HOW A RESURRECTION REALLY FEELS
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I think it’s fitting that on this day we have a young child start our service with the words “He is risen!” I think it’s fitting that we have a child do this rather than the man or woman in the robe. The man or woman with the theology degree. The title in front of the name, the letters after it. We live in an era of scepticism. I remember being Jenna’s age and watching TV. You would see ads for toothpaste in which the announcer would state “Four out of five dentists agree” (and you always wondered about that fifth dentist – maverick!). You don’t see that sort of thing too much anymore. We live in an age where so called experts can get things wrong. We live in an age in which we have been lied to so often by our leaders that our default position is one of disbelief. We long to have things proven. We call for parliamentary or congressional hearings in order to get to the bottom of things.
To paraphrase a political leader of Jesus’ day though – “What is proof?” One of our own Canadian Prime Ministers once put it this way – “A proof is a proof. And when you have a good proof, it’s because it’s proven.” And you wonder why people are cynical about politics.
Matthew does not describe the events of resurrection day in order to convince a hypothetical jury. One writer puts it like this – “It must be conceded from the outset that, conceived as a matter to be submitted to a jury, the case is seriously flawed. The discrepancies in the story as submitted by the four Evangelists are substantial…And the introduction of an angel or angels does not increase the credibility of the story. These factors have been used by ‘defense lawyers’ to support the argument that the earliest Christians cannot have conspired to create the legend out of nothing… Variations in other stories about Jesus demonstrate that early Christians were not terribly concerned about accuracy of detail…’hostile witnesses’, the detachment of Roman soldiers guarding the tomb, will not be convincing to the jury. As verse 15 suggests, this subplot seems to have been inspired by a Jewish rumour that the disciples stole the corpse. While the existence of the rumour need not be doubted, this fact does not prove that the tomb was empty but only that the Jews were aware of the story…. The fact of the matter is that this case was not meant to be brought to the jury. It is a faith story…”
If you’re looking for evidence this morning, I think the most compelling evidence has already happened. I’m not up here to formulate an argument or to prove something in an a priori way. If I were to argue something it might be to argue that the most compelling piece of evidence you will see this morning is in the lives and actions of these two dear young people who followed Jesus through the waters of baptism today. What they have experienced in God, in Christ, in the Holy Spirit, is new life. What I want to do this morning is to look at this story, to look at their stories, to look at what is going on here this morning in light of what it tells us about God. In light of how these events teach us who God is and help us to answer the question that we’ve been looking at throughout Lent – “Who do you say that I am?” We’re not doing any of this to win an argument. It’s rather about considering this question. This question that I’ve said is perhaps the question of our life. This question before which we cannot help but stop and ask ourselves “What is the foundation of my life?” This question that invites us to step into the story of Jesus in faith, and come to him, and get down on our faces and take hold of his feet and worship him.
“Why would we do this?” you ask.
If you’ve been following Jesus for any length of time, you already know the answer. In Christ there is life. More than any other Gospel writer, Matthew looks back to the Old Testament. The first verse of the Gospel goes like this – “The genealogy of Christ.” The Greek word that’s been translated genealogy is Genesis – the first book of the Old Testament. Look at Genesis 1:4-5 “And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” God was creating life. Look at Mat 28:1-2b. Look at what day it was. “After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other May went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake….” The light was dawning. John puts it like this “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.”
In Christ we have light. Following Christ is to come to see things in the light of Christ. To come to know ever more deeply in our hearts what it means to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and our neighbours as ourselves. To know Christ is to know what it means to be delivered. We can’t have light without recognising darkness of course. We call Christ our dayspring and sing about it at Christmastime – O come our dayspring, Come and cheer, Our spirits by thine advent here. By your coming among us. By bearing all our guilt and shame – because we can’t talk about light without talking about darkness. Without talking about what it is that God has delivered us from –guilt and shame and meaninglessness and despair and ourselves and our own worst inclinations and the systems in our world that oppress and subjugate. Christ taking all of this on himself and making us something new by the power of your Spirit. By being raised by God on the third day and showing that there is no suffering on earth even unto death from which God is absent – from which God will not bring life. To show that the power of sin and death has been defeated and that everything has been shaken up. No wonder there is an earthquake. In Christ there is a new creation. Everything old has been made new.
Could this be true? The prophet Ezekiel has a vision at one point of a valley of dry bones. Unimaginable! What happened here exactly? “The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’”
God does know. And the answer is yes. Thank God.
Can a person who was dead live again? The answer is yes.
How can I say this and you not think me crazy or deluded? Because I know how resurrection feels. Do you know how resurrection feels? Do you know what it feels like to be given new life? Do you know what it feels like? The thing is – resurrection can only be understood after it’s been experienced. Jesus told his followers three times he would rise again. They didn’t understand it until they’d experienced it. We don’t understand it until we experience it and then it takes a lifetime to come to understand how it is in Christ that we find life. The answer comes to Ezekiel – “Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin and put breath in you” What is this anatomy lesson all about? Here it is – “and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
And you shall live. Do you know how a resurrection really feels? Do you know what it feels like to be made new? There’s a band from New York that I like called The Hold Steady. They have a song called “How a Resurrection Really Feels” that’s about a young woman who has a hard time with thing like drugs. It goes like this - Her parents named her Hallelujah, the kids all called her holly. If she scared you then she's sorry. She's been stranded at these parties. These parties they start lovely but they get druggy and they get ugly and they get bloody.
The priest just kinda laughed. The deacon caught a draft. She crashed into the Easter Mass with her hair done up in broken glass. She was limping left on broken heels. When she said Father can I tell your congregation how a resurrection really feels?
This is our living God my friends. This is our God whom we know and who is living and alive and active. This is not simply a 2000 year old story or an event we’re merely commemorating. We get together to worship and celebrate our Christ to whom all authority on earth and heaven has been given. “How can we seriously say this?” you ask. It doesn’t look like any king of peace and love and even enemy love is reigning right now. We look around our world and see wars and rumours of wars and greed and everything is about the bottom line and your worth is in your net worth and winning and accumulating is the only thing and if this is a zero sum game that means others have to do without then that’s fine too.
Or that it’s all about money. There are forces at work against Christ’s Kingdom Project – God’s Great Deliverance Project and they’ve been at work for 2,000 years too. Someone has said that there’s a war going on between God and the powers of sin and death and that the battlefield is human hearts. After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’” Taking this story seriously might mean a shakeup in the traditional order of things. It might mean a reconfiguring of how we view money, justice, power structures, those who hate us, use of force – how we live our lives in every way. We’ll throw some money at it and that will make it go away. We’ll attack it and that will make it go away. We’ll discredit it and that will make it go away. Humanity doesn’t need any outside help. We’ve got this.
We’re invited to live in a different story friends. To tell it. The women run from the tomb with fear and great joy. Suddenly they meet Jesus. “Greetings!” he tells them, which might better be translated “Rejoice!” Do not be afraid. What do we need to be afraid of? Even death has been undone. They’ve taken hold of his feet and are worshipping him. We need to worship something after all. We’re all going to serve something or someone.
What more do I need to add to the story? Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted. There’s a line between trust and doubt, between faith and fear in each of us. And Jesus came and said to them “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” It’s interesting that there’s no call to preach the good news, no demand or invitation to faith. It doesn’t mean that we don’t preach the good news or don’t summon people to faith. If you’ve never said to God “I want life in Jesus” you can do it this morning. Do it and tell someone. If you’re saying “I don’t understand it all” or “I have doubts” I say “Welcome to the family.” We can assume that the call to preach this message of life in Christ is presumed. Christ’s followers are called to make him known in our words, in our actions. Make disciples of all nations – of all people. Go and teach this stuff. Show it in your lives. What stuff? All the things we’ve been talking about through these weeks we’ve spent in Matthew – an inner disposition that acknowledges our need for God, the heart of a servant, care for the least of these – the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the prisoner. Love of enemies. A posture of dependence on God through prayer, fasting, generosity. Not simply a new belief system but a whole new way of relating to God and God’s creation through his resurrected son.
Who is with us. The story has always been about Emmanuel – God with us, since we sang it at his birth. Look at this wonderful promise – And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. God is faithful to his promises. Which, as the children of Blythwood have known for some time, means that when God makes a promise, he keeps it. Remember. Keep this in front of us. We’re not called to do this on our own. We do it accompanied by the risen Christ. The original Greek here has it “I am with you all the days.” I like that. All the days. Right up to the time when there will be no talk of darkness, even from me, and they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light.
The best evidence of this light that is life has already happened here this morning in the lives of Eden and Michii. I could never put it more eloquently. Words would fail. As we celebrate the dawning of the light friends, may God make us ever more aware of his presence with us, enabling us to be the people God has called us to be, to do the things that God calls us to do. God grant that this may be true for us all. Amen.