Welcome! This is Easter Sunday, April 12th, 2020, the day we affirm that despite this Corona virus pandemic and all the sufferings that it brings, we know death does not win!
We know that light is stronger than darkness, and we know, because:
CHRISTOS ANESTI! ALETHOS ANESTI!
JESUS CHRIST IS RISEN TODAY – INDEED!
Dear God, thank you for life!
Thank you for love!
Thank you for hope!
In Jesus Name
“…and he went away wondering about what happened” What DID happen on that first Easter Sunday, and what does it all actually mean for us? `We know it must mean something wonderful because, as Christ-followers for over 2000 years, we’ve celebrated this as one of the two central pillars of our faith: that Jesus (1) was born, and having lived and taught, (2) that he died, and then rose from the dead and lives! But what does it mean? Is it some enacted metaphor, meant to be understood at levels that are not always obvious to us – you know, like Jesus’ parables? We know the parables expose eternal truths that we only begin to arrive at as we allow ourselves to chew on them and be worked on by them… Is Jesus’ Easter death and resurrection meant to be approached and embraced by us like that? …something to be gnawed on, wrestled with… I wonder to what extent the beautifully complexity of Easter is not so much to be understood and explained as to be allowed –by faith- to insinuate itself into the depths of our spirituality – never for us perfectly to understand as to be transformed by…
Along with millions/billions probably, down the millennia – with all my heart – I believe that this resurrection is something that actually, genuinely, really happened, historically… But, unlike any other historical event, I also believe that its profundity, its significance, is something we’ll never be able fully to grasp! Because here is something infinitely sacred and of God and of us, awe-full, meant to stretch and to bless us, nurture & challenge us…
And so, with St Peter, here we are wondering once again not only about what had happened, but especially about what it all means…
Humanity has struggled to resolve this – struggles which are largely responsible for the formation of our various Christian denominations. Different theories have emerged in the church over the past millennia – theories of ATONEMENT to explain Jesus’ main work here as being the restoration of humanity’s relationship with God after our fall under Satan’s influence. What was once separated by sin is now being brought back together again: At-ONE-Ment!
The early church fathers[i] taught that Christ’s death was necessary for God to do that in order to pay back Adam’s debt to Satan, and that 3 days later God tricked the Evil One by bringing Jesus back to life. But really? Could God once have been ‘in debt’ …as well as be a deceiver… Really?
Variations of this[ii] agree that Jesus’ death was necessary but not to satisfy the devil so much as to satisfy God. They speak about ‘Satisfaction Atonement’ or ‘Penal Substitutionary Atonement’ meaning that it was God who needed blood sacrifice to bring humanity home, and so it was God who provided Jesus as the necessary sacrificial lamb: ‘the One’ whom John the Baptist said ‘has come to take away the sin of the world…
There are many scriptures that could be understood in this way but, as I age, I find myself increasingly struggling with that – if that is all there is. I find myself coming increasingly to agree with how 12thC philosopher and theologian Peter Abelard wrote, that: Jesus’ dying and rising was not to pay God (or the devil) off as to reveal the nature of God’s love… Instead, he was revealing something of who God is and what life lived in God’s love is all about! Richard Rohr points also to the 13thC writings of John Duns Scotus who, instead of the language of ‘debt atonement and blood sacrifice’ goes to other scriptures[iii] that speak about the beautiful perfection of God’s creation now utterly revealed in Jesus. He rejected the idea of a retributive god who needed a violent and bloody death in order to love what was created, in favour of a restorative God who in Christ offers all creation the key for embracing life as God intends. ‘Jesus did not come to change the mind of God’s about humanity, it did not need changing. Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God! God is not someone to be afraid of but is the Ground of our Being and is on our side’[iv] We can think of St Francis of Assisi and his beautiful teachings in this regard.
This has always been part of the teachings of the church – never denied – but, somehow, overlooked. And so there are those who say no Atonement is necessary because in Christ, there is no bill to be paid, only a risen love to embrace and to be embraced by, our union with God and all creation to be claimed! Jesus didn’t come to solve a problem so much as to reveal the truest nature of God and of ourselves as having been made in God’s image, revealing a God of love who is always with us, in all our circumstances, and whose presence is always enough to bring life from even our worst and darkest death!
In Jesus, we see God revealing/empowering the rhythm of sacred grace which undergirds all of creation! As with the cross and empty tomb, there are constantly things in us that also must be allowed to die that others my come to life. And that is always how life has been created to be…
How can we miss it? We see it preached to us every day – life – death – new life:
In nature: It’s with the ending of winter freeze that the new life of spring thaw is able to come. It’s in the breaking open of the bud that releases the new flower to bloom. It’s in the wilting of that flower that allows seed is to be released and fall, and in the dying of that seed for a new plant to emerge… We see it all through life: The Step Groups that stress how until something in the addicted is prepared to admit defeat & die, no healing can come. We see it in every healthy, growing relationship: the ability constantly to be letting certain things go, that better things may be embraced. We see it in ourselves as we grow, as we learn, as we age, this constant letting go of what is over followed by the discovery of new abilities, opportunities…
And slowly it may begin to dawn that this is the rhythm on Easter! Always there, real, present: for us to appreciate, to believe, to live into, to be defined by.
I love the emphasis that our Moderator Richard brings to today’s Easter message where he describes the women coming to the tomb on that first Easter Sunday morning, ready to complete the death ritual of anointing Christ’s body. We can only imagine their morose mood as they approached the tomb, just before the bewildered confusion on finding that the tomb was bare. Jesus’ rising and new life was in no way dependent on them. As they walked that morning – lost in their sadness – JESUS HAD ALREADY RISEN though they knew nothing of it!
Whether in response to this Covid-19 pandemic or to whatever other life circumstance we may ever face, our job as Christ followers, it seems, is simply to continue to be doing whatever good, faithful creativity we have been given to do, but to do it grounded in the factual knowledge that he has already risen!
And so, this Easter, please join me (and St Peter) in worshipful wondering at what all this could possibly mean. Reclaim with me a curiosity at what the dying and rising Jesus is doing within each one of us, and even with us as a community as a whole. This is not about intellectual understanding so much as sacred invitation: As we invite Easter Jesus into the very warp and weft of our lives, what is he allowing to be resurrected of himself, in and through us?
May the miracle of new life be very real for you, and may God use whatever God chooses to raise up in you to be and to make the difference God intends for you to be and to make in our world.
MAY GOD USE THIS EASTER TIME TO BLESS YOU WITH WONDERFUL NEW INSIGHT INTO WHO GOD IS AND WHO GOD IN CHRIST HAS MADE YOU TO BE! KNOW THE BLESSING THAT YOU ARE!
LETTING GO OF ALL THAT MUST DIE – GO – AND LIVE INTO BEING ALL THAT IS BEING RAISED UP: THAT BLESSING TO OTHERS THAT GOD HAS ALWAYS INTENDED FOR YOU TO.
In Jesus’ name
Rev. Robin Jacobson reserves all rights © 2020.
You are welcome to use, copy, edit or reproduce this sermon summary with copyright attached. Publication is prohibited.
[i] Origen, St Augustine
[ii] E.g. St Anselm, John Calvin and others
[iii] For example, at the opening of Colossians and Ephesians and John’s Gospel
[iv] Richard Rohr’s daily Meditation (Wednesday, Feb 5, 2020)