April 21, 2019

Easter Sunday   April 21, 2019   Psalm 116, Isaiah 25:6-9, 2 Corinthians 5:13-19,

John 20:1-18        The new creation

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Christ has risen – Alleluia!

Christ – risen from the dead – marks the beginning of a new creation – in which everything is made new. Yet –

Probably we’ve noticed… so often most of the world doesn’t seem to have received the message. Life on earth still features so much of the same-old-same-old… same-as-it-ever-was patterns of death, denial and dysfunction…

It’s not just the obvious dog-eat-dog, nation against nation, neighbor against neighbor symptoms. It’s also even when we’re conscientiously trying to do the right thing – but still see death-sin-evil-wickedness often seeming to have the upper hand. Life on earth continuing as-it-always-was – except speeding faster…

How then, are we to hear – this strange report of Jesus risen from the dead?

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Sometimes it helps to revisit and review… from more than one angle of vision…

Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb while it’s still dark… Only to find the stone that sealed the tomb rolled away… She runs to find two other disciples – probably wondering – could this empty tomb be the work of grave robbers – who might still be lurking in the tomb? Or could this be the Roman empire – disappearing the body of Jesus to try to make it harder for his followers to make him into a martyr who inspires rebellion? Or – could this possibly be something else… altogether…  too mysterious…for words?

Mary runs – gets Simon Peter and the other disciple – who run together to the tomb. One at a time they enter, look into the empty tomb – and now are persuaded by the linen wrappings removed – by the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, now carefully rolled up – persuaded this is not the work of grave robbers or the empire. The “other disciple” (who many assume is John the gospel writer) now believes….

But disciples don’t yet understand the scriptures like the passage we’ve read from Isaiah – that prophesies God overcoming the power of death. We don’t know exactly what they believed or were thinking… We just know now the two male disciples head home for breakfast…

Leaving only Mary Magdalene, alone… at the tomb, weeping…

A pair of angels appears now, sitting in the tomb – striking up a conversation almost casually as if we do this everyday– asking Woman, why are you weeping?

She tells them she’s looking for the body of Jesus… Either not noticing who they are – or not impressed by these angel visitors… So intently looking only for the body of Jesus… Even when she now sees Jesus standing close by – hears him echo the angel’s question – Woman, why are you weeping? adding Whom are you looking for? – still, not knowing it is Jesus – still thinking he’s the gardener – telling him, Sir, if you know where his body is let me know! I will take him away

It’s only as she hears him call her name – Mary!– that she recognizes Jesus. Alive!

And replies and rushes to him…and…

Jesus sends her now to tell the other disciples – he is risen – he will be ascending to God the Father… And Mary does her part and tells the good news…

And we’ll pick up and continue the rest of the story next week…with the other disciples, gathered together again, in an upper room… Discussing what it takes for them to believe in Jesus risen from the dead…

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Today let’s talk about how do we recognize Jesus? How do we make sense of the bible’s huge claims about what Christ’s resurrection means – as we hear today in 2nd Corinthians – “if anyone is in Christ there is a new creation – everything old has passed away, everything has now become new?

This could mean, as is often assumed – for each individual believer everything old has gone, everything in the individual believer is now all-new. Which sounds plausible, except – I really can’t think of anyone other than Jesus – (and maybe Mother Teresa) – who actually looks all-new all the time…and…

New Creation on the individual “solo-Christian” model raises all kinds of questions for me, whenever I consider Jesus saying – where two or three are gathered in my name I’m there with you. Two or three – not one alone – is a quorum for Jesus. Our Methodist God-parent John Wesley said – “I know of no holiness but social holiness” – meaning faith is always a community project. Never something we can do alone. Together, not alone, we are the body of Christ, scripture tells us (Romans 12, 1st Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4…)…

So I think the more likely meaning of the new testament phrase “new creation” has to do with Christ making everything new for everyone. At least everyone who doesn’t persist in continuously rejecting Jesus to the death or the end of time… whichever comes first…

Which may perhaps be wishful thinking… Except St Paul does go on to say in the next few verses – “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself – not counting their trespasses against them…” God reconciling the world to himself sounds mighty inclusive, in the absence of any exception clauses… So I’m not sure we should rule out the possibility of more radical interpretations of 2nd Corinthians 5:17 – since the New Testament Greek original language says literally – “if anyone is in Christ – new creation.” Period. But –

It’s almost always wisest to keep more than one interpretive option open. And – however we interpret God’s word – we need to always be humble, recognize what we don’t know – while remembering what the letter absolutely says – about God entrusting the message of reconciliation to us, God’s church… Which has me believing –

Christ’s work of new creation may well now be complete – but our work of assisting in Christ’s new creation is not complete… Till all the world is living together, reconciled to God and one another… in peace, mercy, justice, faith, grace, forgiveness…  and love… and…

It may well be that the main reason we don’t see all things – within us, and around us –  looking all-new-all-the-time – yet – is because we who believe in Jesus are not always persistent enough, creative enough – yet – in believing and proclaiming the truth of Jesus, risen from the dead.

We Methodists believe on the one hand salvation is all God’s work – God and God alone can save. On the other hand, we also believe with Teresa of Avila – that God has no hands and hearts but ours with which to carry on to completion… God’s ongoing work of new creation…

We agree with the scripture as it says ‘God has entrusted the message of reconciliation to us. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself through Christ– not holding our sins against us’ – but turning even terrible sins and deadly trespasses into something new and life-giving…

How can this be possible?

Only through the cross of Jesus Christ…

Those of us who stood near Jesus at the cross Friday and heard his last words –  remember his prayer – Father forgive, they don’t know what they do.

We heard him tell a crucified thief – today you’ll be with me in paradise.

We heard Jesus tell his mother and a disciple he loves – here is your son, here is your mother. Making them family. Teaching us to be family for each other.

We heard him cry from the cross My God, my God why have you forsaken me?

Letting us know he’s shared in our deepest agonies and griefs…

We heard him cry I thirst… showing he shares in our most basic needs – for water and Spirit, comfort and love…

Heard him cry It is finished – the strife is over – the battle won…

Heard him say at last… Father, into your hands I commit my spirit

Completing his life’s work for God the Father and for us. Finished now, on the cross. Except for the one thing…

For which we gather in witness and celebration today…

Alleluia! Christ is risen! Alleluia! Christ is risen indeed.

Now Christ’s labor of love – God’s work of new creation – is entrusted to us.

And we remember – the first creation isn’t done in a day – the new creation also is finished only in God’s time. Like the first creation, initiated by God’s spoken word, completed by God seeing each new day of creation is good – we speak the words of God with the help of God’s Holy Spirit to be heard anew in this present age…

And if this work of God seems a little overwhelming at times – not to worry – it took the first disciples awhile to find their groove too…

If communicating the gospel was simple and easy I don’t think we’d be hearing the apostle tell the church in Corinth – if he’s crazy – implying he sometimes is – it’s because trying to explain the gospel with mixed results can be crazy-making… Yet the apostle tells us in the same breath – if he’s in his right mind – implying again he sometimes is – it’s for us –

So we too can be crazy in love with God and God’s people –

crazy and in our rights mind at the same time – together in the love of God…..

Alive! Forever.. In the joy and peace of Jesus…

Thanks be to God. Amen.