Resurrection is Justice

1032727_1_0321-Israel_Jesus_Tomb_Restoration_standard

The Edicule (shrine) over the stone on which the body of Christ was laid, and from which Christians believe he was raised. In the Church of the Resurrection/The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

A sermon preached at the Parish of St. Dunstan, Gordon Head on Easter Sunday 2018. Gordon Head  is a neighbourhood located in the District of Saanich, which part of the Greater Victoria Region on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

Alleluia! Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

I believe in the resurrection.

The resurrection is the centre of the Christian faith. We affirm it in our baptismal vows, and in their renewal, in the creeds, and in our liturgies, and on this the most holy of days, the Sunday of the Resurrection, which in English we call Easter. We say that we believe that on the third day after his death (counting inclusively), God raised Jesus from the dead. We also say that we believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting – that all humanity will be raised from the dead. This is the general resurrection.

What does this mean? What difference does it make to my life?

Resurrection Is About Justice

The resurrection of Jesus is about justice – of God’s justice, and of justice in the world. This is probably not how you think of it. How is the resurrection about justice?

To understand why it is about justice one has to go into the history of Hebrew and Jewish thinking about the afterlife, and to recognize that there were a variety of views.

Shadowy-figure_288x288The earliest view is the concept of Sheol. Sheol is a shadowy existence after death, a place for all the dead, the good and the bad. What is left of the person is a bare remnant, without strength or power. The Torah (the continuous narrative of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) does not really talk about any other type of afterlife, and the Sadducees, the Zadokite priests who were powerful in the Temple in Jerusalem, denied the resurrection, as they only accepted the Torah as scripture, and not the Prophets and the Writings. This was a very simple theology, in which God acts in the lives of human beings, and does not wait for their death to offer rewards and punishments. Thus, God rewards the righteous in life and punishes the wicked in life as well. This approach to existence after death is well attested in the psalms, where the psalmist says, for example in Psalm 30.9,  “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?” The dead cannot even praise God, and the psalmist asks that he stay alive so that he might do so.

8495105_f520Later on the idea of Heaven and Hell developed. The personality of the dead is less shadowy and more defined. God punishes and rewards the dead; God brings the good into the divine presence, and the wicked go to a place of punishment, of God’s wrath, often called Gehenna. In all probability the development of these alternate fates was influenced by the Persian state religion of Zoroastrianism.This paralleled the development of Satan as a fallen angel in rebellion to God, a source of evil which is an active principle in the world; before then God, as omnipotent, was held to be the creator of good and evil (see Isaiah 45.7: “I make peace, and create evil” AV/KJV).

Belief in resurrection emerged relatively late, only 150 to 200 years before the time of Jesus, and in the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) was only explicit in the Book of Daniel, which was written at about that time. By Jesus’s time it was a common belief amongst many Jewish groups, and it is described as a belief of the Pharisees. Resurrection addressed the issue of God’s justice – when the righteous follow the ways of God but still suffer, where is the justice of God? The horrific story of the martyrdom of seven brothers and their mother (c. 168 BC) in 2 Maccabees 7 describes how one after one they are murdered by Antiochus Epiphanes because they refused to transgress the rules of their forebears. They state their hope in the resurrection, and taunt the king: “‘One cannot but choose to die at the hands of mortals and to cherish the hope God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life!” (2 Maccabees 7.14).

In the Book of Daniel the Son of Man is described as a divine being who is sent by God to judge the world. By the time of Jesus this was combined with other eschatological and apocalyptic expectations for the Day of the Lord, which was the breaking in of God into worldly affairs to turn the world right-side up. The righteous will finally be rewarded and the wicked will finally be punished. John the Divine described this in great, if sometimes confusing detail, in the Book of Revelation. In chapter 18 Babylon, which stands for the city and empire of Rome, falls, and among those most distressed are the merchants and sailors who deal in luxuries, animals, and human slaves. God’s judgment is described in Matthew 25 like the separating of the sheep from the goats, and it is connected to how people dealt with the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick, the naked, and those in prison – the poor and oppressed people of society. The belief, then, was that resurrection was a matter of justice, of righting wrongs, of reward and punishment.

The Resurrection Of Jesus is About Justice

I believe in the resurrection.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is part of that eschatological breaking in of God into the world. His birth, his teaching, his miracles, his healings, his exorcisms, his suffering, his death, are all part of God coming into the world, the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. The way in which the world reacts to this divine presence in human form brings about judgment, either being lifted up with Jesus into new life, or condemnation by joining with those who attacked him.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the beginning of God’s re-creation of the world, of transformation, of a new heaven, a new Earth, and a New Jerusalem, where all God’s sons and daughters rejoice in the light of the one who sits on the throne and declares, “Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21).

jesus-resurrection-thomasThis is seen in his resurrected body. It is described as both physical, something you can touch, and yet spiritual, something which will not perish. It appears suddenly in one location and then disappears. It can eat, speak, and be heard. Sometimes people recognize it, sometimes they do not. When Jesus addresses people by name, they know him. In Emmaus he is known to the two disciples “in the breaking of bread.” This is not some kind of Zombie Jesus, as modern day detractors of Christianity sometimes suggest. This is not the reanimation of a dead body, mindless, rotting, and doomed to perish again.This is something different.

Original Testimony

I believe in the resurrection.

It is not easy to believe in the resurrection. After all, in ordinary experience, dead people do not rise from their graves in new and glorious bodies. The resurrection of Jesus is an event that is outside known physics, chemistry, and biology. The resurrection of Jesus is not an historically verifiable fact, because it is extra-ordinary and not part of the normal course of events. We can assert that it is an historical fact that the disciples believed that Jesus rose from the dead, but we cannot say that it is a historical event in the same way that we can say that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, or that William Duke of Normandy conquered England in 1066. There is no archaeological evidence or secondary literature to confirm this miraculous happening.

And yet, today we heard the early witness of Paul, himself an eye-witness to the resurrection. He list all the people who were also witnesses, and while some of them had died, all of the others were around to be questioned:

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received:
that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,
and that he was buried,
and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures,
and that he appeared to Cephas (i.e. Peter)
then to the twelve.
Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time,
most of whom are still alive, though some have died.
Then he appeared to James,
then to all the apostles.
Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me.

This ancient witness dates to perhaps 50 AD – about two decades after the event itself. Paul emphasises that he is telling them something he told them earlier, and that his knowledge of the witnesses is a tradition that was handed on to him. The gospels, written a couple of decades later, assert that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James were the first witnesses. There were skeptics even then, we are told, but there is still this testimony.

A couple of things happen to the witnesses. When they see Jesus they are immediately struck with their own unrighteousness; after all some of them had abandoned Jesus, one had denied knowing him, and one had betrayed him. Their sense of sin bubbled up in the presence of the glory of the resurrected Jesus. But, at the same time they also experienced forgiveness and empowerment. Thus, when Jesus appears in the upper room in John 20 he breathes on them, and just before says, ” Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” They become Christ in the world, proclaiming the kingdom of God, healing illness and driving out evil, and living as though they had already been resurrected, guided by the Spirit. The communal feast on Sunday became a time when Christ was made known in the breaking of bread, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

The Power of the Resurrection

I believe in the resurrection.

I have seen the power of the resurrection at work today. It is not something simply about some future, unbelievable event.

Fresco_showing_the_baker_Terentius_Neo_and_his_wife,_from_Pompeii,_House_of_Terentius,_Naples_National_Archaeological_Museum_(14655900927)

Not Prisca and Aquila, but the baker Terentius Neo and his wife, from Pompeii. But Prisca and Quila probably looked something like this.

I have seen it in history, as the gospel spread rapidly from one anonymous Christian to another. It is infectious. Yes, we celebrate the apostles like Peter and Paul, but before either of them got to Rome other Christians had already arrived and started several small churches in that great city. When Paul came to Corinth around 50 AD a Jewish-Christian couple by the names of Prisca and Aquila were there, having been expelled from Rome by the Emperor Nero because of their Christianity.

 

That gospel spread rapidly through Gaul, across the channel into Britain, and then leapt across the Irish Sea to Ireland. In the fourth century Patrick, a Roman Briton captured as a slave, then escaped and made his way back home. After a few years of preparation Patrick was sent back to the land of his slavery as a missionary bishop. A few centuries later the gospel moved into Scotland and Northern England through the islands of Iona and Lindisfarne.

1200px-Canterbury_St_Martin_close

St. Martin’s Church, Canterbury. When St. Augustine came to Kent in 597, it was already there. Although much modified over 1400 years, the foundation dates back to Roman times.

At roughly the same time Augustine landed in Canterbury in south-east England in an effort to proclaim the gospel to the pagan Anglo-Saxons. In the opposite direction the gospel spread east through the Church of the East, through Persia and into India, and then through Afghanistan into the far East, reaching China by the 7th century. By the year 1000 new converts to Christianity from Greenland and Iceland arrived in what they called Vinland, what we now know is Newfoundland, and there are at least two baptisms recorded in the sagas.

norstead-viking-village

A reconstructed Viking church in Norstead Viking Village, adjacent to L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland and Labrador.

As with anything involving peoples, institutions became complacent and corrupt. Already in the third century radical Christians in Egypt gave away their belongings and headed out into the desert to pray. They came together in communities, and thereby monasticism was begun. In the medieval era St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic began preaching orders that celebrated poverty and sought to preach the gospel to ordinary folk.

500 years ago through Luther and Calvin in the Reformation and people like Ignatius Loyola in the Counter-Reformation the Church pulled itself out of corruption and bad theology into a new respect for holy scripture and the role of the laity. In the past century the Christian faith has gone from being primarily a European religion, compromised by imperialism and colonialism, to one that is most vibrant in Africa and Asia. Africa went from nine million followers in 1900 to 380 million in 2000, most of them in indigenous denominations unknown in the West. Korea is on the verge of becoming a majority Christian nation, and there are more Presbyterians in South Korea than in Scotland. All of this flows from the same power which raised Jesus from the dead.

The Power of the Resurrection In Parishes

I believe in the resurrection.

I have seen the power of the resurrection give new life to old churches.

  • The parish where I was last a regular lay person is the Church of the Redeemer in Toronto. In 1980 it voted to disestablish itself as a self-governing parish and ask the Diocese of Toronto to step in. The vote passed by something like eleven votes to four! The diocese did not give up, but sold the land of the parish hall, sold some air rights, and jump-started the place. It is now one of the most active churches in Toronto, with four services a Sunday, a diverse music program, and a soup kitchen that serves 150 people five days a week.

    Redeemer

    Church of the Redeemer, Toronto, at an Easter Vigil

  • My daughter’s parish in New York City is St. Mark’s in the Bowery. The parish is ancient, dating back to a chapel erected by Petrus Stuyvesant on his farm in 1660. It is now in the centre of the East Side, entirely built up. For almost a century the Bowery was a district that was better known for tenements and punk rock. For fifty years the parish survived by renting out its spaces and selling off land. In 2009 it was down to about 20 people on a Sunday. The Diocese of New York put in a dynamic priest who was intent on growing the parish as a radical justice oriented place. Now it has an average Sunday attendance of over a hundred, and it is indeed renowned for their social justice ministries; on Palm Sunday they not only marched in commemoration of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem, but to advocate for gun control and Black Lives Matter.

    Easter-2018-web-924x345

    Easter 2018 at St. Mark’s in the Bowery. My daughter is the one with flowers in her hair.

  • This parish of St. Dunstan’s was also down to some 20 people 23 years ago. The Bishop put the Reverend Canon Bill Morrison in the place, and it doubled in average Sunday attendance. When the Rev. John Alfred Steele came in 1995 it doubled in size again. What does the future hold? Where will the new incumbent lead us? banner-cropped

All of this growth flows from the same power which raised Jesus from the dead.

The Power of the Resurrection in the World

I believe in the resurrection.

Christians have been in the forefront of social change, whether acknowledged by secular society or not.

  • In the 1920s the Social Gospel was adopted by a young Baptist minister from the Prairies named Tommy Douglas. He later moved into politics, and as Premier of Saskatchewan introduced medicare in stages, starting in 1947. This model was extended to the rest of the country in 1966.
  • Civil rights in the USA were advanced by groups largely led by Christian clergy, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., whose death is being commemorated this coming week.  Christians continue in leadership for human rights in America, and unique theologies of liberation have developed in reaction to the fact that there have been 400 years of systematic oppression against African-Americans. Look up the Black Theology of James Cone and Cornel West, or the Black Feminist approach advocated by Alice Walker and integrated into Christian thinking as Womanist theology, whose major theologians are  Jacquelyn Grant, and Delores Williams.
  • In this country some of the strongest advocates for indigenous rights are indigenous Christians. I give thanks for the leadership of Bishops Mark MacDonald, the National Indigenous Bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada, and Lydia Mamakwa of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh.

All of this flows from the same power which raised Jesus from the dead.

Invitation

I believe in the resurrection.

Cornel West says that love in public looks like justice. Well, the resurrection is about God’s justice breaking into our world, and that in-breaking is a manifestation of God’s love for a world, created by the divine and now being recreated in love.

How is God’s love breaking into you? May it utterly transform you. How is that same power which raised Jesus Christ at work in us? May it raise us up.

Alleluia! Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

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About Bruce Bryant-Scott

Baptised 1962. A Canadian Anglican priest living and working in Crete. Fly-paper brain. Husband & Father. I remember when Facebook was on paper.
This entry was posted in Anglican Church of Canada, Easter, Sermons and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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