Here we are on Easter Sunday – a glorious day in the church year. A day accompanied by beautiful flowers, by brassy hymns (praise the Lord with the sound of trumpet) – a day accompanied by the retelling of a familiar story of hope and joy. The grave is empty – death could not keep him. Jesus Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Hallelujah.
But this morning I’m going to do something that may seem a little odd at first. I’m going to ask you to think ahead. To think beyond this moment of celebration and music – to think forward to Monday morning. I have a feeling that a good number of us, when we wake up on Monday morning, don’t exactly know what it means that Jesus is risen from the dead. Monday morning is generally a day to go back to work; Monday is a day we’re back into our routine; Monday is a day we’re back to the relationships and activities and tedium of life. What does resurrection mean, on Monday morning?
Perhaps we could compare it to a significant birthday celebration – say the fiftieth birthday. Family or friends throw a party on your birthday. There is celebration, food, wine, conversation – a wonderful day. The next morning you wake up – and there’s a bit of the feeling of ‘well, now what’. The helium balloons have sagged to the floor. The last of the cake, left out on the counter, is more than a little dried out. Now your fifty – is it supposed to feel different? Does it actually make a difference? That big 5-0 may weigh on your mind, but it’s not obvious what difference the number makes for your life.
The question arises on Monday morning, the day after we proclaim and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus – are we supposed to feel different. Does the resurrection of Jesus make a difference? Or is the resurrection sort of like turning fifty – it’s a truth floating out there – not touching down in your life. When you are back at the office, or on the phone with relatives, or back to studying – whatever you’re doing, does the resurrection of Jesus make a difference?
In our reading this morning from the book of Acts, the apostle Peter speaks of the message that God has given to Israel through Jesus the messiah. Doing so, Peter gives a summary statement of who Jesus was and what he had accomplished. Richard Lischer, who is a professor at Duke Divinity School, describes this passage as a kind of portrait of Jesus. And he suggests that the earliest Christians, those who belonged to the earliest church, always carried with them this portrait of Jesus. This is Jesus, and this Jesus makes all the difference for their lives.
For us it’s worth reading that summary again. Peter describes “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” This is the story that the first Christians carried with them, everywhere.
If those first Christians were alive and among us today, is there any doubt that the most-played tune on their ipod would be a song about this Jesus, full of power, healing those oppressed by the devil. Whether in the idiom of jazz or of opera or of choral music or country and western, is there any question that if the first Christians were alive and among us today the most-played tune on their ipod would be about this Jesus – his healing, his forgiveness. And if they were among us today, is there any doubt that these early Christians would belong to a facebook group called resurrection life – a virtual gathering place where they would swap stories about life with the risen one. And is there any doubt that if those first Christians were alive and among us today the first thing they would upload to their kindle or their ipad would be one of the gospels, so they could read again the stories of Jesus.
Perhaps you are thinking to yourself that these modern-day early Christians don’t sound like your typical Presbyterian. In a moment I will qualify what I’ve just said, but that won’t change the fact that – yes, these modern-day early Christians don’t sound like a typical Presbyterian.
It has been to the great detriment of our Presbyterian tradition, and to the great detriment of mainline Protestantism generally, that we just haven’t gotten too excited about Jesus. Indeed, I’d venture that our failure to be excited about, and preoccupied with Jesus has a good deal to do with the decline of mainline churches. If we’re not excited about Jesus – his word, his way – why would anyone around us think it worth getting excited about him? If we are not preoccupied with Jesus – his life, his resurrection – why would anyone else think it worthwhile to inquire about who he was, is? To say that the early Christians would have Jesus on their ipod and Jesus on their facebook page and Jesus on their kindle – is to say that they were enamoured with him. They carried that portrait with him everywhere they went. He defined them, and they wanted it that way.
Perhaps it feels to you like we’re some distance from where we began this morning. We began by looking ahead to Monday morning. When Monday morning rolls around, what difference will make that Jesus is risen from the dead. When we sit up and put our feet over the side of the bed; when we walk out the door for work; when we strike up that first conversation of the day – what difference will Easter make?
In our reading from Acts chapter 10, one of the decisive aspects of that portrait of Jesus – – is the forgiveness of sins – the passage in fact ends on the note of forgiveness. Luke who is the author of both Luke and Acts, also ends his gospel with the forgiveness of sins. Before his ascension, the risen Jesus speaks of himself as the one who suffers, who rises on the third day, and in whose name forgiveness of sins is proclaimed. Jesus says to his disciples: “you are witnesses of these things here, and to the ends of the earth.”
Through the crucifixion of Jesus, and through his resurrection from the dead, there is forgiveness of sins. Is that something that will make a difference on Monday morning? Even in a culture such as ours – one that has largely walked away from notions of sin and guilt – even in such a culture the forgiveness of sins might mean something. I’m not suggesting we should buy into our culture’s abandonment of the language of guilt and sins – indeed, it seems that there is something terribly dehumanizing about our abandonment of such notions. But even in a culture that has largely walked away from the idea of sin and guilt, forgiveness of sin might mean something.
There are many of us – our neighbours, our friends – perhaps we ourselves – many of us who think that we are unforgivable. Many who harbour very real guilt – guilt over loved ones we have hurt, guilt over things we have done, guilt about hurtful ways of life we have pursued – shame weighs on us.
For those who live with such guilt – for those who feel trapped by words and actions of the past – resurrection means something. When the cake is stale on the counter and when the balloons are sagging to the floor – on Monday morning resurrection means something. It means there is forgiveness. Through the crucified and risen one there is freedom for those preoccupied by the past, those mired in memory, those who have been immobilized by shame. For those of us who know guilt, the risen Jesus shares his risen life with us – new life. Whether it is Monday morning, or Thursday morning, or Sunday morning – there are many of us who desperately need forgiveness. The good news for us is the word spoken by Jesus to his disciples: “Forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in the name of the risen one, beginning from Jerusalem, to all nations – to the ends of the earth. The day after resurrection day – forgiveness ripples through our lives and out into our world.
But let’s come back for a moment to those modern-day early Christians – those first century Christians who have taken up residence in our time and world. One of the reasons we might have been uncomfortable hearing about the Jesus songs on their ipods, or uncertain about their resurrection facebook group, or a little ill-at-ease with their uploading of the gospels to their kindle – one of the reasons we might have been uncomfortable with all of this is that it might just remind us of a superficial, treacly, one-dimensional faith sometimes expressed by Christians. It’s all about Jesus and me – how Jesus forgive me and Jesus forgives you – and we get to go to heaven to be with Jesus. It’s all very personal. It seems somehow disconnected from day to day life. It’s not very substantial. It’s not very deep.
But when I said that these modern-day early Christians are excited about Jesus, and that they are preoccupied with Jesus – when I said they are excited about sharing in his resurrection life and that they are preoccupied with his power and grace – I didn’t get much into details – there was nothing about the content of the songs on their ipods – nothing about the content of their conversations on facebook – to say nothing of their tweets.
New Testament scholar Tom Wright reminds us that within the context of the four gospels, the forgiveness of sins is not simply about the forgiveness of my sins and the forgiveness of your sins. The forgiveness of sins, of which Jesus speaks, is not only a personal transaction between God and us, a transaction that makes us right with God. Jesus’ idea of forgiveness may have included that personal dimension, but for Jesus the forgiveness of sins was so much more expansive.
Wright argues that for Jesus the forgiveness of sins is an expansive idea that means the end of exile. In Jesus’ day there is a profound sense among God’s people that their Babylonian exile never really ended – they have lost so much – under Roman oppression in particular they still cannot live fully in their identity as God’s children. God’s people live in exile still – oppressed, broken, longing for a new day.
For Jesus the forgiveness of sins means the end of exile – it means the return of God’s people to the fullness of life with God. The forgiveness of sins means a return of their full identity as the children of God – it means the end of oppression, of brokenness, of injustice – the end of all wrong-headed living. In short, for Jesus the forgiveness of sins means that the kingdom of God has come close – if you want to see that kingdom in the real world – look at Jesus.
The death and resurrection of Jesus means the forgiveness of sins, it means the end of exile, it means the coming of God’s kingdom.
On Monday morning – the forgiveness of sins.
On Monday morning – the exile is over.
On Monday morning – God’s kingdom has come.
On Monday morning – Jesus is risen from the dead.
A favourite poet of mine, Wendell Berry, has written a poem entitled ‘Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” In it, he writes:
So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute.
Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing. Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant Sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest you did not plant, that you will not live to harvest.
Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.
So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute. Practice Resurrection.
To say “practice resurrection” is not to suggest that resurrection is something we ultimately do. Jesus is risen. He is the resurrection and the life. He is the forgiveness of sins. He is the end of exile. He is new life. He is God’s kingdom present in our world.
To say “practice resurrection” is to suggest that our lives are defined by the resurrection of Jesus, the kingdom of Jesus, and that we might live out of that truth.
First thing Monday morning – offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God in Jesus’ name.
On Monday morning – when you pick up the newspaper, pray that the love and joy and forgiveness of the risen Jesus will break into the lives of the people you read about.
On Monday morning – when you’re loading a new song on your ipod, make it a song about the way of justice and goodness revealed in Jesus.
On Monday morning – when you open your mouth to speak to someone for the first time, make your words words of loving kindness and humble service that point to Jesus.
On Monday morning – when you speak with a relative or friend about the tough time they aregoing through, tell them you will pray for them – or better yet, offer a stumbling, imperfect, slightly embarrassed prayer for them right then and there.
On Monday morning – when money crosses your mind for the first time, consider how much you have, and think about what it means to spend money well in Jesus’ kingdom.
On Monday morning, as you plan out your spring garden, offer thanks to the risen Son of God, through whom the gift of seeds and compost and flowers and vegetables are given in the first place
On Monday morning – get excited about Jesus; become preoccupied with Jesus – his word, his way.
On Monday morning – practice resurrection.
Jesus Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Hallelujah.