“The Way of Resurrection”
Paul E. Jackson
Sunday, April 12, 2015
University Congregational Church
31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.[w] 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
“That event, the cross, the death, the resurrection, however we perceive it, has affected millions of people over the centuries. It has changed people. That event reaches across the ages, giving strength and hope to those who have fallen into despair. Psychologist Rollo May wrote, “Humans are the strangest of all God’s creatures, because they run the fastest when they have lost their way.” I believe that when we find ourselves lost and running aimlessly and finally realize that we cannot run forever, the best place for us to stop is at the foot of the cross. What awaits us there is beyond the wildest limits of our imaginations. We find there a love that ends our need for running, because it is there that Good Friday turns into Easter. It is there that good conquers evil, light overcomes darkness, and time and eternity intersect. At the cross, we move from death to life and into the heart of God.” –Rev. Dr. Gary Cox from his book “Think Again”.
I was honored to spend the past few months teaching a class on Wednesday mornings for our friends and members who live at Larksfield Place and to some of their guests. Last fall we chose Gary Cox’s book “Think Again” for our study and it was a great joy to revisit the words and the teachings of our churches’ second Senior Minister who we all dearly loved and who we lost way too soon in the summer of 2006. As I was re-reading Gary’s book I was struck by the beauty of his writings on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Gary reminds us of the claim: Christ is risen! And he writes about the belief that gave our early church founders (and martyrs) the courage to stand up to their oppressors, to face ugly and painful death at the hands of those who would ask them to renounce their new faith.
Gary goes on to tell us that this courage was anchored in that new faith. In the faith that these people had witnessed in their experience of Jesus Christ. His life and his death and his resurrection. And we are told of this particularly in the eight gospel accounts (in the 4 gospels) of visitations of a now-living Jesus after his death. Now remember that the gospel accounts were written in the 70’s, 70 years Common Era—about 40 years after the events of the death of Jesus. Although these eight accounts vary in many details, one thing is constant: The writers of the gospels very much believed that Jesus Christ lived on after his crucifixion. They believe that somehow God had used a mighty miracle and Jesus had overcome the power of death. That there was a physical resurrection of Jesus’ body.
Now the Apostle Paul had a very different take on the resurrection. Paul, who if you’ll recall, wrote his letters in the 50s of the Common Era, a good 20 years before we see the first gospel (Mark’s gospel) arrive on the scene. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians makes clear that the resurrection was a spiritual act as opposed to an actual physical act-instead of an event where the molecules of Jesus’s body re-animated and he walked the earth again. To Paul it is clear that the resurrection is a spiritual event. He writes: “But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory.” To Paul, the physical body of Jesus was the seed that contained the spiritual body, from which the resurrection sprang.
We often run into this problem with visible, sensory, relatable empirical data that proves that something exists. We want the concrete. We want proof. But what about love? We can see the direct results of love in action, but can you pour me out a cupful of love? How much does love weigh? What color is love? And my favorite question: What’s love got to do—got to do with it?
Well, everything. If we require a physical manifestation of the resurrection, then why don’t we require a true physical manifestation of love? Or more correctly, why do we not have any difficulty accepting the existence of love, but we are confused by the idea of a spiritual resurrection only. Gary Cox gently reminds us that until we get this idea of our need for the real and tangible untangled from the sublime and ineffable, then we can’t differentiate between resurrection and resuscitation.
What does this mean for those of us in this room, right now? Let me put it into this context: Jesus appeared in a world dominated by the Roman Empire. Empire was everywhere. Empire was life—because if you don’t play the Imperial game with Imperial rules, you stood an excellent chance of dying—either through starvation, because you are unable to sustain a life in the manner required of Empire or if you offend the Empire, which was exceedingly easy to accomplish, you would be cast aside or killed—both fatal outcomes. Empire was inescapable. And into this Empire dominated world comes this simple man with this radical idea that life is for everyone. Not just adherents to Empire. Everyone deserves a place at the table and everyone deserves life. He went up to those who had the power and said: You think you belong? You think you are the keepers of all life? And he said—think again. And he went to the lowest of the low and said to them: You think you don’t belong? You think you can’t sit at the table? You think that you are not worthy of life? And he said to them—think again.
So Jesus appeared in this world of death-dealing. The Romans were adept at death –dealing. And Jesus upsets the machinery of Empire. He dares to preach and teach and offend the existing social order and he is accused–tried and found guilty –and executed in the most horrible way imaginable. Crucifixion was reserved for the worst offenders of the Empire. It was reserved for anarchists and traitors. It was a way of showing to anyone who witnessed it—this is what happens when you try and go against Empire. It was ghastly to say the least.
But then, according to Paul, this body of Jesus is planted and the seed of the Christ is opened and resurrected. The teaching and love of Jesus lives on in spite of Empire. In spite of his death. This is what Paul wants us to understand—a physical resurrection was not necessary because the spiritual one took care of everything.
The death-dealing ways of Empire continue to exist all around us. When a white police officer almost gets away with shooting a black man pointblank in the back—that is Empire. That is obviously death-dealing. When our elected officials create more and more barriers for the full participation of everyone in our diverse and dynamic society—that is death-dealing—that is Empire. When I lose my patience with the yahoo in front of me on K-96 and mutter impolite words under my breath—that is death-dealing—that is Empire. The idea that I own the road is definitely Empire. When people sneer at someone using their food stamps to buy what they consider to be a luxury item, potato chips or a pie—when people sneer and use this judgment to further erode the poor’s humanity—that is death-dealing. That is empire. When we have an entire industry aimed at preying on the poor-at offering “payday loans” that create entrapment in a cycle of never-ending loss of money and an inability to escape this cycle—that is Empire—that is death-dealing. And when we claim that we hold the only way to know God—that we alone have the key to salvation—that we are the one true church and everyone else is false—this, too, is Empire. This, too, is death-dealing. It is not life-giving. It is not resurrection.
But this is what Jesus came to teach and preach and fight against. He offers us a message of hope. A living-giving message that our world can and will be better. And when we join with this message—when we co-create the Kingdom—we participate in resurrection. When we stop and pause and live our lives in life-giving waysers—that is the resurrection.
Operating the Hygiene Pantry to provide necessary items because Empire won’t, that is life-giving. That is participating in resurrection. Getting up when we’d rather give up. Taking up our mats and walking. That is life giving. Paying off a friend’s debt with no strings attached is life-giving. Caring for your family is life-giving. Raising your voice in joyful song with good friends is oh-so life-giving. Going to the doctor and having necessary medical test performed on you, no matter how uncomfortable, is probably life-giving. And picking ourselves up after our hearts have been broken—after we’ve inflicted upon ourselves some terrible mistake—after we’ve once again experienced something painful that the human experience too often brings, yet persevering and going on–that is resurrection. That is shaking off the shackles of Empire and facing the new day with joy and enthusiasm and love.
Many Christians have difficulty reconciling the resurrection of Jesus with their understanding and practice of the rest of their Christianity. It’s often a stumbling block and a place where faith runs up against a wall of doubt—the resurrection is often a deal-breaker for those who want an intellectually honest approach to their faith. Let’s turn back to the words of our dear friend Gary Cox—let’s hear how he approached this topic and how he lived his life in reflection of these thoughts:
“That event, the cross, the death, the resurrection, however we perceive it, has affected millions of people over the centuries. It has changed people. That event reaches across the ages, giving strength and hope to those who have fallen into despair. Psychologist Rollo May wrote, “Humans are the strangest of all God’s creatures, because they run the fastest when they have lost their way.” Gary continues–I believe that when we find ourselves lost and running aimlessly and finally realize that we cannot run forever, the best place for us to stop is at the foot of the cross. What awaits us there is beyond the wildest limits of our imaginations. We find there a love that ends our need for running, because it is there that Good Friday turns into Easter. It is there that good conquers evil, light overcomes darkness, and time and eternity intersect. At the cross, we move from death to life and into the heart of God.”
Resurrection is a daily event. We awaken from our little death of sleep and we have before us a day of resurrection. What life-giving things can I do with this brief time I have in front of me? What can I do to stave off Empire’s growing cynicism and power and creation of fear? How can I live a life of joy and enthusiasm in a world that seems more and more dark and worrisome? Well, I can take comfort and strength from these words of the Apostle Paul:
“What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I can think of no words to add to this truth—“What then are we to say about these things of Empire–nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God.
–Rev. Dr. Gary Cox from his book “Think Again”.