God’s new thing in Christ’s resurrection is very hard to comprehend, because everything is changed – but take heart. Others have gone before and show you the way.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Resurrection of Our Lord, year C
Texts: Luke 24:1-12; Isaiah 65:17-25; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26
For the second time in three weeks, Isaiah proclaims to us God’s new creation.
Once again, the Creator of all says, “do not remember the former things,” rather “be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating. A new heavens and a new earth.”
Nature itself is changed in God’s new thing, Isaiah declares. People who die at 100 years will be considered just a youth. War and violence won’t exist: if you build a house and plant the vineyards, you can live and enjoy that fruit.
We hear in Advent, from chapter 11, that the wolf and lamb will lie down together, but here God promises they will eat supper together. So again, nature itself is changed in God’s new thing – wolves have an entirely new nature. It is literally a new creation, with new rules and ways that the world works.
But it’s really hard to grasp such utter newness.
God’s new creation isn’t a friendly amendment, changing a little. Everything we believe is true about how the world works is upended. Predators and prey become beloved to each other. Weeping and death are no more. Peace and justice and safety are absolute: all can live in their homes and prosper.
We who trust in Christ believe this new creation began today, the day of Christ’s resurrection. Everything changed when Christ Jesus broke the power of death. Everything he taught that seemed so impossible by the rules of the world – loving your enemies and neighbors, knowing you are always loved by the Triune God, God’s children living in Christ transforming the whole world into peace and justice through love – all these things are now possible. Real. Because Christ is risen.
If we aren’t a little shaken by Easter’s truth, confused, startled, we need to listen to the Scriptures more deeply. Everything changes today. Everything.
So give these disciples a little slack.
They’ve had a week of seismic changes in how they understood the world to work.
Sunday was exhilarating; Thursday was perplexing, changing to terrifying; Friday was devastatingly unimaginable. Saturday was overwhelming lostness, trying to rebuild some idea of where to go from here. When Jesus died, every hope they had for who he was and what God was doing in him died, too.
So when the faithful women come to the tomb of Jesus and find it open and empty, of course they’re confused. The heavenly messengers sort of unfairly ask why they’re looking for the living among the dead: they couldn’t imagine he was alive. And forgive the male disciples, too, for doubting their sisters. The human mind can only go so far before shutting down.
How could any of them process yet another shift? Friday’s devastating loss forced a total re-evaluation of everything. And now this empty tomb, with the word that Jesus was actually alive?
But they did process it. We can see that from Paul’s words from twenty years later.
“If for this life only we have hoped in Christ,” Paul says, “we are of all people most to be pitied.” He’s talking about the promise of life after death, but hold that for a moment.
“If for this life only we have hoped in Christ” means that some of these Corinthians had faith in Christ for this life alone. That’s what these women and men who first found an empty tomb passed on to the world: everything Jesus taught them about life in Christ here was true. Real.
If Jesus is alive, then self-giving love cannot be stopped even by death. Loving enemies and praying for those who hurt you is possible and will change the world. God’s undying love for you that always searches until you are found is true. Jesus’ promise to be with you always in the Spirit is real and fills you with life and purpose.
They were confused at first, these disciples. But they eventually lived a whole new life, where the rules of how people deal with each other were completely new, changed. It was so different they called it the Way. The Way of Christ – loving, peacemaking, sharing, compassion, self-giving – this was what they found in the risen Christ. Reason to live and to hope here.
So twenty years after the Resurrection, people were coming to faith in Christ for this life, here.
Apparently many didn’t yet believe in a life after death. Paul’s Thessalonians and Corinthians both struggled with this. They had faith in Christ as a hope for this life. And they lived it in Christ. They loved it.
But here Paul says, if the joy of living this new creation Christ in this life – a good thing! – is all you have, you’re missing something. Because in those twenty years, some of the believers began to understand another profound joy of Christ’s resurrection: if Jesus broke death, it was broken for everyone.
And so we, 2,000 years later, come to Easter expecting part of our joy is this promise: death is not the end. Every year, some of us come here with new wounds at the death of someone we love, the pain of their absence, mourning a loss, looking for hope. And once again we hear Paul’s confidence, that Christ is only the first fruits of those who have died. All who die in Christ are raised to new life.
There’s actually hope for you today in the confusion and misunderstanding of these people.
Be patient with yourself if you don’t fully grasp God’s new creation in Christ. If twenty years after the Resurrection the Church was still coming to grips with the utter newness of what God is doing in Christ, don’t be hard on yourself if it takes you time.
But do be ready for everything to change. In a new creation, even wolves have a different nature. The dead don’t stay dead. God’s Spirit inhabits God’s children and they do amazing things.
So take heart: your prejudices and habits that are harmful, the vestiges of the old rules of a racist, sexist, elitist world that some of us find so hard to eliminate, they will be broken down and removed by God’s Spirit. It might take some time. But do know that the old rules have to go in God’s new creation. The struggles to love, especially those who hurt you, and to forgive, these will take time for the Spirit to resolve, but God will. Because those old ways have to go in the new creation. They all do.
And when you doubt God’s love in the face of death, the Spirit will help you trust in the promise of resurrection for all who are in Christ. Including those you love whom you miss so much.
Having everything turned upside down in God’s new creation is a challenge. So is unlearning how the world and our society say things have to work.
But now you know not to look for life in dead places like this world’s way. Now you know that Christ is risen, and everything is changed.
And now you have the comfort that if you and I are a little slow on the uptake, struggling sometimes to see this new creation and live in it, we’ve got good company in these faithful ones who first saw the risen Jesus. And now they’re standing on the sidelines cheering us as we walk our journey into God’s new creation, learning as we go, holding each other’s hands in hope.
Because nothing has ever been the same since that tomb was broken and Christ stepped out. It never will be, thanks be to God.
In the name of Jesus. Amen