We arrive in the Easter garden and in the midst of our celebrating we let out a little relieved sigh. Hooray, our long journey is ended. Everything will be okay in the end. But really, it is the beginning of the story. I know that Jesus starts his ministry with: “Repent, the kingdom of God is near”. But that isn’t really the beginning.
The beginning of the story is in the easter garden with an empty tomb. It is the resurrection and the dawn of the new age, the arrival of the kingdom which makes that statement worth recording.
The motivating question of the gospels, borne of the resurrection is: what am I supposed to do now? The door to the kingdom is wedged wide open, what do I do now? What is this nearby Kingdom? How do its citizens live? What are its rhythms and ways and customs?
Those are the questions which prompt each Gospel to say, try Jesus on for size.
NT Wright, the former Bishop of Durham, says that at the heart of Jesus’ mission in the world as God in the flesh, was a statement and a question.
The statement: there is a new kingdom, a new world and a new way that are not only possible but they are operating now.
The question: “this is my kingdom, will you join it?”
Well, will you? That “will you” is the theme that runs through the post resurrection appearances. Will you Peter allow yourself to be restored by me? Will you Thomas allow yourself to believe? Will you Cleopas & companion on the road to Emmaus, allow yourself to go back to Old scriptures and be less surprised at what has happened this weekend? Will all of you here ready yourself to live in it?
In the excitement of Easter is the sobering message that death has been vanquished and sin doesn’t have to be cooperated with. Not through abiding by a bunch of rules but by the power of God on a cross. The door is opened and the only way I can experience that freedom from death and sin is if I live the way of Jesus, the one who said turn from the way of world for the kingdom is near.
The heart of Easter is not hunkering down with a received truth and attempting to get all the right behaviours under our belt so that we can be good. You and I cannot be “good” in that total sense that God is good or Jesus is “good”. You and I will do good and think good, sometimes. Sometimes we will think we are doing good and being good when we aren’t. Sometimes we will be out and out wrong and know that we are.
Easter proclaims that the age of sin accounting and scales of good v bad are over. Instead we now live in an age of grace where I begin to learn how a flawed person can live a godly life, a good life where the rough edges are covered by grace. Where I don’t have to be Jesus to enter the kingdom, I just need to be in him. If you read the gospels closely, you will see that Jesus had pretty low expectations that lots of rules and descriptions of Good behaviour had the power to make people pass the entry requirements for the Kingdom.
Which is why he is most admamant about the only commandments that really matter.
Unfortunately they are the hardest commandments: Love God with your whole self and love your neighbour as if they are yourself. All the other stuff is fulfilled when you do this.
Read the epistles and see that the expectation of a “good” Christian life is full of forgiveness, forebearance, patience, gentleness and love. Why? Because no matter how devoted to Christ you are, you are still a cracked, flawed prone to messing up person. But there is now a better way to live that life than you had before. And it that better way you might find you don’t have as much time to live in the cracks and flaws because you are too busy with this new life.
Easter is all about God’s love: the vastness of it, the extravagance of it, the cost of it. We cheapen that love when we too readily get hung up on whether people are doing the right thing to be holy.
We instinctively look for the shiny people. And we believe those are inevitably the people who keep the right rules and doctrines and defend the rest of us against the wrong ones. And yet, my experience of church is that we can do all those things without any love. Without love there is no Christ and there is no kingdom.
I am beginning to realise that holiness starts in love. I can only be holy if I love like God does. Unafraid of the cost or the possible loss to me. Unafraid of associating with the unclean and the lost.
The God who the bible tells us is love, became flesh and lived in the midst of sinners unafraid of their influence on him, not impressed by displays of holiness and who definitely behaved in a way that branded him a sinner and an unholy person. Read your bibles. Jesus constantly failed the “proper holy man” test laid down in scripture in the OT. Ask any scribe, Pharisee and High Priest.
And yet we worship him today as our risen Lord.
I’ve spent a lot of my life thinking I’ve had to be a guardian of proper sound religion. Bible believing spirit filled etc and yet I am very poor at love. I am very poor at seeking out the lost without having them pass some test showing they are worthy of being found and still suspecting them until they have proved themselves.
And this morning I am confronted by the God of all things who says, Dave, you can be resurrected too. Listen to these wise words from American theologian Robert Capon about the experience of being offered resurrection right now:
Trust Him. And when you have done that, you are living the life of grace. No matter what happens to you in the course of that trusting – no matter how many waverings you may have, no matter how much heaviness and sadness your lapses, vices, indispositions, and bratty whining may cause you – you simply believe that Somebody Else, by His death and resurrection, has made it all right, and you just say thank you and shut up. The whole slop closet full of mildewed performances (which is all you have to offer) is simply your death; it is Jesus who is your life. If He refused to condemn you because your works were rotten, He certainly isn’t going to flunk you because your faith isn’t so hot. You can fail utterly, therefore, and still live the life of grace. You can fold up spiritually, morally, or intellectually and still be safe. Because at the very worst, all you can be is dead – and for Him who is the Resurrection and the Life, that just makes you His cup of tea.
I like the idea of being dead and waiting for a gracious God to say, “No you’re not”. And I think the sign that I am alive is my willingness to love like Jesus.
So my question this easter is: Will you be alive with me? Will you let loving like Jesus be the vital signs of your life? Alleluia he is risen. Thank God for that!