Category Archives: Easter

The risen crucified One among us

Or, What on earth is the Resurrection?

 

…where two or three are gathered in my name,
I am there among them.                             Matthew 18.20

Then I saw…a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered….
Revelation 5.6

The Church preaches Christ the risen crucified One and confesses him as Lord to the glory of God the Father.
from the Basis of Union, Para.3

 

Today, I want to ask a question I can’t answer, not this Sunday and not even in a month of Sundays. But even so, it’s still a very good question to ask.

The question is this: What is the Resurrection?

It’s a deceptively simple question. Only one word has more than one syllable. But ‘Resurrection’ is a big word.

How can we think about the Resurrection of Jesus?

Is the Resurrection a happy ending to a sad story? It could easily look that way; and the story has been told that way. Everyone was sad on Friday and Saturday, but by Sunday they were happy once more because Jesus was alive again. But the Resurrection is no happy ending. Most of those first witnesses lost their lives because of the Resurrection.

Well, maybe the Resurrection a proof of life after death? Again, the story has been told that way. But that’s not how the Gospels tell it. The risen Jesus doesn’t talk about heaven. He instructs his people to make disciples of all nations, baptise and teach them. He forgives Peter, telling him to feed his sheep. He gives his peace to disciples who had let him down big time. He makes them breakfast. He helps them to be unafraid of death. He points them towards a transformed life here and now on earth.

Well, the empty tomb may be the clue we need. Does the empty tomb prove the Resurrection? No, it does not. I realised this with a big thump the day after my father’s funeral. I had returned to his grave to make a quiet space to pray. It struck me then that had my dad’s grave been empty, I would not have immediately concluded that he had risen from the dead. I would have made the ghastly assumption that someone had stolen his body, and called for the police.

The Easter stories in the Gospels are exactly the same. When the women see the empty tomb, they do not immediately assume that Jesus has been raised from death. They have to be told the news. Told by an Angel of the Lord (Matthew), a young man in white (Mark), two men in dazzling clothes (Luke) or a ‘gardener’ who was Jesus himself (John).

The women didn’t believe that Jesus was risen because the tomb was empty. They believed because they had a life-changing encounter with the Christ who had been crucified and who is now risen.

And there were other encounters.

Remember the two who were joined by a stranger on their miserable way to Emmaus? He made their hearts burn as he opened the scriptures on the way, showing how the Messiah should suffer; and then, at the table they knew him in the breaking of the bread. Today, we may encounter the Lord in the same way, in these means of grace he has given us, the scriptures and the eucharist.

Remember Thomas? Thomas wasn’t convinced that Jesus had been raised from the grave—but he was fully convinced when he saw the wounds that had been inflicted upon Jesus. I too have met people who have responded to the wounds that life has brought by allowing themselves to be transformed into being more Christlike. I have seen the risen crucified Lord in them.

Remember the disciples by the lake? Jesus made them breakfast. There are people who the Lord shines through because they know how to gladly serve others.

The Uniting Church’s Basis of Union calls the Lord ‘the risen crucified One’ (Para.3). When we speak of the risen Lord, we must always remember what the empty tomb does tell us: that it is the crucified One who is risen. The risen Lord hasn’t set the cross aside. He hasn’t put it in a cupboard somewhere. The body of Jesus is not something separate from his living presence. Jesus is the risen crucified One.

Jesus once said ‘where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them’. He is here as the risen crucified One.

You may wonder why I’m labouring the point so much.

Jesus is the risen crucified One. Everything that brought Jesus to the Cross is risen with him. Everything that caused him to be crucified is raised with him:

  • his preaching of God’s coming kingdom
  • his healing of the sick and the oppressed, which pointed to the kingdom
  • his parables, that shattered human expectations of God and caused those who could hear to open their hearts to God
  • his compassion for the poor and those on the margins of society
  • his forgiving of sins
  • his opposition to religious hypocrisy
  • his intimate knowledge of God his Father—and now, through him, our Father

All of this is raised in Jesus. It’s not just a happy ending, or the resuscitation of a corpse. It is eternal life itself embodied in the risen crucified Lord Jesus Christ.

That is who is in our midst today, and wherever two or three gather in his name.

And Jesus brings his friends along. Remember the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25? The nations are arrayed before the King. They are judged on one thing: did they act with compassion towards the poor? Did they

  • feed the hungry
  • give water to the thirsty
  • welcome the stranger
  • clothe the the naked
  • take care of the sick
  • visit the prisoner

Because, Jesus says, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

When Jesus the risen crucified One is in the midst of the two or three who gather in his name, he brings his family along. He brings the poor, the sick, the detained and the starving. He bears their wounds in his risen crucified body and calls his church to share the work.

And he also bears our wounds. We are not yet what we shall be. We still die. In 1 Corinthians (15.25–26), the Apostle Paul says Christ

must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

We still look for the fullness, the completion of Christ’s work. In the meantime, by faith we share in the overcoming of death as we look to God for eternal life.

Some Christians are embarrassed by their wounds, or even put to shame. They think that God will bless them so much that nothing bad should happen to them. That is not right. We know Jesus as the risen crucified One. He bears our wounds in his.

We belong to the risen crucified Lord, and he will complete the work he has begun in us. But right now, we walk with him by faith; we look to him for help and for strength, and as the Funeral Service says, we live

in sure and certain hope
of the resurrection to eternal life
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who died, was buried, and rose again for us.
To God be glory forever.

Amen.

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Still growing, still changing, still becoming (Easter 3B, 19 April 2015)

Readings
Acts 3.12–19
Luke 24.36b–48

In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them. 1 Corinthians 5.19a

The way the religious authorities in Jerusalem saw things, it must have been an unfolding disaster, an accident happening in slow motion. They must have been tearing their hair out. And if the Romans got to hear, all hell could break loose…

They thought they’d succeeded in getting rid of that troublemaker Jesus of Nazareth for good. He’d been crucified by the Romans, but now his followers were blabbering that he had be raised from the dead! It didn’t help that no one knew where the body was. Heaven knows how they stole it.

(They must have stolen it! How else could the tomb be empty?)

The problem was, the people were believing their ridiculous story about Jesus being alive.

So they did what authoritarian people have always done: they squashed dissent wherever they saw it.

That was the way the authorities saw it.

The disciples saw it very differently.

Jesus had appeared to them. Not in a dream. He had appeared as a human but as a human beyond death. He wasn’t a ghost. Or a zombie, or a ghoul or a vampire. He had died, but he had beaten death. God had raised him.

The disciples had to make sense of how someone condemned by the law of God and condemned to the horrors of crucifixion could now be—as Peter proclaims in today’s reading from the Book of Acts—‘the Author of life’.  Continue reading

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The mind of Christ (Easter 2B, 12 April 2015)

Readings
Acts 4.32–35
Psalm 133
John 20.19–31

How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!            Psalm 133.1

This is a true story.

A young boy aged four I suppose, went to preschool for the first time. When he came out in the afternoon to greet his father, he had a huge smile and his eyes were shining. He was bursting excitedly with his news: ‘I made two enemies today!’

I’m not sure he knew what an enemy was, and since then this particular lad has gone on to make good friends and to be a good friend.

But isn’t that just like life? Aren’t we being told all the time who our enemies are? Our enemies are Muslims and asylum seekers, they are environmental greenies and gays who want to be married.

It’s important to know who your enemies are.

Isn’t it?

Sadly, sometimes it is necessary for us to know who our enemy is. There are circumstances where we must pay attention to this. But it’s not a way of life. It cannot be a way of life for the Christian who follows the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul says

For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

And in 1 John 4.18 we read:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…

Our way of life is love, not fear. Continue reading

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Repairing the ‘hole in the fabric of things’  (Easter Sunday, Year B, 5 April 2015)

Reading
Mark 16.1–8

Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30.5)

The novelist and psychotherapist Salley Vickers opens her first novel, Miss Garnet’s Angel, with these words:

Death is outside life but it alters it: it leaves a hole in the fabric of things which those who are left behind try to repair.

When someone we love dies, there is a hole left in our life that often fills quite quickly with sadness, tears, fears, regrets and guilt.

It was just the same for those who loved Jesus.

The women returned to the tomb on the Sunday. Jesus had been crucified on Friday, but Saturday was the Sabbath, when no work could be done. They still had the task of anointing the body of Jesus. They had to finish the job. They couldn’t live with themselves if they just left him there. They had to repair the hole left by Jesus’ death.

Perhaps it was because they were still a bit numb, but they hadn’t thought it through. On the way, they wonder how they can roll away the stone so they might carry out their melancholy duty. But when they arrive, the stone has already been rolled away.

They go in—hearts a-thumping, I should imagine—not knowing what they might find.

In the Gospel According to Mark, they are met by a young man. He says:

Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.

Mark leaves the women fearful and mute, running from the tomb. The mysterious young man was offering them a new future, a future no longer preoccupied with fears of death, but they couldn’t accept it right away.

In the Gospel According to Mark, the women had stood at a distance watching while Jesus was crucified. They knew where the tomb was. But the men had cut and run. They had shown themselves as cowards—and the leader, Peter, was worse than most. Peter had a big hole to repair, big enough for him to fall into, and he didn’t know how to repair it.

Since the young man had named him specifically, let’s turn to the Apostle Peter.

Just a few days earlier, on the Thursday evening, Peter had denied knowing Jesus while warming himself beside the fire in the high priest’s courtyard. Three times. He had tried to be there, but in reality he had turned his back on Jesus in his hour of need.

Yet now Jesus is reaching out to Peter in love, in forgiveness. Jesus has no wish to punish, no desire for revenge.

Salley Vickers says that after a death, those who are left behind must try to repair the hole that is left; the risen Lord Jesus is seeking to do that work of repair in Peter’s soul. It’s what we call grace. It’s a gift, for us to receive. It brings to us hope for a new life, for a future that isn’t defined by the sins and mistakes of the past.

Peter had denied Jesus, but that didn’t define his future. The hole can be repaired. When Jesus pours his new life into Peter, Peter is set free for a new future, an open future.

Jesus is risen. Now. Present tense. He offers new life to all so that our future need not be defined by what we’ve done and who we’ve been.

The hole in the fabric of things is being repaired. It has been repaired by Jesus.

It doesn’t matter who we are, where we’re from, what we’ve done or what has been done to us. Jesus offers new life, risen life, life without end. And it starts now.

The women received it, in the end. Peter and the other disciples received it. Can you receive it?

The love, forgiveness, grace, mercy and peace of the risen Lord are a gift for us. Let us receive it today. Let us receive him today.

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