SJF • Easter 2015 • Tobias S Haller BSG
God raised Jesus on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia. That, my friends, is the Easter message, short and sweet; the heart of the gospel and the center of our Creed and acclamation. (Don’t get too excited, though; the sermon will be a little longer...) Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. It is why we are here today, and why we are here every time we gather week by week and year by year — some of us, if we are honest about it, tending more to the year-by-year than the week-by-week! But if you can only be here one day a year — or for the first time in your life! — this is the day to be here: Easter Day, the day of resurrection.
It is fashionable in some theological circles to debate and discuss the nature of the resurrection, asking, Did it really happen? or What was it like? At the furthest reaches of skepticism you have those who suggest that Jesus was not really raised from the dead; but rather, that the power of his personality and his teaching were so persuasive that the apostles decided to continue their teaching and preaching as if he had been raised from the dead. In addition to transforming the apostles into either fools or con-men, does this really make any sense at all? Who would risk their lives to preach a gospel based on a fabric as thin and weak as wet tissue paper? Who would be willing to face down the authorities of Rome and the Sanhedrin on the basis of such a dream or a hope? Who would be willing to die — as most of the apostles did — in defense of a pious memory?
And if the apostles were con-men, if indeed they stole the body from the tomb — as the slanderous rumor would have it — then we are, as Saint Paul once said, of all people the most to be pitied, for having been hoodwinked by first-century con-artists — who, if they were con-artists, weren’t very smart themselves: for they got nothing for their scam but persecution, beatings, imprisonment, exile and death! Who is more the fool?!
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But look at what Saint Peter says: “God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” Peter is testifying as an eye witness; he’s not making this up; he’s not elaborating a pious memory, or engineering a clever scam. He saw the risen Christ with his own eyes; he and the other apostles ate and drank with Jesus over those days before he was taken up into heaven and exalted at the right hand of the Father. Whatever else one wants to say about the resurrection, Saint Peter affirms that it is real.
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Now of course, you might well say, well, what is real? What is reality? Could someone who died really come back to life — not just resuscitated, like Lazarus, but totally transformed into a person who can walk through walls or locked doors to confront his frightened followers — and we will be hearing more about that in the coming weeks. This risen Christ, this Jesus Christ who was raised from the dead by the power of God, was not merely restored to life, but was given a whole new kind of life. When Saint Paul tries to explain this to the Corinthians, he says, “It is sown a physical body, but is raised a spiritual body.”
The problem with this is that we tend to hear the word spiritual as being less real than the physical. But it is the other way around: the spiritual is more real than the physical. For God is Spirit, and God is the most real reality that is, the reality upon which all other things depend, the Creator of all that is. If God is not real, nothing else could be real!
Christ could walk through the closed doors of those fear-filled rooms, not because he was like a ghost, but because he was ever so much more real, solid and substantial than those merely physical barriers. He could walk through those barriers the way we walk through a puff of smoke or a haze of fog. The stone at his tomb was rolled away not so he could get out — he could have walked through that stone like it was tissue paper — the stone was rolled away to let the disciples see that the tomb was empty; that he had been raised. The risen Christ, in the power of the spirit, was more, not less, real than the substantial world he came to save. We, my friends, are the ghosts: dead in our sin. But the Easter message proclaims: He is alive! And if he is alive, then we who live in him are alive as well.
The spirit, you see, gives life — and compared to what is dead (as we all are in our sins) what is alive is more real,more substantial, more solid, and more full of the energy that drives the universe. That cosmos itself is supported and sustained only by the love of God who created it; the nurturing care of God’s Holy Spirit that sustains it — what the poet Dante so beautifully described as “the love that moves the sun and the other stars.” And that same power — the power that moves the universe - is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.
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Some skeptics will say this is impossible. But I ask you — who of us here is possible? Each and every person sitting here in this church, each and every person who ever walked this earth, at one point didn’t exist, wasn’t real — didn’t exist at all. Yet here we are! Each and every person sitting in this church, young and old, big and small, and the billions of others born upon this earth came into being from the joining of two cells: one of them smaller than a pinhead, and the other smaller still. That’s reality, my friends. Each of us here started out as a speck no bigger than the period at the end of a sentence, a wiggle no bigger than a comma. And yet here we are.
And our present bodies are as miraculous as our beginning. For as we grew from that little point, we drew substance first from our mother’s womb, then when we were born and came forth into the world with a cry as all mortals to, we grew from the food we ate, the air we breathed — yes, we are built up with material gathered from the four corners of the world — and that world itself is compacted of the substance of exploded stars! What a miracle that each of us can sit here in this church, both it and we made up from elements from the four corners of the universe, from literally billions of miles away, gathered here against all odds to this very spot, gathered from the air that God spreads upon this earth, from the water that flows so freely, from the food from far afield.
There are atoms in my body that once were part of other lives, that swam in the fish off the coast of Alaska, that browsed in the herds of the Great Plains of Iowa, that grew in the fruit groves of Florida. What an impossibly unlikely reality I am, that each of us is: that the substance of the universe scattered to its ends should find itself collected and gathered, here and now in you, in me!
Is it real? Can it be? And can God who works this miracle a billion times over in every human being , not work a single miracle in one human being that is a billion times as great? Can the power of God that works to bring life from such a tiny beginning to its present state, to summon the substance of exploded stars to form billions of human lives, can he not continue the amazing transformation one further step in one very special human being? What if our bodies now stand in the same relation to what we shall be in the resurrection, (when we shall be like Christ in our risen spiritual bodies) as the first beginning of our lives, when we were sheltered in our mothers’ wombs no bigger than a period or a comma — not even as big as a question mark — bear to what we are now? We are only in the middle, my friends, we are in-between what once we were as a tiny speck that was almost nothing, and what we shall be in the life of the world to come: and oh, what a sight it will be.
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For we have been given a promise, my friends, a promise passed down for nearly 2,000 years, a promise first given by our Lord himself and repeated by the angel at the tomb, who reassured those fearful, faithful, women who came to find a body. “He he is not here; he has been raised; but he is going ahead to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”
“We will see him.” That is the promise. And it is real. We will not see him as we do now, only in the acts of charity and self-sacrifice done in his name. We will not see him only under the forms of bread and wine, as we see him now. We will not see him only in the icons and the paintings and the stained-glass windows, however beautiful they are they are only shadows of the things that are to come, when the glory is revealed, and we will see him as he is, see him with our own eyes — our own new spiritual eyes seeing him in his super-substantial, and spiritual body — raised from the dead, transformed and glorified for our sake and on our behalf, that we might be led into the way of transformation that will change us too, into his likeness and according to his great love and promise.
So if anyone asks you, my friends, “Is it real?” you can assure them it is the most real thing that is: more real than death, more real than life itself — this new life that is raised from the dead in the power and the glory of God, to whom we give, as is most justly due, all might, majesty, power and dominion, henceforth and for evermore.