Monday, 21 April 2014
Sermon Easter Sunday 2014
Christ is risen – Christ is risen indeed – Hallelujah
Today we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the most important day of the Christian year. The resurrection is the most important – the central tenet of our faith as Christians. In this service as with other worship services we will join in saying together our statement of faith – today we will join in the Nicene Creed – “on the third day he rose again according to the scripture”.
Recently a Roman Catholic priest – Father Michael - said to me in a conversation that he was continually surprised at how many Christians misunderstood the resurrection. There is truth in that but I also sometimes it seems that there are almost as many ways of looking at the resurrection as there are Christians. That of course is an overstatement but I believe there is truth in both statements.
What is it then that we believe when we say he is risen – Jesus has been resurrected? Father Michael believes that most Christians believe that Jesus was magically resuscitated. I believe there is confusion between resurrection and resuscitation. To be resuscitated means to be brought back to life – our old life. This is what happened to Lazarus. Jesus brought him back to life. Jesus called him and he came out of his tomb wrapped in his burial cloths. John’s Gospel calls this one of the signs that Jesus performs – one of the signs of what the kingdom of God will be like when it is established. In fact it is the seventh and final sign in John’s Gospel. By implication the resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate sign – sign of new creation as one source calls it. But what happened after this miraculous event?
As I noted the raising of Lazarus is resuscitation and not a resurrection. From the Gospel account Lazarus was the same person that was buried in the tomb that held his body. He came out wrapped in the burial cloths. They had to be unwrapped from his body to set it free. Scripture does not tell us what happened to Lazarus after the act of Jesus. We are told that some of the Jews who had seen this miraculous act of Jesus believed in him because of it. Others did not. The Gospel also tells us that the authorities were plotting to kill him along with Jesus but we are not told if they carried through with the plan. However, we do not know anything specifically about Lazarus’ life after this miracle. We know from the description of him coming out of the tomb he appeared the same as when his body was buried. This is a critical point. To be resuscitated mean to come back the same as when you were clinically dead – worse for wear but the same.
We know from scripture that Jesus was not the same after the resurrection. The accounts are rather confusing. Some people recognized him while others did not – such as the women at the tomb who mistook him for the gardener or the believers on the road to Emmaus. Jesus had a physical body – the disciples could touch the holes in his hands and his feet. Jesus act with the disciples. However, he could seemingly pass through a closed door into the room where the disciples where cowering in fear. He appeared to many people in many places. He had what could only be called a spiritual body which scripture tells us ascended into heaven.
So what are we to make of these accounts according to scripture as the creed states? What do we believe? Do you believe that Jesus was resurrected? Or perhaps you believe it was resuscitation. Some Christians I know do not believe in a physical resurrection. My father who was an ordained minister did not believe in the bodily resurrection. He believed it was symbolic for the resurrection that occurred to the disciples. After the crucifixion they were cowering in the upper room and they found the courage to become apostles and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. He also believed it was symbolic of the transformation that is possible for each of us. I have struggled with what I believe in many areas including the resurrection. I can say at this point that I do believe in the resurrection.
What are we as Christians to believe? I think we should cry with the father in the Gospel of Mark who asked Jesus to heal his son of unclean spirits. Jesus told him all things can be done for the one who believes. He responded, “I believe, help my unbelief.” I believe that what Jesus wants of us is not absolute certain unwavering belief in the resurrection or anything else. He wants us to be faithful in our struggles to follow him.
“I believe, help my unbelief.”
He desires us to acknowledge that at times we may not believe but we still ask ourselves what we believe and what kinds of lives we should live. If we are honest with ourselves and with God Jesus will be with us and we will find the new creation which John points to in his Gospel.
The Lord is Risen – he is risen indeed. Hallelujah.