Saturday, April 11, 2009

He Lives! What Does This Mean?

(Read Mark 16:1-8 and 1 Cor. 15:1-11 and Acts 10:34-43)

When I was putting together the Easter basket filled with the children’s jelly bracelets, I couldn’t help but take a few for myself. I didn’t pick them based on color, but on what they said. I chose “our sin,” then “new life,” and then “strength.” It’s amazing that in just three bracelets, the journey of our spiritual life can be described . We are here to move from our old, individual and collective sinful ways of being to living a new kind of life. We are here to be transformed, to be redeemed from this body of death.

The “our sin” bracelet is colored black, and the “new life” bracelet is colored green, which is appropriate since our new life looks and feels very different from our old, sinful life. The old life is dark and dead. The new life is bright and flourishing. The old life is black, brown and gray, like winter. The new life is green, yellow and pink, like spring. The old life is marred by selfishness and violence and discord, whereas the new life is enhanced by beauty and love and harmony.

But as I thought about it, “strength” wasn’t the appropriate term to describe how we move from sin to new life, although it is a valuable companion on the journey. So I went back to the Easter basket and found the missing component – a red bracelet that said, “Jesus’ blood.” For it is by the blood of the Lamb that we are washed clean. It is by the blood of the Lamb that we are given new life.

This idea that we are saved by the blood of Jesus is a foundational Christian proclamation, although many believers find it a troublesome and challenging concept to accept. Afterall, why does our loving God need Jesus’ blood to forgive us and raise us to new life?

What I’d like to suggest is that God doesn’t need Jesus blood. His blood is a symbol for what God truly desired from Jesus and from us. What God truly desires is faithfulness. For me, Jesus’ blood is the sign of his faith. If you have heard the story of how Jesus came to be crucified, of how the Lamb was lead to the slaughter, then you know the reason he bled was because he was faithful to God, he was faithful to the message he had been given to proclaim. When Christians say, by his precious blood we have been saved, what we mean is, by his incredible faith we have been saved.

Sally Brown, a professor of mine from Princeton Theological Seminary, explains it this way in her new book, Cross Talk:

In a sermon titled “The Will of God,” master preacher [and Episcopal priest] Barbara Brown Taylor grapples with the idea that “God killed Jesus.” [In my words, that God needed his blood.] Christians must come to terms with the crucifixion, says Taylor; “according to the historical faith of the church, it happened because God wanted it to.” God’s silence at the cross – God’s failure to step in and end the horror – only seems to underscore that God “willed” for Jesus to die. The real question is not, “Did God will Jesus to die?”… but, “What, exactly, did God will?” What God willed…was not that Jesus should die, but that Jesus should pursue utter fidelity to the ways and will of God. [What I am calling his incredible faith best symbolized by the blood he shed.] It was the utter fidelity of Jesus’ life to whom and what God had called him to be and do that led to his death. It was Jesus’ fidelity to the Father’s way of being in the world that got him killed; his refusal to be other than what he was, his refusal to disclaim his identity and role [lead to the bloodshed].

Jesus could have done otherwise… He could have disclaimed his identity – as in fact frightened Peter did in his threefold denial: “I am not,’ Peter said, not once but three times. So Jesus died and Peter lived. This is the difference between [being ‘who I am’ as Jesus was and refusing to be who I am as Peter did]. If Jesus had denied himself the way Peter did, he may have lived.” [Thus], Jesus’ death was God’s will only indirectly…as the consequence of his faithful life. (Brown, Sally A. Cross Talk: Preaching Redemption Here and Now. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008. pg. 65-66.)

People couldn’t handle the real Jesus, the dynamic and miraculous Son of Man that God created him to be. So we killed him, or the religious and civil authorities and mob-like masses of the day killed him. But not God!

What God did do is raise Jesus from the dead.

That’s the God we believe in. As it is written, “They put him to death by nailing him to a cross. But God raised him from death three days later…” (Acts 10: 39-40). This declares to all people in all generations that “I, the Lord your God, will have the victory! And that Jesus Christ, my Son, is raised to victory with me!” God also declared through the disciples and the Church that “you who believe in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ will also be raised to victory! I will give you new life. I will give you my life, eternal life, forever. And I will forgive your sins,” which is to say, “I will heal and reconcile our relationship so that we can be close, as close as a Father can be to a Son.”

That’s the God we worship. Not a God who kills, but a God who raises from the dead. A God who is so powerful, a God who is so loving, that he looked at what a sinful humanity had done, and he declared with authority, “No, you will not! I, the Lord your God, am putting an end to the broken, distorted, sinful, and foolish ways you behave in this world. I, God, am having the last say.”

Brothers and sisters, the women went to the tomb early on Sunday morning, and it was empty. The angel said, “He has been raised” (Mark 16: 6). What does this mean?

It means that God, who is the source of life, who IS life, is stronger and victorious over human frailty and human death.

It means, “We will not all die, but we will all be changed” (1 Cor. 15:53).

It means, “Everyone who believes in him will have his sins forgiven through the power of his name.” (Acts 10:43).

There are many ways to proclaim this. We are redeemed! We are reborn! We are being recreated!

The prefix “re-” means “again and again.”

Again and again, God rescues us. Again and again, God revives us. Again and again, God refreshes our lives emotionally and physically and spiritually. What God declares to us this morning is that God will not ever quit on us.

You know what the resurrection means to me on a personal level? That you and I can actually fulfill our potential to be the people God intends us to be. All the barriers have been broken. Sin and death have been defeated. There are no more excuses.

Think of Peter. After the resurrection, he was a new man. The one who denied Jesus in his greatest hour of need became the rock upon which Jesus built his Church. You heard one of the many speeches he made to win disciples for Christ this morning from the book of Acts. He proclaimed the good news and declared himself a witness to everything that God had done in Jesus Christ. May this Easter be as transformative for you as the first Easter was for Peter.

And Paul. Think of Paul. It took him longer, but after the resurrection, he too became a new man. He went from doubting God’s salvific work in Jesus Christ to proclaiming it boldly across the known world. He went from being a persecutor of the Church to being our greatest evangelist. In the Scriptures, Paul says that he was one who was born at the wrong time. Maybe he thought that because he never got to meet Jesus before his death. But you know what? Paul did meet Jesus. He met him as the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus. May you encounter the Risen Lord and have an experience of Jesus that will alter your world as profoundly as Paul’s world was altered.

After all this, I realize that there was a reason I chose the yellow bracelet that says, “strength.” And that is, strength is necessary for this journey from sin to new life. Believing in Jesus doesn’t mean life will be easy. Being Jesus didn’t even make life easy. And trying to follow his example and live by faith is beyond difficult. We need strength, but the strength we need is not willful determination and grit. It is the kind of strength that Jesus showed us when he went from saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” to “Not my will, but Thy will be done.” You could say that the kind of strength we need is incredible faith.

Brothers and sisters, hear the good new:, Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead! He lives! We know what the resurrection means. The question is: will it change your life?

No comments: