April 5, 2015 Easter Sunday
Isaiah 25:1-9, Psalm 93, Colossians 3:1-4, St. John 20:1-10
There’s a story – true, so I’m told – about a man called Peter who’s buried in a cemetery in Georgia. The thing that sets him apart is his color. He is the only white man interred in a graveyard set aside for blacks to bury their dead.
Peter’s mother died when he was an infant. His father, who never remarried, hired a black woman named Mandy to help him raise his son. She was a Christian, and not one of the ceremonial sort.
Few motherless boys have received as much motherly affection as Peter. One of his earliest memories was of a smiling Mandy bending over his bed and saying sweetly, “Wake up; God’s mornin’ is come.”
This devoted soul remained with Peter until he went away to college. When he came home for a weekend or a summer, she would climb the stairs and awaken him in the same loving way.
The years passed. Peter became a diplomat and roamed to many a far country, a world away from Georgia. One day a telegram arrived in the foreign capital where he was serving: “Mandy is dead. Can you attend her funeral?”
Standing at her graveside, he turned to his childhood friends and said, “If I die before Jesus comes, I want to be buried here beside Mandy. I like to think that on Resurrection Day she’ll speak to me again: ‘Wake up, my boy, God’s mornin’ has come.’”
Beloved in Christ, God has revealed Himself by His power in many times in many places in many ways . . . but He has never displayed that power more magnificently than in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus.
Today we celebrate that glorious day – but not a single day alone. We rejoice in a day that was and a day that is and a day that is to come.
If the resurrection were an event detached from our present reality it would be a historical happening on a par with the discovery of America or the invention of the light bulb – worth studying in history class, to be sure, but not the sort of thing we’d dwell on. It is not such an event.
This morning we have sung “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today,” not “Jesus Christ Was Risen Once Upon a Time” – and not because we couldn’t find the music for the latter. Our gospel lesson hardly permits of such an understanding and, if it did, we would still have the Apostle Paul to set us straight.
You’re saved! he barks in our epistle lesson from Colossians 3. Now, what are you gonna do about it?
It’s not an unfair question. Our Lord died for us, descended into the tomb for us, rose again for us. He wants from us an ethical response: “Set your mind on things above.” The gospel speaks of Christ’s resurrection, the epistle of our participation in it. And our participation is indeed a response to what God has done.
We hear a good deal about seekers these days. A seeker is one who is on a spiritual quest. He senses that God exists and, to put things in the psycho-speak of our day, is exploring ways of entering into a relationship with Him.
I suppose it’s an appealing idea . . . but one little thing gives me pause. In your travels through the Scriptures, have you ever discovered a single seeker? Nor have I.
Not Adam. He didn’t ask to be created. Not Abraham. He didn’t ask to be called out of Ur of the Chaldees to a forbidding, faraway place. Not Joseph. He didn’t ask to be sold into slavery in Egypt. Not David. He didn’t ask for God’s prophet to come calling and finger him as the next king of Israel.
The apostles, then? No, not one of the 12 went on a spiritual quest and found Jesus. The Lord sought out each and every one of them.
And of all men not this apostle named Paul who writes to the church in Colossae. When the roll of the enemies of Christ was called he elbowed his way to the front of the line.
And so, are there seekers today? They think they are. But everyone who seeks God is one who has been found by God. “Oh, but Preacher,” you protest, “surely not everyone who calls himself a seeker finds salvation.”
Indeed not. But then neither does everyone who calls himself a Christian. Let me repeat that sentence inserting a word: Everyone who truly seeks God is one who has been truly found by God.
In the Bible, Moses is the foundling par excellence. Hidden in a basket on the river to save him from Pharaoh’s murderous purging of Hebrew babies, he is discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised in the royal palace.
There he abides until he is seen killing an Egyptian, and he flees into the desert and passes more years still in the land of Midian. Finally, in God’s time, the Lord calls him to return to Egypt and lead His people out of bondage.
Yes, Moses is a foundling . . . but then so is Paul . . . and so are you . . . and so am I. If you imagine your friendship with God is the fruit of your search for God you do not know God as the pursuer of lost souls, the Hound of Heaven.
The poet Francis Thompson tried to flee from Him:
I fled Him down the nights and down the days
I fled Him down the arches of the years
I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind, and in the midst of tears . . .
Only to hear his Lord’s obstinate, gracious reply:
All which thy childs mistake fancies as lost,
I have stored for thee at Home.
Rise, clasp my hand, and come . . .
If you suppose you have found God by your own cunning you will conjure Him as you like Him. If you grasp that you have been found by God you will know Him for who He is. A foundling – a mere babe exposed and vulnerable -- depends on his gracious adoptive parent for nurture . . . for life.
Where shall we turn but to the Bread of Life?
The apostle insists . . . the apostle demands . . . that we know this: Jesus Christ is life. Paul wrote to the Galatians:
"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (2:20).
He wrote to the Philippians: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (1:21).
And in our present passage he writes to the Colossians: “When Christ who is our life appears . . .”
What is life? Not long after my escape from paganism, my tardy acceptance of Christ as my Savior, in conversation with an old pagan drinking buddy I mentioned that I was going to be involved in a church function on the Saturday afternoon next.
“What” he said, “and miss out on college football? That’s my life!”
And so it was. And, I fear, so it is. Everyone has a religion. Religions such as college football expire with a man’s last breath. Only one religion sustains us through all eternity.
Absent Christ, there is no life. He is not only the Giver of life but the Essence of life. Subtract Christ and forfeit life. Abandon Christ and embrace death. Accept Christ and live forever.
What has He told us? “I am the resurrection and the life.”
To know the resurrected Lord is to join the resurrection; to join the resurrection is to live forever.
But handle Easter faith ever so carefully. It demands an ethical response. To know Christ is to love Him and to love Him is to serve Him. Let me repeat that sentence with one word added: To know Christ truly is to love Him truly and to love Him truly is to serve Him truly.
Our epistle lesson begins Part II of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. As in his other letters, he uses Part I to set out what God has done and segues into what our response must be. The apostle would have us know there is no true goodness without godliness.
Oh, but Preacher, surely there are kindly atheists about. Down this trail lies a trap. Flannery O’Connor spied it: “When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness,” she wrote, “its logical outcome is terror.”
We muck about in ethics that leaves God out to our peril. Which would you have, the divinely inspired law of God or the free-floating, ever-shifting code of man? But where is the terror? In Dachau . . . and Treblinka . . . and Auschwitz.
Will you respond to God’s resurrection by crucifying your old man or by crucifying others?
Paul will not quit the theme that the God-ordained sacrifice of His beloved Son demands of us a God-ordained reaction. What is the Christian’s answer to the crumpled Christ upon the cross? What will you say when you meet face-to-face the Lord who emerged from the tomb?
What will you do for the One who went to the cross for you?
Paul organizes for the Colossians, and no less for us, the relationships into which the believer in Christ has entered:
Before us, here, the Christian and Christ, followed in the verses to come by the Christian and the local church, the Christian and the family, the Christian and his daily work and the Christian and the outsider.
What comes first? The Christian and Christ. And not by chance. If that connection is wrong, nothing else will be right. And if that connection is right, all else will fall into place.
Look up at the cross and believe. Look up at the cross and love. Look up at the cross and live.
For what is a Christian? Simply a man who has been granted life with the exalted Christ . . . this Christ who sits at God’s right hand. Simply a man who has entered into the glory of his Lord.
In a bygone age when the great artists in paint and sculpture and music and words trained their God-given talents on the talents of their God, John Donne wrote, channeling Revelation:
“I shall rise from the dead, from the prostration, from the prosternation of death, and never miss the sun, which shall be put out, for I shall see the Son of God, the Sun of Glory, and shine myself as that sun shines.
“I shall rise from the grave and never miss this city, which shall be nowhere, for I shall see the city of God, the new Jerusalem.
“I shall look up and never wonder when it shall be day, for the angel will tell me that time shall be no more, and I shall see and see cheerfully the last day of judgment, which shall have no night, never end, and be united to the Ancient of Days, to God Himself, who had no morning, never began.”
A plainer way of saying that is, “Wake up, my boy, God’s mornin’ has come.”
That is the day for which we ache, the age of the eternal radiance. The Psalms speak to us over and again of the beauty of God’s presence and the privilege of dwelling with Him. The Israelites of old trampled on that privilege . . . and even fled the glory of the Lord to bow down before other gods.
But in the age to come no one will take the privilege for granted. All will rejoice everlastingly in our unhindered access to God.
As for us in the here and now, we bide our time. We have died, and our life is hidden with Christ in God. C. S. Lewis considered the matter:
“At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door,” he wrote. “We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure.
“We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all of the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.”
And so, God willing, we shall.
What we must know . . . and know . . . and know . . . because it is to us so strange a thing . . . is that we are today, in this moment, acceptable to God. We are welcome in Christ’s name. This offering we offer of Christ’s finished work upon the cross is no more and no less than what God requires of us to sup with Him.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
An old publisher of some repute named Ben Franklin addressed the matter in a homespun way in the epitaph he composed for himself:
Like the cover of an old book,
Its contents torn out,
And stripped of the lettering and gilding,
Lies here food for worms;
But the work shall not be lost,
For it will (as he believes) appear once more
In a new and more elegant edition,
Revised and corrected by the Author.
This, beloved, is the resurrection hope: The worms lose. Sin loses. Death loses. Satan loses.
God wins. And when God’s mornin’ has come all who have joined in the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ win. This is Easter faith. Halleleujah! And amen.