Resurrection: a meaning and a purpose

Last Supper
For the audio version of the sermon, click here.

As we complete the Holy Week journey today, I have in a sense, seen resurrection first hand. I was fourteen years old at the time and had been cutting grass for a few weeks, saving up money for my new pastime: golf. I had it in my mind that I was going to improve my golf game with a decent putter. Never mind the fact that I couldn’t hit any of the other clubs to save my life, the putter was going to save my golf game and make me a sub-100 golfer.

It was June, so school was out. It was Wednesday, mid-week, and traffic in K-Mart was relatively light, only a few people scattered throughout the store. I had walked away from my parents and was digging through the golf clubs hoping to find one that was more than twenty dollars but less than thirty, a good club but at a decent price, actually a pricier club that was discounted. It took the better part of fifteen minutes but I found what I was looking for and made up my mind that this was the club, the salvation of my golf game.

I heard my parents talking and realized they had tracked me down so I walked around the end of the aisle to show them. As I rounded the corner, my father fell. He went down in a heap, collapsing into a shelving unit, taking down the merchandise with him. Honestly, at that moment, in my teenage addled brain, I thought, “But it’s on sale.” As I realized what was going on, my mother was in a blind panic, screaming for help. In an act of God’s grace, two paramedics were in the store, just off duty from the hospital only two miles away. An ambulance was called and the paramedics tried to keep my father alive, alternately fighting and giving up from the floor of the store all the way to the emergency room. My father lost a week of his life in that he cannot remember the three days before the incident or the three days after. He died. And then he was alive.

Now thirty years later, he is retired, enjoys traveling, stacks of library books, and puttering around the house that he and my mother have lived in since I was eight months old. For me personally, and for my family, this event became not only the physical restoration of my father but the beginning of a spiritual resurrection for my family. Not long after this, we began attending church and each of us: my father, mother, sister, and myself, these were the initial steps in faith journey, one that would send both of my parent’s children into the ministry.

For me this story is quite personal, but for all of us especially those of us who seek to follow in the Way of Jesus, the idea of resurrection is central to how we understand our faith. But I wonder, do we think about it beyond an assent to an idea? I know for myself the idea of resurrection was long an idea in theory online, one of a set of propositions necessary for me to believe in order call myself a good believer. I have come to believe, however, that believing or intellectual assent, isn’t all that God calls us to do. We are called to be disciples or those who study and follow in the way of our teacher, Jesus. So, what do we do to make resurrection something real and tangible.

Meaning

The writer of Luke lived in a world of people hurting and in need of direction. The gospel was written some fifteen or twenty years after the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jewish people had been scattered all over the Mediterranean and Northern Africa. Most of Luke’s audience were poor and barely surviving from day to day. Hope was lost to them in this life as most of those who were wealthy and powerful held little if any regard for their downtrodden countrymen.

And so, the message of something better in a spiritual life was a welcome word, a spiritual balm for their weary souls. If they could live beyond their circumstances in a spiritual sense, they had hope in this life, the hope of a spiritual resurrection and the promise of a life beyond this life. One Christian writer puts it this way,

“The resurrection was for the early Christians not just a promise about the future but a cure for the fear of death, now. Awareness of our mortality can paralyze us. So, the courage born of resurrection is a gift of rebirth in the now, a baptismal present that opens the end in hope.”  (Keller 2008, 129)

For some, the idea of resurrection must be limited to a physical, bodily resurrection or all of the gospel is lost. It is part of an all or nothing proposition that says you either believe everything in a factual, literal way, or you can trust none of it. But as one writer says, “Seeing the Easter stories as parable does not involve a denial of their factuality. It’s quite happy leaving the question open. What is does insist upon is that the importance of these stories lies in their meanings…” (Crossan and Borg 2007, 193) What is important is the meaning and the meaning of resurrection is this: we can die and be reborn, in this life, in the here and now. We can as Paul writes, “So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!”[1] and “Being circumcised or not being circumcised doesn’t mean anything. What matters is a new creation.”[2] The point, the emphasis is on a changed life, a life that is orienting itself to the worship of God through the discipleship or followership of Jesus.

Purpose

I was reading a book this week that asked these questions, “God raised Jesus. Yes. And what does this mean? Is it about the most spectacular miracle there’s ever been? Is it about the promise of an afterlife? Is it about God proving that Jesus was indeed his Son?” (Crossan and Borg 2007, 190)

I have had times in my life when I heard these questions through the filter of stuff I had to believe. If I didn’t believe, as I have said before, I couldn’t call myself a Christian. Yet, can you really believe without action. The writer of James says,

“My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it?  Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat.  What if one of you said, “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!”? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs? In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity.”  (James 2:14-17)

Real faith calls us to real action. This is the heart of Methodism, born with John Wesley’s vision of seeing faith be real, especially to the poor and hurting of eighteenth century England. “Easter completes the archetypal pattern at the center of the Christian life: death and resurrection, crucifixion and vindication…the two must be affirmed equally.” (Crossan and Borg 2007, 209) This leads to ultimately acknowledging that we accept, we believe and act as though Jesus is Lord (the one with the right of rule over us) personally but also politically (that is, in our public life and actions) as well. (Crossan and Borg 2007, 215-216)

So, if the meaning is the emphasis is on a changed life, a life that is orienting itself to the worship of God through the discipleship or followership of Jesus and the purpose is that we live this changed life as those who are now given to follow Jesus, what does that look like in our day and age? I think you can find it in two places and they are the two places I mention most often when I point people to the Bible: Matthew 5-7 and Matthew 25:31-46. The basics of these verses are this: The Beatitudes, being Salt and Light for the world, Jesus interpretation of the Ten Commandments and their spiritual implication, the inner and outer life, knowing that God has us in his hand, and the life of the disciple. I believe all these things encompass the basics for what a resurrection Christian should look like.

And that leads us to this question: do we live a resurrected life or are we dead to the Kingdom life? How do we keep Jesus alive, resurrected, for the world around us today?

I would like to close with a set of resurrection life practices written by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat that may help points us to some ideas on how to live this out.

“Give your full attention to whatever you are doing, and you’ll recognize the constant renewal of life all around you.

Walk the path of beauty and notice the spiritual radiance in people, places, and growing things — more signs of rebirth.

Leave the past to God’s mercy. Leave the future to God’s discretion. Living in the present moment, the only time when God brings forth new life, is a way of affirming your belief in resurrection.

Whenever you with compassion open your heart, mind, and soul to the pain of the world, you help bring suffering beings back into the land of the living.

When you cultivate the art of making connections, the walls of separation come crashing down and new life can spring up out of the rubble.

When you regularly pray for others as part of your devotional activities, you are practicing resurrection.

Enthusiasm is the mark of a life-giver. When you can laugh and sing and relish life, you are practicing resurrection.

Every time you forgive someone, another resurrection is in the making.

Every time you accept God’s grace in your life and see it in the world around you, your own resurrection is in the making.

Bring hope to someone in despair, bring healing to those in conflict, and you are contributing to the ongoing resurrection.

When you can welcome guests and alien ideas with graciousness, you are participating in a new world of hospitality.

Your work for justice, freedom, and equality sets the stage for resurrection. When you feed the hungry and stand up for the oppressed, you are a life-giver.

Practicing resurrection also means having confidence that God can make something out of your selfishness, anger, greed, hatred, and any of your other shadow qualities.

Love God, love your neighbor, and love your new life as marks of the resurrection.”[3]


References

Collins, Kenneth J. The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace. Nashville: Abingdn Press, 2007.

Craddock, Fred. Luke: Interpretation – A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Lousiville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990.

Crossan, John Dominic, and Marcus Borg. The Last Week. 1st (Paperback). New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishing, 2007.

Keller, Catherine. On the Mystery. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2008.

Spong, John Shelby. Resurrection: Myth or Reality? New York: HarperCollins, 1994.


[1] 2 Corinthians 5:17

[2] Galatians 6:15

[3] http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/practices/naming-the-days/view/10963/easter-resurrection-as-a-spiritual-practice

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