Christ did not ‘come back from the dead’

Readings
Acts 10.34–43
Matthew 28.1–10

 

This time last year, some of us had just concluded a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. On our last day in Jerusalem, we were at the Garden Tomb, one of the possible sites of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. On the door of the tomb itself, there is this sign:

He is not here

 

‘He is not here; for he is risen.’

The Christian faith is squarely built on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Soon after his horrible execution on the cross, when his disciples were at their lowest, he appeared among them, and they were transformed.

‘He is not here; for he is risen.’

These of course are the words Matthew includes in his story of the resurrection, words spoken by the angel to Mary Magdalene. In the NRSV of our pew bibles it is

He is not here; for he has been raised …

He is not here. Not here where?

In Matthew’s Gospel, the two Marys go to see the tomb. They are expecting to see a closed tomb which contains the corpse of Jesus. That’s where a dead person belongs. Safely tucked away.

The two Marys are expecting to see that the dead is among the dead.

That’s the way it is, isn’t it? I visited my dad’s grave the day after his funeral. I didn’t expect to see that he had risen. And he hadn’t.

But Jesus is risen. And that turns everything upside down.

Now Jesus is risen, death is defeated. The risen Lord Jesus Christ brings life and healing to all people. In him is eternal life.

This life is for all. Jesus died as one of the rejected and excluded of the world so that the rejected ones might be included in the new humanity that he has brought to birth. That’s what Peter found out when he saw that vision of the unclean animals. No one is left out, everyone is included in the offer of eternal life.

We’re curious about death and what’s beyond the grave. So it’s not surprising that recently there have been a couple of dramas on TV which have been about people returning from the dead. We might confuse the Resurrection of Jesus with these other stories of people coming back from the dead. And that just won’t do, because stories of people returning from the grave can be quite disturbing.

Let me tell you about these TV shows.

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Bright Sadness (A Holy Week sermon)

Readings
Isaiah 50.4–9a
Philippians 2.5–11
Matthew 27.27–61

 

This time last year, some of us were in Israel, walking streets that Jesus walked and gaining new inspiration for our journeys of faith.

I found one of the greatest places to be was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It’s a sprawling place, with surprises around every corner. It’s one of the sites associated with the crucifixion of Jesus. Perhaps it really is where he was put to death, and buried; perhaps not.

It was pretty crowded, and it was frustrating to navigate; so I think my report of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre might strike a note of disappointment if it wasn’t for one wall, a wall of mosaics. It is a more contemporary mosaic, which was placed by the Greek Orthodox Church.

I took a few photos …

This scene depicts ‘The Deposition from the Cross’. We have Mary the mother of the Lord and Joseph of Arimathea supporting Jesus’ body, Mary Magdalene and the Apostle John kissing his hands, and Nicodemus removing the nails while the other women stand, weeping.

Mosaic 1

 

In the next part of the mosaic, Jesus’ body is laid out on the burial cloth ready to be shrouded.

Mosaic 2

In the third and final scene, Jesus is being laid in the tomb.

Mosaic 3

This is a stunningly beautiful mosaic. I stood before it in speechless wonder for a long time.

Let me point out two things. The first is the sorrow. Just look at the faces.

Closeup 1

 

Closeup 2

 

Closeup 3

 

Even the angels weep!

Angels

 

The sorrow of Holy Week is profound. The loss is absolute, and it is felt even by the powers of heaven.

Jesus had healed the sick and brought sight to those who could not see.
But they crucified him.

He was the promised Messiah.
But they crucified him between two thieves.

He was going to bring in the kingdom of God.
But they crucified him on Golgotha, the Place of a Skull.

Now everything was gone. It had seemed so wonderful at the beginning of the week, but now it seemed a strange dream. What were all the palms for, all the cheers and the crowds and the shouts of ‘Hosanna, Save us Lord!’?

Save us? He couldn’t save himself.

The sorrow of Holy Week is profound, and we shouldn’t try to downplay it.

Remember I said I had two things to point out about this mosaic in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre? The deep sorrow is the first.

The second is this: the vibrant colours. This mosaic is a complete riot of colour. There are reds, blues, greens, oranges, purples. Oh, and lots and lots of gold.

Don’t you think it really should be more subdued?

I mean, come on, this is a scene of unrelenting sorrow, of cosmic sorrow. But it’s ablaze with colour!

What’s that about?

It’s about Easter. We can imagine that as Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, John and the others took Jesus’s lifeless corpse from the cross and laid it in the tomb that there was no light for them. Everything was grey. Perhaps Mary wondered if the sun would ever rise again.

Yet the dawn of Easter Day was just a few short hours away, it was just over the horizon.

What we see in this mosaic is no created light. It is Easter light, the light of the resurrected One. We see utter and inconsolable sadness, while the light of Easter shines upon the people without their being aware of it.

Some people speak of Lent as a time of ‘Bright Sadness’. Bright sadness.

It’s a time of sadness, which we should not try to diminish or avoid. Christ went to the cross to save his people. He died to being us back to God. He died on our behalf.

How can we minimise the death of God’s very Son? Well, we can try, by ignoring it, by commercialising Easter, by only going to Easter services if we feel like it. But we shouldn’t try to do that. And really, nothing we do or fail to do will ever truly minimise the horror of this week.

But Lent, and above all Holy Week, is a bright time too. Over it the light of Easter shines. Salvation is ours. Our sadness is illuminated by the joy of Christ’s resurrection.

Bright sadness is not optimism. It’s not about being a ‘glass half full’ kind of person. It’s not ‘looking on the bright side of life’, or ‘walking on the sunny side of the street’. Bright sadness is faith that the light of Easter shines in all situations. Bright sadness is faith that even death itself is not a full stop, but only a comma.

Bright sadness doesn’t avoid the sadness! It means that at this time of year above all others, we recognise the great price our Saviour paid, we acknowledge our shortcomings and sins, and we lift our voices in grateful praise. And this time of year reminds us to live to God at every time of the year.

This wall mural speaks to us of bright sadness. Can we embrace this bright sadness? We surely can, and we must. It is God’s gift to us, for the sake of Jesus our Lord and for the world that needs his peace, his justice and his reign as servant-Lord of all.

 

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Can these bones live? (Lent 5A, 6 April 2014)

Readings
Ezekiel 37.1–14
Romans 8.6–11
John 11.1–45

 

It’s 6 April. I remember 6 April 1968 (forty six years ago for the arithmetically challenged among our number). It was a Saturday; 6 April was the first day I awoke after accepting Jesus into my life. Today, I want to talk a bit about that time.

The night before, I had gone to the local Methodist youth group for the first time. I hadn’t known about this, but they were off to the Billy Graham rally in the Exhibition grounds that night.

I decided that I was glad to be going there. I had been wondering about God. I thought Jesus was a good man. I was distressed that Martin Luther King had just been assassinated. I felt confused about life.

I listened to Billy Graham preach. I didn’t understand much, but I did note he spoke well of Martin Luther King’s legacy. But the rhetorical flourishes of a preacher from the South of the good ol’ US of A were quite foreign to me. And he did go on a bit.

Billy Graham finished (finally!), and there was an altar call. I felt an irresistible magnetic pull on me. I can recall the feeling still. I had to leave my seat—me, quite possibly the most introverted kid in the whole place that night. I knew I had to leave the people who had brought me, not yet knowing the leaders’ names, not knowing how to find them later.

I just couldn’t stay in my seat.

It struck me reflecting on the story of Lazarus this week that I can identify with him. When Jesus says, ‘Lazarus, come out!’, he just came. It wasn’t a suggestion, it was a summons. Just so, I felt summoned that day. I had to come.

Jesus summons each one of us. Sometimes, we might even have given up on life when he summons us. We may as well be dead.

As I reflect on identifying with Lazarus, I think How was I dead? After all, in the story Lazarus was dead. As a doornail. How was I dead?

I could simply say I was dead in my trespasses and sins, unable to know God. And while that may sound harsh, it’s an image that works. I was constructing a life that kept God at bay, while at the same time wanting to know God better. We could use other language too; I was AWOL, and I was afraid to return to barracks. The scriptures also use other language, and we’ve come across it the past few weeks. So with the man blind from birth, I too was blind from birth. I couldn’t see Jesus, the true image of God.

And like the Samaritan woman, I needed to drink of the living water. I was spiritually dehydrated. I was being poisoned at the wells of false hopes and plastic dreams.

I was in need of a new birth. Just as Nicodemus had to be born of the Spirit, I needed the Spirit-wind to breeze through my life and turn me right around.

I think if I were telling a story like this for today, I’d use yet another image. I’d remind people of the frustration of trying to get your computer to work, asking around your friends for suggestions, finally gritting your teeth and calling the help desk only to be asked: ‘Is it plugged in? Is it switched on?’

Once you plug it in, everything is different. Just that one little change makes all the difference!

It seems a little grandiose to say that I was born again, drank of living water, made to see and brought to life that night. (Oh, and that I was plugged in to the transcendent Source of power.) Yet if you judge that night by the effect it has had on me, then these words are as good as any and better than most.

Those early days of April 1968 brought other discoveries to me.

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Textures of South America

What you see when you’re careful! From Erin Walton.

 

Textures of South America.

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What do you see? (Lent 4A, 30 March 2014)

Readings
1 Samuel 16.1–13
John 9.1–12

I believe in God as I believe the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

CS Lewis

Amazing grace (how sweet the sound!)
that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
was blind, but now I see.

John Newton

When you look, what do you see?

In his quest for Israel’s next king the prophet Samuel went to Jesse’s place in Bethlehem. Jesse had eight sons; Samuel first saw Eliab, a fine, strapping young man. He would make a fitting king for Israel! After all, a king had to be worthy of respect from his men. Samuel liked what he saw.

But God saw things differently. God said to Samuel:

Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.

As he went through the list, looking at one son after another, I can imagine that Samuel may have started to doubt this whole enterprise. Perhaps he wondered if he were really on a wild goose chase.

Perhaps there was a note of exasperation in his voice when he asked Jesse, ‘Are all your sons here?’

The youngest was left, the runt of the litter. Good-looking, but just a kid.

This was the one. Who’d have guessed?

‘The Lord does not see as mortals see …’

So how does the Lord see? Continue reading

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Bono on faith in Christ

A simple faith.

 

 

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4 Warning Signs that You’re Stuck in a Rut (And What to Do About it)

Originally posted on The Souls of My Shoes:

There you are, at the job you were once so proud to call yours, bored out of your tiny little brain, watching cat videos on YouTube and continually checking your phone to see if 5 o’clock – that precious hour when your life once again becomes yours – is any closer to crawling into reality.

A millennia later, the magic hour arrives and you make your way home (probably in eye-pokingly terrible traffic), scanning your frankly uninteresting Facebook feed and dreaming about the packet of salt and vinegar chips you’re going to inhale as soon as you step in the door.

Half an hour later and you’re all but surgically attached to the couch, that crisp packet long since followed by the remains of last night’s Chinese takeaway. You entertain yourself by channel surfing and aimlessly wonder if this afternoon might just be the one where you pick…

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