Easter is here in all its glory! Colorful baskets of eggs and chocolates, along with an Easter bonnet or two, help us celebrate the coming of Spring. These accouterments of our annual Easter celebrations remind us that something even more important is at hand. Our Easter celebration lifts up the victory of life over death, a victory that’s embodied in the resurrection of Jesus.
Just as Spring frees nature from the bondage of Winter’s grip, the Resurrection signifies the liberation of human life from the bondage of death. And if we look around we discover that signs of death are all around us. It’s in the news, in our TV shows, and in the movies. Yes, it’s especially prominent in the movies. Although modern medicine may delay death’s call, our culture seems to be fascinated with it, and the more violent death, the more intrigued we become. Consider for a moment the Oscar winning movie The Departed. The title of the movie says it all, for in the end almost everyone, good or bad, lies dead. There is a theme that runs through the movie – life is cheap and if getting ahead requires your death, then so be it. As Stalin said, "one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic."
In the biblical story, the Empire put Jesus to death, and in so doing it gave its no to Jesus’ message of liberation and grace. Th Empire’s message dominates Good Friday, but with Easter, we hear God’s resounding NO to the Empire’s attempt to silence God’s call to freedom. And the message God sent to Imperial Rome, God sends to every empire, including our own, that would choose death over life.
This Easter message of liberation is rooted in another biblical story, the story of the Jewish Passover. Passover celebrates the liberation of the Hebrews from their bondage in Egypt. In many ways, Jesus is the New Moses, the one who leads us out of our bondage to death and leads us into the promised land. If we heed this call to freedom, we will discover a call to embrace life, not in an afterlife, but right now.
A VAIN FAITH?
The Easter Message is so central to our faith that Paul says that without the resurrection there is no Christianity. Paul doesn’t mention an Empty Tomb or any of the specifics about Easter Morning, but he does insist that everything hinges on this one thing: If Jesus is dead, then our faith is in vain, and everything we believe and teach is worthless. Because, if Jesus is dead, then so are we!
Back in Paul’s day, not everyone was excited about the idea of a resurrection. Unlike today, the issues weren’t so much scientific, it was more philosophical. You see Paul’s Greek audience didn’t have a high regard for the physical realm. That might sound strange, considering all the statues that seem to affirm the glories of the body, but most educated Greeks believed that the body was kind of a nuisance that entrapped the soul. Better to be a "free spirit" than a grounded body. Talk of a physical resurrection, therefore, wasn’t that appealing to people who looked forward to being freed from their bodies.
Now, Paul doesn’t go into detail about the nature of this resurrection experience. He talks about a spiritual body, which appears to be related to but not identical to our physical bodies. By doing this, Paul brings Spirit and Body together in such a way as to say – body and spirit, they’re one and the same, and they are good. By affirming resurrection, we affirm life.
THE ESSENCE OF RESURRECTION FAITH
Easter’s message is that death doesn’t have the last word. God has won the victory, snatching apparent defeat from death’s grasp. Like Ezekiel's vision of the dry bones that are knit together and reanimated, the Easter message is one of renewal and restoration (Ezk. 37:1-15). The good news is that this message of resurrection doesn’t wait for our natural deaths to occur. We can claim now the promise of resurrection, by embracing life in its fullness.
Theologian Jürgen Moltmann says that the resurrection of Jesus is a process that we’re invited to participate in. It’s a process that transforms us from the inside out and makes us new. It’s a process that liberates us and frees us to serve. It’s a process that empowers us to live for God and to live for one another. In fact, Moltmann says that resurrection happens every day, as we experience God’s liberating presence afresh (Jesus Christ for Today’s World, Fortress, 1994, 80-81).
And what does this resurrection life look like? What does it mean for the dry bones to live? It means saying no to poverty and enslavement, to war and to violence, to hatred and stereotype, to the misuse of our environment and to the abuse of power over people’s lives. Resurrection is ultimately a process that brings new life, and not just in some future state, but now. It’s not a panacea that keeps us happy with a promise of a better day, it’s the promise of the power of love that overcomes death and enables us to live now.
The essence of the Christian message is summarized in this confession from an ancient communion service: "Christ has died; Christ is Risen; Christ will come again." We come today to affirm the one who died on Good Friday, the one who was raised on Easter Morn as Lord and Christ, and the one who will come again, indeed, has come again, in our hearts, to empower us for the work of the kingdom. Good Friday represents the Empire’s last gasp attempt to thwart the coming of God’s kingdom. Easter declares that this effort has failed and that the kingdom of God is here, and with it the culture of death has been defeated.
Although physical death remains a natural part of human existence, and it’s something we’ll all share in at some point, we needn’t fear it. That’s because Christ has overcome death and has invited us to participate with him in reclaiming life. Paul confesses that in the symbol of Adam, we find our common fate, which is death. In Christ, however, we are made alive. "Death has been swallowed up in victory." And so, together, we can say: "where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" As Paul writes: "thanks be to God, who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
This is why we began worship this morning by boldly singing: "Christ the Lord is Risen today, Alleluia." And it is also why we can affirm that God has exalted Jesus above all others, and that God has "crowned him with many crowns!" This is the message of Easter: God has triumphed over death and we get to share in lives of joy and service to the king of kings.
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
April 8, 2007