Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Easter - Simple, Strange, Challenging

Preached on Easter morning, March 27, 2016
Scripture readings: Isaiah 25:1-9; Luke 24:1-12
It’s a strangely simple story.
What happened on that first Easter, in the resurrection of Jesus, is very simply told.
Before the resurrection, Jesus’ body was physically broken, disabled, and dead in the grave. After the resurrection, Jesus’ body was physically healthy, strong, and alive, and on the loose.
Holy Saturday Dawn
March 26, 2016
In some ways, we might not want it to be so simple as that. And if everything that could be told were told, maybe it wouldn’t be so simple.
Even as a miracle, it might be possible to tell the story of how some higher laws of physics went to work, at the command of God, and what happened to the chemical and cellular structure of Jesus’ dead body, and what changes took place to result in his risen, living body. Yet I doubt if knowing those answers would really satisfy anyone.
Besides, human nature being what it is, if we had any idea of the details of how it happened you can rest assured that humans would try to perform resurrections themselves. That’s the direction where the most passionate medical researchers would like to go. That’s the direction that medical quackery would like to go, too. It’s the promise of what we baby boomers want most of all, the secret of eternal youth.
God, in his wisdom and compassion, has given us only the simple truth to see what we would do with it. And it is a good question. What are we to do with the resurrection? What are we going to do about it? What is the challenge of the Resurrection?
It’s strange.
As simply as the event of the resurrection is told, sometimes we would like something even simpler, something easier to grasp; because the resurrection, the way the scriptures tell it, is not easy to deal with.
The simple truth, “now he’s dead, now he’s not,” wasn’t easy for the disciples to deal with. It’s not something that happens. Everyone knows that. It wasn’t easy for them to accept or believe, until they met Jesus alive, and well, and more amazing than ever.
Priest Rapids Lake/Columbia River
Desert Aire/Mattawa WA
Easter, March 27, 2016
Luke tells us that they thought the women’s story was nothing but nonsense. In deciding that the resurrection was nonsense, the disciples took the same way that a lot of people take, even today. In that way, they prove that they were as modern as we are. The resurrection isn’t the invention of gullible people.
When they faced the shocking truth that the resurrection was not nonsense, the disciples took the next easiest way of dealing with it. Suddenly Jesus was there with them, and they had to deal with it, so their next theory (at least for a few moments) was that Jesus was a ghost; a spirit. This was what they thought when Jesus met them in their hiding place. (Luke 24:37) If the disciples had stopped there, they would have believed in what you might call a spiritual resurrection.
There are a lot of choices before us, of how we could deal with a “spiritual resurrection.” Any of these options would be simpler, less strange, than dealing with the real thing.
We could say, “The body dies, but the spirit lives on.” That would be simple, but it’s not what the resurrection is about. The resurrection is much, much more than this.
You could say that the discoveries that Jesus brought to the disciples’ lives had died in their hearts, when Jesus died. The things they had learned from Jesus were of timeless value. They must not let those truths die.
That could have been a kind of spiritual resurrection. For instance: Jesus had taught them to open their minds about spiritual things: about God himself, and God’s purpose for human life. Jesus taught them to look deeper and look higher than they had ever done. They must not let this die. But the resurrection of Jesus is about much more than this.
Jesus taught them to welcome sinners and outcasts, and share the kingdom of God with them all. All people can be transformed by the love of God. Love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you. They must not let this die. But the resurrection of Jesus is about much more than this.
Jesus stood up to the powers that be, in all their pride and hypocrisy and injustice. Jesus spoke the truth about them. They must not let this die. But the resurrection of Jesus is about much more than this.
The disciples were suddenly face to face with Jesus. Jesus was now able to appear in rooms where the doors were locked and he was able disappear before their very eyes. These were tricks he had never done before he died. And so it was that, at first, they thought they saw the ghost, the spirit, of Jesus. And some people stop right there, even though the scriptures don’t stop there.
Some people say that Jesus came back to prove that there is life after death, and that death isn’t the end. They must not let this knowledge die. But the resurrection of Jesus is about much more than this.
And, besides, if Jesus came back from the dead to prove that there really was life after death, then he came back for no good purpose, because most people believed that already, in some form or other. The disciples already believed this, or else they wouldn’t have taken Jesus to be a ghost or spirit. The resurrection of Jesus is about much more than this.
When, in the gospel of John (14:19), Jesus says, “Because I live, you shall live also,” he did not mean to say, “Because I survive, you shall survive also.” Jesus did not survive death. Jesus conquered death. Paul says, “In all these things we are more than conquerors, through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)
With the God we meet in the Bible, with the God we meet in Jesus, heaven is not about spiritual survival and life going on. In Jesus, heaven is about conquest. Heaven is the first installment in a great victory. Heaven is the beginning of the great reversal that goes from death to life.
When the angel asked the women at the tomb, “Why do you seek the living among the dead,” he meant that Jesus was now the great contradiction of the way the world is.
When you look at the prophets, especially the ones who say the most about the age to come, the age of the Messiah, they tell you of a world that is completely changed. Nothing would run the same as it does now. The Lord himself would come, and swallow up death, and dry all tears. The Lord himself would come, and undo all death: all grief, all pain, all sorrow. Isaiah says it, “He will swallow up death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears form all faces…” (Isaiah 25:8)
A surgeon, who specialized in the human hand, wrote some reflections on the crucifixion and resurrection. (Paul Brand with Philip Yancey, Christianity Today, April 5,1985, pp. 20-21) His understanding of the hand’s anatomy told him that a large nail driven, as it would be in most crucifixions, through the wrist, would cause the tendons and ligaments in the hand to draw the fingers and thumbs together, into the shape of a claw. The damage done with the body’s weight hanging on the nails for hours (without dramatic medical care) would permanently damage Jesus’ hands. If Jesus had just been brought back to life, he would never have been able to use his hands again, even though the nails were drawn and the wound healed. But the risen Jesus broke bread with the disciples. In the Gospel of John (21), Jesus prepared a meal and barbequed some fish for his friends.
The resurrection conquered death. The resurrection conquered and undid the damage that death does. In spite of the visible wounds, the holes in his hands and feet, Jesus was essentially healed. It was the same body, but changed. The damage was reversed. The everlasting holes were only signs of the everlasting love of Jesus.
The resurrection says that the power of the Lord is at work to heal and reverse evil, to work death backwards, like a dream in which you find yourself pushing and pushing a strange intruder from your house, until you have pushed him out your door. Or it’s like brothers and sisters, as children, having a pushing contest.
Jesus has pushed death out of power because his resurrection is so strong. Jesus and life rule.
Although there is still evil in the world, and although there is still pain, and horror, and death, there is also a power on the loose that works against it. This stronger power works in the lives of people who belong to Jesus; the power to work evil backward, to push it back in our humble, little way, but in a way that will count.
It is not our power that does this. It is the resurrection power of Jesus, the power of God. Paul says that there is a power at work in the lives of those who put their trust in the Lord, if only they will live prayerfully, trustingly, and hopefully. Paul says (in Ephesians 1:19-20), “That power is like the working of his mighty strength which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead…”
It's challenging.
There is a challenge in the resurrection of Jesus. It’s a call for us to live in the power of God. Even Jesus, perfect as he was, when he was resurrected, was the same old Jesus, he was the wounded Jesus (still), and he was a more amazing Jesus than ever before; perhaps, most of all because he was the same. Something new was there, but it only made the same old Jesus more wonderful than ever. This power of God is like that. I have two examples of this.
First a pitiful example: unless you are a gardener. It is about compost. I was watching a gardener, digging compost out of her compost turner. She said, “O this is pure gold.” Well, it was dirt: heavy, dark, rich, sweet dirt (if dirt can be sweet).
But, once, it had been anything but sweet. It had been garbage: rancid, putrid, foul, rotten. Now it was sweet dirt. It was gold for the garden. The power of God is given to us in the resurrection of Jesus, and in the gift of the Holy Spirit who brings the living Jesus to us. His power turns all our garbage into gold.
The good news of Jesus is not about what some preachers call “fire insurance”: that is, it is not just a way to avoid hell when you die and give you the promise of heaven. The good news of Jesus is about transformation. It’s a power that starts now. Everything to come will be different, in its turn, because you have turned your life over to Jesus. That power has taken root. It starts now, and goes on forever, to everlasting life.
The second example is strange story that I never followed to the end. I did this insane thing over ten years ago. I picked up a hitchhiker. Once in a while I do that. In this case I was coming over the first hill from the county seat where I was, and there was a guy right there, walking with his thumb out, and I just stopped for him, as if I were under command, under orders.
He got in and looked at me, and he instantly sized me up (the way people like him have to do in order to survive) and he said, “Wow, and here I thought I would have to ride with someone who was like I used to be.” He had recently been released from county jail in a neighboring county so that he could do some time in the county where I lived. Now he was going back on his way to finish his jail time in the other county.
So instead of driving home I drove this guy to the next county. We talked about his life and his crimes. We talked about the fact that he had become a Christian in jail. We talked about the Lord. We talked until we got to the neighboring county seat, and I dropped him off at the jail.
About a week later, I got a letter from him telling me how he was doing. He told me about his trouble with drugs and alcohol. About his divorce and his estrangement from his kids. But he had been reading the Bible, and remembering some of the things he had heard about the Lord.
He wrote, “You know, I never knew before that God could really love me and forgive me.” He realized the evil he had been doing: destroying those who loved him and destroying himself, because he never knew that God could love him and forgive him.
Now he knew that this was what Jesus was about. So here he was, writing to me about what he knew that he was going to do. He was going to serve his time. Then he was going to find a job. He was going to be the dad he never had been before. When he said he was going to do this, he also said he that knew it wouldn’t be easy but, if he could hold onto what he had found, he believed he could do it.
I never found out where that man’s life journey took him after our brief encounter on the road. But that is the power of the resurrection.
You and I need that same power. You and I are not really so different from my hitchhiker. The resurrection power of Jesus is world-changing event that can change your life, it can change the life of a church, a community, a nation, a generation. That power has begun to change the world.

This is the challenge of the resurrection of Jesus for us. This is just a glimpse of what the resurrection is about. It is a thing both for this life and for eternity. Christians are people of the resurrection. Are we?


  1. There is a poem by a Andrew Motion that I think you would like.
    There, you should paste that and be able to read the poem and also read what Andrew Motion had to say about it.

    1. Nice poem, thanks for telling me about it.

    2. Oh good, I am glad you like it too.