ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH RESURRECTION SUNDAY, MARCH 27, 2016
1 Corinthians 15: 19 – 26; John 20: 1 – 18
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
Jesus is risen! As Christians that statement floods our beings with joy and hope. At the same time the discovery of the empty tomb is a challenge for us, just as it was for Mary, Peter and John on that first Easter morning. With the exception of those whom Jesus brought back to life during his ministry and who eventually died like everyone else, bodies that are dead remain dead. Resurrection brings confusion, not clarity. We relate to this grade 3 student who wrote, “Jesus, I thought you were dead. You rose from the dead. No way. It’s just my mind playing tricks.” Resurrection calls us to make a paradigm shift – to see the world differently. It asks us to believe in a miracle of immense proportions. It’s outrageous to expect anyone to believe Jesus is risen. After all, don’t we live with the shadow of death looming over us? Isn’t death the final word?
People don’t like death. We don’t like talking about it. We don’t like when loved ones die. We don’t like doing it. We sink billions into a medical system to extend the length and quality of our living in an effort to delay death. Some people even imagine death is avoidable. Oliver Winchester acquired a fortune by manufacturing and selling rifles. After he died of influenza in 1918 his wife, Sarah, sought out a medium to contact her dead husband. The medium told her, “As long as you keep building your home, you will never face death.” Never dying sounded pretty good so Sarah bought an unfinished 17-room mansion and started to expand it. It cost 5 million dollars at a time when workmen earned 50 cents a day. The mansion had 150 rooms, 13 bathrooms, 2,000 doors, 47 fireplaces, and 10,000 windows. There were enough materials and plans to continue on for another 80 years, but to her surprise, Sarah died at the age of 85. Nice try, Mrs. Winchester, but no one cheats death. Death is the one experience all people have in common. Even Jesus died.
The banishment of Adam and Eve from Eden explains how people got into this mess. When Adam, the man from clay, thumbed his nose at God, he started something new: sin. Sin infected all creation. It was like the whole world for all time was caught in the fallout of a nuclear explosion of sin. Theologians call this phenomenon “Original Sin”. Paul stated, “Just as sin came into the world through one man, Adam, and death came through sin, so death spread to all because all have sinned” (Romans 5: 12) While responding to a call, a Florida police officer was shot and killed. His death hit the community hard. His fellow officers attended the funeral. As they dispersed, a reporter asked one officer for a comment. The man said, “We live in a fallen world,” and he quietly walked away. We live in a fallen world, a world saturated by original sin and its off-spring, death. We live in the land of death.
More accurately, we lived in the land of death. On the morning of his resurrection, Jesus started something new. What Adam was to sin and death, Jesus is to life. Calvin Miller writes, “The Resurrection is not some trick of God to pull a resurrection rabbit out of a showbiz hat for the world’s applause. If it were, it would not hold our interest for long. Merely pulling a living Christ out of a dead man’s shroud is impressive but the vitality of the Resurrection comes in how it impacts our lives by pulling something living and essential out of our dead, depressive plight.” In 1 Corinthians 15: 20 we read, “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.” “First-fruits” is a Jewish celebration of the harvest, similar to Thanksgiving. People offered to God a portion of the first barley they reaped. The remaining grain was harvested for their own use. Co-incidentally, this feast was held on Nissan 16, the third day after Passover; the day of Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus was the first to rise from the dead. He’s the first, but he’s not the last. Just as the farmers of Israel continued to harvest barley after “first fruits”, Jesus’ resurrection was only the beginning of resurrection life. If Adam generated “original sin”, Jesus was the first to generate resurrection life. For everyone who came after him, Jesus created the possibility of life beyond death. Paul continued, “For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” (vs. 21 – 23) Jesus, the new Adam, the man from glory, made resurrection life available to all. Resurrection is God’s gift to those who are one with Christ, united with him in his death and his resurrection through baptism by faith. Jesus’ resurrection is the foundation and symbol of all hope. We might say, that for those who believe, Jesus generated “Original Life”.
But, you say, those who are faithful to Christ still die. Death is very real as anyone who has lost a loved one can testify. Christians end up as dead as anyone else. Jesus death was genuine. And so was his resurrection. Like Christ we don’t live forever, we die and resurrect. Then we live forever! In Christ we’re reborn to new life. Because Jesus wasn’t left for dead, we won’t be left for dead. Resurrection is a defiant act that overcomes death. Jesus’ resurrection destroys death’s power. Later in chapter 15, Paul mocks death with the words, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (vs. 14 & 15) Death doesn’t get to have the final word. Jesus does. We do. Because of Jesus, life is once again the power beyond all power. Jesus’ resurrection removes our fear of death. Jesus is victorious over sin and death. Life is the final word. In 125 AD a Greek man, wrote to a friend about the “extraordinary Christians”, “If any righteous man among them passes from this world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God, and they accompany his body with songs and thanksgiving as if he were setting out from one place to another nearby.
Jesus’ resurrection gives us assurance. Had Jesus remained dead we would be left with the sense that God is powerless; God doesn’t care; we are alone in this vast universe. Resurrection means that Jesus is with us still. He will never leave us or forsake us. It tells us that in all of this life, and the next, God promises, “I will be there”. We are never alone. Whatever the future holds, we can be certain of one thing: through it all and in the end, God.
Jesus’ resurrection gives us hope. Because he lives, we and others who believe in him “even though they die, will live”. (John 11: 25) There’s life after this life that’s more wonderful than anything we can imagine. In the future we’ll share this life with Jesus himself and with those we love who died in him. We will be reunited in a new and spectacular place. We will hug and hold our loved ones again.
The hope of resurrection causes us to live this life in light of the life to come. Because there is a reality beyond the here and now, we live with faith in Christ. It gives us strength. For all of us, life here is a rosebush. It has some beautiful aspects to it and it has thorns. The thorns hurt. Jesus’ resurrection assures us that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)
The hope of resurrection also causes us to strive to live life differently – faithfully. We live hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Although we can’t reach perfection until we’re resurrected, we live with a desire to please God. Resurrection gives us choices. Because of Jesus, the new Adam, we don’t need to be enslaved to our old human nature we can choose holiness over sin. We can choose kindness over hate. We can choose goodness over evil. We can choose to become more like Christ.
The hope of resurrection changes our perspective. A woman recently told me that one of her life-goals had been to leave a financial legacy to her family. She worked hard towards this end but her circumstances changed and she had to let go of that dream. But recently her grandchildren have begun to go to church. She now hopes to participate in their growth in faith. Unlike Sarah Winchester, this woman hopes to leave her family a Christ-centred, spiritual legacy that will bless them for eternity.
The hope of resurrection changes everything. When the great Puritan, John Owen was on his deathbed he dictated one last letter to a friend which he began with the words, “I am still in the land of the living.” “Stop said Owen, “Change that and say, I am yet in the land of the dying, but I hope soon to be in the land of the living.” For Christians death is not extinguishing the light from our souls, it is putting out the lamp because the dawn has come. Christ is risen! The very best of Easter. May your spirits be flooded with faith, hope and joy.