Sunday, 12 April 2009

Resurrection!


Sermon Easter Day Year B 

People used to argue a lot about resurrection...

And I guess they still do...but did you know…

in the ancient world... when our gospels were written...
the
word resurrection...in Latin or Greek...
was
never used to talk about …what happens after people die.

 

Blank slide

At the time Jesus lived...the Jewish understanding of resurrection ...was reserved... for that new bodily life…
which would come for
everyone... at the end of days.

 

Life after death was just the first stage... of a two stage process and when 1st century Jews argued about the resurrection
they were debate the second stage…not life after death but the resurrection…that was to follow in the future.

 

Most pagans and Jews in Jesus’ time…most people…
believed in the first stage...in life after death...
but some just didn’t
believe in the bodily resurrection at the end of days. [i]

 

My favourite biblical scholar...Tom Wright…

tells us its clear from songs and stories and poetry in the 1st Century that everyone knew about ghosts, and spirits, and visions and hallucinations...they were clear
these weren’t about
bodies.

 

But when the Jews debated the idea of resurrection
it was
definitely about bodies...an example of this is when King Herod thinks Jesus might be John the Baptist raised from the dead. Herod certainly isn’t saying he thinks Jesus is a ghost.

And it’s clear from the ancient Hebrew scriptures...

that most Jews looked forward…
to an eventual
resurrection...understanding
God would look after their
spirits...until that day of judgment ... when God would remake the world... and give his people new resurrected bodies’[ii]  

 

You can hear echoes of this… in Martha’s conversation with Jesus… about the resurrection of her brother Lazarus.
Or when the
Sadducees...who didn’t believe in the resurrection of the last days ...try to trick Jesus...

 

And Jesus opinion in these discussions is consistent with… what most first century Jews believe…Jesus speaks of the resurrection… as a complete event… sometime in the future...
when
all the righteous will be raised... [pause]

 

That's until Jesus begins to explain to his followers...
that he
himself will be killed...and then raised again…

three days later.

 

And because this is inconceivable…Jesus disciples simply can’t grasp what he’s saying...It’s the last thing they can imagine...

 

So the one time Jesus tries to talk to them about his resurrection...his disciples have no idea what he’s talking about. They never thought resurrection…could happen to just one person... ahead of everyone else. They certainly never imagined the Messiah… would even die.

 

And this understanding of resurrection… is precisely why Jesus death on the cross...is the end of all their hopes.[iii] 

 

From the disciples point of view...Jesus crucifixion…

means the hoped for kingdom of God…simply hasn’t come
and
Jesus… can’t be the Messiah [pause]

 

As Jesus stumbles under the burden of his cross…
up that hill...his
followers never dream of saying...
‘Well
that’s all right... he’s got to die to save us...
but he’ll be
back… in a few days.[iv]  

On the contrary... the two days after the crucifixion...

are the end of all their hopes...as far as they’re concerned...

end of story. [pause………………]

 

But the story isn’t over...because something happens...

Something...that causes the first Christians…
to reform the Jewish understanding of resurrection
in
seven… startlingly new ways. [pause]

 

According to Tom Wright… the first thing that was different about the Christian understanding of resurrection...
is when they announced Jesus has risen from the
dead,
they mean something happened to
Jesus…
that had
never happened...to anyone else.[v]

 

...something no one ever expected to happen...

 

And secondly...resurrection moves from a debatable religious idea… at the fringes of Judaism ... to the very centre of the faith of the first Christians. Belief in Jesus’ bodily resurrection ...is held so strongly by the first Christians many are prepared to die for it in the martyrs arenas of Rome.

 

Thirdly...the first Christians are clear...that while Jesus’ resurrected body... is somehow new... transformed... and incorruptible...it’s still a real body...and Jesus isn’t some disembodied spirit ghost or hallucination...

The first Christians claim… Jesus resurrected body… occupies three dimensional space...and leaves behind… 

empty tombs.

 

And fourthly...

Before Easter... no first century Jew…
expected the
resurrection to be anything other...
than a
sudden large-scale event...that happenes to all God’s people[vi]  

 But after Easter... Christians believe…the resurrection has happened… to one person... in the middle of history...Before and guaranteeingthe great final resurrection.[vii]

And the fifth redefinition of resurrection… proceeds logically from this...because if resurrection begins with Jesus...

Then… in anticipation of the final resurrection…
Jesus
followers…are called to continue his work…
in all their personal and political
relationships...[viii]

As followers of Jesus… they were ...and we are… 

charged… with transforming our present world…

in light of that future hope kindled by Jesus resurrection.

 

The Sixth reformation of Jewish understanding is politically fascintating... in Judaism before Jesus time...the resurrection is often used metaphorically… to symbolize the ethnic...

and geographical restoration of Israel as a nation in itself...

but from the earliest days in Christianity...

that meaning completely disappears....By the time Paul’s letters are written... a new metaphorical meaning
emerges in the sacrament of
baptism. As a dying and rising with Christ...

 

For the 1st Christians

in baptism...resurrection becomes a symbol of the new life…
a life of
obedience…in bringing about the Gods will on earth. [pause]

 

And the seventh and final Christian reshaping of resurrection... links it for the first time in religious history...
with the Messiah.

 

In all previous Jewish writings...no one ever debated
whether the Messiah would rise from the
dead...

because no one expected the Messiah to die!
Jewish
texts promised a Messiah...who’d fight God’s victorious battle against the wicked pagans...rebuild and cleanse the Temple...and bring God’s justice to the world.  

 

But Jesus does none of these things during his ministry ...instead......Jesus suffers injustice... annoys the Temple authorities and dies at the hand of the pagans. [pause]

 

Jesus does none of the things the promised Messiah was supposed to do... yet from very early on...Christians proclaim for all to hear… that Jesus is indeed the Messiah...

 

precisely because of his resurrection. There had never been a story like it...

Of course there were Messianic pretenders… and their movements were a dime a dozen. And…usually these movements end with the violent death of their leaders...

 

But after they die…their followers believe they’re resting with God...they do not understand them to be resurrected...
because as far as they’re concerned…
that’s only going to happen to all of them together ... at the end of days... [pause]

 

So something happened... even though gospel accounts differ... something happened to convince the first Christians…
to make Jesus’ bodily resurrection...the very centre of their faith...

 

as Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go to care for Jesus body in the tomb… Something happens.... Something so compelling … it transforms… a quivering, terrified, defeated, and depressed… band of mourners
some scared stiff even to be identified with Jesus…

something so undeniable happensit turns broken men and women...

 

into courageous campaigners throughout the Roman Empire…proclaiming Jesus saving message of Shalom...
something inspires them to go any distance, and face any danger…even death...for what they believe...[pause]

 

I love Easter... because it gives me the opportunity...

to tell you...what I hold to be true in my heart...

that nothing... but a face to face… touch to touch encounter...

with the resurrected Christ…nothing else... would or could explain...the transformation of the cowards of Gethsemane… into the heroes of Pentecost… may you also be transformed...as we enter into a time of silent listening.


[i] Wright, NT. Surprised by hope – Rethinking heaven, the resurrection and the mission of the church, Harper, NY. 2008.  37

[ii] ibid.

[iii] ibid.

[iv] ibid 39

[v] ibid.  37

[vi] ibid 45

[vii] ibid.

[viii] Ibid 46.

Saturday, 11 April 2009