Sunday, April 20, 2014

Remember: He Came to Bring New Life

(A sermon based on Matthew 28:1-10 for Easter Sunday 2014)

When the stone was placed over the mouth of Jesus’ tomb, death with its accompanying anxiety and hopelessness had won again, as it was accustomed to doing. When the stone was placed over the mouth of the tomb, life with its accompanying love and hope had lost again, as it was accustomed to doing.

It was a crushing defeat.

Death, you see, hung over the world and over every life in the world like a dark cloud that was absolutely certain to produce life-threatening storms. Everybody was going to die and so everybody had to live in dread of death; that dread affected everything in life for everybody. Not only was everybody going to die but everybody had to deal with the events and situations in life that drained the life from them—and they had to face them with no real hope for the future.

When the stone was placed over the mouth of Jesus’ tomb, those with the power, the prestige, the privilege, and the pride had won again, as they were accustomed to doing. When the stone was placed over the mouth of the tomb, those who were the put upon, the spat upon, and the looked down upon had lost again, as they were accustomed to doing.

It was a crushing defeat.

But such was, after all, the way of the world. Such is, after all, the way of the world.

It is not, however, the way of the Lord. It is not the way of the future. And it is not the way of the present, at least not for those who trust in the God who did what we celebrate on Easter Sunday and on every Sunday. That’s because when Jesus was raised from the dead and broke free of that tomb, God set in motion a kind of life that is filled with possibilities both in this world and in the world to come. And when the two Marys came to the tomb on Sunday morning and found the stone that death and power had used to put Jesus away rolled away, they found themselves swept up into the life that is real life.

We who trust in Jesus and in his resurrection are swept up into that life, too. God has set in motion something that cannot and will not be stopped; God has begun a new creation that will eventually and inevitably come into its fullness. The resurrection of Jesus is not just an amazing but isolated incident that happened in the past; it is not only something that enables our own resurrection somewhere out there in the future. Now, granted, Jesus was raised 2000 years ago and, granted, we will one day be raised because Jesus has paved the way for our resurrection. But the resurrection of Jesus sets resurrection loose in the here and now; already we are experiencing resurrection as we move toward our ultimate resurrection and already we can be living the resurrection life even as we still know that we will die one day and even as we still face situations and circumstances that threaten to drain the life from us.

Try to get a picture of what’s going on right here and right now. Listen to some of what Paul says about it:

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:18-25)

What is this way into which we have been raised and are being raised?

It is the way of hope into which we have been raised and are being raised. We are growing in trust in what God is doing, in the new thing that God is bringing about. In the resurrection, hopelessness gives way to hope and despair gives way to trust; God in Christ has conquered death and God in Christ gives us real life in this life.

It is the way of love into which we have been raised and are being raised. We have been and are being raised into a life in which we can grow toward loving God with everything we are and loving our neighbor as ourselves. The 20th century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein famously said, “It is love that believes the resurrection.” It is in our willingness to have our entire self, our entire life, engaged with God and with the possibilities that God brings that we can see the new thing that God set in motion through Jesus (see N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, pp. 72ff.). I would turn Wittgenstein’s statement around to add, “It is the resurrection that leads to love.” In the power of the resurrection, in the power of the new life that God brings about, in the power of the new creation that God is bringing about, we learn the value of love—of giving ourselves fully to God and to each other.

Nothing short of resurrection—of Christ in you—can lead to such love.

Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we will be raised to new life!

Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have been raised to new life!

So let us live in the hope and love that only the resurrected Christ in us can make alive in us!

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