Saturday, April 3, 2010

Resurrection People!

It's fascinating, isn't it, that in none of the Gospels is a word written about that Saturday between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection...

That really has nothing to do with the following sermon, but it kind of does, too. We tend to forget, or have never realized, just how desolate that day would have been for Jesus' friends and closest followers. What do you do, where do you go, when all is lost? When there is nothing left?

And what does it mean when all of that is flung aside like grave-clothes which are no longer needed?

What does it mean, really mean, to be a Resurrection person?

Isaiah 65:17-25

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord —
and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent — its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.

1 Corinthians 15:19-26

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

This is the Word of the Lord.

I had a wonderful conversation on Saturday with a youngster who has only recently come to believe in Jesus as her Savior. It shocked me, at first, that I was forewarned, but completely unprepared, for talking about her decision with her. I'm knocking on the door of fifty years old, and I'm used to carrying on theological discussions with people twenty-something through eighty-something, but speaking to an eight-year-old about what it means to be a Christian, and what it means to be baptized, was like speaking a different language.

The Book of Order says that those presenting themselves for baptism “profess their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, renounce evil and affirm their reliance on God’s grace, declare their intention to participate actively and responsibly in the worship and mission of the church,” and so on. Since not very many eight-year-olds know what words like “profess” and “renounce” and “affirm” and “reliance” and “intention” mean, it forced me to simplify the message, to distill the meaning into something that she could digest. I had to take it all down close to the bone. Our talk only lasted ten or fifteen minutes, but it was one of the most meaningful conversations I have ever had.

What does it mean to be a Christian – to be a Resurrection person?

We Christians live not only in the shadow of the cross, but in the shadow of the empty tomb. We are all Resurrection people, we live in the Resurrection, and we've had two thousand years to contemplate, postulate, investigate, argue over, codify, verify, testify, solidify, sanctify, theologize, homogenize, and package for public consumption this idea of a risen Savior. We Resurrection people have developed our own language of multisyllabic words and a thesaurus full of ways to explain how and why and for whom Christ arose. And for far too many of us Resurrection people, this idea of Resurrection is just that – an idea, a concept, a point of doctrine that we must mentally and verbally assent to in order to be allowed to take part in church. And while it has been necessary to take the journey through understanding and verbalizing what it means to say “Christ arose,” and “Jesus is Lord,” to explain the whys and the hows, I wonder if we have in the process added more and more layers of separation between ourselves and this central, astounding act of God's grace.

What does it mean to be a Resurrection person?

It's Sunday. Of course, if you're Jewish, like Mary Magdalene and everyone in the room, it's been Sunday since sunset, and they've all been cooped up in this room since Friday just before sundown. The tables are still set up from the Passover Seder, the couches still in place... Mary tries to keep from looking at that one couch, at the head of the table, but her eyes keep going back to it. That empty couch, the one He had reclined in during the meal. No one sat there, of course. No one dared to. She could see them all look that way from time to time, then glance away quickly, ashamedly, knowing that the Master would never lay there again.

Some of them had been nearby when they laid him in the tomb. Mary and the other women had been very close, of course; it was the womenfolk's job to prepare the body for burial. The stone had been rolled in place, and a wax seal had been placed across it with the Roman governor's seal. Guards were there to prevent anyone from stealing the body – Mary scoffed, thinking about it: steal the body? Who? These men, this band of cowards, jumping every time a dog barked in the distance, certain the Temple guards were coming for them like they came for Jesus? Or perhaps the women of the group, who together couldn't muster the strength or leverage to roll the stone from the tomb's entry, much less lug a corpse any distance? Ridiculous.

And her eyes went back to that empty couch again. There had been hushed, urgent conversations at first, among the disciples. There had been tears and mournful embraces, but as the hours rolled on, everyone had grown more and more silent, more inside themselves, all contemplating, as best they could, what it meant. Jesus was dead. All the promises of God's Messiah lay mouldering in a rich man's donated tomb. There could be no kingdom if the king lay dead. No redemption for Israel if the redeemer was gone. All of that big talk and all of those wild dreams were gone. For a group of people whose whole reason for living was found in this itinerant Jewish miracle-working rabbi, the future was black, hopeless, pointless.

The sun wasn't up yet when Mary had finally had enough of the cramped, airless room, fetid with the smell of fear and failure. She slipped out, and walked without thinking toward the last place she'd seen Jesus. Jesus, who had done so much for her, whose feet she had washed with her tears, whose words she had clung to like a drowning person clings to a lifeline. Whose words would offer her hope now? Where would she ever again find hope for the future, the promise of eternal life? All of that was gone, dead, wrapped in burial linens and sealed in the to...

Where are the guards? Had Pilate come to his senses, realizing none of Jesus' followers had the guts or foresight to steal the... but the tomb, its entrance is open! With the sky becoming lighter, Mary can see the stone rolled away, the seal broken, why would anyone have done this?

She ran back to the house, and found Peter and John just outside the door, their faces creased from fear and grief. The horrible news poured out of her mouth in a confused gasp, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him!” and like an arrow shot from a bow, they were gone at a full run. She ran behind, slower, dreading what they'd find, but knowing what they'd find.

And now she was alone at the tomb, alone in her confusion and grief. Peter and John had left, because what could they do? Finally she bent down and looked in there, no reason, really, but she looked in, and there were... people there... sitting where Jesus had been... odd. They asked her why she was crying, and she told them, but they didn't say anything else. It was too much to process, really, so she turned back and saw the gardener. Suddenly embarrassed to be a woman alone in such a remote section of the city, she turned away, not daring to make eye contact. Even in grief, there were certain things that were simply not done.

Yet if he was the one who tended the gardens, who cared for the land around the tomb, perhaps he knew where Jesus had been taken! Who knows, after all, perhaps the rich man had second thoughts about giving his tomb to a man Pilate had condemned, and had ordered Jesus removed and taken to another sepulcher. “Sir,” she said, “if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Ridiculous, of course, there was no way she could carry a body that size anywhere, but...

Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

What does it mean to be a Resurrection person?

In that instant, Mary Magdalene became a Resurrection person. Not because she understood what had happened, not because it made sense, not because of a solid grounding in theological teaching or because she had studied the Westminster Shorter Catechism or said the Sinner's Prayer or gotten baptized or recited the Apostle's Creed, but because Jesus was alive! He had called her name!

What does it mean to be a Resurrection person?

You and I are Resurrection people, too. If we dare to peel it all away – set aside the particular doctrines we've professed, the churches we were attending when we came to believe, our age or how wet we got when we got baptized, all of the stuff we've heard and learned and taught and thought, if we allow our faith to get down close to the bone, what we find is this:

Just like Mary, we are Resurrection people, we live in the Resurrection not because we know or understand or profess anything, but because Jesus is alive. We are Resurrection people because Jesus has called our name!


  1. WOW. Really good stuff! You have distilled things really well... awesome. Gives me fresh insight into the idea of "witness" as well. Thank you for sharing this! Have a great day!

  2. I like this! Read it this morning, along with watching Rob Bell's new Resurrection video, and told my husband Alleluia, Amen! He is Risen Indeed. It was my own Easter service, since I didn't make it to one in a church.

  3. Excellent.

    I agree that many times unbelievers do not know what in the world we are talking about, because we speak in "Christianese" using religious words that have no meaning for them.

    I say, if your message cannot be understood by an eight year old, then it should be revised. I accepted the Lord at a very young age. I was six years old. The story of the crucifixion and resurrection was presented in a sermon so plainly that I understood it and wanted Jesus as my Savior. I wanted to talk to the minister. I wanted to be saved! But my parents stuffed me in the car, ignoring my protests, and said that I was too young to understand.

    As I cried and begged to go back to church, I was instead sent to bed and told to be quiet. I am so glad that someone believed my sincerity. I thank God for my fourteen year old sister who told me that I didn't have to go back to church to be saved. I could accept Jesus right there in our bedroom. And with her guidance, I did.

    Something amazing happened. The next morning I awakened with a new perception. I had such peace and joy! The world seemed brighter. I announced at the breakfast table that I was saved! Again, the denials by parents. The shushing.

    But my older sister counter protested on my behalf. Whereupon, Dad said, "End of conversation!" And that, was that! We ate in silence.

    Later that day I was playing in the yard. Daddy came out and sat on the porch steps. He asked me to come sit by him. I did. He had his bible, which he opened to John and read John 3:16. Then he asked me if I knew what it meant.

    I gave him my understanding of Jesus, who was God's son, and who never sinned, had come and died for my sins on the cross. I don't remember all I said, but I know I spoke with conviction.

    My Dad said, "I guess you really are saved."

    What happened in my heart was that I wanted everyone to know about my Jesus. I wanted everyone to be saved. I talked to everyone I knew, especially those I loved the most like my Grandpa and my cousins.

    Jesus said, "Let the children come unto me and forbid them not to come unto me: for such is the kingdom of heaven." Matt: 19:14

    "He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humble himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 18: 2-4

    John, I enjoyed reading your message about who resurrection people truly are. Your experience with the young child was heart warming.

    Thank you!

  4. You wrote, "Just like Mary, we are Resurrection people, we live in the Resurrection not because we know or understand or profess anything, but because Jesus is alive. We are Resurrection people because Jesus has called our name!"