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Comments and Illustrations by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
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Isaiah writes about a feast day that is coming – one of the Bible’s most vivid images of the “day of the Lord” or, in our Christian context, the kingdom of God.This feast is “for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.” These are, indeed, descriptions fit for a king – and well beyond the meager provisions of most everyday folks.
Moreover, the shroud of death – a specter that haunts us all either a little or a lot! – will be removed. Death will be “swallowed up” forever, language that is echoed by the Apostle Paul in his explication of the subject in 1 Corinthians 15:54.
In case we’ve missed anything, the prophet also proclaims that “God will wipe away the tears from all faces,” which John echoes in the oft-quoted passage from Revelation 21:4. Whatever is making you sad – gone. Just like that.
What a tremendous benediction in the final verse: “This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” Do you think it will be worth the wait?
We have read various portions of Psalm 118 during Lent, including last week on Palm Sunday. Today’s portion features v. 17, “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD.” Though not explicitly a reference to Christ, it certainly fits the theme of this day when we join to recount precisely this deed by the Lord – new life!
Notice where the credit lies in v. 23: “This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” Amen and amen!
1 Corinthians 15 gives us the earliest glimpse from the Christian scriptures of the kerygma, or “kernel,” of the gospel message in the first churches. It may sound a little bare bones, but it was what powered people to spread throughout the known world at that time and basically keeps us going today.
1. Christ died for our sins
2. He was buried
3. He was raised on the third day
All according to the scriptures (see comments on Isaiah, above, for examples of how the church looked back to the Hebrew scripture for understanding of Jesus’ life, death, and living again.)
In Acts 10:34-43, Peter gives an impassioned and impressive sermon with a similar summary of the gospel in shorthand. His version expands a bit to include Jesus’ baptism and his ministry of doing good and healing. He was put to death by hanging on a tree (crucifixion) but God raised him on the third day (resurrection.) Thus, as Peter’s preaching exemplifies, for the early church crucifixion and resurrection were indelibly joined together.
Mark 16:1-8 is suitably brief in its telling of the Easter morning story. There is no risen Christ in Mark’s telling, only an empty tomb with a (somewhat strange) witness proclaiming, “He is not here.” Helpfully, the stranger also lets them know that Jesus “is going ahead of you to Galilee…you will see him there.”
Isn’t that just like Jesus? Showing up right where we live, work, play, and carry on. The abrupt ending of the story in v.8 serves to hand off the responsibility for responding to this promise. The women were a good bit terrified and afraid (who wouldn’t be?) They didn’t say anything as they departed. What will we do and say as we depart on Easter morning?
Quotes and Ideas
“When God becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth, he not only enters into the finitude of man, but in his death on the cross also enters into the situation of man's god-forsaken-ness. In Jesus he does not die the natural death of a finite being, but the violent death of the criminal on the cross, the death of complete abandonment by God. The suffering in the passion of Jesus is abandonment, rejection by God, his Father. God does not become a religion, so that man participates in him by corresponding religious thoughts and feelings. God does not become a law, so that man participates in him through obedience to a law. God does not become an ideal, so that man achieves community with him through constant striving. He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.”
― Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology
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From “The ‘Die-er’ of the Universe”, in the thought of C.S. Lewis from CSLewis.com, The Official Website of C.S. Lewis
The cycle of death and re-birth is not unique to Christianity, but Lewis argues that Christianity fulfills such myths because God alone is not inside the cycle, but the maker of it. “He is not the soul of Nature nor of any part of Nature,” Lewis says. “He inhabits eternity: He dwells in the high and holy place: heaven is His throne, not His vehicle, earth is His footstool, not his vesture.”
The early church knew this well. The Creeds of Nicea, and, especially Chalcedon, support this view of Jesus – “… begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably…” (Chalcedon)
Therefore, the death and resurrection of Jesus is more than the completion of a cycle. As the “Die-er” of the universe, he represents humanity in its absolute and complete death. “Because Vicariousness is the very idiom of the reality he has created,” Lewis says, “His death can become ours.”
And, [at Easter]… his resurrection can be ours as well.
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Anne O’Neill, writing for the Irish Times, offers insightful analysis into a beautiful passage from Leo Tolstoy’s novel, Resurrection.
This is Tolstoy’s last novel and perhaps his most controversial. Published in 1899 it is a scathing indictment of injustice, corruption and hypocrisy at all levels of Russian society. The story of Prince Dmititi Nekhlyudov’s journey to redeem a past guilt, Tolstoy’s storytelling genius bring to life this unjust world.
Tolstoy never did anything more delightfully infectious in fiction than the scene of the Easter service in the village church, where the young hero and heroine, after the traditional Russian greeting “Christ is risen”, exchange kisses with the carefree rapture of mingled religious exaltation and dawning affinity for each other.
“Everything seemed festive, solemn, bright, and beautiful: the priest in his silver cloth vestments with gold crosses; the deacon, the clerk and chanter in their silver and gold surplices; the amateur choristers in their best clothes, with their well-oiled hair; the merry tunes of the holiday hymns that sounded like dance music; and the continual blessing of the people by the priests, who held candles decorated with flowers, and repeated the cry of “Christ is risen!” “Christ is risen!” All was beautiful; but, above all, Katusha, in her white dress, blue sash, and the red bow on her black head, her eyes beaming with rapture.”
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And just for fun…! (from CartoonStock.com)
A Sermon by The Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
Acts 10:34-43, I Corinthians 15:1-11, Mark 16:1-8
“They put him to death by hanging Him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day. . . “(Acts 10:39b-40a)
They put him to death on a tree, but God raised him. Those words, but God, are the church’s only true answer to the death, destruction, and despair the world has for us.
Trying to reason our way through grief and loss, trying to make sense of the senseless, trying to convince a world gone crazy with the desire for more of everything and anything that that desire is deadly of both body and soul; these things are, at the end of the day, pointless.
The only answer we have to offer to these things, which the church has traditionally summed up as “Sin, Death and the Devil,” is these two words, but God!
Beginning with Adam and Eve and the Apple: the Devil tempts, people Sin, Death ensues, and God intervenes with yet another chance.
This story is the golden thread running through the Bible; this story of God’s redeeming and forgiving love, this story of God’s willingness to act in response to the world’s evil, this story summed up in the words; but God.
Today we celebrate the ultimate but God moment, the raising of Jesus from the tomb. It is both the proof and the promise of our faith. It reminds us of what God has done in the past while promising to us what God will do in the future.
With both Jesus and the world, the evil trilogy of Sin, Death and the Devil did their best to do their worst. Good Friday appeared to be a complete victory for those forces of destruction which assail all of us, Evil reared its ugly head and roared; and Good stood by idly and did nothing.
When the women went to the tomb, they went in deep sadness and despair, they went into a place of coldness and death, they went to a place with no happiness and no hope, they went to prepare a body for burial, they went to put Jesus in his tomb.
But when they got there, they discovered that things had changed, the tomb was empty, the body was missing, and an angel was lurking about. Mary had come upon the greatest but God moment of them all.
Our lives are full of difficulty. Natural disaster strikes, friends die, relatives get sick, jobs don’t pan out, politicians and teachers and yes, even preachers, turn out to be less than they seem or should be. All of life is subject to the painful realities of decline and decay. But Easter reminds us that the church has an answer, and that answer is God; God’s love, God’s forgiveness, God’s power, God’s calling, God’s actions in the world.
Easter is more than a promise of life beyond the grave, of happiness in heaven with our loved ones. Easter is a promise that life is good now, that God’s power is active in this moment, in this place, in our lives. Easter tells us that our eternal life begins now and goes with us through death into God’s future. Easter tells us that for whatever may happen to us in this world there is an answer, and the answer is but God.
The world says; “Seek success and glory and material well-being above all else.”
But God says; “Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven and all these things shall be added unto you.”
The world says; It’s a dog eat dog world, it’s a rat race. It’s every man (person) for himself.
But God says; “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
The world says, “Find your self, your bliss. Do that thing which makes you feel most fulfilled.”
But God says; "You shall love the LORD your God, with all your heart, mind and soul; and the second is just like it; love your neighbor as yourself.”
The world says, “Stave off death at whatever cost. The worst thing that can happen is to die and any action that you take to avoid it is good.”
But God says, “Those who would save their life will lose it, but those who lose their life for my sake and the sake of the Gospel will save it.”
The world’s way leads to the death of the soul and eventually the death of the body, with no hope for tomorrow and no joy for today.
But God’s way leads first to death and then to life; life both now and forever; life full of the joy of loving and serving God and neighbor with reckless abandon and total trust in God’s will and way.
That is why we are so full of joy as we cry out today:
Christ is risen!
CHRIST IS RISEN INDEED!