1 Corithians 15
Resurrection was born out of Jewish Apocalyptic thought. Centuries before John the Baptist and Jesus, their ancient Israelite ancestors did not believe there was an afterlife. When you died, that was it. Your destination was the grave. YOLO, as young folks say these days. But gradually, as the ancestors of Jesus came in contact with other cultures and other religious traditions… As they found themselves beset by war, loss, and captivity… And as Jews continued to probe life’s questions with the words and traditions of their ancestors, they began to develop a belief in resurrection. And that should be instructive to us, brothers and sisters. Life should continuously keep us asking questions and searching for answers.
Their understanding of resurrection was quite profound, so I’ll only talk about one aspect of resurrection. These ancient Jews, like Jesus and Paul, held that God would resurrect the dead and give the righteous new bodies, bodies that were not subject to death or decay, or the ravages of sin. These bodies would be given to us as God recreated the heavens and the earth. That is, God was going to take the old earth and do something new with it. The prophet Isaiah talked about how the wolf and lamb would feed together and that lions would eat straw like oxen. There would be no infant mortality, and those who lived a hundred years would be considered a youth. This new creation is life unrestrained and uncontested. Death cannot enter. Jesus’ resurrection is our sign that the new creation is possible. Resurrection should not be confused with the resuscitation of a dead body or a disembodied soul eternally living with God. God was going to take our old bodies and this old world of ours and transform them into something new. God was going to take our old name and give us a new name. But God was not going to erase the earth. God was not going to erase our bodies. God was not going to erase names. God does not erase our past, but God does give us a future. This is resurrection.
Resurrection tells us that the promise of God is not to erase your situation but it is to transform your situation. Many of us desire for our present circumstances to be erased. Sometimes, you can hear us muttering to ourselves, we wish that x, y, or z would have never happened, wish I never met so and so, wish I never did that, or if I could only get rid of x, then I would be ok. God does not work that way. God doesn’t erase what is present. God heals and transforms what is present. God called this creation good, and God will not rest until this creation becomes all that God intended it to be, so God is not going to abandon Creation. God will resurrect Creation. God resurrects us in this life and in the new life to come. Resurrection takes old, dry, brittle, crusty bones and puts flesh on them. And those old bones meets new flesh… and the Spirit of God, which is always present, breathes new life into old bones. This is resurrection. Breathing new life into old bones. This is resurrection: the transformation of Jesus’ old mortal body into a body that is fit for eternity, a body not made from human hands, but made from heaven. Paul called this body a “spiritual body.” Resurrection is the creation of a new heaven and a new earth. Jesus’ resurrection is a sign unto us that this resurrection will take place, and the second sign that this resurrection will take place is that the same Spirit that raised Jesus was lovingly and graciously poured upon all flesh.
DEATH DOES NOT HAVE THE LAST WORD
Resurrection calls us to remember, to trust, and to hope that death does not have the last word. Ultimately, saints, we WILL have complete victory in Christ. Ultimately, God will create a new heaven and earth. This is our most blessed assurance, that Jesus is ours. And if Jesus is ours, life is ours. If Jesus is ours, salvation is ours. Because if God is for us, who can be against us? And we can say like Paul. “O Death, where is your sting?” Resurrection tells us that sin does not have the last word. My sisters and brothers, your sins can and have been forgiven. New life awaits you today. God’s love awaits you today. Resurrection tells us that our young men do not need to be prison bound from the time they are 3. Resurrection tells us that God does not desire a world where babies go hungry at night. Resurrection tells us that the rulers and principalities of this world who oppose life and who profit from sin will eventually crumble and be defeated. Resurrection says that weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Resurrection lets us know that though the drought may be long, the rain will surely fall.
WE NEED THE RAIN
I am not a preacher who believes my religious tradition has asked all the questions and therefore has all the answers. I believe that my tradition asks sufficient questions and gives sufficient answers. But “sufficient” and “all” are two different realities.
Resurrection is like the rain we so desperately need in California. And don’t let anybody fool you, the most renowned civilizations and the greatest places on earth have been reduced to memory, rubble, and ruin due to the lack of water. Without water, we cannot live. And precipitation is a primary source of freshwater. People have prayed to God for rain like we pray to God for resurrection. Last year, there was an interfaith prayer for rain. Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and other faiths gathered to pray for water in the drought-stricken, scorched terrain of the Western United States. They gathered to pray for rain. They gathered to pray for life. That’s important to remekber, my brothers and sisters. Challenging times can be an occasion for our differences to become our strengths. I am not a preacher who believes my religious tradition has asked all the questions and therefore has all the answers. I believe that my tradition asks sufficient questions and gives sufficient answers. But “sufficient” and “all” are two different realities. In all things, I remember with humble heart and mind, The Mystery of God.
My Native American ancestors danced for rain. They put their bodies on display and performed for water from the sky. Without the water from the sky, no matter how beautiful and strong their bodies were, no matter how luscious and green the ground seemed to be, those bodies and that ground would eventually decay and die… without the rain. Without rain and snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, we have no freshwater and without freshwater we cannot live. Resurrection is freshwater—freshwater ready to rinse away the brackish standing water of sin, decay, meaninglessness, and death. Sin and death are found in the many ditches of our lives. But the rain will surely wash out the ditches. Anybody know what I’m talking about here this morning? Anybody ever needed some rain in their lives? Am I the only who has ever experienced a drought of epic proportions? We need the rain! We need resurrection!
When the rain falls, fields that were brown become green. When the rain falls, ground that was once hard and nigh impenetrable, becomes soft and permeable. When the rain falls, branches brittle and bare, which were long thought dead, somehow sprout new leaves. When the rain falls, a trickling brook becomes a raging rapid. When the rain falls, where there was once death and desolation, new life bursts forth. But life emerges from the ground that was already there. Yet the rain from the heavens had to meet the ground so that new life could become possible. I said the rain from the heavens had to meet the earth so that new life could emerge. I said heaven had to meet earth to make new life possible. In Christ, God decided to come down from heaven to make new life possible. As our ancestors said it, this is the God who sits high, but looks low. God is the God of resurrection. And God doesn’t stop even with Jesus to get us to understand this.
Resurrection is where the spirit and the body meet. Resurrection is where heaven and earth collide. Resurrection is when the rain meets the ground. And O how we need the rain… We need the rain! We need the rain… We need some heavenly rain today. This ground is old and desolate, filled with the death of fear and hate! It seems like people can tell you who they fear and hate more than they can tell you who they love these days. Haters hate. And the fearful stay afraid. We need the rain of resurrection. From the violence that befell Oscar Grant to those men and women gunned down by extremists in Kenya just days ago, to those whom Pontius Pilate killed even as they were offering sacrifices to God… The blood of the innocent has soaked into the ground. The blood of Abel still cries out from the Soil of the Earth!
We need resurrection. We need Jesus, the first fruits of resurrection. We need the Spirit of Resurrection. We need the God of Resurrection. WE NEED THE REIGN OF RESURRECTION. I may not dance for rain like my Native American Ancestors–and we have so much to learn from all human culture and ancestry–but I can do a Holy Ghost foot stomp, hand clap, and shout “Hallelujah” for resurrection. We need the power of resurrection. A power that can cut through a parochial religiosity incapable of grasping new/holistic and sustainable ways of living. O Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on US!!! Create in us a clean heart and renew the spirit within me Lord, so that I may hunger and thirst for righteousness. O Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, send your anointing! Like Kirk Franklin and the Family said back in the day, “Melodies from Heaven, Rain down on Me!!!”
© 2016 M. J. Sales