When God Speaks Deliverance

11 04 2009

marymagdalene Death, they say, is a part of life.  Humanity since the beginning has marked death with some kind of ritual for the remains of loved ones, friends or even pets. There may be a funeral and burial,  cremation, or send the remains out to sea.  Great care is taken to respect the wishes of the departed and those they have left behind.   Much art has even been created exploring death.  Death fascinates us because it will touch us all many times in our lives before it finally pulls us into its embrace. Even after the bodies are buried and the ashes scattered, we still return to cemetaries and memorials to remember our loved ones or perhaps even to somehow commune with them or spend a few moments of peace in our grief.

About 2,000 years ago,  a woman by the name of Mary Magdalene went to a tomb where a loved one was buried a few days before.  She had thought to pay her own respects to the body and spend some time in grief.  Her dear friend, Jesus of Nazareth had recently been framed by the religious authorities of her own people and handed over for torture and execution at the hands of the Romans occupying their home.  When she gets to the tomb, however, she is totally shocked by what she finds.

The tomb is empty.

The Resurrection is a daunting thing to talk about for the most experienced of preachers.  How can you distill the importance of the central event in our faith into about 20 minutes or less (or for readers of this blog, 1200 words or less!)  Many people these days show up to services for only Christmas and Easter, so the challenge is even more daunting to try and reach those who haven’t been to church in a while or even for the first time.  Our 6:00pm service at Easter is full of such folks and at times they seem to look up into the pulpit and dare the preacher to say something that moves them.

Some people, in trying to “prove” the validity of our faith point to an empty tomb as if that is supposed to give comfort that yes, Jesus really is alive and well.  For Mary Magdalene, one of the first witnesses of the Resurrection, her impressions of the empty tomb do not become an occasion for revelation and faith…..

In the beginning of the story in the Gospel of John, Mary is still very much preoccupied with Jesus’ corpse much as any of us would be at the news of a loved one’s death.  Upon arriving and seeing the tomb is empty, she does see anything to show that Jesus is alive. Her sense of loss only deepens.  Her first thought is that someone has taken the body, for the dead simply do not disappear or get up and walk away.  Someone, she thinks, must have moved it.  The disciples who came later to see what Mary was talking about could only confirm what she said.  There’s nothing there.  The body was gone.   Even later, when she was speaking with someone she thought was the gardener, Mary says to him “Where is he?”

She is so preoccupied with death and loss much as any of us have been when death touches us.  “Please,” she says, “let me give my friend a decent burial and let me grieve in peace.”  Then the man whom she assumed to be the gardener speaks her name, “Mary,” and then everything is changed and he is revealed to be none other than the same Jesus of Nazareth that was crucified, dead and buried.

The empty tomb did hold a surprise for her, but an even bigger surprise was given from the One who found her and revealed Himself to her.  With one word, Jesus shatters Mary’s conception of what death means and opens up an entire new world.  Jesus is no longer dead, but alive!

Many of our texts for Easter point to God’s deliverance from death.  At the Easter Vigil we recall how God delivered his people from the hands of their oppressors, the Egyptians at the Exodus.  A central theme of the Resurrection is that God has delivered his people from death yet again, but this time, it’s different, bigger, and even much more powerful!  This is not just another miracle along the lines of loaves and fishes, calming a storm, exorcisms or even the raising of Lazarus.

Many will say, “So what? What difference does it make to me whether or not Christ was raised from the dead? How can we know or even trust what is said?”  To Saint Paul, belief in the resurrection  is essential to the Christian community.  He went so far as to say (in paraphrase) that if God did not raise Jesus from the dead, then we are all wasting our breath.  The biggest difference that the Resurrection makes is that God’s deliverance does not extend just to one people, but will eventually be brought to the entire human race and indeed to all of Creation.

In the book of Acts, we see that these promises and hope that we place in God is for everyone.  Cornelius, a Roman centurion and one who works for the the same corrupt and oppressive system which led to Jesus’ death, is welcomed into the family of God.  There is a place at the table for perpetrators and victims alike and everyone in between.  Peter briefly recounts the story of Jesus and how his life ended with an execution.  But God did not allow evil to carry the day because he raised Jesus from the dead, and this Jesus revealed himself to those that saw him, ate and drank with him, and touched him. This was not some ghost or hallucination, but a real, live person.  In yet, even though Cornelius didn’t know of God or Jesus the way Peter did, Peter could not help but witness the saving work of Christ’s grace in a Roman centurion.  Those that do the work of Christ but do not know him are still caught up in the embrace of life.  Peter’s sermon  expresses two Gospel truths:  “Anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him” and “Jesus Christ is Lord of all.”

Because of the Resurrection, everything is different.  Even in these troubled and uncertain times, we can trust that God has not abandoned us.  How can I trust the Resurrection actually happened?  I wasn’t there, of course, but I can trust the witnesses of those who profess a relationship with Jesus and whose lives have been changed to the point where they want to make a difference in the world.  And I can also believe in the Resurrection even because of those who do not profess that same relationship, but still do the work of Christ.

The world will be put right once and for all because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, whether we realize or not. What makes the Resurrection different is that deliverance from death is now seen on a universal scale, and the powers of Sin and Death are overthrown and an entirely new way of life is opened up for us.

Another saying that we have is “The future is full of possibilities” but in this singular event, the possibilities of the future have in fact become the promises of God. The promise of the resurrection is that while death is still very much a part of life, it need not be in control; in fact, it is no longer in control at all.  We believe in the Resurrection not because it is something we can prove, but because it is something we can trust.

For as in Adam all died; even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

Oh Death, where is thy sting?  Oh Grave, where is thy victory?

In the Resurrection of Jesus, Death has been swallowed up and the way of life has been opened to us all.




2 responses

12 04 2009

I’m glad to see you’re back in the blog world with a vengance and with your usual insightfulness.

What a wonderful piece of artwork too.

3 11 2009

Dear miss or mister,

I was wondering where this beautiful sculpture from Maria Magdalene comes from or where I can find more informations or pictures from it?
Hope to hear from you soon…

Kind regards,

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