Easter is such a glorious, positive festival in the Christian year. In the northern hemisphere, it accompanies springtime, the dying and rising of Christ aligning holistically with the germination of seeds and the budding-out of shrubs and trees, as they in their own way express Creator God’s holy rhythm of death and resurrection.
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What may be less clear than the “big day” joy of Easter, is its everyday application: how we embrace and live out resurrection as individuals, and as a community of faith. For as awe-inspiring as it is to witness the way that nature bursts to life each springtime, as much as the Easter narrative of Christ arisen brings everlasting hope, we are more than an admiring audience relative to these demonstrations of life anew. We are those who are invited and called and equipped by God to live out the power of resurrection.
Rev Dr Janet Gear, a Professor at Vancouver School of Theology, has developed an extended metaphor entitled the Theological Banquet, and each Sunday leading up to Easter we’ve looked at a different place setting at Christ’s own banquet table. Each place setting represents one of the ways that faith gets expressed, not just in thoughts or beliefs but in action. So this morning, I’d like to use that same model, to consider the various ways that our lives can be inspired and enlivened by Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, with the hopes that something in here is going to snag you by the sleeve and say, “that’s something you could do.”
Quickly, the five categories that Janet Gear names are Spiritual, Evangelical, Ecumenical, Missional, and Ecclesial.
The Spiritual form of lived faith, is one that takes us deep into the heart of God. It is the path of contemplation and connection, which calls one not only to go deep into the meaning of one’s own life, but to go so deep as to find that the very life of this planet is an expression of God’s own creativity and love, that all of life is interconnected for all of it is of God.
For a Spiritual, contemplative faith, resurrection does not travel alone. Yes, there is resurrection, but new life becomes possible once something else dies, something else is let go of. When I let go of my need to be perfect and irreplaceable, I will learn my inherent goodness apart from things I do, and will gain a new appreciation of the gifts and abilities of others. That is a gift of resurrection. When I go deep with the God of death and rebirth, I can let go of old unsustainable ways of commodifying the earth, and find new, sustainable ways. That is a gift of resurrection. Knowing that new things, good things, tend to emerge when I let old ways die, gives a whole new freedom – not only to me as an individual, but to the Church. Again: resurrection!
And to put in a good word for what’s going to happen here next Sunday, my friend Sarah Arthurs heads up a ministry called Green Exodus, which combines a desire to go deep with God, with a love of this planet, provided by God to be our home. Reclaiming the sacredness of earth and the sacredness of life may well be the key to keeping this planet alive… so make sure you don’t miss Sarah, next Sunday, in this very pulpit.
Perhaps the most obvious mode of response to the dying and rising of Jesus, is the Evangelical form of lived faith. The word Evangel means “good news” or “glad tidings” – and Easter is bursting with good news! The decisive action on the cross, in which God personally goes through the very worst of human experience, being judged and punished and betrayed and even executed, and then declares that none of these things ultimately wins, is a powerful thing. The power of the living Christ desires to end that which oppresses, and can be the difference-maker between life and death for someone snared by life-stifling behaviours who needs a source of hope.
As we share that good news, we may need to watch out for spiritual pride, and with that in mind we return to words we heard just before this sermon, spoken by the apostle Peter: “I really am learning that God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another.” (Acts 10:34, CEB) To me, this makes the good news of Jesus Christ even more uplifting. We live in a world of partiality, where patriarchy empowers only one gender and only one gender expression, where political beliefs are weaponized, where the colour of one’s skin and the accent of one’s voice are used to judge and demean, where religious commitments may inspire hatred rather than love. And the power of Christ’s resurrection says that NONE of these things are of God. The love-infused reality of resurrection breaks all such bondage. And by showing us that there is life beyond life – that death is not the final chapter of the story – Christ’s resurrection light shines on people whose lives are decimated by all manner of life circumstances; resurrection promises that their gloom will eventually be replaced by the light of a new day.
For the purposes of today’s sermon, I’m going to put together two of the five place settings at the Theological banquet: Ecumenical and Missional, because both of them reach into a place of need. The response to Christ’s call that Janet Gear entitles’ “Ecumenical” is all about social justice work, attempting to name and overturn systems of oppression, speaking truth to power; the response she entitles “Missional” involves more hands-on work, giving immediate assistance to an individual in need, through a hot meal, or a safe place to spend the night, or a caring companion at a hospital bedside. Both of these modes of response, Ecumenical and Missional, are outward-oriented, in Jesus’ name.
In his Ministry, Jesus was constantly doing things that brought healing, on an individual level and a societal one. Stories of Jesus’ healing people of their infirmities rarely focused only on the disease, but also the social isolation, and in healing them Jesus brought them to health of body and restored them to community connection. His parables and his actions pushed societal boundaries: the parable of the good Samaritan, the parable of the prodigal son, overturning the moneychangers’ tables at the Temple, his encounter with the woman at the well. And while his life went the direction that so many activists’ lives go, being silenced by his political overlords and religious rivals, his resurrection above them names that these things have no ultimate power. Resurrection is not just about the hereafter, it’s about God’s desire to liberate anyone whose life is diminished by others.
Progressive Christian author James Rowe Adams, writing in 2006, raised a fascinating point that ties in here: “In the Christian writings, two Greek nouns are translated ‘resurrection’ … [one is related to a noun which] meant to stand up from a reclining or crouching position [while the other one] had to do with collecting or gathering one’s faculties in the act of rousing one’s self from rest or sleep.” Adams then goes on to ask two questions about resurrection, and how it applies not just to Jesus but to society: “Who was it that was lifted up from a crouching or cowering position and who boldly proclaimed what they had learned from Jesus? Who was it that finally got themselves together and got on with the business begun by Jesus?” As we address injustice, as we extend assistance to people in need, we are indeed fuelled by this power of resurrection that awakens and lifts up.
And the final mode of lived Christian response is Ecclesial – a living faith founded in our understanding that the Church has the gift and the responsibility, of being the body of Christ in the world.
Every year, Easter gives the Church a necessary jolt, reminding us our task is not just to keep the Church alive for another generation; we are the ones in whom the good news of Jesus Christ takes human form, worshiping and praising, caring and serving, meditating and learning, and becoming the kind of boundary-breaking inclusive community that Jesus gathered around him. We are expected to live Christ’s resurrection into life; we are his ongoing love in our communities.
And again, James Rowe Adams had something to say, underlining the role that the cycle of death and resurrection plays in an Ecclesial lived faith: “When Christians talk about the resurrection of Christ”, he wrote, “they [proclaim] that death did not have the last word in the Jesus story…. For His followers were raised up to be his new body”. We take up that calling as Church, to be the embodiment of his love: as words of encouragement and hope are shared; as someone in need is provided for through our benevolent fund or the Thrift Shop; as our pride flags and orange shirts and red dresses indicate Christ’s urging to be places of inclusion, safety and reconciliation; as voices of praise are raised by our wonderful choir, Sunday after Sunday. In everything we do, unhelpful and lifeless ways of being need to draw to a close, allowing new life to emerge. As Church, Easter inspires us to keep forging ahead in new and relevant ways as people of the resurrection.
And so: wherever you see yourself in this, I urge you to not only celebrate resurrection on this Easter Sunday, but to find that place where Christ’s resurrection power enlivens your life. Talk to me, if something in this has started to make you wonder what might come next. Help us, as Church, to continue walking Christ’s path of courageous love in these varied ways, for the good of the communities we serve. And no matter where you see yourself in this, know that there may well be things that need to end, to make way for that which will arise.
We carry with us the joy of the God-in-Christ who rose above death, the God who did not just leave things as they were. And we say once more:
Alleluia, Christ is Risen! Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Arthurs, Sarah. https://greenexodus.ca/
Gear, Janet. Undivided Love. Altona, MB: Friesen, 2022.
Muller, Wayne. How, then, shall we live? NYC: Bantam, 1996.
© 2023, Rev Greg Wooley, Ralph Connor Memorial United Church. Preached in Banff, AB.