The Power of Life

Luke 24:1-12




There are two great powers in the world. The power of life and the power of death. I don’t mean simply being alive and not being alive. It’s much bigger than that. When I say the power of life, I would like for you to think about all that animates us and gives our lives meaning and purpose. The power of life includes creativity and generosity and humor and love. The power of life was spoken into the universe by the Source of Creation at the moment of our genesis. The power of life is at work in our best human impulses, our desires to give and serve and belong. And as Christians of course we root this power of life in the God who was revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

In contrast to all of that is the power of death. There is more to death than not breathing. When I say the power of death, I would like for you to think about all that stands in contrast to the power of life. The power of death is easy to recognize. It’s all around us. Addictions are part of the power of death. Racism and sexism and homophobia are part of the power of death. Greed, fear, violence, environmental destruction, religious hypocrisy, and even the subtle desire to distance ourselves from people that we classify as “not like us” – that is the power of death in the world. The power of death stands at odds with the power of life.

What we celebrate this morning is that in the resurrection, the power of life made flesh in Jesus Christ, defeated the power of death. One of the beautiful things about Christianity is that we don’t all have to have the same understandings of Jesus in order to be saved by Jesus. So this morning, whether or not you cognitively believe that THE resurrection happened, I invite you to trust that resurrection happens. Trust that life gets the last word.

Let’s ground our thoughts in one of the resurrection stories told by our ancestors in the faith. This is the account left for us in Luke chapter 24, verses 1 through 12. Let us listen now in the reading of scripture, for the word and wisdom of God.

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

This is the word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.

The resurrection, Jesus defeating the power of death, is the foundation for our Christian hope. Without the resurrection, we could easily to give into the temptation of trusting what we see, which is that the power of death seems to be scoring a lot of points in this game. And that scares us.

One way to deal with the death we see around us is to try to ignore it. We try to convince ourselves that our way of thinking is the right way and everyone who doesn’t agree is stupid. We try to work incessantly to try to build a wall of security around our families. We try to buy more stuff to numb the nagging suspicion that we ourselves can never be enough. We try to pin our hopes on what other people think of us. We try to assume that those in need around us somehow deserve their plight. We try to ignore anything that seems unpleasant or doesn’t fit into our reality.

Of course that only works until the power of death makes itself felt in our lives, or worse yet, in the life of our loved one. A self-centered life that seeks to avoid or ignore the power of death won’t work.

The radical, surprising news of the gospel is that in order to find lasting joy we have to face the power of death head on. And not just face it, but nonviolently resist it. This is the only real option. This is what we see in the life of Jesus. With all the power of the divine at his disposal, he did not seek an easy life for himself. Jesus waded right into the middle of the suffering, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, speaking truth to power, refusing to participate in the cycle of violence, touching people who had been shoved aside, patiently teaching his followers. Jesus is the model for what the Bible describes as a “righteous life,” a life lived in line with the power of life. The Old Testament prophets call it doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God. 

What we know from the stories of the life of Jesus is that a righteous life is not an easy life. A righteous life is an abundant life. Paradoxically, doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God will bring us more joy than a self-centered life will. It is deeply meaningful, and sometimes it’s exhausting. It’s a life of vulnerability, of being willing to let your heart be broken by the suffering of the world, instead of becoming hard-hearted. Really doing justice will be inconvenient for us. We can’t love mercy from a distance. Walking humbly with God means being willing to change. The United Church of Christ’s statement of faith says that God calls us to accept the joy and the cost of discipleship.

And THAT is why resurrection matters. If we are going to tackle the suffering of the world, we can only have the stamina to do it if we are confident that the power of death has already been defeated. The justice we do, the mercy we extend, is part of undoing the effects of the power of death in the world. It has been defeated, but there’s still a lot of knots to untie. The loving actions we take, they matter deeply, they are fueled by the power of life. The promise of resurrection energizes us.

And so what we celebrate today is not simply that Jesus came back to life so we can go to heaven when we die. What we celebrate today is the victory of the power of life over the power of death. In his death, Jesus conquered sin, and in his resurrection, he conquered death. The power of death, which is active in all the world’s suffering and seeks to extinguish our lights, and seems so strong to us, the power of death is NOTHING when faced with the power of life. The grip of death was broken as God forced open the fist of evil. All that evil seeks to do, God has already undone. In Christ and with Christ, we live in the power of life when we follow the pattern Jesus set out for us. We are resurrection people!

Which is what we celebrate as we come to the table this morning. This table, which is big enough for the whole world, has many meanings to us. We don’t all have to have the same understanding of what happens at this table to celebrate together at this table. In a few moments, I will speak again the ancient words 1 Corinthians, which ends with the reminder that whenever we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. And today of all days, we might want to omit the part about remembering his death, but I think we should keep it. If we don’t remember his death, if we don’t remember that the power of death did as much as it could do to Jesus, we won’t feel the impact of the resurrection. 

And so beloved ones, let us meet Christ again here at this glorious table. Because as our ancestors in the faith have insisted for hundreds of years, this is the joyful feast of the people of God. People of all genders, all ages, and all races—people with every type of body—come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and gather about Christ’s table.

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