The Victory of God

risen christ

Fresco by Piero della Fancesca

a sermon for Easter,(Year A)

from April; 24, 2011

Matthew 26

The Apollo 11 crew planted  a flag moon July 20, 1969. Only the U.S., Russia, the European Space Agency, Japan and China — and now India (2008) — have sent missions to the moon. There are six U.S. flags on the moon planted by the Apollo astronauts (Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17). These flags  stake our presence, our conquest, a claim.

We rejoice today in the Easter event, the cross that mark’s God claim upon all of his creation.

Most events could be told multiple ways. A football game looks different depending on whether you are the referee or the quarterback, the shortest person in the marching band or just there to meet a date. The newspaper man misses it all reporting numbers and names.

Some of those who were in the midst of that holy week and witnessed its terrors and climatic outcome were startled to realize that God had been in the very middle of it.

There was no doubting Jesus was fully human. None of them questioned that before, during or after their time with Jesus. Jesus had gotten tired, needed nourishment, sleep, he wept, he was moved by the suffering of others and aroused with righteous indignation by injustice and deceit. And in the end he bled and died .

But then there was this question “Who are you?” It could not be answered by comparing Jesus to prophets of old. Here is a greater than Elijah. Nor was it enough to say Jesus was a wise man, for here is a greater than Solomon. Here is a charismatic, spirit anointed leader, but he is greater than David.

There were moments–

  • when the storm was stilled
  • when their he told them to lower night long empty nets and lo they were filled to bursting,
  • when demons were cast out
  • when he said a man’s sin were forgiven
  • when a man blind from birth was given sight
  • When Lazarus came forth from the tomb.

In those moments something shone through.This world was altered. Lives transformed. Insight dawned. God moments.

  • And Nicodemus testified- “We know God is with you.”
  • And the Samaritan woman testifies “He knew all my secrets- could this be the promised Messiah?
  • Te blind man says, “Who is he? Well is name is Jesus…He is a prophet….God is with him…only God could give sight to a man who could never see… and the meeting Jesus again he worshiped him.
  • Lazarus comes forth and Martha realizes there is more to her confession than she dreamed when she said, I know even now you can ask the Father and he will give you your request.”
  • Thomas will say “My Lord and my God”

The awesome realization that somehow– who can explain it– God himself has journeyed into his creation, holding back all the glory and power and prerogatives, emptying himself and accepting the limits of a human life– even to the shame of a death like a convicted rebel.

I know there are some who make it all about substituting for us sinners on the cross. Who say that God became man in order to take our punishment in our place. But for me more powerful than the strange even scary idea of substitution is the atonement of identification. I am saved through the time God identified with me and you and all humanity. He joined us totally, to the point of living a human life.

Now the only way to be human is to be a particular human being. We can’t live a human life in general. We live in particular places, in a particular age of history, we don’t pick it and we cannot change it. We have a particular birth family. And we live and die as a particular body that has its own time of growing up and growing back down. We can alter it but we cannot exchange it. It is what it is.

The notion that God made everything and that everything that is created is completely distinct from God makes it so hard for us to imagine that God could or would step into creation as a part of it.

God loved the world this way– he stepped into it as a particular human in a particular era, living with the particular people God had chosen.

And as that human being Jesus God acted out his will, his way, his intentions for human society. Jesus healed, taught and forgave. He included people who felt there was not way they could be included. What Jesus did expressed the Father and made concrete his determination to heal and reclaim his world.

God did not appear in the world to condemn the world but to heal it. And this is the crisis. Will the world come to God or hide in deeper darkness? This is the judgement: if we run away from God’s claim on us, from the truth about who we are and who God is. If we live a lie about ourselves or about God, we sentence ourselves. It is not God who condemns us but we condemn ourselves. Offered healing we can choose to stay sick. Offered mercy we could choose to continue sinning.

This God-rejecting world, infected as it is with sin and worship of false gods of greed, lust, violence and anger, this world tried to silence the word. The one who was radically open to receiving people regardless of their past was made an outcast.

Corrupt leaders saw it as expedient. One he had chosen betrayed him. All the special twelve left him in the lurch. The religious leaders found religious reasons to be done with him. The representative of one of the most advanced civilizations in law and administration found a loop hole for executing an innocent man.

And this man Jesus did not stop it. He walked into it with eyes wide open. He did not let his follower take up arms and fight to stop it. He did not run away. Rather than cursing he forgave.

And he who had been sent from God and was God was cut down and strung up.

On the cross he faced the incompleteness of human life. Jesus faced the desertion by the very ones he had been preparing to carry his mission on.  Only a few, mostly family. are at the foot of the cross.

“It is finished.” “My God my God why hast thou forsaken me?”

God in his heart knew what it was to be without God in that awful moment.

God drank the cup of suffering, forsakenness, rejection, defeat.

Crushed, jeered, spent, alone.

The God who entered the world as a babe in a poor stable was the God groaning in death on that cross. He joined our life and plumbed the deepest deeps of mortal humanity.

He journeyed into the far country where we were.

And this cross is his stake planted to mark his claim upon it all -even the depths of human hell.

It is finished.

I have done it all.

I die and give back my breath to you Father

God so loved, God loved this way

Utter silent death

So even death is absorbed into the heart of God by radical identification with us.


Then… (Billings is right)

Then He rose and burst the bonds of death.

And did he rise? Yes he rose!

Hail O mighty God all triumphant. God beyond time and space. The Mighty Creator and true Lord and Master- raised this man from the dead in space and. And in that moment the world was changed. We saw revealed the destiny salvation intends for us.

God had planted the hope in human hearts.

  • He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; Ecclesiastes 3: 11

  • If a man die shall he live again?” Job

  • O mortal man can these dry bones live again?” – You know Lord, not me.

  • But here on this mountain, God-of-the-Angel-Armieswill throw a feast for all the people of the world, On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations;The shadow of doom darkening all nations.Yes, he’ll banish death forever.And God will wipe the tears from every face. He’ll remove every sign of disgrace From his people, wherever they are.Yes! God says so! ” Isaiah 25.6-8

Then things of dreams become here a deed.

A past event with power to bring present help, and future hope.

It ripples out in larger circles, the waves of power and life.

Grace sweeps over us from that cross and empty tomb

He lives forever that we may live.

This is the day, the moment that the Lord has made. It is God’s doing

God turned death to life and grave to glory.

Sins have been forgiven and our sinning overcome.

God in Jesus so wrapped himself in the web of history, so united himself to the flesh of existence that even as he shared our death now the tide is reversed and we share his life.

It is not up to you to figure it out, this swelling wave of the Divine, but to let it catch you up and lift you to new life.

At any grave we weep as those who hope. “I shall not die, but live!

The cross is God’s victory. We are God’s.



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