March 27, 2005: Resurrection:
Matthew 28:1-10, Colossians 3:1-4, Psalm
Eileen Parfrey, Springwater Presbyterian
Easter is a great day at Springwater,
a day of gathering and celebration, because
our Savior is not dead, but risen from the
grave. We dress up, eat breakfast together,
enjoy special music in worship. We joyfully
greet each other with the words, "Christ
is risen!" and respond in confidence,
"He is risen indeed!" For today,
at least, we are convinced by the good news
that love defeats death. But Easter is just
one of many special days, unless it makes
a difference in how we live, otherwise it's
nothing more than an excuse for fresh spring
clothes and lovely flowers and ham dinner.
Reading the gospel accounts of the first Easter,
one notices that there is a singular lack
of partying going on. Even the tomb-side joy
is ambiguous, mixed as it is with fear and
confusion. In the graveyard, disciples frantically
run to and fro, guards are paralyzed with
fear, women run into gardeners and men bonk
their heads on the tomb's door lintel. It's
chaos! Joy, yes, but tempered by wonderment,
too-good-to-be-true, confusion, and fear as
everyone tries to make sense of the suspension
of the natural laws of life and death. What
are they supposed to believe? What are they
supposed to do?
Jesus lets the women know with his greeting:
"Chairete." This is usually translated
as, "Greetings!" but how could anyone,
dead for three days, think "Greetings"
is what the mourners want to hear? The Greek
grammar doesn't agree it's a greeting, it's
an imperative statement-a command. The first
word out of the resurrected Jesus' mouth is
the command, "Rejoice!" Which the
women do. After they worship, Jesus tells
them what to do. "Stop being afraid.
Go to my brothers" (notice it's not "disciples"
as the angel says, it's "brothers,"
as if all the denial, abandonment, betrayal
is forgiven), "Go to my brothers,"
he says, "and tell them to go back to
Galilee." You remember Galilee-where
Jesus spent his ministry in Matthew. Jesus
asks the disciples to continue his ministry,
essentially, "Get back to work."
Is that the implication, the "so what?"
of the resurrection-get back to work? It sounds
so much like what my old boss used to say
at the end of company meetings. "Get
back to work," he'd say fondly, and we'd
hustle off. But I'm your pastor, and by virtue
of my seminary degree, I can give you a four-part
harmony explanation of the theology of the
Christian experience as a sacramental and
baptismal union with Christ-with full orchestral
accompaniment, dancers, sequins, and an all-star
cast. But it's Easter Sunday, we all know
the kids are toked up on sugar, and we just
want to know what the resurrection has to
do with us. So I'm going to make this simple.
People who are serious about the resurrection
act like it.
I often hear people say, "I'm spiritual,
I'm not religious." That always makes
me feel uncomfortable, because it sounds as
if the speaker is trying to justify something,
and I'm never quite sure what. Perhaps it's
that they've never been able to separate the
Crusades from the person of God. Or it's their
perception that "religion" is used
for sordid political gain. Or maybe they've
never done the work of sorting out what they
heard as children. Social trend watchers explain
this as commitment adverse people who avoid
like the plague being held accountable. God's
a good idea, these folks say, as long as God
makes no requirements of me, doesn't expect
me to show up regularly, doesn't ask me to
make financial contributions or cut into my
sporting events and hobbies. Maybe you don't
want to hear what the resurrection has to
do with you, because this is one of two Sundays
we'll see you in 2005. This might make you
feel uncomfortable, but the resurrection does
make requirements of us. But only because
God wants us to live while we are alive.
Think "Terry Shiavo." If you haven't
heard of Terry Shiavo, you are more out of
touch with current events than even me. This
poor woman's situation has been agonized over
and rehashed in the public media for weeks
now, while her parents and husband duke it
out using every legal device known to humanity.
Attorneys and journalists earn a living on
her story while she hovers between living
and dying. That she is breathing no one disputes.
That she can blink and make primitive responses
to stimuli no one disputes. But whether this
is "living" is the contention. Ask
anyone who has been in a hospital or nursing
home for an extended period whether this is
"living" or just getting by until
they can get out.
Christians who ignore the implications of
the resurrection for their lives may as well
be in a spiritual persistent vegetative state.
Sunday-only faith (only if it's not too inconvenient)
is the spiritual equivalent of a stomach feeding
tube. You're getting by, but it's not really
living. You can blink and make primitive responses,
but there's no relationship, no growth, no
transformation, no giving to others. Resurrection
life isn't about showing up on Sunday and
living by socially-accepted rules the rest
of the week. Resurrection life is about relationship
with God, life in community, mission in the
world. This means face time with God (prayer,
study, silence). It also means willingness
to commit to skin-on time in the community
of faith and mission. That's what Jesus means
when he says, "Tell my brothers (and
sisters) to meet me in Galilee."
The implication of resurrection is ethical
living. To live ethically is to let your actions
fit your values. Not just "put your money
where your mouth is," ethical living
means putting hands and feet to compassion--and
relationship to feeding the hungry. Respectful
treatment toward people you help. Willingness
to learn from people not like you. Hearing
with grace for the thousandth time the story
that Grandpa loves to tell. Patiently allowing
the other person to learn at their own pace.
Willingness to not be right all the time.
Working for the good of the whole, rather
than proving your point. Foregoing your favorite
TV show to drive the neighbor to the doctor.
After the rigors of Lent and the dreariness
of winter, we are so happy to see Easter arrive
that we run to meet it. The news we've been
dying to hear-that death is not the end of
the story, that love is stronger even than
death-this good news is the hope that keeps
us going. But unless the saving life, death,
and resurrection of the Christ becomes our
life story, we may as well stick to wondering
whether sweet potatoes would go well with
the ham this year and what to do with all
the leftover hard-cooked eggs. It's only a
story if we ourselves are not changed by the
earth-shaking events of the first Easter.
The risen Christ's first words to us are a
command. "Rejoice! Then get back to whatever
is Galilee for you, and I'll meet you there."
Celebrate, but be transformed. Easter means
we're not in the business of success, we don't
have to depend on what we accomplish or what
we can buy in order to be loveable. Easter
means we're not stuck with our discouragements,
that our failures don't have the last word
about our value, that we don't need to be
ruled by distractions. Be transformed.
Listen to how The Message translates Colossians
3:1-4: "If you're serious about living
this new resurrection life with Christ, act
like it. Pursue the things over which Christ
presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the
ground, absorbed with the things right in
front of you. Look up, and be alert to what
is going on around Christ-that's where the
action is. See things from his perspective.
Your old life is dead. Your new life, which
is your real life-even though invisible to
spectators-is with Christ in God. He is your
life. Friends, the words of the resurrected
Christ still apply to us: "Rejoice together,
then get back to work together." He'll
meet us there. Alleluia! Amen.