The Power of Life
This morning’s reading from the scripture needs very little introduction. It is Matthew chapter 28, verses 1 through 10, page 1549 in your pew Bibles. You know what you came to hear. Allow me simply to remind you of what we’ve been pondering together throughout Lent: violence will never fix violence. We can’t just change the rulers; we have to change the rules. We can make this world different by releasing some of our comfort, safety, and power. Christianity is a way of life that leads to action. Following Jesus is not about what we think but about how we live. Resurrection is the final piece of that.
The author of the book of Matthew wants his audience to really get how important this moment is so he packs in all the drama he can: an earthquake, and an angel who rolls away a stone, big burly military men fainting in fear. An angelic invitation to “fear not” and a proclamation of the significance of Jesus, just like we had at his birth.
To prove that the message of the gospel is for all and that it will turn the world upside down, the good news is given to the first women preachers. And it doesn’t matter that their testimony wouldn’t be accepted by a court, because the resurrection isn’t something we prove. It’s something we trust, and so the best way to spread the good news is through our relationships. When we tell our own story, when we speak our own truth, anyone can preach.
“So let us listen know in the reading of scripture for the word and the wisdom of God.” – Iona Community Worship Book
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them, saying, “Greetings.”
They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my disciples to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
These are the words of God for all people. Thanks be to God.
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.
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. Convince ourselves that our way of thinking is the right way and everyone who doesn’t agree is stupid. Work incessantly to try to build a wall of security around our families. Buy more stuff to numb the nagging suspicion that we ourselves can never be enough. Pin our hopes on what other people think of us. Assume that those in need around us somehow deserve their plight. 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. Around here we 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 moved by the suffering of the world. 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. 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. 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 shouldn’t. 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.