a sermon from
These Sundays after Easter we have a little time to unpack some of the impact of Christ’s resurrection. Today I want to focus on two implications of resurrection. Resurrection underscores the permanent importance of community and of creation.
Did you ever wonder why Jesus came back after he was raised from the dead? Once he was delivered from death and given victory over all that wicked and sinful forces had done, why did Jesus hang around at all? Why didn’t Jesus go directly to heaven and leave the earth altogether?
In Shawshank Redemption Andy digs an escape out of prison and sends a card back to his buddy Red. The card is postmarked Fort Hancock, Texas, with nothing written on it, but Red takes it as a sign that Andy is headed to that Mexican beach he always talked about. And the film ends when Red after parole is able to join him there.
Couldn’t Jesus just sent a kinda postcard from heaven, “Having fun. Wish you were here.” or just like Andy’s card just blank except for the postmark that says it all, “I made it.”
But no Jesus came back to his friends.
We recall ways Jesus said it. Luke 12:4: “And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.”
John 15:15 “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.”
“Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” John 15:14
John 15:13 “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Every resurrection appearance implicated the community. Mary Magdalene has a one-on-one experience, but what does Jesus tell her? ‘Go to my brothers and say to them”.
The followers see Jesus in Emmaus as he breaks bread of fellowship and what do they do? Immediately they go and tell the other disciples who are still in Jerusalem and suddenly Jesus appears in their midst. “Last of all he appeared unto me,” Paul says. But as we read the story Christ directs him to the community of believers he had orginally planned to persecute. And the rest of his life Paul is all about creating new communities of believers.
People today have all sorts of gadgets and props to mimic self-sufficiency. And being self-reliant is a virtue. But there is deep down in all of us a need to be part of a circle of friends, comrades, peers.
Jesus came back to his friends. Maybe that signifies that even when we have no more dealings in this world, the associations we have begun in this world will continue to be important to us. We cannot run from them. We ought not neglect them.
C.S. Lewis said that the one thing we know in this world that will be with us forever is other people. 1
In one sense this is comforting, to know that we are not done with people in our lives when death parts us. The separation is temporary. Now what if you have serious problems with that ex-spouse or the boss who mistreated you or the fellow down the pew who said that heartless thing you can’t forget?
The only way that the prospect of never being without those souls could fill you with anything like hope is if forgiveness is real, and reconciliation possible. I can imagine that some of the disciples may have been a little shamefaced at the idea of seeing their friend. Hadn’t one friend been the betrayer. Had not Peter the outspoken one, denied and put distance between himself and Jesus? Had not all but a few women run and hid while he was suffering on the cross?
Sin is not the main thing about us. God’s forgiveness reassures us that when we have let God down, failed in our intentions to be faithful, managed to hurt those closest to us, that sin does not get to be the last word.
Forgiveness must be the hardest thing we are called to do as followers of this Jesus. We nurse old hurts and find justification for our anger in recalling the ways we’ve been betrayed and lied to. None of these are things we lightly ignore.
One of the first things Jesus says to those disciples in the upper room both in John and Luke is “Peace.” Peace is overarching blessing of which forgiveness is a part. Forgiveness means that healing of the fractures in relationships is possible. The love Jesus has for his friends is larger than their failings. And for the sake of the future, we are released from our past mistakes.
I John reads: if we sin – literally keep on sinning– we have no part in Christ. But to be in Christ means that God grants us the opportunity to have a different future, one in which we grow more like Jesus.
But notice that in giving us his peace, Jesus is at the same time bidding us to give peace, to preach and practice forgiveness.
I John reads that those who are in Christ will keep growing until we are finally like Jesus. And he uses two words to describe what God is like. He is righteous– that is he works for justice. That includes liberating the oppressed and feeding the hungry and giving the poor a way to live and offering hospitality to mistreated and shunned.
God is at work to bring right and blessing to all.
The other thing that God is is pure. We ought to be pure as God is pure. Or maybe your Bible translates it holy. Which is to say that any attitude of meanness is missing. Any taint of exclusive self-serving is not there. We are “unspotted by the world.” as James puts it.
Any one who hope one day to see Jesus and at that moment be like him will go ahead right now and live a good life.
The focus of forgiveness is not on what you have been but on what by God’s grace and power you can become.
John Claypool tells a story that sums up the spirit of forgiveness:
Arthur Gordon was a southern lad who went to Yale and made good. …he was so outstanding …that he was awarded a Rhodes scholarship on his graduation and went for two fabled years to study at Oxford….
He came back and fulfilled a long-term dream by organizing or founding an avant-garde literary journal which he hoped would be a vehicle of his own and several other young writers’ careers. However, after two years it turned out that he was a better student than he was an entrepreneur and editor. In fact, through many foolish decisions, after two years the magazine folded, he found himself out of work and heavily in debt. It was his first encounter with failure.
A very significant right of passage for a bright young achiever. It turned out that he knew how to succeed; he did not know how to cope with failure. So he became very depressed, even suicidal. His family down in Savannah, Georgia, became quite disturbed about him. They were successful in getting him to an important counselor, a friend of the family, an old gentleman who practiced [on Manhattan Island.] in NY
Young Gordon went and poured out to the counselor his tale of lament and woe, all the self-recrimination that he was feeling for his failure. When he finished, the old counselor said, “I think your story is very similar to several others that I’ve worked with. Would you be willing to spend some time and listen to some recorded stories that I’ve got permission from these patients to share with others? I think there is similarity between their plight and yours.”
So he put on a cassette and there was a man’s voice. It was a father who had made several mistakes with a son in an earlier period. He had a great deal of regret for the pain that that was now causing.
The second voice was that of a woman. She made a very poor choice of a marriage partner. She had not handled the difficulties that ensued. She too was regretting all the things that were happening.
The next voice was that of a man, a high-placed business executive, who had made some unfortunate decisions earlier, and now was having to pay for them in terms of financial loss. He too was lamenting what he had done.
When the third voice ended, the counselor said to young Gordon, “Did you pick up a theme that was common through all three of those interviews? In their own way each was looking to the past and saying ‘if only, if only I had done differently, if only I hadn’t made certain mistakes.’ I don’t mean to brag by sharing with you that I was successful in helping all three of those people. They are today much more productive in their living. The secret to turning them around was taking them to substitute two different words for the words ‘if only.’ I was able to get each one of those persons to learn to say ‘next time’ instead of ‘if only.’
…And the good news of Jesus Christ is that we are given second chances on the same terms that we were given our first chance. God is not a perfectionist, but a loving father. Life is not a spelling bee, one mistake and down you go. It is rather like a potter’s shop where a patient artist takes a lump of clay and works with it, and works with it, and works with it until at last he gets it to the way he wants it to be. There is something bigger in the world than our sin, and that something is a merciful God.2
Grace/forgiveness is in some way the heart of Jesus ministry. His healing is a demonstration of grace. The disciples saw a man blind from birth and began speculating whether his parents’s sin was the cause of his condition or if somehow he had done something to merit it. Jesus dismisses their blame game. The important thing was what God was going to make of this situation.
When the paralytic was lowered through the ripped up roof, Jesus first word to him was “Your sins are forgiven.” before he said “rise up and walk.”
People who were healed felt they had been admitted back into community. The lepers could go home. The demoniac was sent back to his family. The woman caught in adultery was told “neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more.”
The resurrection hope has within it a hope that sins can be forgiven and a forgiving community can come into being. A church characterized by grace and dwelling in the peace of Christ.
The story about a little boy who traveled to Yellowstone National Park with his parents. As he was standing near the railing at Old Faithful the geyser erupted in all its glory. Awed the shear majesty of the pulsating column of steaming water, the boy turned to a park ranger and said, “I want to buy it.” The ranger bent down and asked, “How much do you have?” The boy dug deep in his pocket and pulled out three crumpled dollar bills. The ranger shook his head and said, “That’s not enough.” The boy replied, “I thought you’d say that.” So digging deeply into another pocket, he counted out a quarter, a dime, a nickel, and three pennies—forty-three cents. The ranger looked at the boy and said, “You need to understand two things. First, $3.43 is not enough. In fact, $343 million is not enough to buy Old Faithful, because Old Faithful is not for sale. And second, if you are an American citizen, Old Faithful already belongs to you.”3
Jesus’s return underscores one meaning of the resurrection is we are forgiven. And resurrection speaks to us of a recreation of our future. We can become something more than we have been.
A second thing that resurrection should alert us to is the importance of creation. It is hard to miss the way Jesus demonstrates that he has a real body in these encounters. He ate with the disciples. He showed his wounds in his hand and feet.
The more I think about that the more I wonder. Resurrection does not take us away from bodily being. Resurrection does not mean the end of all desires, as some Hindus have tried to portray it. Jesus said, “I am hungry.” Desire is an integral part of what it is to be human.
Our bodies teach us that we are not self-sufficient. We cannot supply all our own needs. “I hunger.” “blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.” “As the deer pants for the water brook, even so my soul pants after thee, O Lord.”
The resurrection is the opposite of denial of the body– it is the confirmation that having a body is our destiny, that creation will not be snuffed out but transformed. that we will forever have yearning, experience delight, and feel with bodied selves.
So we read of the final end that God will take away the hurt, death, disability, sorrow, the pain, but God will not eliminate “need.” We will always yearn for the gifts that God would bestow. Even as now we can eat everyday and yet find ourselves hungry tomorrow. This is an image of bodily resurrection.
Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.– The Confessions of St Augustine.
The resurrection means that God is serious about creation. When he said that the physical world of atoms and stars, amoebas and oceans, birds and little children, all was good. God meant it for keeps. It may not stay the same. Caterpillars become butterflies, stars become super novae, Transformation goes on but creation is not destined for destruction. Resurrection means what God meant in creation will not be lost.
Resurrection urges us to listen again for the first time to the story of our creation. Wendell Berry sums it nicely:
God did not make a body and put a soul into it, like a letter into an envelope. He formed man of dust; then, by breathing His breath into it, He made the dust live. The dust, formed as a man and made to live, did not embody a soul; it became a soul. “Soul” here refers to the whole creature. Humanity is thus presented to us, in Adam, not as a creature of two discreet parts temporarily glued together but as a single mystery. (SEFC 106)
I John says we are called children of God and we are that right now. And it does not yet appear what we shall be. But when we see Jesus we shall be like him. Not just morally. But in the most intimate and basic way our risen humanity will resemble the risen Lord.
In attitudes, bodily being, spirit, life.
Resurrection means that the way to God will not be by detouring around the physical world but by finding God by created stuff, the means of the Spirit. Baptized in real water, eating real bread, drinking the fruit of real vines, touching real bodies with caring hands, embracing real people. And caring for the real world at our doorsteps.
The world is not some deposit on which we can draw till it is gone. It was our commission to nurture it in renewable ways, and pray for its redemption.
“Love all God’s creation, the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light! Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will comprehend it ceaselessly, more and more every day. And you will at last come to love the whole world with an abiding, universal love.” – Dostoevsky
Christ comes back embodied and embodies ascends to the Father. We shall find him as we are the body called church, life of grace and forgiveness by which we know as first John says, that we are in Christ.
And just as much Christ bids us take up life in this world, the bodies that hunger and thirst; the body that delights in vision and sound, the body that tastes and understands and gives thanks.
We are on a journey toward Christ-likeness. Filled with assurance and good hope by the resurrection of our Lord. Confident that this journey shall lead us home.
1“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.” Weight of Glory.
2“If Only to Next Time” by John Claypool, 30 Good Minutes, 1983.
3Easter Surprises, Easter Grace by Skip Jackson, Indianola Presbyterian Chruch, 2010