Easter Day, 2017
The Epistle – Colossians 3:1-4
The Gospel – John 20:1-10
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
“Christ is risen! Such is the shout which encircles the earth, as this morning’s sun wakes up the world! Today, ten thousand temples are crowded; ten thousand altars spread; ten thousand voices sing, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us, therefore, let us keep the feast!” Bishop Cleveland Cox…19th Century Bishop of New York.
With such joy today in the air, it is difficult to even think of glancing back at the long journey we have taken for well over 40 days. The church is adorned as it should be with the most beautiful of flowers, bringing to our senses wonderful aromas and color.
The cross and other religious symbols are uncovered once again.
The church is clean and bright. We ring bells and sing Alleluia and Glory to our God on High. All because our Lord Jesus Christ has conquered death by His rising to life again.
We have to know that we as Christians are in a very privileged position. We celebrate today an event that no other religion can lay claim to.
Many founders of religious movements have come and gone, but only Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. All others remain in the grave. And, only those who have faith in Jesus Christ will reap the benefits of His life, death and resurrection.
And what now do we look forward to, now that He has risen from the dead? Do we look to a future of eternal boredom….sitting on clouds, playing harps? Do we look to become angels? Do we get our wings when we die? Do we look forward to flying around amongst the stars? Even worse, some even are taught that we enter into a ‘soul sleep’ with no conscious fellowship with anyone including the Lord….. And still others believe we are annihilated all together.
None of these is true.
These concepts, unfortunately, have become mainstream beliefs in our day. Television and movies are notorious for giving us all sorts of false ideas about dying and death and the afterlife.
Rarely, if ever do we see these things portrayed accurately.
Some of those are the beliefs of non-Christian religions. Some Christians believe some of those things!!
But none of them are true.
And if you stop and think, none of them offers much to look forward to.
None of those options offer much hope. So it is good that they are not true.
We look, as the Creed says, for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. The word life there should not just be seen in that sentence as meaning living. Rather, it should be understood as really living.
A full life.
A joyful life.
A never ending life.
That is what the life to come will be for us. True life.
We are called even now to live in hope.
We look not just to ‘go to heaven’, but we look to being and living with our Lord for all of eternity.
We look to rise from the dead and receive our glorified bodies….then finally, we look to live forever in the New Heavens and the New Earth.
We “await the day of our full and complete participation in the saving benefits of His death and resurrection.”
When we say we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come, we believe that our souls….the very essence of who we are, is taken into the presence of the Lord.
The body we are now in is laid to rest in the grave. To dust it shall return.
We rest, or repose in him…in the intermediate state. We are not finished with the journey. We wait, to be sure…. in a state of comfort and happiness…in the presence of the Lord, but there is still more to come!!
And yet, it is the will and design of our God to put body and soul back together again in the Kingdom of Heaven.
We see this with Jesus in His resurrection. He appears to them in the body. He eats with them in the body. And then at His Ascension, He goes back into Heaven, in the body.
All of that was to demonstrate just what sort of body we too would receive on the last day. It was a demonstration. It was evidence.
This is why our baptism is such an important aspect of the Christian life. Baptism is not optional. Through baptism we become inheritors of all that is said here so far…and much more.
The Prayer Book reminds us of this when it says, “None can enter the kingdom of God, except he be regenerate and born anew of Water and of the Holy Ghost.” Through baptism these very things take place.
This is why Paul tells us, “For our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
Why does he tell us this? Because he says elsewhere…and listen here to how closely we are tied to Christ in all of this…
“Do you not know, that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?”
So immediately, when we were baptized, it placed us in a position where we really died in a certain way. We don't see this with our eyes when we baptize a child, but this is what is happening spiritually.
So to start again….
“Do you not know, that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.
Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him.
We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him.
For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God.
So you must also consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
And the message here brings with it great joy and happiness and anticipation.
This is why Paul says in the Epistle lesson today from Colossians 3,
“If then you have been raised with Christ, (and he is saying this, of course because he knows we are. Its rhetorical because of what he says in Romans as well as earlier in this letter about us being baptized into Christ and consequently… raised with Him through faith)
So to start again, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (ESV)
That is our destination.
That is our anticipation.
And this is why Paul puts so much emphasis on the here and now and how we are to live. If we are buried with Christ in our baptism, then should we not live, not only in anticipation, but in thankful obedience?
Over and over he is saying to us, “This is what you are. This is what you are now that you are baptized. You are a child of God and of Christ and your old self was killed at the cross in Christ and you were buried with Him in His death and now as you await the next thing to come, His return to claim you…what does that drive you to do in this life now?
Tell others? Live uprightly before others? Work to be an example of a redeemed child of God to others? Love others especially those who don't know about this glorious gift that has been given to you...?
Another passage and a final one for today. Paul again…from 1 Corinthians this time.
At the moment, must be of good courage…for “…while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”
“So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”
Jesus has the power to transform our lowly bodies…and He has.
It is Jesus who has all power in heaven and earth to lead us into eternity. He has the power to subject all things to Himself.
And, yet, once again, we have an ‘already’ and a ‘not yet’. We have our resurrection secured by His resurrection; yet, we still have more of the pilgrimage to go. We push forward by His grace, but we have the past accomplishments of Jesus to look to again and again for assurance.
Whenever we do look back, it is only to remind us, of the great and marvelous things our Lord has done…and then we are strengthened by those acts, to once again look forward in faith and hope.
It is all because of the Resurrection of Jesus that we hold out this hope and confess each time we gather that we “…acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins”… and that we… “look for the Resurrection of the dead and the Life of the world to come.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.