Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Empty Tomb


...declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord...
Romans 1:4

If the gospel isn't good news for everybody, then it isn't good news for anybody. And this is because the most powerful things happen when the church surrenders its desire to convert people and convince them to join. It is when the church gives itself away in radical acts of service and compassion, expecting nothing in return, that the way of Jesus is most vividly put on display.
Rob Bell

Many Jews in the first century believed in "the Resurrection from the dead," a day when the God who created the heavens and the earth would plant his feet on this world and raise the righteous ones to eternal life in God’s Kingdom. This "end-time"’ expectation was contested within Judaism, but it was an ultimate hope for many. The Pharisee Saul believed fervently in this hope, and on his road to Damascus to arrest those pesky Jews for Jesus, he was confronted by the resurrected Jesus himself!

Saul became the Apostle Paul after 3 days of physical blindness and spiritual illumination. It seems, rather strangely, that this long-hoped-for day of Resurrection had actually come in this crucified Servant-King Jesus from the out-of-the-way town called Nazareth. However, God inaugurated the ‘end-times’ in Jesus partially, as a foretaste, a first-fruit of a still future reality for all of God’s people. In Jesus’ resurrection, God vindicated Jesus’ interpretation (both his teaching and lifestyle) of what the kingdom of God was (and is) all about:

the vulnerable and marginalized are given dignity and priority, forgiveness and reconciliation is bestowed in relationships, neighbors (and even enemies) are served and loved, possessions are shared, illnesses and addictions are healed, lust and sexual perversion are shelved, and the whole world—-both Jew and Gentile—-are invited to participate in what God is doing to redeem his creation.

Resurrected life is offered to all…now! But we participate in the kingdom of God only by signing on to the cross: a death to self and the "common sense" of our culture. As the 20th century American prophet Martin Luther King said in Chicago months before his assassination:

The cross we bear precedes the crown we wear. To be a Christian one must take up his cross, with all of its difficulties and agonizing and tension-packed content and carry it until that very cross leaves its marks upon us and redeems us to that more excellent way which comes only through suffering.

Just 25 years after Jesus death and resurrection, the Apostle Paul pleaded with the small Christian community of Jews and Gentiles in Rome to participate in this death and resurrection way:

Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. [Romans 6:4-6]

Those baptized into citizenship in God’s international Kingdom pledge to crucify our old selves in order to live freely in "the whole new world" (II Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15) of Jesus’ Way. Eternity starts with Jesus' Resurrection and will continue on earth with the resurrection of everything...someday soon! As Bible scholar NT Wright often says,

Jesus's resurrection is the beginning of God's new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven.

Or put more cleverly (as Wright):

Heaven is important, but it is not the end of the world.

Our hope lies not in a disembodied heaven or an escapist rapture from the world. We long for a renewal of all things (Romans 8) and we anticipate that by living out our vocation as the resurrection people in our own unique contexts now--as we daily pray,

Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

On Easter Sunday, EasyYolk joins Christians all over the world to celebrate God’s vindication of Jesus’ way, but we also renew our vows to journey with him to Jerusalem, bearing the cross, confronting power structures that enslave many. Today, this means committing to ridding our own self-absorption and self-gratification in order to participate in the energizing of the downtrodden with a team of fellow healers and givers and servants. It also means critiquing the counterfeit narratives cleverly told by commercials, print ads, movies, songs and websites. But we are not alone in this hard task of continuing Jesus legacy:

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in y'all, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in y'all.
Romans 8:11 (I use the "Southern translation" to note the Greek word for "you" is plural--Paul writes letters to communities, not autonomous individuals)

If the resurrection of Jesus is "true," then we, the people of God, are empowered by Something far greater than anything we can calculate with our 5 senses. On this Easter, we are awe-struck with the notion that God's reign comes to this world "from below," through the suffering, humble service of the cross-bearers who cling to the power of God's Spirit unleashed on the world.

That said, we get strength from our solidarity with those abandoned by the powers-that-be: the Third World farmers priced out of the market by Western policies and multinational corporations, the undocumented workers in crowded apartments, the Palestinians locked in Gaza, the homosexuals who yearn to be understood and humanized, the unemployed laborers who long to join "the American work week," the uninsured pushed out because of pre-existing conditions in order to satisfy shareholders, the women and children who have been victims of abuse, the elderly who have been forgotten and all those who have been taught to hate themselves because they are the wrong size, color, gender, sexual orientation, religion or political affliation. These "crucified ones" give us the perspective and the power to "walk in newness of life."

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