will come. No more death, no more sickness, no more war and violence, and hate. Jesus calls each of us by name for us to join him in the Sunday morning light, in newness of life now, and in hope for the glorious redemption that is to come. AMEN.

Benediction Prayer

Jesus, call us by our names and let us recognize your face. Share with us your resurrection, hope, freedom from sin. We yearn to experience the fullness of that Sunday morning, in our hearts, in our our bodies, in this whole world. AMEN.

THE LAST ENEMY

Luke 24:1-12, I Corinthians 15:19-26

Nathan Hosler

The “original” Easter happened once. This was long before Easter became a holiday and got associated with abnormally colored eggs or abnormal bunnies or abnormally colored chicks or perhaps most abnormal of all—little brightly colored chicks made of marshmallow. Of course the “original” Easter was in fact much more unusual than a commercialized packaging of an ostensibly Christian holiday with a few old-school pagan practices mixed in. The “original” Easter marks the resurrection of Jesus. A resurrection from the dead would be notable enough. A resurrection of anyone would be rather surprising. That it is Jesus brings a whole other level to this. For in the Gospel of John chapter 1 we read about Jesus as the “Word.”

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Centuries of theology have wrestled with what it means for Jesus to be the Son of God—to be the Word–To be God. But then God is killed on Friday but then God is raised (by God?) on Sunday. There were the haunting words “it is finished” as Jesus “gives up his spirit” on the cross. But then after days of sorrow and the beginning of decomposition something happens. We read, “But on the first day of the week,”

 “at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.” They, meaning the women disciples, (they who, though disciples, are not typically number among the disciples, they who though were the first proclaimers of Jesus’ resurrection are consistently pushed aside because they are women). They, the women disciples, came to the grave site crushed, deflated, filled with trauma and grief. Perhaps, though, there was still a thread of hope. He did speak of these sorts of things—if somewhat cryptically, or what was likely presumed to be metaphorically. They, the disciples who were women, however, went, at “early dawn.” Under the cover of dark…perhaps in fear but perhaps simply to get an early start on the day. Upon arriving”They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,” Presumably they knew there would be such a stone. If we went to a grave site today we would assume that it had been covered and that the body wouldn’t just be lying at the bottom of a hole.

So for some reason they were going to the tomb with things for the body, though they knew that it would be covered. But the stone was moved, and so they went in but “they did not find the body.” It continues, “While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified.”  They were naturally terrified. From the haggard emotional state of the grieving of death and displaced hope to being perplexed and confused by the empty grave to being suddenly confronted by men with dazzling cloths—yeah, terrified, shaken. Confronted by men in dazzling cloths. (dazzling? Really? Like sequins? Perhaps dazzling like—surprising or notable. My mother used to get us Easter outfits. One year when my young brother Phil was maybe 5 his outfit was this sort short pants (maybe called knickers) with tall white socks and suspenders. These may not have been properly dazzling but he thought them notable and was not at all pleased). So these sudden-appearing-men who were potentially wearing sequins or knickers pop in and ask a question that it’s hard not to feel is a bit smart-alecky.  “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Well, obviously they didn’t know he was living.

“He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” So they had heard this before. Heard it and forgot or heard it and when they saw the finality of death—the actual body—they realized that it was over.  It says, Then they remembered his words,

and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened” But Peter believed—or at least wanted to believe.

People have been describing and reflecting on this one-time event ever since it happened. In the book of Acts we see a bit of the preaching of the early church. In I Corinthians we see early more formal theological reflections—though this is still written in a church context for Christians. These and the innumerable writings since have posited what happened or didn’t happen—both physically with Jesus and spiritually with us. Arguing over what this does or does not mean for us. For followers of Jesus, for those who don’t follow Jesus. Considerations of how this relates to the Old Testament, particularly prophecies that point to a Messiah and the sacrificial system. People saying Jesus replaces the sacrifice but then the question arises did God cause this? Was it a legal or ethical requirement for the sin of humanity that punishment be meted out and that violence be used in this punishment? Does this simply reflect our assumptions about retribution and punishment and violence?

While I am not ready to attempt even an overview of views on what the death and resurrection of Jesus mean (and I imagine you may not be ready for such an exercise either) this is a big important question. The creeds were early concise statements of core theological assertions that one needed to affirm. These emerged out of theological reflection and then were often a common starting point for continued reflection. Brethren, however, did not go the way of the creeds. While not necessarily disagreeing with them they eschewed having them as a sort of entry pass and said “the New Testament is our creed.” And the New Testament is read in community. The New Testament, of course, is fairly long (compared to a creed) and contains several types of writings written in many different contexts for many different communities in many different situations. Additionally, the writers utilize images from both their culture as well as the Hebrew scriptures. In this context a concise statement of the meaning of the death and resurrection is a tricky thing to state. Even in the few short verses from chapter 15 of 1st Corinthians is loaded with potentials for consideration.

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. 21 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22 for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

An Easter of sunshine and flowers may prompt us to try to get past the horror of the days before. Knowing the end of the story we can get through Good Friday and then Saturday. However, as Easter morning breaks, the palms waved on Palm Sunday and the marking of Jesus’ triumphal entry the week before lay drying and will eventually be burned to make the ashes for Ash Wednesday which will start us on Lent which is a reflection toward the coming suffering of Holy Week which brings to the triumph of the resurrection. It is in this resurrection that we read in 1 Corinthians that the “last enemy”—being death—was defeated. However, we will surely experience death in the coming year. If not closely then at least in hearing of it in the news—whether of an unarmed young black man or in a war zone far away, or in an insurgency, or on the border regions crossed by families fleeing violence or the inability to survive, or of a child who is too young to have such a disease or an old person who has built a lifetime of friendships. Indescribably this is the death—the last enemy—that Christ has defeated. I celebrate this. Yet I wonder what this means. Later in this chapter we would read,

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

This past year a refrain in my thinking, a repeated question, was—how do we think about or respond to the levels of crisis around the world? Though Christians affirm the words of victory over death in the resurrection of Jesus, we also struggle between despair and what may sound like an inane “God is good—everything will be fine.”

May we be dazzled by the telling of the resurrected one. May we be filled with the Spirit so that we can say “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” May we feel in our bones that Christ has defeated death. And may we proclaim this hope in our lives lived in the power of Easter morning.

58 Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Risen

 

RISEN – Colossians 3:1-4    Matthew 28:1-10

Jeff Davidson – April 20, 2014

There’s a cartoon that shows people coming out of church on Easter Sunday shaking hands with the pastor.  One guy says. “You know, Pastor, this is why I only come once a year.  Whenever I’m here your sermon is always about the resurrection.”

Maybe it’s only funny to pastors.  On Easter Sunday the resurrection is what it’s all about, so in some ways we know what we’re going to preach about on Easter.  At the same time, resurrection is such a rich topic – there is so much to say that you’re not sure exactly what you’re going to preach about on Easter.

When I looked at the suggested readings for today, I was struck by the reading from Colossians.  It talks about our lives being hidden with Christ when we die.  I imagine us in the tomb with Jesus, behind the stone.  It’s dark.  It’s cold.  It smells musty and damp.  It’s not pleasant.  We’re hidden, invisible to the world, and the world is invisible to us.

And then Colossians talks about Easter morning, when Christ who is our life is revealed.  The stone is rolled away.  Light streams in, and warmth, and fresh air.  We can move around, and stretch our arms and legs.  We can walk out of the tomb into the world.  We are no longer hidden with Christ, but we are revealed with him.  With Christ, we are risen.

On Easter morning you’ll often hear people say, “He is risen!”  Whoever they’re talking to will respond with “He is risen, indeed!”  “He is risen” is a statement of faith, a statement of what we believe.  “He is risen” means that Christ is risen from the dead.  That event has happened.  We do believe it.  He is risen.

But what about us?  What does it mean for us to be risen with Christ?  What does it mean for our lives to be revealed with Christ’s?  Psalm 118:14-17 says, “The Lord is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.  There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous: ‘The right hand of the Lord does valiantly; the right hand of the Lord is exalted; the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.’  I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.”

We are risen with Christ.  We shall not die, but shall live and recount the deeds of the Lord.  We shall live.  Put that back into the words of the Psalm, words for yourself as an individual.  I am risen with Christ.  I shall not die, but I shall live.

I like that phrase, “I shall live.”  It’s a bold, take-charge kind of phrase.  It sounds kind of decisive.

For all of us there are times when we need to hear and need to say bold and decisive kinds of things.  Most of us have times when we feel as if everything is going on around us and it’s all we can do to keep up, times when we feel like we’re in slow motion and everyone else is in fast forward, times when we are feeling like we are just too busy.

Sometimes the pressure of that starts to get to you. Too many bills.  Too many meetings.  Too much sickness.  Problems at work.  Problems at school.  Problems with your spouse.  Problems in the world.  That can lead to a lot of frustration and a lot of stress, can’t it.

You’re either too busy to plan your next move or too frustrated to have any patience or too depressed to get out of bed or too angry to be kind to the people that you care about or too confused to know which way to turn.  You are in darkness.  You are in chaos.

That’s where Jesus was on Saturday, the day before Easter.  In the tomb.  In darkness.  In chaos.  Rock on every side, a huge stone in front of the door, soldiers guarding the entrance from the other side.  Jesus is surrounded.  Surrounded by the power of evil.  Surrounded by the efforts of the world to hem him in, to keep him in a certain place.  Surrounded by Satan.  Surrounded by death.

Jesus has been surrounded before, and very recently.  Each time he made a decision, a decision to go ahead.  Surrounded by crowds on the way to Jerusalem, Jesus decides to go on in to town, though he knows what is waiting.  Surrounded at the last supper by disciples who would flee, who would deny him, and who would betray him.  Jesus makes the decision to wash their feet, though he knows their weaknesses.  Surrounded by thieves on the cross, Jesus makes the decision to die, to give up his life to save us from our sins.

And now, surrounded by the cold stone of the tomb, the guards of a mistrustful world, and the stench of evil and death, Jesus makes a decision.  He stands up, and with the power given him by God rolls away the stone from the tomb, and steps out into the world he came to save.  Jesus makes the decision to live.  I shall live, says Jesus.  I shall live.

We are Christians.  We claim to be followers of Christ.  Then let’s follow him.  When we are surrounded by darkness, by evil, when we are in the midst of confusion or depression, when we are frustrated or worried or lonely, let us say with Jesus “We shall live.”  Let us face up to the reality of the situation around us, and let us rely on the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of the risen Christ to see us through.

Jesus does not just let all these things swirl around him.  Jesus does not just let things happen to him.  Jesus makes things happen.  Jesus is decisive.  Jesus takes the initiative.  Jesus was sent by God, and with a full knowledge of God’s will in his life, Jesus does what God wants him to do.

God has something for us to do as well.  God does not want us to be surrounded by all of the frightening, frustrating, maddening things that are out there.  God does not want us in a tomb of confusion, a tomb of depression and doubt.  God does not want us to be prisoners of our own sin.

God wants us to be risen with Christ, to step out and follow Jesus, to look for the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  God wants us to with his help roll away the stone of our sin, step out of the tomb of our depression.  God wants us to make the decision to live.  God wants to hear us say with the Psalmist, to hear us say with Jesus, “I will live.”

Listen to what the Psalmist wrote once again: “I shall not die, but I shall live and proclaim what the Lord has done.”  Through my life, the Psalmist said, through my life people will be able to see God.  Through my words people will hear God’s voice.  Through my actions people will feel God’s love.  Through my efforts people will learn about the Lord.

You know what?  He was right.  Those words were written thousands of years ago and thousands of miles away, and yet here we sit in Washington DC in 2014 reading them, learning from them, growing because of them.  The Psalmist lived, and proclaimed what the Lord had done, and his voice still carries today.  In his letter to the Colossians Paul proclaims that he and we are raised with Christ, and his words teach us and call to us even today.

The same Spirit that moved Paul, the same Spirit that moved the Psalm writer can move you.  The same God who brought Jesus back from the dead and led him out of the tomb can lead you.  The same Spirit that filled Jesus when he rolled away the stone can fill you.

This is the day that the Lord has made.  Right here.  Right now.  Today is the day when Jesus is risen, when Jesus steps out of the tomb and invites you to follow.  Today is the day when Jesus steps out into the world to prove that what he said was true, to prove that God really does love the world, to prove that the Gospel does have saving power.

And as believers in Jesus, today is the day that we can follow Christ.  Today is the day that we can leave behind our fears, our doubts, our worries, our sins.  Today is the day that we can stop fearing death.  Like a butterfly leaving the cocoon, the chick leaving the egg, or Jesus leaving the tomb, today is the day that we can begin to proclaim new life.  Today is the day.  We shall live, because He is risen.  Amen.