sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 04/08/2012
video recording of the service at http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/21684804
Easter 2012: Empty Tombs and Bobsleds
Vineyard Church of Milan
It’s Resurrection Sunday. The first day of a brand new week.
Today is the day that a story sweeps in and engulfs every event, every word, every action in human history. Because of the resurrection, our lives are caught up in a story. Lent is over. Good Friday now lives only in memory. Today, and every day from here on out, is Sunday and Sunday’s children, the days that Resurrection Sunday gives birth to, the days that share Resurrection Sunday’s DNA.
Today is the day the story sheds it tragic skin and emerges as a true comedy.
Today is the day our story becomes a good story.
Today is the day the story becomes epic.
24 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6He is not here; he has risen!
Let’s be clear about a few things.
One. We’re not stupid. We know how things work. Dead people stay dead. A dead looking plant might perk up if you water it. Dead looking sick people might recover with enough care and willpower and medical attention. Mostly dead people might be revived by CPR or heroic intervention. Some have even reported out of body experiences in the midst of surgery or trauma, only to be “sent back” and suck in air again for years of new life afterwards. But truly dead people stay dead. Especially people who are killed dead by powerful empires and rulers vested interests in keeping dead people dead so they can’t start revolutions.
This story, the resurrection story, on the other hand, is crazy. It says a dead person, dead for more than a day, stopped being dead and started being alive. Fully alive. Alive and kicking alive, no worse for the wear alive.
And not metaphorically alive, like alive in our hearts or memories or even some disembodied existence, like a ghost or something. But pinch-me-I’m-not-dreaming alive.
Resurrection raises provocative questions, doesn’t it? Resurrection says we might not be stupid, but we maybe shouldn’t be as sure of things as we thought we were. Because if that can happen, what else is possible?
But this story is even crazier than just that:
13Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16but they were kept from recognizing him…
30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.
Which brings us to the second thing we need to be clear about. This story says this dead person, Jesus of Nazareth, after being dead, was so alive, filled with so much life, in such a new state of animated embodiedness, that people couldn’t quite recognize him at first. Like when someone you’ve only ever seen in blue jeans and a t-shirt shows up dressed to the 9s, hair all done up, pedicured and manicured, maybe even a little makeup. And you do a double take. But more than that – so much more alive, body and soul, that you could spend the day with them and think they were a stranger until something clicked, they said that thing in that particular way, they moved their hand and cocked their head in only the way they do that, and you realized – whoah! That was Jesus.
And then poof, he disappears.
Which is where it gets even crazier. Because it means his body is a whole different kind of alive then the kind of alive we know. It has a fully alive physicality in a dimension that surrounds this one, and is fully alive in this one as well. Some of us have had out of body experiences, and some of us have had out of this world experiences, but Jesus has out of this world experiences in his resurrected, flesh and blood body.
36While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
37They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
40When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate it in their presence.
So again, just so we’re clear. We aren’t stupid. But our sense of what is possible just got blown out of the water. Something crazy incredible is happening on resurrection Sunday, and it’s happening right here on planet earth. With atoms and molecules and flesh and blood and bone and breath. It’s just that those atoms and molecules and flesh and blood and bone and breath are behaving as they’ve never behaved before.
Resurrection isn’t about somewhere else. It’s not about escape to angels and harps and clouds. Resurrection happens here. And that means everything about right here, right now has changed.
Resurrection is embodied, engaged, active life here.
It is the affirmation of here. The affirmation of work and embrace and laughter and forgiveness and sunshine and birds and working through conflict and horses and soccer and encouragement and struggle and trees and art and music and faithful persistence and dance and poetry and on and on…
It is the affirmation of breakfast.
Resurrection is about something new starting here, in the world we call home.
Resurrection is an announcement of new creation.
The story isn’t that someday we abandon this place.
The story is that God hasn’t abandoned this place, and he never will.
(you know how you leave something at someone’s house, in an attempt to ensure continued relationship…? this is place is now permanently connected to God, since he’s now embodied in a new creation version of it…)
God is starting a new creation, here, out of the tomb of the old. As the scriptures describe it, Jesus is the firstborn from the among the dead. Which means there will be all kinds of second and third and next-borns.
Thus our task as followers of the resurrected Christ. To see and name and give ourselves to the good that resurrection will one day make really real, incorruptible and permanent, perfect and untainted.
Our task is to practice resurrection. To give ourselves to all that resurrection will resurrect, and push it in that direction like a bobsledder pushes the bobsled until gravity takes over. People... Justice... Business... Beauty... Creation itself… Celebration and gratitude… Worship of every sort... True love in every form...
Will the things you have given your life to go on when God’s good new world takes over the old, when Resurrection comes? When death is gone from it? When only the beautiful and true and redeemed remains?
As we practice resurrection, Resurrection has a few other things to announce along the way.
For example, Resurrection is the cancelling of every debt. Once and for all, buried, never to come out.
13When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
Everything that stood against us – our sins, the things we’ve given ourselves to that will not go on in God’s new world when resurrection comes – those debts we’ve incurred are cancelled. Nailed to the cross. There is nothing then to hold us back from practicing resurrection. From giving ourselves afresh.
Resurrection also says someone else is in charge. Someone good. Someone really, really, really good. Life is in charge, not death. Mercy has triumphed over judgment. The resurrected Jesus has disarmed those powers and authorities that previously ruled our world, he’s made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. Affirmation is in charge, not accusation. Love rules over all.
Resurrection says nothing has to be the way it’s always been forever. No story has to end the way it looks like it’s going to end. No tomorrow has to have its feet stuck in today. Because Resurrection changes every story.
What we do, as followers of Jesus, is to learn to see the new creation that resurrection announces bursting forth right here among us. And then we move towards it, to embrace it with open arms, no matter how unlikely it seems.
In a community that is hurting from job losses and broken families and interrupted starts, as followers of Jesus, we learn to see the new creation that resurrection announces getting ready to burst forth, and we water it. We create breathing room for it. We welcome it. With faith rooted in the resurrection that’s already happened. We practice the kind of life that will one day take over this place as God’s good new world infuses this present reality.
In the life of a child who is hurting from brokenness beyond their control, we learn to see the new creation that resurrection announces getting ready to burst forth, and we name it and give ourselves to that good work God desires to bring to completion. We make space for them to practice resurrection along with us.
In the lives of everyone we meet, we keep our eyes peeled for resurrection – which seems to most often happen right where the dead are buried – and we look for ways to embrace it. To bless it. To roll away the stones. Until every tomb is empty.
And even in our own lives, full of death though they may be, we learn to look for resurrection. To look for Jesus, present even though we didn’t recognize him at first. And when he asks for breakfast, we offer him everything in our cupboards, and sit down with him to eat.
That’s what these who are getting baptized our doing. Choosing to give their lives to learning to see the new creation resurrection announces. Choosing to trust that the risen one has indeed triumphed over every other power and authority. Choosing to practice resurrection in relationships, in work, in play, in worship day after day after day until God’s good new world takes over the old.
Do you see this tomb they buried Jesus in? He isn’t here. He is risen!