Archive for April, 2015

Pop culture and media have become quite fascinated with the “apocalyptic” stories. Perhaps it is a utopia world that is suddenly thrust into chaos. Or, perhaps, it is normal life that is suddenly thrust into crisis, such as an alien invasion. Most recently, the stories have included sub-humans, zombies, bent on devouring those that remain alive and lucid. Unthinking, unfeeling, and unwavering in their one objective – to eat that which is alive.

Within this particular narrative genre, I find something far deeper being communicated about our culture and outlook on the world. The popularity of this genre gives weight to the idea that this bleak outlook on the future is shared, perhaps unwittingly, by the audience. And, apparently, there is enough of an audience to venture utilizing more capital for creating the genre’s media. The narrative being communicated and resonating with the audience is the belief that the world is eating itself and we wonder about the world on the other side of the catastrophe.

Zombies aren’t such a far-fetched vision of the imagination. In many ways our world devours itself and others. One need only be reminded that the 20th century was the bloodiest and most violent century on record. It doesn’t look like the pace is lessening. Not to mention, the vast numbers of people that die due to preventable diseases, lack of clean water sources, and malnutrition. Sometimes these are caused by greed and hoarding of essential resources by the powerful and rich at the expense of the poor and needy. These are only a few of the examples that give us a sense that we are devouring one another. Plus, it’s such a large issue that it feels overwhelming, like a zombie horde surrounding the vacant building we’re holed up in for refuge.

Unfortunately, the Church hasn’t escaped this cannibalism of its own. Our political extremism and unbending fundamentalism have created a potent mixture of fear, anger, and violence, along with a moral superiority complex that rigidly defends its position but is unable (unwilling?) to be challenged on its own positions. This concoction has rendered a militant religion that brow beats any opposition by utilizing methods of scapegoating, shaming, and slander. It’s not about “faith seeking understanding.”

Many in the Church have also felt this fascination with the zombie apocalypse. For so long we imagined the zombies were outside our walls. Turns out – they’re inside the building. At some level, we’re not shocked that we’ve devoured our own, those genuinely seeking to ask hard questions and wrestle with them faithfully. But, at the same time, we are amazed that it should happen in the Church! Isn’t God the God of Truth? Isn’t all Truth God’s Truth? If so, isn’t the seeking of Truth also a seeking after God?

Zombies will eat whatever is not them, whatever is not alive. And, in the same way, we have devoured those that thought differently than us, challenged us to reconsider our positions, and called for us to wrestle with the deep questions of life. I’m not arguing we should change everything. But, we should be able to have a dialogue that allows for disagreement, tension, mystery. But, ever were we willing to crucify the prophets. Ever were we eager to prove our rightness, our righteousness, but silencing voices in the wilderness. In our zeal for being right, we devoured each other and left one another for dead.

The Lord’s Supper sits in the midst of the gathered Church. The Body and Blood of Jesus. “Come and feast. Come and dine,” he invites us. “Eat my Body, drink my blood.” Jesus is the Living Water that quenches all thirst. He is the Bread of Life that satiates our hunger. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. A Feast indeed! When we gather at the Table, joined together at the Master’s feet, we no longer need devour one another. The Table is the place of hospitality where Christ calls us to dine in love together, feasting on him so that we are satisfied and need not devour one another. In this setting, faith can seek understanding without also sacrificing loving relationships with one another. At this Table, we find that it is Christ that unites us.

Within my own denomination, the Church of the Nazarene, there have been several recent developments that have created a great deal of tension.  These situations have raised certain questions among many in our denomination.  For instance, there has been an erosion of trust in our leaders.  This isn’t just among congregants.  Many pastors are struggling to find it possible to keep trusting the leadership being provided.  Also, because of the nature of these situations, many are wondering if there is still a place for them within the denomination.  They feel marginalized and pushed out.  They feel that their voices are not only discounted, but actively silenced.  In times of such crisis, and given our Protestant history, it isn’t surprising that so many wonder if there is a future for the denomination or for us remaining in the denomination.

Along with these various situations of conflict, I have also read a number of blogs and articles about people relocating to other denominations.  Again, many of these individuals felt genuinely discouraged and ostracized because they didn’t “walk the party line.”  They felt the need to look elsewhere for inclusion and acceptance, to be able to have intentional dialogue.  Even big names in theology have moved out of their denominational neighborhood to others (Rachel Held Evans comes to mind).  In the midst of the crises within our own denomination, I have felt the pull and wondered as well if there was a place for me still.  I have experienced in several ways the sense of a denomination that prefers silence over dialogue about serious issues.

And, so, we wonder: If we can’t trust the leadership and they don’t want us, is it time to uproot and plant elsewhere?  I particularly feel that this is the overarching question for many younger members of the denomination.  I had a conversation with a 30-something youth pastor this past week about pastoral ministry.  He asked me, “Are all churches this hard and difficult and hateful.  If so, I’m not sure I want to be a senior pastor and deal with all of that junk.”  What I heard in his question was not a movement away from pastoral ministry, but questioning whether there was a place that would accept him as a pastor because he might challenge others with his understanding of the Gospel.  That’s a sad reality that I have heard younger members of our denomination express and confide.  Perhaps the declining numbers of Millenials entering into these kinds of ministries is because they have seen a denomination that has been slow to create an environment that values their gifts and graces for ministry and doesn’t simply silence their voice.  Thus, we have witnessed an exodus of some very bright, creative ministers to other tribes.  And, we are diminished for it.

Again, the question remains: Is there a future for the denomination or for me in this denomination?  As I have wrestled with these issues, quite intensely, with mentors and friends, I have come to a conclusion.  Yes, there is a future for both the denomination and for me in the denomination.  Granted, it may not be the future I prefer or for which I hope, but there is still a future to which I have committed myself.  Covenant undergirds my commitment and goes beyond mere duty or obligation.  It is a labor of love, which does not guarantee that love might be returned by the other.  As any marriage, it’s not without flaws, squabbles, and difficulties.  But, “for better or for worse”, I have covenanted with this people and with God to work for the good of the other.  It seems to me that this is the attitude we must ultimately adopt, whatever side we fall on.

In reading some comments by John Wesley, I was struck by his very clear admonition to remain where God has placed us.  Wesley was no stranger to conflict, Typically, it came because he challenged the status quo.  His theology and methods were often highly suspect.  Yet, he continued to persevere while remaining within the fold of the Anglican church.  His basis for doing so is rooted in his understanding of God.  He noted that God could often do more in moments of affliction than He could otherwise.  It wasn’t that God was unable to do more in other situations; we just weren’t always as pliable to shape without affliction present.

John wrote in Plain Account of Christian Perfection: “The bearing of men, and suffering evils in meekness and silence, is the sum of a Christian life.  God is the first object of our love: Its next office is, to bear the defects of others. And we should begin the practice of this amidst our own household. We should chiefly exercise our love towards them who most shock either our way of thinking, or our temper, or our knowledge, or the desire we have, that others should be as virtuous as we wish to be ourselves.”  The call of the Cross is the call of suffering.  To be where Jesus is requires us to follow him in bearing the Cross.  We usually expect suffering to come at the hands of a hostile world.  We are then surprised to find that sometimes the Church itself can be the hand of persecution.  Yet, even so, we suffer with Christ for the sake of the Body’s reconciliation and redemption.  Painful, yes.  But, all the more necessary.

These reflections have led me to one of my favorite stories – the story of Samuel and Eli.  The text of Judges ends with the assessment that “everyone does what is right in their own eyes.”  Where that might be commendable in America, it’s a damning conclusion about the community of faith.  Entering the story of 1 Samuel, we hear several times that “the word of the Lord was rare in those days.”  We might hear this to say that God has stopped speaking, like a pouting child not getting their way.  I get the feeling that God hasn’t stopped speaking but that the people, including the leadership, are no longer able to see or hear God’s word being spoken.  It is a time of spiritual barrenness.  Much as Hannah is unable to bear fruit from the womb, Israel is desperately barren and no longer able to bear the fruit of God’s Spirit.

Eli and his sons are the picture of this reality.  Eli, the text says, is getting more blind and deaf by the day.  What he sees, he misinterprets.  What he hears, he misunderstands.  And, even when he does seem to understand, he refuses to act in faithful ways to God.  He accuses Hannah of being drunk when she is praying.  He hears about his two sons taking advantage of the virgins at the Tent of Meeting and sticking their forks in the meat pots (can be read as a euphemism also) of the worshipers so that they can have the best meat for themselves, essentially stealing from God.  Still, Eli does nothing but scold them, but life continues as it did before.  Nothing really changes.  It is a barren situation for the leadership and the community.

A miracle transpires, by God’s grace.  Even though Hannah is barren, God promises to bring life from the barren womb.  In fact, that is what happens.  Samuel is born to Hannah.  After weaning him, she sends Samuel to be an acolyte under the care of Eli.  For those keeping score, this seems like a horrendous and disastrous idea.  After all, Eli is a miserable father and an inept spiritual guide.  Samuel will surely be caught up in the destructive vortex by serving under Eli’s supervision.  Not to mention, at such a young age, Samuel will surely become just another inept leader following in the footsteps of those around him.  The picture is looking bleaker by the minute.

“Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was” (1 Sam. 3:1-3).

I can imagine Eli, who is going blind, enshrouded by the darkness of his room.  Like his blindness, his spiritual leadership is unable to hear or see the Lord.  The lamp of God is flickering, threatening to be extinguished by the slightest gust.  It wavers as if it might puff out of existence, leaving the tabernacle enclosed in darkness.  But, it hasn’t gone out yet… there’s still light left.  Samuel, the young acolyte, lays at the heart of the tabernacle, in the sanctuary.  Proximity to the presence of God is intimated, even though Samuel has yet to have “the word of the Lord be revealed to him.”

It is in those moments of darkness and spiritual barrenness, God speaks.  If the barrenness and darkness are to be overcome, it can only be done because God has spoken and we have heard.  Samuel hears, but mistakes it for Eli’s voice.  He goes to Eli, but Eli tells him to go back to bed.  This happens three times before Eli realizes God is calling to Samuel.  It’s possible we’re supposed to think, “Eli, how blind can you be!?”  But, Eli does finally steer Samuel how to properly respond and hear God.  Samuel does as instructed and hears a word from God.  The word is both a word of hope and a word of judgment.  Samuel now has the task to go and proclaim that message to the community of faith.

“Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.  And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.  The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord” (1 Sam. 3:15, 19-21).

Dawn appears after the weary night.  Dawn dispels the darkness, scattering it before its warm rays.  God’s presence, God’s word has the same power over our darkness.  At morning, Samuel didn’t just open the doors.  The text should be rendered “he burst through the doors.”  This language is birthing language.  The barrenness of the tabernacle now bears fruit by the grace of God’s word.  Hannah’s barrenness was no deterrent to God’s life-giving ways.  Neither is the barrenness of Israel’s spiritual life a barrier which God cannot transcend.  God can give new life, even in the most barren of situations.  Where the word of the Lord had previously been rare, now it “continue[s] to appear at Shiloh.”  And, where leadership was distrusted, God has sown trust again, even as “all Israel… knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.”  Barrenness to new life.

Part of the story that I find so intriguing is the paradox of Eli and Samuel.  Both were surrounded by the holy things in the tabernacle.  Both were entrusted with the shepherding of the community to be God’s people.  Yet, for Eli, the tabernacle and the holy things became a tomb.  He was enshrouded by darkness and unable to hear God.  For Samuel, however, the tabernacle and the holy things became a womb from which he is birthed into new life.  I find this to be a cautionary tale for our time.

In reflecting on these days in our denomination, I find tremendous hope in the story of Samuel.  We may find our situation full of barrenness and brokenness.  We may even think there is a peculiar silence from God, even though so many claim to speak on God’s behalf.  Yet, God is a God of life able to bring hope from the darkest and most barren of situations.  That’s the Gospel.  We may find ourselves under leadership that is particularly blind and deaf, totally inept, and unable to hear God’s word.  We may despair at finding a place to serve under that leadership, even as it must have been under the rapacious leadership of Eli and his boys.  Out of that soil, God brings forth a prophet to speak both words of judgment and words of hope.

Samuel sticks around long enough for God to work at bringing about leadership changes and reformation in the lives of God’s people.  New life happens!  Samuel is an intricate part of that new movement of God.  Imagine if Samuel had said, “Forget this, I’m out of here.”  It might have been a very different story.

In looking at our denomination, there is much to lament and repent.  The same is true for any denomination.  We have to own up to our barrenness.  We have to recognize our own inadequacies and brokenness.  Or, we risk becoming like Eli, more and more deaf and blind to God’s presence.  At the same time, I believe this moment in our history calls for us to again covenant with each other.  We are in it for the long haul because we believe that God is able to bring new life from very barren situations.  I know I want to be in on that moment when it comes.  Is there a future for the Church, our denomination, for me?  By God’s grace, I believe there is.

The disciples sit huddled together in the dark room, barely daring to breath.  The doors are locked, secured, and barred.  The barricade provides a measure of security, but still they huddle in fear of what lay on the opposite side of the door.  Death.

Jesus, their Lord and Master, had suffered intense, agonizing pain at the hand of the religious leaders.  Yes, Rome had done the damage, but it was the Pharisees, scribes, Sadducees, and the ruling council that had brought up the charges and made sure Jesus received the death penalty.

It is safer to remain here together, safely tucked away, than to venture out there.  To leave these walls is to risk being seen, being identified, and being killed for their connection with Jesus.  Death waits on the other side of the door.  They sit, not speaking, not moving… staring at the floor.

The air is hot and thick with the stench of fear.  The room trembles from their shivering bodies.  Normally, the evening would be filled with celebration, laughter, and fellowship.  Yet, the silent tension can be cut with a knife.  It weighs on them heavier than if an elephant were to sit on their chest.

The days following Jesus’ execution are dizzying and disorienting.  Their heads reel from the sudden turn that life has taken.  Once, life had seemed so full, so promising.  Now, the world is crashing down upon their heads.  The small room seems to shrink in around them, like darkness smothering the very life from them.

With their heads drooped and eyes pointing to the floor, nobody notices the man standing in their midst.  There is no sound to announce his presence.  No knock on the door.  No scraping of sandals on the floor.  Nothing.  “Peace be with you,” he says softly.  Heads shoot up, eyes wide with terror at hearing a voice.  Fear grips their hearts as they look to the door to see it still latched.  Had the authorities finally come to put them to death, too?  And, how had they entered without notice?

Silence follows.  The men and women lean away from the stranger, sure they are to meet their demise if he reaches for them.  The stranger turns in a circle looking at each gathered there.  His eyes are kind, not malicious.  He smiles at them.  They are still cautious, not sure what trick he might pull.

Then, the stranger extends his hands out, palms up.  Holes can be seen all the way through his wrists, about the size of a spike.  The disciples notice his feet also have these same gaping holes.  Again, the man turns to face each one of them and then exposes his side where a gash from something like a spear must have pierced him.  As light flooding a dark room, the disciples suddenly recognize this man is no stranger but Jesus himself!     The disciples’ fear melts like ice sitting on sun-scorched pavement.  It’s Jesus!  They begin shouting and yelling for joy!  It’s Jesus!  The hands, the feet, the side… it is unbelievable!  And, yet, here he stands!

Jesus again addresses them, “Peace be with you.”  Jesus still shows them where the nails pierced him.  He continues speaking, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  The disciples’ eyes stare more intently, unable to move from those horrendous scars.  Jesus’ words echo in their minds, reverberate off the walls.

More than a couple of heads twist to observe the locked door holding the world at bay.  Jesus wants them to go back out there?  To endure what he endured?  To suffer as he suffered?

They stand there silently.  Then, without warning Jesus breathes on them.  He says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  The significance of that act isn’t lost on them.  As the Spirit breathed the Creation into existence, now Jesus is breathing his life into them – God’s very Spirit.  Jesus breathing on them is an act of creation.  But, Jesus doesn’t stop there.  He continues, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Now, Thomas was not with the disciples during this encounter.  Excited about having seen Jesus, the disciples run to find Thomas to tell him the great news.  They tell him, “We have seen the Lord.”  Thomas’ eyes narrow.  He’s no fool.  Dead men do not rise.  Those are the cold, hard facts!  Thomas knows that Death is final.  He responds to the others, saying, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Our story opens with the disciples crowded into a small home, huddled together.  They are hoping to survive the storm that the world has thrown at them.  The world is locked out; they are locked in.  Even as Jesus’ lifeless body was laid in a tomb, they now reside in a tomb of their own making.  The house with the locked door was meant to provide security, however, it only ensured death.  The room meant to provide protection is a space that acts more like a tomb.  Fear has buried them, Death has gripped their hearts.

The world has been turned upside down.  Life is out of control.  The sky is falling.  The earth is shaking.  All of their hopes have been flushed down the drain.  If there is a future, it doesn’t look good.

We can readily identify with the disciples’ mindset to “circle the wagons.”  This past week I was at a funeral in Texas.  While riding to the graveyard, the driver, who I had only just met, began to talk about the woes of the world.  He surveyed the landscape of our culture, the challenges for the Church and Christianity, and rendered a bleak verdict: “It’s all gotta end sometime soon, don’t ch’ya think?”  Indeed, his depiction of politics, economics, and declining morality would be enough to make anyone wonder at the futility of hope in such a world.

This view of the world often gives way into a “storm cellar” approach to life.  The storm is coming, lay low, take cover, and pray that somehow we’ll survive.  We inhabit a world bent on death and destruction; it is little surprise we feel the need to lock the doors, hide out, and make sure we are safe.

Our story informs us that the disciples have locked themselves away “for fear of the Jews.”  This desperate attempt to huddle for safety is rooted in fear.  It is fear of the unknown.  It is fear of the future.  It is fear, ultimately, of Death.  Fear has so gripped the disciples that they dare not risk the possibility of death.  It is this fear of Death that paralyzes them, rendering them incapable of living.

Our own striving for security is surely rooted in the same fear the disciples display.  It is fear that isolates.  It is fear that closes off from others.  It is fear that robs us of hope.  It is fear that immobilizes us.  Fear becomes so all-consuming that we are unable to see beyond the walls we have enclosed ourselves within.

Because fear drives so much of our lives, we, as the Church, have become a huddled mass trembling before the storm.  Whatever the storm may be in your mind, illegal immigrants, ISIS, global crisis, job loss, family death, democrats or republicans in office, other nations, divorce, past mistakes and sins, our fears render us incapable of being the Church in response to those situations.

Fear creates enemies.  Fear dominates our hearts and sharpens them for violence against our enemies.  Fear only has room for “me.”  It cannot open itself up to another.  To do so would only make “me” vulnerable.  Fear always creates in us paranoia of those different than me, especially those who I identify as my enemy.  In such a state, we are unable to see anything other than threats to our life, security, and viability.  By means of fear, Death becomes the overarching theme and power in our lives.  And, Death says that we must operate out of self-preservation in order to save ourselves, protect ourselves, and maintain our lives, no matter the consequence to others.

Jesus steps through the walls meant to keep the world at bay.  The walls cannot hold out Jesus.  He greets his Church, these fearful disciples, saying, “Shalom!”  Literally, “God’s peace.”  If there is anything counter to Fear, it is God’s peace.  Even as Jesus calmed the stormy sea, Jesus calls for the disciples’ fears to cease.  “Peace be with you.”

If anyone would understand the extent of the storm swirling about in the world, it would be Jesus.  If anyone can comprehend the power of Death and Fear, it is Jesus.  He bears the scars, the marks, the wounds from his encounter with Death and Fear.  They tore his body.  They broke his body.  They ravaged his body… until he lay dead, buried in a tomb.  If anyone would understand the deep darkness of the world, it is Jesus!

Yet, here Jesus stands before the disciples.  He is the resurrected Lord whom Death could not hold.  He is the risen Christ whose life overwhelmed the Grave.  He is the life-giving King whose reign knows no bounds.  Death and Fear are conquered by Life and Peace.

The Resurrection affirms that there is no power in Death or Fear out of which God cannot ultimately bring Life.  Resurrection says that Death’s reign is over.  Resurrection undermines Fear’s power.  Resurrection is God’s life-giving power at work in the Creation, which will not be defeated.  And, Resurrection offers a new way of living in the world, not one dictated by Death and Fear.

Resurrection beckons us to live as those that have received God’s peace, living as those with hope, because we have encountered the Risen Christ!  If the power of Resurrection is at work in us, then Fear and Death have no longer hold dominion.  As such, we no longer need live under their tyranny having been freed from their grip on our hearts.

Instead, we are free to risk much, even giving up our very lives, for the sake of the Gospel and God’s Kingdom.  Even if we should be killed, maimed, harmed, beaten, bruised, imprisoned, or enslaved, yet we would rest in the blessed assurance that God’s redemptive purposes are still at work and will not be undone.  Yes, even our very lives might be raised to new life.  If God can do that, then why fear what the future holds?

Jesus gives the disciples their mission: “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.”  He has shown them his nail-pierced hands, feet, and side.  They see the marks of crucifixion, the wounds of suffering and pain.  As Jesus was sent to suffer and die, now Jesus is sending his disciples to do the same.  Jesus doesn’t call for the disciples to defend their rights, run for public office, ensure that the Church survives, or to gain power by any means necessary.  Just the opposite.  Jesus calls his disciples to suffer and die for the sake of the world.

Henry Nouwen explains the Way of the Cross empowered by Jesus’ resurrection, writing: “Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”

Compassion, meaning “to suffer with,” is the means by which God reigns in and over the Creation.  God, through Christ Jesus, enters into our world, takes on our suffering as his own, and nails it to the cross.  The new life of Jesus brought forth through resurrection also means that the brokenness of this world is being made and will entirely be made whole again.

The Resurrection says that Sin and Death do not have the last word – God does.  Even as Jesus’ broken body is made whole, so might the dead and broken Creation be restored and glorified.  Brian Zahnd puts it this way: “The resurrection of Jesus is not about confirming life after death. It’s about inaugurating New Creation and the Kingdom of God here and now.”  Now, Jesus commissions his disciples to no longer live in fear, behind closed doors, circling the wagons.  Jesus commissions his disciples to live fearlessly, to live out the hope of Resurrection, and to offer life to the world being offered through their lives in acts of compassion.

It’s hard to deny that our society is often resistant, sometimes decidedly antagonistic toward the Church and Christianity.  There is great vehemence, anger, and hatred directed toward God’s people.  At other times the Church faces relatively unaggressive opposition, like a simple disagreement.  Sometimes the opposition facing the Church is dangerous, such as we have seen with ISIS.  We shouldn’t be surprised to see a world contesting the Gospel.  After all, Jesus did tell us that the world hated him and it would hate us.

But, there is also another kind of opposition that has cropped up.  It is a position that denies the validity of the Church and Christianity because our lives don’t always match our message.  The Church, in many corners of our country, reflect the values of Death and Fear.  They reflect the values of our culture and nation.  And, as such, they deny any such claim to be rooted in love or the sufferings of Christ.  And, if we cannot claim any connection to the suffering of Christ or Christ’s death, neither can we claim any hope in Christ’s Life and Resurrection.

Thomas hears the news of Jesus’ resurrection.  The disciples tell Thomas, a fellow disciple, that Jesus rose from the dead and met with them in the flesh.  But, Thomas is a realist.  He is only willing to accept what he can verify by observation.  Unless he can touch Jesus, see the scars and wounds, then Thomas will deny that Jesus rose from the dead and now lives.

In a similar way, if the world is unable to see the resemblance of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in his disciples, then like Thomas they won’t believe.  Jesus calls his disciples to be his Body, his pierced but resurrected Body.  Yet, if the disciples don’t resemble the Master, if the Body doesn’t live out of Jesus’ compassion for the world, then should it surprise us that the world denies that Christ lives or that the Church has any place in this world?  Should it so surprise us that the world would suggest that Christianity is merely a fairy tale told to children?  Many are still waiting to see Jesus’ Body, identified by the wounds of crucifixion.  Do we bear the wounds of Jesus in our own bodies?

“As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”  Drink deeply from this well.  “Whoever would follow me must pick up their cross and daily follow me.”  Ponder the call which Jesus gives us: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Jesus understands the risk involved in living out Resurrection and the New Creation in a world still operating under the power of Death and Fear.  And far from telling his disciples to create a holy huddle and lock the door, Jesus tells his disciples to get to living by offering their lives for the sake of the world.

Jesus breathes on the disciples after he has told them what it means to follow him.  Ben Witherington states, “… as an echo of the story of creation where God breathed life into Adam, the first human being… we are to see this scene as a sort of starting over, the beginning of the creation of a new humanity.  The theme of life in this Gospel comes to a climax as we see Jesus now able to truly bestow eternal life and power once he returns to the Father who sent him.  When Jesus breathes out, he is not only emulating the original role of the Creator, he is also… communicating and committing himself to his disciples, in the person of the Spirit.  It is his own resurrection life that he will bestow on them” (John’s Wisdom, 342).

If this is the gift of Jesus through the Spirit to those who are truly followers, reflect on the freedom this grants us in giving away our lives in service to others, not dictated by Fear, not hindered by Death!  Enemies can then be perceived through the eyes of hope and God’s peace, rather than through eyes of Fear and Death.

Think about it.  Illegal immigrants are no longer viewed as threats to national security, our jobs, or our economic security.  Rather, we can see this influx of people into our communities as opportunities for sharing the Gospel with the people God is bringing to our doorsteps!

Members of ISIS and other Islamic groups aren’t persecuting us; they are persecuting Jesus.  Saul killed early Christians but was eventually changed because of an encounter with Christ, becoming the greatest evangelist the Church has ever known.  If Jesus can change Saul, can’t he also, through us, change the hearts and minds of our Islamic brothers and sisters?  The Resurrection gives us hope that their hatred for us can be transformed into love for Christ.

Dinka was sold into slavery at the age of seven.  His master, Ibrahim treated him cruelly, often beating and torturing him.  Ibrahim typically called Dinka “Abid”, meaning “black slave.”  Dinka’s family had been killed in the raid that took him from his home and for ten years he served Ibrahim.

Dinka’s living conditions were unsuitable for any human, surviving off of garbage and scraps.  He was lower than an animal in Ibrahim’s eyes and constantly reminded so.  Dinka was raised a Christian.  This was noted by his master and mocked, stating that “Abid” shouldn’t be allowed to worship because he was worthless trash.

Dinka was charged with caring for the camels and watering them.  He dutifully performed his tasks, despite the awful treatment from his master.  One Sunday, Dinka heard singing coming from a church nearby.  He went to the source and came upon a church service, which he remembered from his time at home.  He joined in the worship.

Unfortunately, when Dinka returned home, he discovered that several of the camels had wandered away.  Before he could find them, his master discovered the loss and flew into a fit of rage.  Ibrahim beat Dinka over the head and on his body.  Then, he took a plank and nailed Dinka to it, driving nine-inch nails through hands, knees, and feet.  Then, the master poured acid on Dinka’s legs to cause more agony.

Dinka lay nailed to that plank for seven days, sustained only by the master’s young soon giving him food and drink.  Finally, after days of agony and pain, the master’s son removed the nails and helped carry Dinka to a nearby hospital.  After Dinka’s return from the hospital, Ibrahim saw no more value in damage property.  Dinka was bought back by “Christian slave redeemers” who arranged his return home.

Upon his return home, Dinka’s name was changed by the village elders to Joseph because he had been sold into slavery and delivered like Joseph from Genesis.  Amazingly, Joseph was not permanently damaged from his crucifixion, but healed.  But, even more amazing, Joseph today says that God has helped him forgive Ibrahim!  The power to forgive is the fruit of Christ’s Resurrection coming to fruit in this young man’s life.

“Jesus is calling his disciples to take up a costly task, one that may even require that they give their lives, but Jesus was standing in their midst showing them that even if that is so, there would be victory beyond the grave” (Ben Witherington, John’s Wisdom, 342).

Church, let’s stop living under the power of Fear and Death.  Instead, Jesus commissions us to live out the power of Resurrection here and now, proclaiming to the world through lives of compassion that God is restoring the Creation and empowering us to live as New Creation by the Spirit.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus:

Paul identifies himself as the author of this letter to the Ephesian Church (in Asia Minor).  He also identifies himself as an apostle, which means “sent one.”  In other words, Paul is saying that he is an ambassador on behalf of Christ Jesus, called and empowered to do so by the “will of God.

          He addresses his audience in Ephesus, calling them “saints” and “faithful in Christ Jesus.”  The title of saints indicates the calling of this community of faith – to be holy.  The word for “saint” is rooted in the same word for “holy.”  Holiness is connected to the idea of being “faithful in Jesus Christ.”  This goes beyond simple obedience but aims at the heart of our obedience.  One may adhere to the Law perfectly and yet fail to fulfill the Law (think Pharisees, for example).  Sanctification (saint), the process of becoming holy (becoming like God, restored to the image of God), is right actions lived out of the overflow for love of God (holy love). 

This is also why Wesley will say that holiness is not the absence of sin.  This obedience is not about sinless perfection.  Rather, holiness is about perfection in the sense that we are fulfilling our purpose, even if our performance is not perfect. 

A mother planted flowers one Spring.  She had cultivated the ground and worked hard on getting the flowers in the soil.  Her young son came home from school, walked in the backyard, came back inside with a hand full of those same planted flowers with the dirt still clinging to the roots.  He handed them to his mom, saying, “I love you, momma, and I picked these for you.”  She graciously received the flowers and put them in a vase with water.  The mom understood that it was an act done in love, even if it did uproot her hard work. 

In a similar fashion, our sanctification does not mean that we won’t mess up, but that everything we do, even our mistakes, are derived out of a deep sense of love.  Thus, even while we might be holy, we are never done confessing our sins to God or to each other.  Why is it so difficult for us to confess our sins?

 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul finishes his greeting by giving a blessing to the community.  What would it look like to extend God’s blessing to each other?  What would that mean for our relationships with one another?

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

Paul begins the body of his letter with praise for God and what has been given to us through Jesus Christ, that is, “every spiritual blessing.”  Before challenging and encouraging the community, before addressing the issues facing the Church, Paul draws the community’s attention to God’s character and nature.  God is one who gives abundantly and generously – EVERY spiritual blessing.  God is not stingy.  God does not withhold any part of God from the Church.  If the Church’s character is to reflect God’s character, it will look like an abundant blessing to others.  Are we really a blessing to others or do we expect others to bless us? 

just as he chose us in Christ[b] before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

I’m sure the issue of election and predestination will come up here.  Here’s some quick thoughts.  God created everything to be a reflection of God, especially humanity.  Obviously, what God desired is only temporarily realized until sin enters the world.  God’s will is, at the very least, resisted.  So, just because God wills something does not then mean that Creation cannot choose differently.  There is potentially an element of free will at work in God’s election.

          God’s deep desire for all Creation is to be “holy and blameless in love.”  It is a gift which God gives all the opportunity to receive “to become children of God.”  God desires to adopt us as God’s children.  But, because God is Love, and love always has an element of freedom, God does not force the Creation or us to receive this gift.  We can, and have, rejected this invitation.  Now, that was the plan from the beginning, but this verse also hints at something new.  It has been offered (again?) through the Beloved, which is Christ Jesus.  God has made his appeal through Jesus to us to become children of God.  This is a Love that pursues us doggedly, as C. S. Lewis calls God: “The Hound of Heaven.” 

 

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.

It is through the “Beloved” that God is doing this holy work of reconciliation.  To “redeem” is to literally “ransom.”  We have to be careful with this metaphor, because if we push the metaphor too far we will do damage.  But, essentially, this idea of redeeming underlines the impossible situation that we needed to be delivered from.  Sin was a prison from which we had no key.  Christ unlocked our prison to set us free.

          This redemption is made possible “through his blood.”  That’s another way of saying “through Jesus’ very life.”  Forgiveness of our trespasses is possible through the “riches of his grace.”  Mercy is God’s gift.  Jesus exhales his “spirit” or “breath” on the cross, exhaling his very life back into the Creation.  His blood seeps into the soil of Creation.  His body is buried in the ground like a seed.  The entirety of Jesus’ life and death is the means of our life and reconciliation.

With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Jesus is the Word (Logos of John 1) through whom the world is created.  Logos (Word) is the Greek word from which we derive “logic.”  Jesus is the key to understanding the purpose (telos = goal, also telos = perfection, we are talking holiness here) of God’s good Creation.  What was a mystery is unfolded, unveiled in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  The plan “for the fullness of time” (Kairos = God’s timing, not Chronos = chronological timing).  This plan is to “gather up all things in him (Jesus), things in heaven and things on earth.” 

          This is a powerful reminder that God is not simply destroying the Creation at the end of time.  That which is in Christ Jesus is a “new creation.”  In other words, it is through Jesus that all of Creation is redeemed, restored, and renewed!  Not only that.  Jesus also gathers up things in heaven as well.  In other words, as Revelation will announce toward the end of the vision. 

Revelation 21:1-3 reads:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them”

          In this way, God will be all in all.  In a miraculous way, Love and Life win.  There will be no place in all the Creation in which God will not say, “This is mine.  It is good.”  Jesus is the first seed of the New Creation.  Furthermore, Jesus is also the first fruits of the New Creation.  In other words, Jesus is the means by which New Creation is created and Jesus is the substance of that New Creation.

 

11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.

As mentioned, Christ is the seed of New Creation.  As we participate in his life, so we also participate in the New Creation.  We are made part of the New Creation.  We are made new creations.  None of this is accomplished through our own power but through the power of Jesus.  It is through Jesus that we receive this inheritance, which was God’s purpose all along.

          The purpose of this does not stop with our receiving the blessing.  But, as it was with Abraham’s blessing, we are blessed to be a blessing.  This inheritance is given to us as we “set our hope on Christ” with outcome resulting in “living for the praise of his glory.”  Holiness does not draw attention to us; it draws others’ focus and gaze toward God.  And what is the glory of God?  According to St. Irenaeus: “The glory of God is [humanity] fully alive.”  So, in many ways, holiness is reciprocal.  We glorify God by reflecting God character and nature of holy love.  As we reflect God’s character we are fully alive and fully human, which means we are glorifying God.

13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

This seed of New Creation is planted in us through the life of the Spirit in us.  In other words, God resides in us (the Creation), thus connecting God’s Life with our life.  The Spirit in Genesis 1 is the primary agent of God’s creating work.  The Spirit (Hebrew = ruach, pronounced ru-awk) is also the Breath of God by which life is imbued in the Creation.  This same Spirit is given as a “deposit” or “pledge” of that inheritance in the New Creation. 

The Spirit continues to work in us the power of the Resurrection and the Life of New Creation.  But, this redemption is not simply personal salvation and redemption.  It is redemption of God’s holy people together – again, “to the praise of his glory.”  Redemption is both personal and social holiness.  As John Wesley would say, “You cannot have personal holiness without social holiness.”

15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.

The only way Paul would have heard of their “faith” is if it was being lived out in tangible ways – faith in action – demonstrated as “love toward all the saints.”  It likely reaches out to those outside the Church as well.  People may know where we are located on a map, but do they know us because of our “faith in action?”

17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

Now, holiness is essentially rooted in relationship to God.  Paul prays that the community will be given wisdom and revelation.  Wisdom is understanding how to live well in any given situation.  Revelation is God’s Self-revelation to the world.  God makes God’s Self known to us.  Paul prays that we will both see God and God at work in the world and that we might faithfully respond and live wisely.  This is an ongoing process “as you come to know him.”  In other words, there is never a point in time where we cease to learn, grow, and deepen our relationship with God.  If we think we have God figured out, that is a time to be cautious and prayerful.  God tends to break out of those boxes we construct.  Rather, this is a continuous seeking after God and developing that relationship with God.  “Draw near to God and God will draw near to you.”

          This is the means by which “the eyes of our hearts will be enlightened.”  John 1 comes to mind.  Jesus is the Wisdom (Logos) of God and the Light of God in the world.  To see the world and ourselves and God correctly with our hearts requires that we are connected with Jesus.  Jesus gives Light and Wisdom by which everything in our lives and world is ordered and given context.  This Wisdom and Light is the foundation of our hope to which we have been called.  It is not “hope” as in wishful thinking.  Rather, it is the “hope” that inspires (inspires – as the Spirit breathes into us) us to move forward as parts of God’s New Creation.  It is also the “glorious riches of our inheritance among the saints.”  In this merciful movement toward Creation’s redemption we begin to see and understand “the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.”  God’s power does not violate God’s holy love.  It is the fulfillment of God’s holy love.

20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.

The power of God is demonstrated in the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus.  Death’s dominion is undermined.  Death is put to death.  All “rule and authority and power and dominion” that act as agents of Death are put in final notice that their reign is abolished.  Resurrection and Ascension is the enthronement of God as King over all.  The enthronement of Jesus over heaven and earth is the fulfillment of the Lord’s Prayer: “May Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”  We tend to think of heaven as a place apart from earth.  But, where Jesus is, there heaven and earth are wed.  Heaven is the place where God’s reign is enacted in totality.  With Jesus being seated at the right hand of God (the place of power/authority), God’s reign is established in full, both in heaven and on earth.

          Dr. Tim Crutcher states it this way: “Easter Sunday is not just about the resurrection of Christ as the anchor of our hope for new life. It is God’s decisive declaration that God will deal with all death-bringing realities in only life-bringing ways. God does not fight death with more death, hate with more hate, dark with more darkness. Death does its worst, and God brings life. Hate has full rein, and God offers love in return. Darkness rules and God says, “Let there be light.” As resurrection people, let us be daily living reminders of this reality.”

22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Resurrection power is also something that is given to the Church, through Jesus.  As Eugene Peterson tells us, we are called to “practice resurrection.”  In other words, even the world around us still lives as if Death reigns, we are called to live as those who have received God’s resurrection power.  Which is to say, that we are called to live and act differently than a world bent on Death.  We are to live as ambassadors of God’s mercy, bringing life to others, to the Creation.  We are called to spread the seeds of New Creation in the soil of our world. 

The Church is the “fullness of him who fills all in all.”  That is an incredibly awesome responsibility and gift.  It is also incredible power to live out, to practice resurrection.  God equips and empowers us to live as new creatures now, not just in the future.  As Jesus said, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.  Resurrection is not about preserving our lives but in giving our lives away, even as Jesus demonstrated on the Cross.  Death is a defeated foe.  Life is swallowing up Death.  What are some practical ways we can practice resurrection in our community?

It was the first day of the week.  Darkness swallowed up the landscape, the stars and the moon.  The air was crisp with the morning chill.  Dew clung to the grass.  She stumbled along the familiar worn path in the dark.  She knew the way, though any stranger would have found it difficult, if not impossible, to follow in this inky black night.  The shadows of the night hid her drawn face, the baggy eyes red from grief.  She had cried until her tears had dried up like a river in the desert.  Her heart felt like that desert, blistered from the scorching sun.

Her stomach growled, but she didn’t seem to notice.  She had hardly put food or drink to her mouth.  Her tongue was parched, but she paid no heed to her body.  Her body…  His body…  Jesus’ body.  The Romans were masters at destroying the body.  They had beat Jesus relentlessly, screaming at him to testify to which one had struck him.  They placed a purple robe upon his shoulders mocking his claim to kingship.  They wove a wreath of thorns, forcefully shoving it down on his brow.  His hair matted with blood and sweat.  The thorns dug deep into the skin, rivulets of blood running down his face like red streams.

His body…  Jesus’ body…  The soldiers had stripped him of his clothes, pummeling him with rods and a whip.  The whip was especially cruel, digging into the flesh, ripping skin and muscle.  His back crisscrossed with the lashes, his breathing gasped and shuddered.  His hands shook, his body convulsed… and still they spit upon him and mocked him as their physical torture continued.

The lump returned to the woman’s throat.  It had refused to leave her as the grotesque visions would flash before her again and again and again.  She had followed him as he carried the beams of wood that would serve as his death sentence.  She saw Jesus’ eyes as the soldiers laid him upon the cross and began to pound the nails into his wrist.  Pain shot through them.  Then, something like pity replaced the pain.  Three nails driven into hands and feet.  The cross was raised into place with a sudden jolt as it slipped into its hole.

She tried to wash the barrage of images assaulting her mind, returning to her surroundings again as she trekked toward the place where his body had been laid.  Jesus’ body…  She recalled his hands and his smiling eyes.  He had come to her when she was in the darkest place of her life, possessed by seven demons.  Jesus had touched her, healed her, set her free!  The darkness had lifted.  He had shown her love and friendship that nobody had shown her before.  He had welcomed her as one of his own.  She had been so overwhelmed by his kindness that she wept and bowed at his feet.  The tears fell on his feet and she gently wiped them with her hair.  The expensive perfume that was her life savings and future, she poured out upon his feet.  Those eating with Jesus were indignant and shouted at her.  But, Jesus had said that it was a beautiful thing…

Her breath caught.  It had been a beautiful thing to experience such freedom, joy, and love.  But, that had all been taken away as Jesus breathed his last on Friday.  She had prayed that he would save himself; that angels would sweep down to save him.  But, she had witnessed him exhale and slump over.  She had watched the soldiers remove his body from the wood beams.  She watched Joseph and Nicodemus take the body for burial and prepare it.  Even after two sleepless nights, two nightmarish days where her whole world had fallen apart… she couldn’t help but wanting to be where Jesus was.  She was going to the place where they had buried the body…  Jesus’ body…

She rounded the corner, entering the garden where the tomb was located.  Coming upon where the stone should have covered the tomb, she realized that the giant boulder had been pushed back – no small task.  Perhaps it had been robbers.  Or, maybe the Jewish leaders or the Roman soldiers had returned to desecrate the body further.  Jesus’ body.  She turned and ran, fearful of what this might mean.

She ran to where John and Peter were and told them of her discovery.  They leapt out the door, running for the tomb.  She arrived just as the two disciples were walking back out of the tomb’s entrance.  They didn’t say anything.  Their faces looked bewildered.  She stood at the door’s entrance weeping.  Peter and John slowly walked back home.  She just stood there bitterly weeping that the body her Lord was gone.  Jesus’ body…

Moments passed.  The sky was beginning to pale with the promise of dawn’s rising sun.  Everything looked gray and bleak.  She stooped to look into the tomb one more time to see where the body had laid…  Jesus’ body…

There, where the body should have been, two men dressed in white were sitting.  One perched where the head had been.  The other reclined where the feet had been.  They questioned her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”  Wasn’t it obvious!?  This was a tomb, not a living room!  She groaned, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

Grief washed over her again; she turned to walk away.  There was no hope of finding him here.  There was another man standing in front of her.  She was startled to find the gardener here at this time.  This man asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”  Why did everyone keep asking these ridiculous questions!?  Come on, Sherlock, check the clue!  Supposing this man to be the gardener, she begged, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

There was something vaguely familiar about this man.  The dawn’s light was now glowing bright over the edge of the horizon.  What had appeared gray and shadowy was now springing to life with the vibrant colors of the morning.  The man considered her for a moment, then spoke again, calling to her, “Mary.”

Her heart dropped.  Her knees nearly buckled.  She knew that voice.  She recognize that face and those hands!  Mary could see the healed wounds of Friday in his wrists feet, and face.  She knew the face of Jesus.  He walked, he breathed, he spoke.  His body…  Jesus’ body stood before her!

Waves of joy swept over her.  “My dear teacher!” she cried.  She clutched him, hugging him with everything that she had.  She wouldn’t let go… never again.  She clung to him even as the dew still clung to the grass.  Tears streamed freely down her face.  His hug released, but she couldn’t let go.  He spoke gently to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

John’s Gospel begins Jesus’ story before the beginning of the world:

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… He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.

Jesus is the Wisdom of God by which the entire world has been created.  To put it another way, Jesus is the logic of Creation.  Creation makes sense in light of Jesus.  He embodies, lives out, what God intends the Creation to be.  Namely, it is to live as a reflection of God’s holy love.  It is to live in right relationship with God.  This was the purpose from the very beginning.

Humanity was created and entrusted with the great responsibility of caring for the Creation.  Humanity was made in the image of God to be good caretakers of the Creation, to help it flourish, to cultivate its life.  But, as we might recall, humanity rejected God and is plunged, with all of Creation, into darkness, plunged into Death.  We hated the Light, so we snuffed it out.

Our rejection of God was not a one-time act.  It is the ongoing story of the world filled with darkness and death.  We are surrounded by it.  It is the air we breathe.  We swim in it.  We swallow it.  We speak it.  We live it.  It’s in our very bones, in our very bodies.  Good Friday and the crucifixion of God in Jesus, depicts the depth of our hatred of the Light and our rejection of God.  We love the darkness and we killed the Light.

In the shadows of the dark night of the soul… in the dark night of Creation, we stand, like Mary, before the grave in the dead of night.  We stand in the darkness hating that darkness, but sitting in despair as we find no escape from its pull, swallowed up by hopelessness, wondering if there can be anything truly different than sin and death.  The futility of the grave overwhelms us.  We stare into the tomb, recognizing just how broken, sinful, and dead we really are.

Think of the brokenness in your own life and you will see the tomb.  The lies.  The deceit.  The hatred.  The bitterness.  The fornication.  The lust.  The fear.  The anger.  The violence.  The heated words.  The physical altercations.  The disobedience.  The pride.  The gossip.  The substance abuse.  The addictions.  The greed.  The despair.  We are surrounded and enveloped by the darkness of our hearts… and we love it!

We put a good face on it.  We rationalize why we are the way we are.  We try to convince ourselves it’s not that bad, we don’t need help, we’ve got everything under control.  Sometimes we argue the other way.  We can’t help it.  We have no choice.  Even worse, we will justify our actions because of other people’s sinful actions – “If we don’t defend our rights, then who will?”  Try as we might to avoid the confrontation with death and the grave, there it stands – open, empty, and waiting for us.  The tomb reminds us: “The wages of sin is death.”  There we stand… at the mouth of the grave… this is the place where our bodies of death will lead us.

John 1 hints at the turn of events: “But.”  There’s the Gospel in one word!  This word alerts us to something new, something different happening in our midst.  “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”  By taking humanity into himself, Christ has reconciled God and humanity to each other.

God was not content to leave the Creation to its downward spiral into the Grave.  God did not wash his hands of us or the Creation.  No!  Much more than that!  God entered the very Creation.  Once again, the Gardener is cultivating the life of Creation for life.  And, it happens because God enters into the Creation, taking the Creation into himself.  John 1 tells us that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  God got into the Creation and the Creation was taken up into God.

When Christ was crucified on Golgotha, he exclaimed, “It is finished!”  After this, he breathed his last, he gave up his spirit.  Jesus exhaled the entirety of himself, the entirety of his life, into the Creation so that by his death we might have life.  Even as the Spirit, the breath of God, breathed life into the Creation at the beginning, now, the Gardener was again breathing his life back into the Creation – back into us!  Having given up his very life, like a seed, Christ was buried in the ground and Resurrection was the harvest.

Resurrection, then, is the power of God’s New Creation.  Jesus being raised from the dead to die no more is the first-fruits of this New Creation.  You notice that it says Mary went to the tomb on the first day of the week… that’s the first day of Creation.  Now, it’s the first day of the New Creation.  Resurrection is the seed of Christ blooming into life, conquering death, and placing everything under his dominion!

Jesus becomes the first harvest, the first fruit of new life.  Death no longer holds dominion.  The Grave no longer has its power, nor its sting.  Death swallowed up Life only to discover that Life had swallowed up Death!  The tyranny of sin, darkness, and death was nailed to the Cross, but it is in the Resurrection that all things are made new.

St. Irenaeus writes:

…The Word has saved what was created – namely, humanity which had perished.  He accomplished this by taking it unto himself and seeking its salvation.  The thing which had perished had flesh and blood.  The Lord, taking dust from the earth, formed humanity; and it was for humanity that all the dispensation of the Lord’s advent took place.  He himself therefore had flesh and blood, so that he could recapitulate in himself, not something else, but the original handiwork of the Father, seeking out what had perished.  And because of this the apostle, in the Letter to the Colossians, says, ‘And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him’… He says, ‘You have been reconciled in his fleshly body,’ because his righteous flesh has reconciled that flesh which was kept in bondage to sin and brought it into friendship with God” (Irenaeus on the Christian Faith, 166).

God through Christ Jesus became what we are so that through Christ Jesus we might become everything that God is by nature.

When the risen Jesus stands before Mary, he sees a woman still standing in the dark, still looking into the void of the tomb.  He sees a woman consumed with the fear of Death and the Grave.  But, he calls to her, “Mary.”  It is in that moment that Mary recognizes Jesus.  Jesus’ light dawns upon her, dispelling her darkness.  Her encounter with the risen Jesus opens up for her the possibility of receiving the New Creation life which is found in the body of Jesus.

The risen Christ stands in our midst this Easter morning.  The Grave of Friday still looms large in our minds… we are standing in the shadow of night.  The dawn of God’s new day and New Creation calls our name.  He calls us out of our darkness and into his marvelous light.  Jesus calls for us to put to death the old man or woman who clings to the darkness, whose deeds reflect the darkness.  Jesus stands calling our name, each one, offering us Resurrection Life – calling us away from the tomb.

We have sometimes been quite confused as to what we mean when we talk about salvation and resurrection.  Some have understood it to be a ticket to heaven, a get-out-of-jail-free card, an escape from this world.  We have tended to talk about salvation and resurrection as a day when “I’ll Fly Away” and be whisked off to some clouded heaven and away from this Creation.  But, God is buried in the dirt of Creation.  His life-blood seeps into the soil.  Even all the Creation will be healed by his wounds, revived by his dying breath, his exhaling the Spirit.

Irenaeus again is helpful in understanding the gravity of what we have been given in the resurrection.  He writes:

“The maker of all things, the Word of God, the one who formed humankind from the beginning, when he found his handiwork impaired by wickedness, worked all kinds of healing in it.  Sometimes he has done so for individuals, who are his handiwork; at other times, he has done so for all, to restore humanity sound and complete in all points, working to make humankind whole for himself, in preparation for the resurrection” (Irenaeus on the Christian Faith, 165).

In other words, Jesus lived, embodied, and enacted in his own body and life, the original purpose of humanity – to glorify God; to live as light; and to serve God, one another, and the Creation in love.  Sin and Death came through the first Adam.  Grace and Truth came through the Second Adam, which is Jesus.  In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God holds up a mirror for us so that we can see who we really are in our sin and death and to show us who we can really be by God’s grace.

Resurrection is the power of God at work in the Creation to restore it back to its original purposes.  It is the power of God that has shattered the darkness, conquered sin, and vanquished Death.  Resurrection is the restoration of all Creation from Death to Life.  Jesus is the merger of heaven and earth and the first-fruits of the new heaven and new earth.

Mary has experienced this as she stands hugging Jesus, seeing his restored body and touching the New Creation.  But, Jesus tells her to not cling to him because he must return to the Father.  Jesus’ absence feels like God’s absence in the Creation, even now.  But, in going to the Father, Jesus is returning to the Father to reign in glory over all Creation.  Heaven is the place from which God reigns.  Heaven is not the absence of God, but the throne room of God.  Jesus has already begun the Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven.

Of course, it quite often feels like God is doing anything but reigning.  In looking at the brokenness still in our world, it seems like God is absent or non-existent.  But, the early Church understood that the darkness, sin, and death remaining in the world were simply the death throes of an already defeated foe.  It was the last finger-hold that Satan held in the Creation.  Soon, very soon, all would be put to right… Soon, very soon, God’s resurrection power would finish and fulfill what was started in Jesus and we would be found in resurrected, glorified bodies living in a resurrected and glorified heavens and earth.  In other words, God would restore and perfect that which He created!

In the meantime and in the waiting for this full and final consummation of the New Creation, Jesus calls Mary to go tell the disciples the Good News.  She is to be the bearer of the Gospel that God’s New Creation has been established in Jesus, who is the first-fruits of Resurrection.  Mary is to proclaim what she has experienced in the risen Christ, who has freed her from her own darkness and breathed new life into her.

And, so it is now with Jesus’ disciples.  We have been tasked with proclaiming the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection, “… the revelation of the triumph of God’s life giving purposes” (Warren Carter, John: Storyteller, Interpreter, Evangelist, 206).  We are to proclaim the New Creation which God has established through Jesus and that we participate in through the Spirit as members of the Body of Christ – the Church!  We are to practice resurrection by fulfilling in our bodies the very purposes for which God has created us: to glorify God; to live as light; and to serve God, one another, and the Creation in love.

As Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:14-21:

For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Live out the New Creation now – practice resurrection!