Sermon for Easter Day: April 1, 2018
“CHRIST being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Rom. 6:9.”
DEATH OR LIFE? Darkness or Light? Cruelty or Kindness? Fear or Joy? Pride or Love? The choices we make are given to us, but none of them have any meaning until Life is chosen and Life is lived. Life is the thing, and Life is what we’re here for. The long, difficult week where we’ve followed the suffering of Jesus, His arrest, the mock trial, the political manipulation, the mob mentality, lashings and beatings and thorns in His scalp, the nails, vinegar, the stripping away of His clothing, and the hideous pain until His final gasps, cries and death. We walked the bleeding footprints up the Via Dolorosa and we laid His lifeless body in Joseph’s new stone tomb. But that’s not why we’re here, not today not Sunday, Easter Day. Jesus is Risen!
To every man, woman and child comes the question today, here in 2018, at the break of spring weather, forgetting the winter chill. Do you want Jesus dead? Or do you want Him to be alive? A modern college student might answer, “Well, if he did live once, he’s dead now, right?”
But that’s not the question, and on what might you base our assumption that He is dead? The last people to see Him alive said He is alive still, that He lived after His very real death and burial and that He left this world more alive than you or me. They might be lying, but how do we explain their determination to tell that same account every day thereafter until they faced their own crucifixion, boiling in oil, flaying, or beheading? They were convinced that death is not an end, but a beginning. They believed in Life. They had handled Him, watched Him eat fish and honeycomb, touched His wounded hands, feet and side. He was living, last day they saw Him. Paul saw Him years later than that, and Yes, He was still very much alive.
The question stands: Do you want Him dead? Or do you want Him alive? It is the question that separated people on a hilltop overhanging Jerusalem on a day of darkness. The temple professionals had their agenda: he must die. They wanted him dead. The soldiers were supposed to kill him, and so they set about their business. The mob had called out “Crucify Him!” And all our sins, and the sins of all the world, said to His suffering form, “Die!” Or was that the demonic world that every one of them had to be there, out of every corner of our planet, screaming at Him, “Die!”
Then there were the sorrowing women, His mother Mary, Simon who carried His cross, John the Beloved, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who hated that cross and wanted Him to live. The cross was a fact. It could not be gotten around. Jesus saw it in His way and went straight at it. This death had to be faced and defeated, and He was doing it. It couldn’t be argued away, as later Gnostics and Mohammed claimed. The death was real, and had to be, or what followed would not have changed the world. Life had to conquer death, and so death was a real and potent enemy.
Do you want Him dead? Cuss words and irreverent cartoons and academic seminary scholars and biology teachers may dismiss Him as dead. It’s convenient for our post-modern world to have Him dead and buried away. It serves many purposes that the Lord of Life should be out of the way so we might sell our drugs, treat life cheaply, please ourselves and get away with it. If the man rose from death and still lives on, and if He comes to be the judge of every life, well that changes things. That’s scary, to some. There’s nowhere to hide from such a Person. Right. Do you want Him dead or alive? Your true answer tells who you are. I know your answer. I know which one you choose. Christ is risen!
Life’s the thing. We walk right by it sometimes and we fail to register just how wonderful a thing Life is. Just Life right here and now. The minimum requirement for life to exist at all, and not just be dead chemical elements and compounds, mineral existence, dead stuff, is what we find in a cell. It used to be thought the cell was simple. It was just a bag of stuff and had a nucleus that split and made a second cell like itself. But that’s all changed. We know so much more now.
A cell is a sac of very special fluid, surrounded by a very special membrane that is permeable but that keeps everything in. In this chemical bath are organelles, very specialized machinery that interacts with other specialized machinery and builds parts for itself and its twin cells under construction. These parts cannot live by themselves, but depend on the whole, even in single celled life. Take it apart and it dies: you can’t just zip it back together and make it live, not again.
The cell converts fuel to energy, taking sugars and proteins with oxygen and breaking them down, using them, disposing of the waste. Some cells can move on their own. And there are countless kinds of cells.
At the heart of the cell is a wondrous DNA strand, the blueprint of its existence. 23 chromosome pairs in the double helix with ladder rungs connecting this amazing structure, containing 3 billion pairs of genetic information that together determine everything physical about the cell. Some of the organelles unwind and use the DNA genetic information to form new cell structures. It’s like a busy city of blind workers knowing what to do and finding everything they need in this coded source of intelligence. All in one cell that we can’t see with our unaided eyes. And that’s only one cell. Our bodies are made from 37 trillion such cells, all at work, all being made, and some being unmade at each moment, and each cell with its own function so that the body might live. The life of a human being relies on more than the living cells, but the interactivity of a great many healthy cells, each giving what they have for the sake of the body.
Last night we read the vision of Ezekiel, God showing him a valley filled with dead men’s bones. At God’s command he spoke to the bones and they became skeletons and then flesh came upon the bones, organs and muscle and skin. But the bodies, fully formed and intact, did not live. At God’s second command, Ezekiel called for the wind, the breath to enter the dead bodies and they came alive. So it was, we’re told, in Eden as Adam’s lifeless form lay, fully created, but lifeless until the Spirit of God breathed life into his nostrils and he became a living soul.
Christ’s dead body lay in darkness, alone. For a certainty He had died. The breath left His body and His heart broke, literally, and then was pierced. There were so many deadly forces at once destroying that perfect body and yet at the last He willed Himself to depart His own dying form. The body dropped on its cruel nails, but the life that had been in Him was still alive, invisible, living apart from the corpse. They laid His body in a shroud, placed it in a tomb, rolled a heavy stone door against the opening, sealed it, and Roman guards set watch over it. That body could not have been more dead.
While ‘dead,’ Jesus we’re told went to where dead spirits exist. He showed them His life and what it meant, and offered them what He offers you and me. “I am the way, the truth and the life. You can come to the Father only by Me. Believe in Me and you will never truly die.” It’s His utmost will to see us live forever. For that we need forgiveness, and He supplies that by His death. We also need someone to defeat death for us. He has done so, by His Resurrection. Finally, we need to want Him to live. Do you want Him to live?
For a moment, you are Pontius Pilate. You have the power to kill this prisoner or to let him go. If you let him go, he’s free. You do it every day. He tells you that he is a king, but not of this world. Everyone who is of the truth hears his voice. The idea that someone knows truth you don’t know may cause you to stumble here. Are you for him or against him? Will you point thumbs up, or down? Declare his freedom, or wash your hands and blame others? Death or Life?
Your life votes one way or the other by what you think and say and do.
Jesus’ body lay still during three brief days, a little over 34 hours, late Friday afternoon, all of Saturday, and the wee hours of Sunday until…
We don’t know what it looked like. The soldiers saw a huge, bright angel come and roll back the stone. They just fainted at that point and saw nothing more. The tomb was empty when the women came early that morning. Peter and John came too, and verified what the women had reported. Angels spoke to them, “He’s not here. He has risen. He will meet you later.” Mary Magdalene was stricken, thinking someone had robbed the grave, desecrated His body, stolen it to shame Him yet more. She asked the man she thought was tending the garden. He said, “Mary.” It was Jesus. She was first to see Him, alive. Christ is risen!
Peter saw Him and spoke with Him. Two disciples walked to Emmaus, a seven mile walk, with a stranger who told them how all the Jewish scriptures spoke of this day, how Messiah must die for our sins, and that He would be raised again the third day. It all was happening as had been written. On arrival at Emmaus, the stranger broke bread with them and as He blessed the bread, He disappeared just the moment they recognized Jesus. He walked through locked doors into the amazed gathering of ten Apostles. He displayed His wounds and sat and ate with them. He gave them the same Bible study and proved to them He was alive. They would all go on to live out their days, brief or long, until they would die in this world, but now they knew the secret. Death had no terror for them any longer. Life is the thing. Life now. Life after.
When we see life as no big deal, when we don’t register the miracle, the staggering wonder, the veritable impossibility that any life at all could overcome the statistical obstacle of its own existence, the 3 billion coincidental ‘mistakes’ rising out of unthinking dead matter, in order to get one living cell out of death: it’s unthinkable. And if that fact causes you to realize there must be a greater mind behind this universe than random nature and elemental forces lying far beneath our mental processes, when we’ve just now, after untold millennia, discovered the intricate life processes in even the most primitive life forms. There has to be a greater mind. A higher power. A real God. And if so: then might He be able to make life happen after as well? Once dead, clinically, and our elements return to find their soil from whence these bodies came, might we not live again? It might be no greater miracle than the first time around.
Or if it is a greater miracle, it is because it was bought so dearly, at such a great price. For Christ came here knowing the cost. He obeyed His Father, in His great love, to come be one of us, die for us, descend to hell for us, and lift us up in faith toward Him, that we might live on. His resurrection is our resurrection as well. Jesus lives. Christ is risen!
Life is the thing. One life on this earth, and we live with everything supplied here for us: air, food, water, sun, fellowship, love, our senses of sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste. These all tell us we are alive and that someone made us for this place. When we rise to life after this ends, our new bodies will be made from something more. Paul calls them spiritual bodies. A lifeless seed falls into the earth and the plant that rises up is far greater than the seed, he says. A terrestrial body rises into a celestial body. I don’t know what that means, but at the least we will no longer know pain, need, hunger, sorrow, or the ravages of sin or even temptation. All joy, peace, holiness, love and trust restored, we will live outside of time’s grinding wheel for eternity. That’s the plan. He always wished it and He designed it so.
And so… on that sunlit morning, so far from here, so long ago, the world changed. Your life is not to end in death, but in eternal life without ending. He fought death by dying, and destroyed it by rising to life, the resurrected life, life eternal, perfect life. None of His witnesses could fear death anymore. Death is nothing, is less than nothing. Life is the miracle, and we see it all around us today. You are all alive, and He gave that life to you. He did it, knowing you, who you would be, what path you would travel, how you would learn from your errors and misjudgments. He forgave you from His cross. “They know not what they do,” were His understanding words.
Do you want Him dead? No. You want Him to live, and the evidence is in. He is alive. He is Risen! And you will rise also. Isn’t that why we love Him so? He is the Lord of Life, and we are all alive because He lives.