Here is the message for Easter Sunday.
A New Heaven and a New Earth 2013 03 31 Easter: Isaiah 65:17-25; Luke 24:1-12
A former United Church Moderator was visiting a congregation close to Easter, and went down to Sunday School with the children. The moderator asked the children what they knew about Good Friday and Easter, and most of the children didn’t want to answer. One little boy volunteered. He said that on Good Friday Jesus was killed on the cross and put in a tomb. On Easter Sunday he comes out of the tomb, and, if he sees his shadow, we have 6 more weeks of winter.
What is the point of the Holy Week story? The answer to that question is one that each of us must choose for our own self. We need to understand our story, know our traditions, and connect that story to our own stories.
Good Friday and Easter Sunday were such extreme events that people created many stories and explanations about what happened, and what they mean to us. Our knowledge of those events includes problems. The story tellers then used story differently than we do. Often a story would be told that deliberately paralleled a previous story, linking the first story to the second story. The Elijah story about Elijah striking the Jordan with his staff to cause it to divide may have linked Elijah to the Moses tradition, and claimed him as a spiritual descendant of Moses.
Next, the Gospels were written down one to two generations later from the oral traditions of the early church. The writers had their own agendas that influenced which stories they used, and how they edited them.
The last challenge is the nature of the events themselves. The disciples thought they were following a winner, the one who was going to get rid of the Romans with God’s help.
In their minds he was supposed to win, not lose, and the events of Good Friday were emotionally catastrophic. How can anyone properly describe an event such as that? Even tougher is the resurrection. How do you describe something that no one has ever experienced, especially in the midst of all of the emotions that would have been raging through them?
With these challenges, we are left with one core point. The murder of Jesus did not end his mission. We do not pay homage to his dead body — we celebrate his capacity to conquer death and subvert the powers of this world. He lives on, and continues to change the world through us and others.
Having looked at problems in our stories, let’s review our tradition and its intertwined contradictions. Most traditions agree that Jesus succeeded at bringing us to oneness with God, a state called atonement or at-one-ment. How he did that is one source of division: in his incarnation, in his life and teachings, in his death, in his resurrection, or in some combination of these four acts. Jesus spoke against the use of sacrifice to buy God’s forgiveness, yet the dominant belief in our tradition is that Jesus did just that through his death. The resurrection tradition is confronted by stories that make his resurrected body different from his original body and identical to his original body, material and not material, able to move through walls and totally physical.
Then we need to connect our shared story to our individual experiences, finding the point for ourselves.
I take my cue from Isaiah 65 and the passage about a new heaven and a new earth, a world in which no one will cause harm on God’s holy mountain.
In his life and teachings, Jesus entered into a conflict between belief systems. The Jewish, Roman, Greek, Persian, Egyptian, Babylonian and Assyrian belief systems included a view of God as cause and agent of imperialism, the quest for domination over others, and the view of land as commodity for advancing the interests of those who control the land. In these belief systems, humans properly focused their efforts on staying in right relationship with God or gods and on exploiting opportunities for their own advancement. For some, like the Jews, agricultural land properly belonged to families and town lots and houses belonged to individuals. A contrary belief system that existed in Judaism was that God was a giver and provider and an opponent of empires, that the land was God’s, and that our primary task was to care for others. Jesus clearly entered into the conflict on the side of belief in a self-giving God, condemnation of power and control-focused imperialism, and our calling to care for others. When the other belief system valued worrying about wealth and status, Jesus said to not worry about anything, to trust in God’s generosity and love. His message was a threat to institutional religion and the Roman empire, and he died for his message. Easter Sunday is God’s affirmation that love, not the ways of death embodied in imperialism, will prevail in the end.
Easter Sunday assured Nelson Mandela that opposition to the form of imperialism known as apartheid would eventually collapse, that his sacrifice was not in vain. Easter Sunday assures the people today who are willing to take a stand against the promoters of imperialism that their efforts, their sacrifices will contribute to the eventual defeat of modern imperialism, whether that imperialism is stealing resources from First Nations’ land or creating sweatshops in Bangladesh.
Hear again these words from Isaiah, words that seem to have influenced Jesus in his life and teachings…(Isaiah 65:17-25)
The legacy of aboriginal issues is one symptom of a core imperialist attitude that persists to poison our society, an attitude seen in our treatment of refugees from India, Jewish refugees before World War 2, Japanese, Italian and German Canadians, farmers affected by resource development, environmentalists concerned about the possibility of long term loss for the many in order to make short-term profit for a few.
Because of the resurrection, we know that death, and the ways that lead to death are not the end. God has something better to offer to us, and the power to make it happen.
What is the point of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus for you? How will you respond to his invitation to you?
What part will you play in the unfolding of the new heavens and the new earth God has promised?
May the God of Hope and love be known by you and through you. Amen.