Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Sunday

Jesus said, A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.
- St. John 16:21-22

On the night that our Lord was arrested, he said the forgoing words to his disciples. He knew that for three days they would be distressed; they would be sorrowful, but he promised them joy on the other side of that anguish. He uses the image of a woman in labor. The suffering and sorrow of his death will result in a new birth and new life. This new birth is represented when the soldier thrusts his spear into the dead body of Jesus. John tells us that out of his pierced side flowed both water and blood, the fluids of new life. Out of his side, new life is come for us. We have the assurance of this because of his resurrection.

We have come to the day that is at that heart of the Church's proclamation. On Easter Sunday we recall our Lord's triumphant resurrection from the dead. The prayer book helpfully reminds us that every Sunday is a feast of the resurrection, but once a year we set aside a time to go into the desert for 40 days to fast and pray with the Lord and then in the final week of that period we walk again the path of his passion and death.

The first thing that we need to say about the resurrection is that it is a historical event. In modern times there have been attempts to try to rationalize the resurrection by spiritualizing it or making it metaphor of a kind of enlightenment that set in for the disciples after Jesus' death. It is difficult however to imagine twelve working-class men, traveling all over the known world and being martyred, for a metaphor. A passing reading of the Gospel accounts indicates the kind of transformation that occurred in the disciples as a result of seeing and touching the resurrected Lord. Peter who during our Lord's trial denies even knowing Jesus is seen in the book of Acts proclaiming the crucified and risen Jesus even after repeated threats of punishment by the religious authorities.

Having said that our Lord's resurrection is a historical event, it must also be asserted that there are unusual things about our Lord's resurrected body. He can and does eat food--Luke tells us he eats some fish before his disciples to demonstrate to them that he is not a ghost--but, on the other hand, he enters rooms where all the doors are locked. In describing the general resurrection, St. Paul speaks of our current corruptible bodies and of the spiritual bodies we will have after the resurrection. A spiritual body seems like an adequate description to describe this mystery of the resurrected body of Jesus.

But the resurrection of Jesus has more relevance for us than just as an historical event. From a Christian standpoint, saying that Jesus rose from the dead, is not like saying Julius and Augustus were Ceasars of the Roman Empire. For the resurrection of Jesus has implications for our lives here and now. In fact, the first proclaimers of our Lord's death and resurrection described these events as Good News or Gospel. The resurrection is Good News not just for churchy or religious people, but for all kinds of people. How so, you might ask? Well, as our collect reminds us, the resurrection is not just the hope of some future life, but an on-going reality of new life to which we are called and which can transform our lives here and now. This transformation is not about removing every difficulty or every trial from our lives, but about God transforming the darkness and sorrow of our own lives by his Holy Spirit. The Christian Gospel is not really for pollyanna type of people. The Gospel is not at its essence telling us that everything is okay. The Gospel is not addressed to a comfortable or settled people with no problems or no defeats. No, the Gospel is for those that are struggling with depression. It is for those feeling burdened with some besetting sin. It is for those feeling lost as a result of the death of a loved one.

We can be confident of this because our Lord Jesus has laid out the pattern of God's grace breaking into our world: "And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice." If calvary tells us nothing else, it tells us that God is present with us in the darkness and dryness of our lives. He is with us in despair and agony, and he is especially with us when we become convinced that we cannot go any further, we cannot take another step. Such a calvary is the place of brokenness and surrender, and it is the point at which God, by his Holy Spirit, can begin to give us new life. Again, this new life is not without complication or difficulty--remember that our Lord still has the wounds of the cross on his resurrected body--but it is a life in the light and love of God. The death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus gives us the confidence to know that whatever we face in this life nothing earthly can or ever will be able to separate us from God's love. As St. Paul writes, I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Again, all this true not because our lives are perfect or without the marks of sin, but just the opposite. Christians are those who are sorrowful, but they have hope, the hope of a new, resurrected life, "I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice."

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