Tag Archives: Resurrection

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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Transfiguration happens all the time (Year B, 15 February, 2015)

Readings
2 Corinthians 4.3–6
Mark 9.2–9

Today, we heard that odd story we call The Transfiguration.

Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them…

It may appear to be a strange story, but you know little transfigurations, ‘mini transfigurations’, happen all the time.

By that, I mean that something quite ordinary can easily become truly significant to us in a life-changing way. It becomes a moment of transfiguration for us. We don’t control it, it just seems to happen, but we know that it is so. We may know it at the time, or we may realise it later as we reflect back on what has happened. But there it is—a moment of transfiguration.

We often associate these mini moments of transfiguration with love.

I remember first seeing Karen. At the time, I was just looking at a pretty girl. (I doubt she remembers the occasion at all.) In retrospect, as I look back, that moment has been transfigured for me into something full of meaning.

Two other people may lock eyes across a crowded room, and they just know there and then. This is the one. Their hearts skip several beats, and the moment transfigures their lives. They know it straight away.

A mother or father holds their child for the first time. Their heart melts with love, and the meaning of this event is one that changes their lives forever.

It’s a little moment of transfiguration. The new mum and dad see more truly what their lives truly mean.

A young person finally realises that they have vocation in life, which may be to teach, to nurse, to be a gardener. They feel elated. They want to share it with others. That’s a moment of personal transfiguration too.

These little, personal moments of transfiguration happen when something ordinary reveals itself as something meaningful.

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Christ did not ‘come back from the dead’

Readings
Acts 10.34–43
Matthew 28.1–10

 

This time last year, some of us had just concluded a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. On our last day in Jerusalem, we were at the Garden Tomb, one of the possible sites of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. On the door of the tomb itself, there is this sign:

He is not here

 

‘He is not here; for he is risen.’

The Christian faith is squarely built on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Soon after his horrible execution on the cross, when his disciples were at their lowest, he appeared among them, and they were transformed.

‘He is not here; for he is risen.’

These of course are the words Matthew includes in his story of the resurrection, words spoken by the angel to Mary Magdalene. In the NRSV of our pew bibles it is

He is not here; for he has been raised …

He is not here. Not here where?

In Matthew’s Gospel, the two Marys go to see the tomb. They are expecting to see a closed tomb which contains the corpse of Jesus. That’s where a dead person belongs. Safely tucked away.

The two Marys are expecting to see that the dead is among the dead.

That’s the way it is, isn’t it? I visited my dad’s grave the day after his funeral. I didn’t expect to see that he had risen. And he hadn’t.

But Jesus is risen. And that turns everything upside down.

Now Jesus is risen, death is defeated. The risen Lord Jesus Christ brings life and healing to all people. In him is eternal life.

This life is for all. Jesus died as one of the rejected and excluded of the world so that the rejected ones might be included in the new humanity that he has brought to birth. That’s what Peter found out when he saw that vision of the unclean animals. No one is left out, everyone is included in the offer of eternal life.

We’re curious about death and what’s beyond the grave. So it’s not surprising that recently there have been a couple of dramas on TV which have been about people returning from the dead. We might confuse the Resurrection of Jesus with these other stories of people coming back from the dead. And that just won’t do, because stories of people returning from the grave can be quite disturbing.

Let me tell you about these TV shows.

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“Children of the Resurrection” (32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C)

Readings
Haggai 1.15b — 2.9
Luke 20.27–38

 

In his argument with the Sadducees in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says:

Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die any more, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.

What does it mean to be a ‘child of the resurrection’? Let me mention two things:

  • It means to be a person who even in grief or disappointment lives in hope of the living God.
  • It means to be someone whose way of life reflects the new life of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord.

A child of the resurrection is someone whose way of living is marked by the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. A child of the resurrection is not determined by the past, by its hurts and slights or even by its abuses. A child of the resurrection lives out of the future, God’s future, God’s new world.

A friend of mine, a child of the resurrection, recently wrote:

…we have the power to change the voices and rewrite the patterns and not make ourselves wrong or soiled or not good enough.…we have to have the courage and believe we are worthy.

A child of the resurrection receives the strength to have this courage and belief through the presence of the living Jesus within.

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Why do we call this Friday ‘good’?

The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

Those lines are from Four Quartets, by T.S. Eliot. Why do we call it ‘Good’ Friday? What do you say when a child asks you if Jesus died today, why don’t we call it ‘Bad Friday’?

We have quite a mixed attitude to the Cross of Jesus Christ.

We hear words based on Psalm 22, and are reminded that Jesus felt abandoned by his Father God on the cross, saying:

My God, my God,
why have you forsaken me?

The physical torture of the cross was surely more than enough for Jesus to endure, but he also experienced the absence of God for the first time in his entire life. For him in those moments there was no vindication. No rescue. Just the sheer agony of godforsakenness.

But we also sing,

When I survey the wondrous cross…

How can an instrument of sheer torture be ‘wondrous’? Are we mad?

The Cross is an absolute scandal. Yet we see in it the deep, deep love of God:

See from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down;
did e’er such love and sorrow meet…

And we see also a great victory here:

or thorns compose so rich a crown?

This is something like no other thing on earth. This is something that we have no comparison for. It stands alone.

Why do we call this Friday ‘good’? Why do we remember this man who died on a cross above all others who died on crosses, and above every other victim of injustice, terror and political envy?

Quite simply, we remember this man because God our Father raised him from the dead.

His friends and followers were totally demoralised when Jesus was betrayed and arrested. Peter denied him, the others scattered. A few women looked on from afar. It was all over.

Their world was shattered. Their hopes were gone. There could be a knock on their door at any time. They might be dragged away too. Nails could also be driven into their hands and their feet.

God hadn’t just abandoned Jesus. God had abandoned them too.

Before long, though, these same people were saying, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ And they were filled with a new energy and power that they recognised as God’s Holy Spirit.

How on earth…?

The resurrection.

They had to grapple with what the cross meant. It could no longer only be an instrument of shame—we see sorrow there, yes, but also love.

As they looked back, they saw that God had brought something supremely good out of an absolute horror. Jesus lives—Jesus forgives those who had left him in the lurch, and even his killers—and Jesus is alive in them.

They began to see that death does not have the last word. The life of Jesus overwhelms death. Death is the second-last thing to happen; the last thing is resurrection to new life in God with Jesus Christ.

They saw that Jesus died for them, and they were transformed.

That same transformation is there for us today. We too can know the life of Jesus within. We can know too that the deepest, darkest losses and disappointments of life are never the last thing. The last thing is resurrection to new life in God with Jesus Christ.

And it starts now.

Easter Sunday isn’t a postscript to an ugly death. It isn’t a happy ever after ending. It’s a new beginning, a second chance at a new life. Don’t hang back from the Crucified One—he is risen!

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Third Sunday of Easter (Easter 3)

Called and re-called

Let us pray:
Living God,
Christ is indeed worthy of all praise;
he died, and is risen from the dead.
Feed us with your grace,
that in times of success or failure
we may find life
in following you
for the sake of Jesus the Lord. Amen.

Reading
John 21.1-19

Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed!

The sun came up one day and shone on Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, the fishermen. It was an ordinary day. They set out in their boats and had fished all night. They caught nothing and came back to shore disappointed.

A teacher came and sat in Simon’s boat, and taught the people. Then he said to Simon,

Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.

Despite his better judgement, that’s just what Simon Peter did with his brother Andrew. There were so many fish that their nets threatened to break, so they called James and John, their partners, to come and help. And they brought the fish to shore.

The name of the teacher was Jesus; Simon wanted him to leave, because in the presence of Jesus he was made more aware of his shortcomings. But Jesus told Simon,

Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.

Their lives were never the same again.

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Second Sunday of Easter (Easter 2)

Show your resurrection

Let us pray:
You come into our midst, Lord Jesus;
you hold out your scarred hands
and surprise us with hope.
Help us to receive your word and your Spirit,
that in our woundedness
we may know you as our Life,
now and for ever. Amen.

Reading
John 20.19-31

Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed!

It’s the Sunday after Easter, and we’re getting reacquainted with the Apostle Thomas. ‘Doubting’ Thomas to his friends. Jesus has appeared to the frightened huddle of disciples on the evening of the first Easter Day, but Tom wasn’t there.

We don’t know why he wasn’t there. We only get a few tantalising glimpses of Thomas, but he seems to me like an all-or-nothing kind of bloke. When Jesus says he’s going to Jerusalem, Tom says Let’s go with him and die. Now, Jesus is dead and everything has gone. I wouldn’t be surprised if he were down the Jerusalem Arms or the King David pub drowning his sorrows and crying into his thirteenth beer.

Of course, Thomas didn’t believe what the others told him. How could it be true? Thomas would have known his Bible, and he would know that Deuteronomy 21.23 says

anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse.

And a ‘tree’ included a cross. Jesus was under a curse from God. The dream turned out to be a nightmare. It was all over.
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