Alleluia, Christ is risen! (Response: The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!)
Have you ever noticed or wondered why this ancient Easter greeting is in the present tense? Why do we say Christ is risen instead of Christ has risen? I suspect that the earliest followers of Jesus, especially those who had not known him in the flesh, still had such a vivid experience of him that only the present tense could convey it. In other words, the resurrection of Jesus was not just an event of the past, but something that continues into the present.
But for generations of followers, the world they experienced was much like the world of the disciples. Here we are in the 21st Century, 20 centuries later, in a time and place so different from theirs. What can the resurrection of Jesus mean to us?
As you know, there are any number of ways to explain the resurrection. Some say God stepped into history to perform a miracle, so that Jesus walked the earth again after his death for 50 days before being taken up into heaven. Some people claim it was all a hoax. Some claim that the death of Jesus was a sacrifice demanded by God to pay for our sins. Some see the death and resurrection of Jesus as a metaphor for our own salvation – some with the condition that we must be “true” followers, some without that condition. Mostly the focus has been on what happens after we die.
Of course, the obvious problem is that we can’t know much for sure about what really happens then. So what I’ve been thinking about this week, instead, is what the death and resurrection of Jesus means to us in this life, here and now.
As I mentioned on Maunday Thursday, most religions that require sacrifices to their God or gods, are in fact feeding God, but in Christianity God feeds us. God fed the Israelites in the wilderness and God feeds us in the communion meal. In a book called “Practice Resurrection” by Eugene Peterson and Peter Santucci, the authors say, “The most important thing about any one of us is not what we do for God, but what God does for us.”
We hear language in our rituals of baptism and communion that specifically refers to the death and resurrection of Jesus. But now I want you to also think about your own lives here on earth. How have you experienced resurrection? How have you experienced death?
For example, the death of my mother just after my 14th birthday was also a kind of death for me. It was an end to life with a mother and the beginning of life without one. I had to walk through the grief and dreadfulness and change that that event had in my life. And it was only later that I could see the resurrection part of the story. The new life that came from that was a new independence. For example, would my father have given me a checking account and a monthly allowance if my mother hadn’t died? I doubt it. What I learned from that experience alone was invaluable over time. And there’s a real way in which I can claim that learning to manage my own income saved me in later life.
I probably don’t have to explain much about how divorce was a kind of death. Or that there was so much resurrection that followed. Each of you will have your own stories of death and resurrection. Many are similar, many are unique.
Death may mean repenting, letting go, leaving behind, saying goodbye. Death may be a death, of a pet, of a loved one. It may be the death of a friendship. It may be a moving away from what we know into what we don’t. Going away to school, leaving old friends, old ways of living, old world views, old understanding of our selves and our place in the world. Death, maybe even especially these small deaths that happen in life, can be very painful and difficult. But haven’t you noticed that it is these same painful and difficult experiences that help us to grow and mature and learn?
Granted, it doesn’t seem fair that we have to suffer to learn new things, but I sure haven’t seen much improvement in myself without some effort, or pain, or suffering. In other words, there doesn’t seem to be any resurrection without some kind of death.
The resurrections that follow such deaths are the signs of new life in us, new friendships, new ideas, new ways of being in the world, new understandings of who we are and why we are here.
We can try to avoid these events; we can try to control our lives in order to ignore, evade, dodge, and minimize the painful moments, the mini deaths that come to all of us. But it does not work in the long run. In a very real sense, what God accomplished in the resurrection of Jesus was to help us see, feel, and understand more fully that God is present with us in the here and now. Again, in talking about how to practice resurrection, Peterson and Santucci say, “The hardest thing for us is this reorientation from living anxiously by our wits and muscle to living effortlessly in the world of God’s active presence.”
So it seems to me that the death and resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate visible sign to us of God’s grace, which assures us that there’s always the chance to change, to repent, to turn over a new leaf, to grow up , to mature , to become the best that we can be, to be all that God intends us to be. And that God will be present with us in that work.
The life of Jesus shows us what God wants us to be, to be loving, compassionate, caring disciples, to offer our service to others, to stand up for peace and justice, to try by our lives and our actions to help bring the Kingdom of God into being right here where we live.
In other words, we can live resurrected lives right here and now. That is what it means to be an Easter people.
Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleulia! AMEN