Thursday, April 28, 2011

Easter 2011: Life After Life After Death

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 04/24/2011

[new things that change what comes after, vs. a new kind of new thing…]

Paul’s letter to the Colossians describes Jesus this way: “He is the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead.”


The phrase, the firstborn from among the dead, is a reference to Jesus’ resurrection, the turning point in history that we celebrate on Easter. The resurrection story is a story that still speaks to us today. Words we are longing to hear. Words that we need to hear. Words that we’ve never heard before we heard of the resurrection, except perhaps in dreams and whispers and hints and suggestions. Words that resurrection speaks loudly and clearly, for the whole earth to hear, past, present, and future.

This morning, I believe Jesus wants his resurrection to shape our imaginations beyond the popular imagination.

The popular imagination says one of two things.

One version of the popular imagination says there is no more to life than this life.


[Bon Jovi: “It’s My Life”

This ain't a song for the broken-hearted 
No silent prayer for the faith-departed 
I ain't gonna be just a face in the crowd 
You're gonna hear my voice 
When I shout it out loud 
It's my life 
It's now or never 
I ain't gonna live forever 
I just want to live while I'm alive 
(It's my life) 
My heart is like an open highway 
Like Frankie said 
I did it my way 
I just wanna live while I'm alive 
It's my life

This perspective says that the joys and goodness you experience are joys and goodness that only go as far as they go. Which for some of us is pretty far, and for others not so far at all. And that the struggle and pain you experience, in the end, one way or the other have their final say, and then there is nothing to be said after that. Except, of course, for what those who go on after you say about you.

If this version of the popular imagination is what shapes your life, then the best you can hope for beyond death is that those who go on after you discover that the way you lived adds more to the joys and goodness they experience than it does to the struggle and pain. Which is certainly not the worst thing to hope for. But is it really the best?


The other version of the popular imagination says that there is life after death. Life that may take all sorts of forms: perhaps reincarnation, paradise in the company of virgins, some kind of disembodied ethereal existence of the kind enjoyed by Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker and Yoda at the end of Return of the Jedi, or in the case of the most popular Christian imagination, blissful existence with God and angels and redeemed loved ones in some kind of heavenly other dimension. Sometimes this is a deeply comforting hope; other times it is a bit, well, less than exciting:

[Talking Heads, “Heaven”

Everyone is trying to get to the bar.
The name of the bar, the bar is called Heaven.
The band in Heaven plays my favorite song.
They play it once again, they play it all night long.
Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.
Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.
There is a party, everyone is there.
Everyone will leave at exactly the same time.
Its hard to imagine that nothing at all
could be so exciting, and so much fun.
Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.
Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.
When this kiss is over it will start again.
It will not be any different; it will be exactly
the same.
It's hard to imagine that nothing at all
could be so exciting, could be so much fun.
Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.
Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens

Resurrection wants to shake our imaginations out of both of these daydreams, and inhabit our vision of the future with a concrete reality upon which whole new kinds of lives can be built.

Resurrection says there is more to life than this life. That the joys and goodness we know, sweet as they are, are just the beginning. That the pain and suffering we know, horrible as they can be, will eventually give way to joys and goodness previously unknown.

Resurrection says there is more to life than life after death. That life after death is a stop along the way to a substantially better destination. That life after death, colorful as it may be in our imaginations - especially when our world is overcast and grey - pales in comparison to the vibrant, saturated life that succeeds it.

Because Life after death isn’t enough for God’s good creation.

Life after death doesn’t take away death’s power.

Life after death alone

Says death still has all kinds of power

Says death has power to end life as we know it.

Power to fundamentally separate.

Us from one another.

Us from our God-given bodies.

Us from our God-given purpose.

Us from our God-given dreams.

Says death has power to keep the future at a distance.

Says death has power to turn our labors of love into labors in vain.

Resurrection speaks the words all of creation has been dying to hear.

Resurrection says No! to the terror of death.

Resurrection says Yes! to the laughter of Love.

Resurrection says there is Life-After-Life-After-Death.


And that that life – Life-After-Life-After-Death - is the life of the ages, life incorruptible, imperishable, glorious, powerful, undying.

Life-After-Life-After-Death? Yes, indeed.

[timeline: life / death / life after death / life-after-life-after-death…]


Easter morning brings concrete, startling evidence that there is more to life than what we’ve experienced so far, and more to life than even our best hopes of life after death. The resurrection is the world’s first evidence of life-after-life-after-death. And it’s the promise that the life-after-life-after-death has come to life in our present reality now, bringing a hope that can absolutely transform the lives we live before death as well.


Read John 20v1-20…

The gospels are very clear that the resurrected Jesus wasn’t a ghost, an apparition. He had a real deal physical body, one that could eat and be touched and seen and heard. And it was still recognizably his body – it had the marks of the crucifixion on it still, for example, and when people did recognize it, they recognized it as Jesus. But it was also more, different, transformed, new. Transformed enough that some didn’t recognize him at first, perhaps in the way a bride will have such a radiance that even those who know her well may take another glance to be sure it’s actually her. It was a body that death, illness, pain, suffering could no longer touch. A body that was equally at home on earth and in the heavens, and mysteriously capable of slipping back and forth at will, until doing so one final time at the ascension, to remain in God’s dimension until the final joining of the heavens and the earth, God’s dimension fused with our earthly dimension, at his second coming. Jesus’ resurrection body, in other words, is a body that belongs to the life after life after death part of the time line.

Life-after-life-after-death is life that takes all that is holy and good and God-breathed about our present mixed up lives, and present mixed up world, and remakes us, and this world, as fully holy and fully good and fully God-breathed, fully reflecting the glorious image of our creator. The resurrected Jesus is our first glimpse of this kind of life, the source of our hope for something more than life after death.

Don’t get me wrong, life after death is part of the picture for those of us who die before Jesus returns to set everything right, to complete God’s new creation that began with his resurrection (like the rebel crucified next to Jesus, to whom Jesus said, “surely today you’ll be with me in paradise”). Jesus himself must have experienced some kind of life after death during the time his body rested in the tomb. It’s just that the Bible doesn’t say a whole lot to us about life after death; probably because life after death doesn’t say much to us either.

But life-after-life-after death? Well, you might say you just can’t shut it up.


Says that death isn’t the end of life as we know it.


Says that there is so much to know of life as we know it that the knowing has only just begun.

Every good thing I’ve ever experienced, I’ve experienced with my body: through my senses, interpreted by my brain. [examples…]

Sure, it’d be nice to free from pain, to have some rest. But I can only get excited about that as much as I can get excited about sleeping. Which is exactly how the Bible describes life after death – “those who have fallen asleep in Christ.”

No, what gets me excited, what gives me hope, is the idea that the good parts of my life today, the waking, wakeful parts – the elements of who I am, the things I do, that are lined up with the love and goodness of God – might actually still matter tomorrow, that they might actually be around tomorrow, they might turn into what they’re really meant to be tomorrow. [training for sports, music, reading…]


Says Love has robbed death of all its power.

Says Love now has power to undo every barrier death can throw at life.

Says Love now calls all the shots.

Because our lives are shaped now by our anticipation of life-after-life-after death. That’s what it means for us to love. And our world is shaped by life-after-life-after death blowing over it like a rainstorm over the desert. That’s Love’s prerogative, now that Love himself has come to life (life-after-life-after death life!) in the midst of our broken world.

Death, in other words, isn’t shaping anything anymore. Not anything that will last, anyway.

Because Life-After-Life-After-Death

Says that hope beyond hope has surprised us, and keeps on surprising us.

Says that since it’s already happened once with Jesus, now every mundane moment is pregnant with the possibility of encountering something new, something that comes forward from God’s good future and changes everything about the present.

We can be out one morning, going through the motions, doing our loving duty (like Mary going to finish the burial process) and the Gardener of a New Creation can show up and send us on a new mission. We can be in a locked room without hope (like the gathered disciples), and Peace that passes understanding (and apparently, passes through walls, too) can show up and breathe new life into us. We can be filled with doubts (like Thomas), hanging onto our own low expectations, and our hidden Hope can materialize and present Himself for inspection.


Says that we can practice resurrection, practice living tomorrow’s life today, practice living Life-After-Life-After-Death while we yet await the life to come.

Just as soon as we die to this life.

Just as soon as we die to lives that have been shaped by a deference to death’s power.

Just as soon as we defer to Love’s invitation.

Because resurrection life is only found on the other side of death.


21Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of anyone, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

This is where the resurrection rubber meets the resurrection road. Forgiveness in all its forms involve a death. The forgiveness Jesus won for us involved his physical death on the cross. We too, must die, in order to forgive. Not the death he died, no – he did that once and for all. In order to forgive, though, we must die to our pride. We must die to our desire for revenge, for repayment. We must die to our habit of looking out for our interests over the interests of others. We be willing to lose our lives as we know them in order to find the life that we know in the resurrected Jesus. The Life-After-Life-After-Death.


Says our labors of love are not in vain.

Says that everything surrendered to Love’s purposes and animated by God’s Spirit finds incorruptible completion in God’s new creation.

As the Father has sent me, I am sending you, Jesus says as he breathes new creation life onto us, into us – Receive my Holy Spirit!

Every single thing we do in response to that sending, everything we do empowered by that breath – everything we do in Christ, by his Spirit, in other words – every single thing will find its completion in the life-after-life-after-death new creation. Just as everything Jesus did found its completion in his resurrection. Every act of love, every act of justice, every effort towards peace, towards forgiveness, towards reconciliation, towards healing, towards freedom, towards holiness. All of it part of the new reality that will come in fullness when Jesus appears again, when God’s perfect future fully encompasses the present, when the Father’s will is done on earth just as it is in heaven. Not a single thing done will be a waste. It will all have full and vibrant expression in the fullness of the kingdom of God.

God’s new world has arrived in Jesus, and now his students are laying the groundwork –with him, by the Spirit – for it to arrive fully everywhere else.


Practical Tips:

1. Change your tune. Get in the habit of talking with your kids about Life-After-Life-After-Death as much or more than Life-After-Death.

2. Sentence something to death. Identify one thing about your current life-before-life-after-life-after death that you need to die to in order to make way for resurrection life in your life.

3. Play Make Believe. Imagine what Life-After-Life-After-Death might look like in a difficult relationship or situation. Ask yourself if there was one way you would act differently today if you knew that Life-After-Life-After-Death was on its way for that relationship or situation, and your job was to be ready to live in that new reality by the time it came.

“Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where O death is your victory? Where O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

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