First Mennonite Church
April 16, 2017
The Life-giving presence of Jesus
Texts: Mark 16:1-8; Romans 8:11
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Romans 8: 11
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
Our God specializes in bringing life from death. From Genesis to Revelations we see God bringing out life from death. Out of darkness and chaos God brought light and our beautiful Creation. From Abraham and Sarah, of whom Hebrews says they were “good as dead,” God brought the “child of the promise”—Isaac. Out of a bunch of slaves, God made for himself a holy nation, the people of Israel. In Revelation truth overcomes lie, life overcomes death, and the Lamb of God overcomes the Beast. The victory song rang clearer than ever the day God raised Jesus on the third day. Our God is a God of life.
Jesus was raised from the dead. That is the essence of Mark’s message we read. Jesus is alive forever. Jesus’ resurrection opened a new possibility for humanity and especially for those who believe in him. And there is nothing I can do or say or not do or not say that will change or diminish that reality. Jesus is alive; that is the Easter message. In Romans, chapter 8, Paul describes the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. And those who are in Christ live according to the Spirit of God, because the Spirit of God dwells in them. But not only that. Paul says, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” That means that we embody the life-giving Spirit of God which brought Jesus out of the grave that Easter morning. Everywhere we go we carry within ourselves the same life-giving power that raised Jesus from the grave. That is true if, and only if, we live according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh.
Easter is the message that a death could not hold Jesus down in the grave. Death in its multi-faceted forms does not have the final word. The resurrection of Jesus is a message that we cannot be bound forever under the power of sin and death. But there is a partial or circumstantial truth: death seems to be reigning in the world today. First, allow me to explain myself. When I describe death reigning in the world as a partial or circumstantial truth I mean that according to the evidence we see today, it is true that death is everywhere. Evidence of death is found everywhere in the news. Recently we saw images of babies and adults dying as the result of chemical weapons. A teacher and a student were shot dead in a school. I can go on and on with such evidence. But although these are the circumstances of our times, although that is the reality in our world, the life-giving power of the Spirit of God is also present in our world. And we must proclaim this ultimate truth: that the resurrection of Jesus has opened up a new possibility for humanity. Yet, the effectiveness of our proclamation of this ultimate truth depends in the full indwelling of the life-giving Spirit of God in our daily lives. The message we are to proclaim is that Jesus’ resurrection opens the door to a new possibility for everyone. This means that we as Christians should not give in to the fatalistic idea that there is no hope for the world or that people will never change. You see, death was supposed to keep Jesus in the tomb; the reality on Friday and Saturday before Easter Sunday was that Jesus was dead. But God holds and is the Ultimate Truth. The tomb could not hold him in because God raised Jesus from the dead. It is natural to believe that anyone who is put in the tomb will never again come out of it. Death freezes and keeps its victim immobile; the only change that happens is for worse–decomposition. Therefore, when we begin to believe that our world is doomed because it will never change, we deny the power of the resurrection, which tells us, change is possible with God.
Do you know that the world is full of tomb-creators and half-truths? Name-calling is the most common form of tombs people are put into. Labeling people is putting people in tombs sometimes hard to come out from. How many people are there frozen and immobilized in the grave of abusive language they endured when they were young? How many children are there suffering from depression because they were told they were good for nothing, or that they were stupid or hopeless? Putting labels on children is like casting them in a tomb. Fear and pain freezes them and prevents them from the possibility of change. Fear and shame deprive many from the life-giving breath of the Spirit of God. Name-calling is wildfire threatening life at all levels. We hear name-calling from the mouths of the powerful. Not too long ago we heard someone calling others “a basket of deplorables.” We also heard another calling a whole group of people “rapists, murderers, and drug dealers.” But they are not the only ones who speak half-truths or cast others into their graves. Sometimes, we do too. When we put labels on others, we speak half-truths. When we call others as “people that will never change,” or when we hold prejudice against others based on their ethnicity, color of their skin, or their cultural heritage, we freeze them and deny them the truth of the resurrection of Jesus. When we tag anyone with a label and continue to define that person or group of people by the label we have given them, we keep them in the tomb and deny them the life-giving power of the resurrection. Labeling others is so easy to do because our culture, society, and the political machinery manufactures labels all the time. We have labels such as “liberals,” leftists,” “conservatives,” “bloodsuckers,” “freeloaders,” “moonshiners,” etc. Each of these labels freezes its victim in a tomb. Each of these labels denies the truth of the resurrection of Jesus. Each of these labels denies its victims the opportunity of a new possibility.
My dear friends, the danger of burying others in a tomb of name-calling can be very easy to do. The danger is especially subtle for people who live or work in groups. Church people face this danger very often because they get to know patterns of behaviors of their fellow Christians. They all become familiar with the working habits of each within their group. The passing of time reveals to a certain extent the idiosyncrasies of the families that make up the group. Sometimes when one within the group drops his or her guard, others get to see the hidden self of that individual. And so it becomes easy for such people to put a label on others. That is why for us, church people, it is easy to be tempted to give labels such as: the impatient, the procrastinator, the unreliable, the inquisitive, the avoider, or the indifferent. We should know that for a group of people like us this danger is ever present. When we yield to this temptation, we deny others the power of the resurrection of Jesus, which is the possibility of change and the experience true transformation.
We should remember that we celebrate Easter not every year but every Sunday. We should remember that the same Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us. For that reason we carry with us this life-giving power of God everywhere we go. Therefore, let us speak life where speech of death abounds. Let us speak love to those who are suffering hatred. Let us speak truth where half-truth and outright lies are spoken. May the Lord guard our hearts and words from casting others in graves and tombs of name-calling. May the Lord make us agents of life because the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from dead also dwells in us. Amen!