Sunday, April 5, 2015

Does It Really Matter?, Part II: A Tag-Team Easter Homily

Throughout the Bible, God shows us a clear pattern: where there's an exile, there's a return; where there's a captivity, there's an exodus. Nothing in the Old Testament makes sense unless that pattern comes to a great climax, just as the prophets constantly said that it would. Nothing in the Bible makes sense without hope of return from our exile away from God's presence. Nothing in the Bible or in the world makes sense without an exodus from our captivity to sin and death. Without that, everything is senseless. But the resurrection of Jesus is the restoration of sense. The resurrection of Jesus means that God really stepped into human shoes to be exiled from the land of the living – and to return. For us, all for us. The resurrection of Jesus means that the Lord is alive! And “Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has any dominion over him” (Romans 6:9).

The Apostle Paul wrote that, at the time of his deepest despair in the face of death, he knew that he had no reason to rely on himself. No works could save him; no works could protect him. Instead of putting his faith in himself, he resolved that “we would not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9). That's who God is. The true God is the “God who raises the dead”. The defining character of God is that he speaks light into the darkness and creates life right under death's nose. In the beginning, he breathed life into dead dust and crowned it his image (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:7). This God is a God who guarantees life's victory over death – and if you want to see him in action, look no further than his Son.

The essential mode of our hearts has to be trust in the God who conquers death with life, the God made visible to us in the life of Jesus. That's why “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Without this, we're hopeless, because the scriptures say that Jesus was “handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). If the second thing didn't happen, then the first had no power. So “if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is pointless and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17).

That's a big 'if' – and praise God, it's an empty 'if'! Because Christ has been raised! Jesus is alive! He is King! And that means that the promised resurrection, the long-awaited victory of God, has already started. It started with Jesus, and that's the concrete guarantee that his sacrifice was accepted by God. And since that's the truth, then the gates of forgiveness are thrown wide open. By his grace, all we need is faith to enter in. But it's also the concrete guarantee that death is not the end for us, and even heaven isn't the end for us: “We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus” (2 Corinthians 4:14). Death's quest to divorce us from God's good creation will fail. Our hope isn't to escape our bodies and leave the earth and flit around in the clouds; our hope is that “he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11). If the silent tomb of Jesus didn't stay silent – and it didn't – then neither will the cemetery right outside these walls! Jesus Christ is the firstfruits from the dead, and that proves the full harvest to come (1 Corinthians 15:20)!

But since Jesus Christ is risen, then the resurrection-life should already be beginning in our hearts. We are a body, but “he is the head of the body, the church”, and “the firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18). And the body grows from the head, when God grants the growth (Colossians 2:19). That means that we aren't just a random collection of individuals with common interests who are located at the same building now and again. That's not the church; that's a social club! That's not a living body; that's decomposition! We are not called to be a collection; we're called to be a community, the community of the living Christ. We're called to actively live as that holy community, working together as a faithful fellowship on a continual basis, investing in one another's growth and well-being. That is how a living body lives.

So if Christ has been raised – and he is risen! – “set your minds on things that are above”, not on things below (Colossians 3:2). It's the 'things above' that will be obvious everywhere when “Christ [our] life is revealed” and we “also will be revealed with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4). The rule of 'things below' lost when Jesus beat the Grave and claimed the victory for Life (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). The 'things below' separate; the 'things above' unite – for there's one God, one Lord, one Spirit, one body, one faith, one baptism, one hope and holy calling (Ephesians 4:4-6).

Now, since the physical body of Jesus is glorified beyond death and is ascended to the Father's throne above, the corporate body of Jesus on earth is called with one holy calling to put away anything that diminishes our life together. Our life together is hindered by 'things below' – things like impurity, greed, anger, lies, impatience, unkindness, unforgiveness, and in short, all the things that tear the church apart and make parts of Christ's body pretend they're better off alone (cf. Colossians 3:5-13). If we choose to cling to these 'things below', then we're pretending in practice that Christ isn't really risen. And that's a lie! Because Christ is risen, and that means he sums up all things in heaven and earth under one headship (Ephesians 1:10). Does it really matter? A trillion times, yes!

If we're a body, then we're a community. And as a community, we commune. A real community has to have a communion, and ours is unveiled when we share in the same sacred meal, refueling our body with the resurrection-life made available for us when Jesus was voluntarily broken for our sins. We don't live together under our own power, any more than we live separately in the Spirit – which is a contradiction in terms, since “the unity of the Spirit” is lived in “the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). No, we live together through Christ's life, which broke through death and tunneled out the other side into glory. We're on a journey through the path Christ made for us – together. So, to have life for the journey, let's eat the feast of God from the Lord's table – together. Because Christ is risen!

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