April 5, 2015 // Resurrection! // Mark 16:1-8 // Pastor Sara Wolbrecht //
Today is not the end. It is the beginning. Easter has such a sense of arrival – the end of Lent (especially if you’ve given up chocolate or caffeine then YES this is the end!). Or even the end of Holy Week. But this is not the end.
We have just heard Mark’s telling of the Easter gospel. Hearing the words that change everything: He is risen! He is not here! And as we sit here in our Easter best, my question for you is this: what does it mean? What does Easter and Jesus’ resurrection mean for us? What’s your one sentence response? Turn to the person next to you and share your answer. Easter is…
Over the centuries, many Christians would have answered that question by saying: great, Jesus died and came back and then went to heaven, so now we will go to heaven, too. Awesome! That’s the point! And out of that come all the conversations about heaven and hell and where are you going when YOU die? Which is just not the point of the Christian story. Or the Easter message.
So as it is Easter Sunday and Christ is risen! I want to spend a little time sorting out a way to see the whole of the Christian story in what might be a fresh way for you – but even if you have heard it this way before, we’ll all have the chance to hear it as part of our story on this Easter. Does that sound ok? I guess you don’t really have a choice, do you?
A good place to start is to look at what scripture actually says. So it does not say that we will evacuate to this other place called heaven and therefore the earth and world as we know it will be tossed out as we leave it behind. Instead, the prophet Isaiah speaks about this in a different way, using the language of: new heavens and new earth – and the New Testament writers pick up on this in various ways. New heavens and new earth …Ok, so what does that mean? The way it seems to work is like this. When God made this lovely world, God made something that would last and not just last: at the end of each day of the creation story, God saw that it was, what? GOOD. It was good!). God knows this is good! And doesn’t want us to leave here and throw out this good earth – as if to say well, that was a bad idea. Done. With. That. (Ok, what’s next…)
No: God wants to keep this world. And to work within this world to eliminate everything that corrupts and harms and distorts his beautiful creation, and make it new – to give the painful, suffering, ugly parts of this world – kind of a big ol’ makeover. To be a place like the present earth we know only with everything that’s true and beautiful and lovely made even better, and everything that is bad and sad and degrading abolished forever. That is what is actually promised and described in scripture. You can read Isaiah 65 as one place to see that.
I had never heard it articulated quite that way until a few years ago. At the heart of the Jesus story, then, is not concern about “your eternal destination” and getting off this planet, but at the heart of the Jesus story is: resurrection. New creation. Not a heaven far off, but this world being made new. Heaven coming here on earth. A big giant makeover – which is what Jesus taught us to pray for in the Lord’s Prayer – your Kingdom come here on earth as in heaven.
So where does Easter, Jesus’ resurrection, this day we celebrate now fit into all of this? To get us to Easter, consider for a moment first, Good Friday. From the cross, in the middle of John 19, Jesus says one word that says it all: “It is _________ .” Finished. Accomplished. Completed.
Now, I really need your attention for the next two minutes because this gets a little technical but this will blow your mind. (For those of us who were together here on Good Friday we touched on this briefly, so you already have the inside scoop. So well done). Question: where else in Scripture does God finish something? Back at the very beginning, the creation account of Genesis 1. When God the creator made his wonderful world, it is described as six days of creating, then a day of rest. A week. And at the end of the sixth day he (it says) finished it. He completed his work. It was accomplished. Done. Now, on this Good Friday, the sixth day of the week, God’s work is finished, again. Jesus has completed the work of redeeming the world. Do you see that? Then, just as God rested on that seventh day of creation, Holy Saturday is the Sabbath rest after completing the work of redemption.
You tracking with me? Then, Easter Day is the eighth day, the first day of the new week. This is not the end, it is the beginning.
The beginning of what? Of new heavens and new earth. New creation starts on Easter. Jesus’ resurrection body, Jesus himself, is the first bit of the new creation, showing us the new world that is to come – and that it is beginning now. With resurrection.
Doesn’t that blow your mind? And so in our Easter gospel reading, when it says: “Very early on the first day of the week…” We know this isn’t just Mark helping us pay attention to the calendar. He is saying: it is a completely new kind of week. It is the eighth day. It is the first day of new creation.
And on this first day of new creation early in the morning, Mary, Mary, and Salome, the women, make their way to Jesus’ tomb (because the men are sleeping in). And they find that the stone has been rolled away. And sitting there where a dead body should be is a white-robed stranger – which is just the stuff of a horror film, so yes, they are surprised. But then they hear the words that changes everything: He is risen! He is not here. We hear that and the crowd goes wild!!
But how did the women respond? High fives, hugging, crying! No. The text says: Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
First reaction to new creation: WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON? Let’s get out of here. Only gradually did they and the rest of Jesus’ followers realize what had happened. N.T. Wright puts it this way: In his death, Jesus had taken all the sin and death and shame and sorrow of the world upon himself, so that by letting it do its worst to him he had destroyed its power, which means that now there is nothing to stop the new creation from coming into being.
So this question what does Easter mean? Easter means that the new creation has begun. WE LIVE IN NEW CREATION! Jesus's resurrection is the beginning of God's new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to fill earth with the life of heaven.
Isn’t this a far more compelling reality than talking about following the right rules and what you have to do to “get into heaven?” We’re having the wrong conversation when we get stuck there. The conversation we need to be having is: HOW do we live in New Creation? What does that look like? Well, we get to spend our whole lives figuring that out, but here is part of what that looks like …
First, if you have been paying attention this Holy Week to what Jesus has said and done, then you have a pretty good idea of what it looks like to live in New Creation. Again and again Jesus demonstrates this to us. It starts on Palm Sunday. After arriving in Jerusalem on a donkey to shouts of Hosanna, Jesus says these beautiful, haunting words: unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24). Wait a minute Jesus, seeds falling and dying – that doesn’t sound like power and victory and winning. And no – New Creation is in seeds that die, bread and wine, the washing of feet, death on a cross. Jesus has been setting a pattern for us to follow in these events.
Second, to hear this pattern described another way, and to help us to zoom in from 30,000 foot view to the all up in our business, personal and intimate version of Easter, we have a song. This is a video that Jason and a few of our folks put together to go with the song called, “Unpack Your Heart” by Phillip Phillips. Pay attention to these words and hear them as the invitation for you into new creation: “Unpack Your Heart” Song + Video
The pattern Jesus shows us as to HOW to live in New Creation is of course, the way of death. And in the language of this song, the radical, intimate invitation into new creation is to unpack your heart. To bring all of who you are and lay it out on the floor, all of it. Your sickness, shame, glory, beauty, war, madness, pain.
We unpack it all and let it become enfolded in the life and death of Jesus. We who were here last week heeded Jesus’ words about seeds falling to the ground and dying. So this week we paid attention to and named the seeds we need to let fall to the ground: within ourselves, our circumstances, our world. This is courageous work of unpacking our grief, anger, addiction, depression, fear, unrealized hopes and dreams, uncertainty about the future, complicated relationships – we all have stuff that we can let die.
And on Good Friday we let those seeds fall at the cross – our suffering enfolded in Jesus’ suffering. And we’ve lived through Saturday, and now it is Sunday – the first day of the new week. We see that Jesus’ suffering and brutal execution have given way to life and resurrection. And in this is the adamant word that death is never the final word – but there are always more seeds and resurrection within us and our world. Resurrection insists that there’s a whole new world quietly exploding right here within this one.
Jesus has taken all of our sin and death and shame and sorrow upon himself which means that that stuff, that’s the old stuff and now there is nothing to stop the new creation from coming into being. God can make something out of everything that is in these hearts of ours. So we dump it out, here it is, knowing that God is working to bring every part of this world that is sad and broken, to bring beauty and redemption and resurrection. So we dump it out, here it is, knowing that in those very intimate places, there, where we’re stuck or afraid, new creation can come. There we hear the words, He is risen, he is not here! Oh, I’m on your side, shed your shadow and watch it rise. In new creation, we unpack our heart, bringing all of who we are, and we let it all die to find resurrection on the other side.
Oh, let’s be clear, though. New creation is not easy – it takes some getting used to. That’s why the women fled the tomb in fear. Bewildered and trembling. It’s hard to face new creation sometimes. One reason it is hard is that we have to face all the uglies we have – willingly walking into the deepest regrets and darkness and addiction and anxiety we have – and not walking away from it. It means being honest and not hiding it, glossing over it, pretending everything is ok, stuffing it. It’s hard to live there in our uglies – but it is our uglies that God wants to resurrect, right? And we want that too. That’s hard.
Resurrection is hard for another reason. Just curious: does anyone here like to be in control and/or like to know what’s going to happen? Letting things go, is painfully difficult because we also let go of control. The thing about seeds is that once they fall to the ground, you never really know how long it will take for them to grow, or even what they will do when they come up. What will they become? We don’t know – it is a radical act of trust, of trusting that God is a God of resurrection. It is difficult, uncomfortable work living in new creation.
And maybe you know this first hand. Where have you seen new creation in your life? What uglies have you dealt with? What seeds have fallen and what has grown from them?
Some dear friends of ours are about to adopt the toddler girl they’ve been foster-parenting for the past year. But this new creation in their life is on the other side of death, of trying to get pregnant for years, of discerning whether to foster or adopt or both. But their daughter, Bella, is amazing, feisty, and totally blows their expectations out of the water. April 17th she will be completely their daughter. This is new heavens and new earth, this is resurrection. We didn’t know what it would become, but here she is.
Where have you seen death and resurrection in your life? Where has God brought about new creation?
Or maybe the question to ask it – what new creation are you waiting for? Are there seeds in the ground and you are waiting? I have a friend applying to grad schools and none of her plans are working out as she imagined – so there is the continual course correction of letting go of the first choice school, the second choice – she is in the middle of letting that seed fall, and waiting to see what new creation will be on the other side. But it is hard to wait. What resurrection are you waiting for now?
Beyond the new creation we see in ourselves, we must name that Easter is also an invitation to do something with this stuff in our hearts beyond ourselves. The point is that if God’s new creation has already begun, we are put to work to make more bits of new creation happen within the world as it is now. That’s also the beautiful invitation of Easter – God uses the bits of who we are to connect with others and the world that needs rescuing, encouraging, serving. We get to bring God’s beauty, creativity, humor, healing, joy – all kinds of new creation with our family and friends, in the places we work and play, with the everyday folks we’re in relationship with. We get to see new heavens and new earth showing up little bit by little bit – and we’re a part of the process.
There is so much more to say about all of this – and I’ve already said too much – but if you want to hear more, starting next week we’ll start a sermon series on the book of Mark – Mark writes as a straight-shooter, not a lot of fluff – which is a great place to start especially if you haven’t read the bile ever or lately. We’re calling this sermon series: “Life Outside the Box.” That image of dumping our hearts out, like a box – what do we do once it’s all out in the open, outside the box? Also, we’ll press into what life following Jesus really looks like – which is an outside of the box kind of life. I hope you’ll come back to continue this new creation life together.
But today. This Resurrection Sunday. We know that: Jesus Christ is risen! (Indeed!). That God’s new creation has begun, and that we have to do two things: first to respond to this invitation to unpack our heart as we die with Jesus and share in his new life, and, second, to allow the Holy Spirit to work through us to make new creation happen in his world. Friends, this is not the end. This is most certainly just the beginning. For which we say: thanks be to God. Amen.