Part 6 of the series: This We Believe
Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center
April 8, 2012—Easter Sunday
Acts 10:34-43; Mark 16:1-8
Acts 10:34-43 ¶ Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Mark 16:1-8 ¶ When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “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.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Happy Easter! Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Christ the Lord is Risen today—Alleluia!
All of our preparations, all of the Lenten disciplines, all of the planning and the long hours getting things ready. All so that we can proclaim the age old message: Christ is Risen!
Well… so what?
No, really. Do we ever stop to ask that question? It’s the central tenet of Christianity.
But why does it matter? Throughout Lent, we have been going through a sermon series entitled,”This We Believe” in which we’ve been exploring some of the basic confessions of Christian faith. Proclaiming “Christ is risen!” is pretty much the most basic Christian confession there is.
Without that confession that Christ is risen, there would be no Christianity. At most, somewhere in the Talmud they would make mention of Rabbi Yeshua of Nazareth who because of his proclamation of the Kingdom of God was put to death by the Romans on the eve of Passover.
The proclamation of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the central message of Christianity. It is the reason we worship on Sunday—perpetually commemorating the day of Jesus’ resurrection.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. We know that Jesus resurrection is important and Christians are fond of pointing out to their non-Christian friends that Easter is far more important a holiday than Christmas, whatever else the consumer economy might say. But do we ever stop to ask: why?
II. THE TEXT
Because if we’re going to be honest, the rest of Holy Week seems to have a lot more in common with the world we know. Fickle crowds, betrayal, denial, rejection, alienation, godforsakenness, and death.
I said on Friday that I have long been a fan of Mark’s gospel because it has such a compelling portrait of the Christ who suffers beside us. But there’s another reason I like it; it captures the brokenness of the world so very well. Even our gospel lesson from tonight strikes a tone of brokenness.
Here’s we have the women coming to the tomb on the first day of the week. It’s early. They encounter a man robed in white who tells them that the one they’re looking for—Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified One—is not there. He has been raised from the dead. They are told to relay this information to the disciples and tell them that Jesus will meet the disciples in Galilee.
And how do the women react to this news? They run away in terror and say nothing to anyone “for they were afraid”.
That’s more like it. That’s the kind of brokenness I recognize. People not doing what they’re supposed to. Reacting out of fear. That’s about right.
So, here we have this story of Jesus’ resurrection and yet it seems more like a blip on the radar of a long narrative of brokenness. So, we come back to the basic question: we proclaim the Christ is risen, but, so what?
As far as we can tell, the world is a pretty broken place and that doesn’t seem to have changed much, desipte all the Easter hoopla.
A. Seeing the World
What would it take to change our perceptions of the world? Every time we turn on the television or open a newspaper (assuming people still do that), we are confronted by a reality very much still in Holy Week mode. What would it take to change our perceptions of a world overrun by betrayal, denial, brokenness, alienation, and fear?
What would it take to begin to see the world anew?
What would it take to redeem a world of betrayal? In Holy Week, we witness the betrayal of the crowds, the betrayal of a disciple, the betrayal of so many. And, of course, our betrayals. And all this betrayal leads to Jesus’ death on the cross.
What would it take to redeem a world of denial? We have witnessed the denial of Peter, the cowardice of the disciples, our own denials. And all that denial leads to Jesus’ death on the cross.
What would it take to redeem a world of injustice? We witness the injustice of the religious leadership, the abuses of the Roman Empire, and the death of an innocent man at the hands of the state.
What would it take to redeem a world of guilt and shame? On Maundy Thursday we witnessed how Judas’ guilt was so overpowering that he did not even allow himself the opportunity to receive forgiveness. Judas’ guilt resulted in his own death upon a tree.
What would it take to see the world not as cold, heartless matter, corruptible and impermanent? In Holy Week we encounter illness and death, the weakness of the flesh, the frailty of human existence. And that weakness and frailty leads to Jesus’ suffering scourging and beating and ultimately death on a cross.
What would it take to redeem a world of alienation and godforsakenness? A world in which so many experience that long dark night of the soul and stare out into the abyss and long to hear a response. That same alienation that Jesus experienced on the cross, when he cried out, “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?”
What would it take to change our perception of such a world?
Would it take a demonstration of life after death? No, I don’t think so. Merely demonstrating that there’s life after death would only convince us that our task was to endure the world until we finally escaped. It wouldn’t have anything to say to our circumstances here and now.
It would take a demonstration of life out of death. A demonstration that convinced us that death yields to redeemed and renewed life. It’s not that we escape the world, it’s that the world is itself redeemed, renewed, and restored.
And that’s what Jesus’ resurrection is.
Jesus’ resurrection is not simply a parlor trick. It is not simply one among a number of miracles that Jesus performed. It is not even like the raising of others from the dead—Jairus’ daughter and Lazarus.
Jesus’ resurrection is the reversal of the ways of the world. Betrayal, denial, injustice, guilt, weakness, alienation, and death are all undone by Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection demonstrates a world in which betrayal is undone, denial becomes confession, injustice is overturned, guilt is pardoned, alienation is taken away. A world that affirms the goodness of our embodied life. A world in which God declares strongly that the world is not forsaken, but will be redeemed. A world in which not even death has the final say.
Jesus’ resurrection is not life after death. It is that life out of death that signals a true transformation of the world, not an escape from it. When we see the resurrection of Jesus in this way, we understand it not as a nice little trick, not as a promise that things will be okay once we get out of this place, but as a powerful demonstration that the world is in the midst of being transformed even now.
There is a reason why the Resurrection is the centerpiece of our faith. It is the engine that drives Christianity. The light that shines on our world that helps us to see. The lens through which we see the world. It is how we are able to live in the City of the World and yet experience the City of God. This we believe: Christ is Risen; and that belief changes how we see the world.
B. Acting in the World
Resurrection also changes how we respond to the world. For if God has demonstrated through Jesus’ resurrection that betrayal and denial are undone, then we can commit ourselves to lives of fidelity and faithfulness.
If Christ is raised, then injustice is undone, and we commit ourselves to living lives of justice.
If Christ is raised, then alienation and forsakenness are undone, and we commit ourselves to lives of solidarity with and for one another.
If Christ is raised, then the material world is to be seen as something God has not abandoned but will renew, and we can affirm the goodness of the Creation, the goodness of our bodies, the goodness of the natural world.
If Christ is raised, then death is undone, and we commit ourselves to living lives affirming life itself and casting off the ways of death and destruction.
Proclaiming Christ’s resurrection means all these things. But there is yet one more thing the Resurrection means.
A couple of weeks ago, there was something of a stir on the internet, and in certain pockets here at Kay, as well. It had to do with the long awaited release of a video game called “Mass Effect 3”, the conclusion to a sci-fi game in which humanity, among many races, seeks to stave off the oncoming apocalypse wrought by a very ancient race who returns every eon or so to harvest our advances before destroying us altogether. The ending, apparently, failed to have the Deus Ex Machina ending that people were looking for. That is, unlike The Matrix where Neo gets up off the floor, or unlike the last minute change of heart in the Star Wars saga, or unlike, well, pretty much every escape of Captain Kirk ever, there was the real likelihood that the good guys cannot win in the end. All roads lead to the realization that we are not in control of our destiny, and, in the scheme of things, utterly insignificant.
One columnist wrote about this whole phenomenon making reference to an idea called “Cosmicism”, first articulated by the author H.P. Lovecraft, that maintains essentially that humanity is utterly insignificant.
”The human race will disappear. Other races will appear and disappear in turn. The sky will become icy and void, pierced by the feeble light of half-dead stars. Which will also disappear. Everything will disappear. And what human beings do is just as free of sense as the free motion of elementary particles.”
You don’t get the sense that Lovecraft was invited to give the toast at a lot of weddings. But this article pointed out that the video game was important because it forced us to confront this very real idea about the universe that we live in. And I agree.
But it missed one important element. Though the universe might seem like a godforsaken place—indeed, elements of our own Christian story claim godforsakenness; though it may disabuse us of the idea that doing anything made a real difference in the world, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us one very powerful response to all of it.
See, the most beautiful thing about the Resurrection is that it does not deny the brokenness of the world. In some sense, it requires it. In order for there to have been a resurrection, there had to have been a death: a final, real end. In order for there to have been an empty tomb, there had to be a cross. No, the Resurrection does not deny the brokenness of the world. It does not tell us that the things we worry about, or the things we suffer, or the alienation that we feel are not real. It affirms the reality of those things. But it gives us a window beyond. It gives us a glimpse of something beyond the brokenness.
Because we can look at the universe as a cold, meaningless place, so immense that our lives could not possibly matter in the cosmic scheme of things. Or we can look at it as an immense place and marvel at the wonder of God’s love for us in spite of our cosmic insignificance.
And the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is what provides us that hope, that lens, that ability to see the world anew. And that changes everything.
This we believe: Christ is Risen! And we believe all that flows from it. We believe that though we may feel profound alienation and godforsakenness, we are not forsaken. Though we may feel profound guilt for the things we have done, so much so that we feel unredeemable, we know that we are loved, forgiven, and redeemed. Though we may perceive the world as a fundamentally broken place, we can know that we are not alone in bearing that brokenness.
With that proclamation comes an affirmation that our lives have meaning. Our very material, physical, earthly lives—this flesh and blood—matters to God. The creation, this world, are all still in God’s care.
And so we know, that the God of the universe who has declared solidarity with us through all the brokenness will lead us into life. And that is the source of our hope. For we have hope not simply in life after death, but in life out of death, and the transformation of the world that is at hand. And that hope makes all the difference.
Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!