What Does the Resurrection Mean for Us?
I Cor. 15:19-26; John 20:1-18
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City
8 April 2007
This week Christa Woods’ niece Desiree and nephew Nathan came to live with her. Christa rearranged her house, collected supplies, clothing, and toys, and prepared for a new adventure. This new chapter of her life came upon her unexpectedly.
Christa has reached out to her church family because she realized that she can’t do this alone. It does, in fact, take a village to raise a child. You see, this isn’t just a new phase in Christa’s life. It is a new phase in our life as a congregation. Because it isn’t just Christa’s responsibility to care for these kids, it is our responsibility to help, assist, and equip her in her new role. In the radical community that is the church, when something happens to one of us, it happens to all of us.
Just like Mary in the garden, we in the church now see things differently. The resurrection is this dramatic turning point that allows us to see the way God sees. And one thing we come to understand is how we are connected to each other.
This Lent we explored a series of key questions about the Christian faith, covering topics like sin, violence, suffering, forgiveness, and repentance. I opened the series with the topic, “What does the cross mean for us?” Today we come to the question, “What does the Resurrection mean for us?”
Here we get to the crux of Christian belief. We proclaim that Christ is alive. It is a strange claim, since Jesus of Nazareth died on that cross 2000 years ago. However, the early church proclaimed that they experienced the risen Christ and the church today continues to proclaim that it experiences Christ alive, filling us with power, hope, and glory.
John Irving is among North America’s leading novelists. One of Irving’s wonderful books is A Prayer for Owen Meany. In this novel the character John Wheelwright explores the nature of his own faith and the role played in it by his best friend Owen Meany. I’ve always been drawn to the following excerpt:
I find that Holy Week is draining; no matter how many times I have lived through his crucifixion, my anxiety about his resurrection is undiminished – I am terrified that, this year, it won’t happen; that, that year, it didn’t. Anyone can be sentimental about the Nativity; any fool can feel like a Christian at Christmas. But Easter is the main event; if you don’t believe in the resurrection, you’re not a believer.
"If you don’t believe in Easter,” Owen Meany said, “Don’t kid yourself – don’t call yourself a Christian.”
There is an important sense in which John Irving has it right. Our Christian faith calls for us to believe an absurdity, something ridiculous. We are called upon to believe that someone rose again, that death is neither final nor absolute. And in that sheer absurdity, we are to find hope, faith, and joy. This is the same gospel that absurdly proclaims, “love your enemy” or that there can be “peace on earth.” The same gospel that says “the first shall be last” and “blessed are those that mourn.” This comes from the God who brought us the platypus and the giraffe and the rolly-polly. Listen to the song of a bird. In the struggle to survive and propagate the next generation, birds in their short, limited lives find time to sing with incredible rapture. That’s absurd.
Jesus Christ lived a radical life of compassion, inclusion, grace, and peace that confronted the powers-that-be about the political, economic, and religious conditions of his day. Because of his troublemaking, he was put to death. With the resurrection, God vindicates the life of Jesus. This is our assurance that the universe bends toward justice and peace. The resurrection is our sign that Jesus’ way, truth, and life are the way, truth, and life that lead to God.
The resurrection tells us that “life will find a way.” That existence is not merely necessity. It is not merely birth, growth, decay, and death. The resurrection reminds us that we don’t merely struggle to survive, but that we can absurdly hope for joy and peace and mercy and justice and love and beauty and life. It’s like God dancing and chanting “I can overcome all things and you can overcome them with me!”
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” And because of that, we can proclaim, “O death, where is thy sting?” Sure lots of anxiety surrounds Good Friday. And I don’t mean just the church holiday but also the Good Friday’s in our own lives. But as Christians we rejoice that Easter comes a few days later. And together we shout “Alleluia!” “He is risen!”
As Paul writes in I Cor. 15, Jesus’ resurrection is the ultimate sign of hope that the powers have been defeated. Christ destroys every ruler and every authority and power, including death. As Paul makes clear, we live in an in-between time. God’s power, which destroys the powers-that-be, is set loose in history. We have not yet experienced their final defeat, but we look forward to that time and live as if it were already fulfilled. This is the power of hope. As theologian Walter Wink writes, “The politics of hope envisages its future and then acts as if that future is now irresistible, thus helping to create the reality for which it longs.”
Last fall I participated in the filming of a new documentary entitled The Buckle: Gays in the Bible Belt. This church was also filmed for the movie. The first teaser trailer was released this week and even in those few seconds you hear the powerful testimonies of average Oklahomans as they struggle and celebrate. I think a project like this is evidence of a politics of hope. Even participating in a project like this helps to create the future that we long for.
We absurdly believe that the world can change. And the reason we believe that is because God has defeated death. If death can be defeated then the problems of this world surely can be overcome!
What we Christians long for is a new social order based upon the way of God. A new structuring of the powers of this world as they work for the good of all instead of working out of self-interest. This new social order is embodied in the church, who has a mission to bring the way of God into the world.
The resurrection is also a sign of a new creation. Whereas the goodness and the beauty of creation have been spoiled by violence and evil, the resurrection signifies that God will recreate this fallen, perishable world into an imperishable manifestation of God’s power and glory.
This isn’t just a spiritual renewal, an awakening of new insight. It is a new physical creation, occurring in human history. Repeatedly the New Testament insists that the resurrection is in the body. Our actual physical existence is recreated.
Robert Goss, in his queer commentary on the Gospel of John writes that the “resurrection is a continuation of creation” that “ends the entombment of bodies.” The resurrection means liberation and freedom for our bodily existence. This is a powerful message for those of us whose bodies are oppressed, including women, laborers, the disabled, gays and lesbians, and transgender people. God has promised us that our bodies will be transformed by God’s own glory!
The new creation that the resurrection is a sign of also means that our lives will be transformed. Once we have seen the risen Lord, like Mary Magdalene, we are never the same again. We have a new vision. We now look at the world with the eyes of hope. And the eyes of hope give us power and courage that we wouldn’t have without hope. With this new vision we can go into the world, proclaiming the way of God, despite the obstacles of violence, suffering, sin, and evil.
The church has a ceremony of initiation that symbolizes taking on that new vision – the ceremony is called “baptism.” The sacrament of baptism, which we just enacted, is a remembering sign of the church that connects us with the life of Jesus. To be baptized, to join the church, is to make oneself a part of the group of people working to bring God’s way to fulfillment. In baptism we pledge our lives to be part of God’s radical new community. This is our new creation.
Baptism is also the point where we claim Christ’s story as our own story. Our personal story becomes connected with Christ’s and Christ’s church. Our identity is now shaped by who Jesus is. Also, what we say and do embodies Jesus for the rest of the world. Christ is in us, and we are in Christ.
So, it is significant that we baptize on Easter Sunday. It is a sign that Christ is alive, working in each of us and in our community to bring about transformation of lives.
In the Gospel we are told that Mary Magdalene went and told the others all the things that Jesus had said to her. Mary is the apostle of the resurrection, the first one to preach the central tenet of Christian faith. Mary is a model for us. We too are to share that we have seen the Lord. Our lives are to bear witness that Christ is alive, that there is hope for the world.
In August 2002, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band put out their award winning album The Rising. Time magazine wrote the following about the album:
On The Rising, his first album of new material in seven years, Springsteen is again writing about work, hope and American life as it is lived this very moment. The Rising is about Sept. 11, and it is the first significant piece of pop art to respond to the events of that day. Many of the songs are written from the perspective of working people whose lives and fates intersected with those hijacked planes. The songs are sad, but the sadness is almost always matched with optimism, promises of redemption and calls to spiritual arms. There is more rising on The Rising than in a month of church.
September 11 was a collective Good Friday for all of us. A day of darkness, pain, and horror. How interesting that the first major work of pop culture to deal with that day would focus not on the Good Friday aspect, but on the theme of rising. Springsteen looked at that dark day with Easter eyes.
In the song “Into the Fire,” he praises the heroic emergency responders who entered the World Trade Center to save people:
The sky was falling and streaked with blood
I heard you calling me,
then you disappeared into dust
Up the stairs, into the fire
May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May you hope give us hope
May your love bring us love.
Throughout the album, the lyrics refocus attention from the darkness to the hope of a new future based upon the sacrifices of those who gave their lives that day. The album prays that we can come together despite our differences, forge a union of fellowship and love, and together work to create new life. Repeatedly it implores us to “rise up” or “come on up for the rising.”
Asked about the spirituality of the music, Springsteen claimed that a spiritual revival was necessary and that it had to be a communal experience. He said, “I think that fits in with the concept of our band as a group of witnesses. That’s one of our functions. We’re here to testify to what we have seen.”
What struck me when I read those statements in a Time magazine article almost five years ago is that it speaks so directly to what is the mission of the Christian church.
After 9/11, Bruce Springsteen spent a lot of time with the families of those who had lost loved ones. Because of his experiences, he saw the event through a different light. He was able to see hope and possibility. So he bore witness to his vision, sharing it with others.
The Christian church has seen something other than just the Good Fridays of this world. We’ve experienced Easter Sunday. We see the world as a place of hope and possibility. We are the eternal beginners. And just like Mary at the tomb, we must bear witness of what we have seen.