Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Monday, April 9, 2012

"Death to life" Easter, 2012

Luke 23:55-24:12
55The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment. But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body.

4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.

10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Romans 6:1-11
What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

6We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

            Jesus had been traveling for three years. He had healed and taught, welcomed outcasts and called sinners to repentance. Often huge crowds followed him to hear his comforting and challenging words.

Besides the crowds, Jesus had a core group of followers who went everywhere with him. Twelve leaders, called apostles were the most famous, but there were also others Jesus sent out in his name to teach and heal. Other disciples supported and cared for Jesus in his ministry, especially many women.

            Jesus and his followers started to make their way to Jerusalem, the capital of Jewish life and worship. Along the way, Jesus told his disciples that he would be killed in Jerusalem, but that he would rise again. The disciples knew enough to be sad about that prediction, but they didn’t really understand, even though Jesus repeated it three times.

            When they got to Jerusalem, a huge crowd welcomed them with shouts of praise and songs to crown a king. Israel hadn’t really had a king in 600 years, but the people’s hope for someone to trust and follow hadn’t died. A welcome like that must have been a high point for the disciples. All Jesus’ talk about the kingdom of God seemed to be coming true. On top of that, the excitement of the big city at festival time thrilled these small-town fishermen.

            Then things went horribly wrong. The religious leaders had never liked Jesus. They worried about his teachings and were downright terrified of the attention he might bring from the Roman rulers. They also worried that Jesus’ teachings could weaken their power. As Jesus’ ministry continued, the conflict with the religious leaders got more and more intense, until they finally decided to kill him.

            At the Passover supper, Jesus told his closest friends that one of them would betray him and the rest would run away. Despite their passionate denials, that’s exactly what happened on Thursday night when officers from the Temple came to arrest Jesus.

            A whirlwind of interrogation, trial and torture followed, and by Friday evening Jesus had died on a Roman cross and been buried. True to his prediction, the disciples ran away. A few women and a man named Joseph made sure Jesus was buried decently before sunset, and the women made plans to go back to the tomb on Sunday morning after the Sabbath was over.

            That morning, Jesus proved once again that he wasn’t interested in playing by the rules. He’d been surprising people since birth, and death wasn’t going to limit Jesus any more than tradition had. The women came expecting to find their teacher’s body, expecting to anoint him with spices as a sign of their love for him, a last expression of care. Instead, they found the rock door rolled away from the front of the tomb and no body to be found. 

            It’s a great story, but all that happened almost two thousand years ago, so what difference does it make for us today? That answer will be a bit different for everyone since faith is a bit different for each of us, but Paul’s words to the church in Rome ring true today: faith is about deep questions, life and death importance.

            Christian faith is about following Jesus. Like the first disciples, we never do it perfectly. We misunderstand and fall short of our calling. A lot has changed over the two thousand years since the women and Peter found Jesus’ tomb empty. The early church was surrounded by threats from religious leaders and the Roman Empire. Following Jesus was very obviously a matter of life and death.

In the US in the 21st century, we face different threats. We’re free to worship or not, and we’re free to believe whatever we want to. I thank God for our freedom, but I worry that the Christian majority in this country makes it easy to follow Jesus halfway and easy to forget that following Jesus is still a matter of life and death.

When we choose to follow Jesus we aren’t picking a club or a team or a style. We are choosing to join Jesus in his death. We are choosing to leave our sin and selfishness behind, to die to the world and begin a new life with Jesus. We are choosing to put Jesus first, to make him the center of our existence.

Faith can seem complicated and confusing. There are so many churches, so many opinions, so many points of view. Christians think different things about the Bible, politics, organization, money, family and everything else.

At the same time, faith in Jesus is simple because it means choosing to trust and follow Jesus. All the complications are second, and very distantly second. The point is following Jesus; everything else falls into place when we put Jesus first.

That’s what we see in Luke’s story too. The women didn’t understand what Jesus meant about dying and rising, but they wanted to love him the only way they knew how, so they showed up at the tomb on Sunday morning. Peter couldn’t quite believe their report, but he couldn’t ignore the possibility either. These disciples didn’t have it figured out. They didn’t know where they were going, but they knew who they were following. They followed Jesus and accepted that they wouldn’t always know or understood what would come next.

As the church grew, early leaders sometimes disagreed about how to be faithful, but they all wanted to follow Jesus. They all staked their lives on Jesus; they put him first and God blessed their efforts. The early church didn’t have much education or resources, but they were committed to Jesus and within a generation faith in Christ had spread from India to Spain.

Our calling today is the same. We don’t have to understand the fine points of theology. We don’t have to have a detailed strategic plan for Laurelton’s future. We don’t have to know what’s next in our career or family or education, though sometimes it helps. We need a deep commitment to Jesus and an openness to his leading. If we want to be disciples of Christ, we have to die with him and rise with him. Nothing else is necessary and nothing else will be enough.

When we’re joined to Jesus in his death, we also become part of his life. Our life stops being about us and becomes about something much bigger. That means the fears and limitations that feel so powerful can’t control us. When we know that it’s not about us, that our success or failure does’t matter ultimately, we are free to focus on where Jesus is leading us. Because we have already joined Christ in death, we don’t need to be scared of our own death. Jesus will hold us tight when we die, just like he holds us tight now, if we let him.

Death cannot win; the tomb is empty and the grave clothes left behind. We join Jesus in death and in life. In that commitment we find meaning for our lives and strength for the journey. That journey begins in baptism, so it’s appropriate that as we hear the story of Christ’s resurrection we also gather to baptize a new Christian. As we witness Dillon’s baptism, we remember our own baptism and recommit ourselves to faithful discipleship.

If you have questions about making or reaffirming a commitment to Jesus, please make sure the church has your contact info so you and I can make plans to talk. Wherever you’ve been Jesus welcomes you home to him. Christ has called us, Christ died and rose for us, and Christ invites us to join the adventure of resurrection life with him. Come and follow!

Thanks be to God.

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