On Tuesday, we asked the question, “What happened to death after Jesus’ resurrection? Why do we still experience it?” We talked about the origins of death and how it actually served an important purpose in a broken world.
If you read through that post on the nature of death and our own imperfection, you can begin to understand why our redemption happened through death and resurrection instead of the ways we commonly think.
Finally, and most importantly, all these methods of salvation would advantage some people and not others. Intellectual salvation and morality would favor those who could understand and agree, leaving out those who could not. Physical salvation would be limited to the favored whom Jesus touched. “Why was Lazarus raised and not my relative?” I guess God loved Lazarus more? How sad.
When none of these methods proved satisfactory, God went to the source itself. Instead of redeeming us, God redeemed death.
Death was the one place where Jesus could meet us all: wonderful people and mistaken people, saints and sinners. It was the commonality that bound all of us. God did not meet us in our strength to praise it, but in our imperfection to transform it. God did not employ a means of salvation that favored the smart or the rich or people who happened to be in the vicinity; God met us all, precisely where we needed to be met: in our vulnerability and weakness.
Jesus walked into death because we walk into death. Jesus didn’t die to glorify us or death or the cross. Jesus died because he refused to abandon us, even in death.
People often say that Jesus died “for our sins”. I hate that expression. Jesus didn’t die for our sins, he died for the sake of compassion. Jesus could have lived. As the Son of God—the single, unique being in all of creation who was without sin—Jesus did not have to die. He was perfect. Death had no right to claim him. He could have walked away and lived eternally without dying. He chose not to because he loved us and would not be separated from us.
We also say that when Jesus died, he took upon himself the “sin of the world”. Every bit of brokenness, pain, and imperfection that ever existed lay upon his shoulders at that moment. When he embraced us, he embraced all of our wrongdoing and all the ills of the world as well. He did not remain separate from them. They died along with him.
But here’s the good part. Remember when we said death was Pac Man eating us all up into nothingness justly, because that’s what it was supposed to do? Death could swallow us because of our imperfection. But Jesus, even in death, was perfect. Death had no claim on him. Death had no right to take him. When death swallows an imperfect people, it broken them into nothingness. When death swallowed a perfect person, that person broke death instead. Jesus became the great, un-swallow-able jawbreaker that busted Pac Man’s bite. Now, instead of a live, chomping beast, death was tilted on its side. Its jaw had become an archway, through which Jesus walked, out of nothingness and into resurrected life.
Here’s an even better part. Though Jesus rose, the sins of the world did not rise with him. They were swallowed, just as they were supposed to be. This new life would be as it was meant to be, free of imperfection, pain, and brokenness.
We follow the steps of this journey in our own lives, deaths, and resurrections. Though we still experience—sometimes even follow—broken things in this life, we understand that those things are not forever. They will pass and die, as will we. The journey does not end in nothingness, though. The broken things will be vanquished as we walk into life the way it was meant to be: whole and full and perfect.
What happened to death after Jesus’ resurrection? It’s still there. It just doesn’t do what it used to do, because Jesus changed the end of the story. Death is no longer the final word in our existence, nor does it have the ultimate power over our destiny. Instead life and love do.
We did not make this change ourselves. We could not. Jesus did it for us, by being among us then going beyond us, that we might make that journey beyond ourselves as well, into something more beautiful than we ever imagined.
God bless, and Happy Easter.
Today we begin a new series on the site that will continue each Wednesday for the foreseeable future. Rosanna Cartwright, a life-long Lutheran and mostly-life-long artist/teacher routinely creates works of art that intersect with faith. We’re going to look at some of her pieces and open up conversation surrounding them. Feel free to join in. As we go along, we might even feature works from other folks, including members of our congregation if they’re willing. For now, Rosanna has enough stuff to keep us going for a good while!
The first piece she’s submitted is called “You Are the Light”. Take a look!
The inspiration comes from Matthew 5, when Jesus says, in the sermon on the mount, “You are the light of the world.” You might remember him saying that nobody lights a lamp, then hides it under a bushel basket. You might also recall the words we say at every baptism when we present the candle, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
I love two juxtapositions in this piece: the sun in the sky stands apart from, but in relationship with, the ground, just as the words, “You are the LIGHT of the world” stand apart from, but in relationship with, the words, “Even me?”
We have a terrible habit of dividing the world into categories like sacred and secular, holy and mundane. We do this with people too: saints and sinners, good folks and bad. When we hear the words, “YOU are the light of the world,” our tendency is to say, “Who, me?” We know our faults and failings. We understand ourselves as “just ordinary”. If something sacred inhabits the world, it must be inside someone else. If holy places exist, they can’t be here, on this ordinary soil on which I walk.
For every Instagram photo showing a perfect person on a perfect beach living a perfect life, there must be millions of other people who say, “That’s not me, but I wish it was somehow.” We define goodness by comparing it to our own mundanity. We view God and faith through that same lens.
Except look what happens in this piece. The light shows to, and through all the words. The light shows to, and through, the city and ground too. Everything is glowing! The question, “Even me?’ is transformed into a solid declaration, “Even me!!!” by the addition of just one word: YES.
How many of us grew up thinking God was the great NO? “Don’t run in church. Don’t be bad. Don’t do this and don’t do that. Keep yourself perfect for Jesus.” Suddenly, in this frame, the light explodes over us all, exposing all of our peaks and valleys, yet shining off them to hit the eye of the viewer. It’s implied that the light shines on the ground where they stand as well, and that they, too, have a home in this city.
We hear God’s, “YES” every time scripture hits our ears or we receive God through the sacraments. We see it in the eyes of our friends and neighbors, feel it in the purpose we’re given. It’s everywhere around us, singing to us daily. We are beloved. We do matter. There’s something worthwhile to do today. The most normal things are also very, very special. Our lives are light for the world!
We’ve opened up the comments on the site so that they should show instantly when you make them. Feel free to reflect here on what you see in the picture, and how you understand God’s light shining in your life and world!
You can find Rosanna’s Facebook account here: https://www.facebook.com/rosanna.cartwright.3
Come back next Wednesday for a look at more of her creations!
In the church, we say the events of Holy Week and Easter are central to all scripture, the defining moments of our faith. Everything else leads up to them, everything we know stems from them. We say this because, through these events, Jesus did something that none of us could do: save us by conquering the power of death and bringing us to new life. In my Easter Sunday sermon, I claimed this story was less about changing us than changing the universe around us. When Jesus couldn’t teach, heal, or persuade us into salvation, he changed how the whole thing worked! He traveled into death to be with us, to break open the power of death so that instead of an ending, it led to new life.
This is a weird and strong claim, one misunderstood by most folks. How did Good Friday and Easter change death? Where did it go? We still see it all around us! Though we don’t like to think of it much, all of us are still dying people, even after Easter.
As it turns out, death did not disappear…at least not yet. Instead Easter robbed it of its power over us and our destiny.
We read in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 15:
52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is the change made by Jesus through his own death and resurrection. To understand why things work this way, we have to first understand where death came from.
The earliest, most foundational mention of death comes in the first chapters of the Book of Genesis, where God warns Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of the tree he has reserved “lest they die”. Adam and Eve do eat, and afterwards they are told that they were created out of dust, and to dust they shall return.
Many have read anger and punishment into these words. These are the same people who read Jesus’ crucifixion as a sacrifice to appease an angry god, or a son paying off debt to his father on behalf of humankind. These interpretations are harmful. If all this happened because God was angry, why didn’t God just choose to stop being angry? If some kind of cosmic debt was owed God, why didn’t God just forgive it? What kind of monster would insist that his own Son die to calm him down or settle the ledger?
Neither God’s words in Genesis nor Jesus’ action on the cross had anger at their root. Granted, breaking the world (in Genesis) and crucifying God’s Son were unhappy things. I’m not suggesting God remained detached or unaffected. But God’s participation in these things cannot be reduced to, or centered on, negative emotions. God’s actions drive towards reconciliation and healing, not retribution and punishment.
Instead, death was God’s response when imperfection entered the world after Adam and Eve broke it. “Imperfection” encompasses pain, suffering, hatred, illness, warfare, devastation. Once creation was broken, all those things would follow.
When we think about life forever, we think about the good stuff: eternal youth, always feeling well, day after day of endless bliss. We don’t think about racism forever, warfare forever, poverty forever, suffering from bone cancer forever, relationships with our family members broken forever. Having these things endure for eternity, without any possibility of them being resolved or coming to an end, is not bliss, but cruelty.
Death sets a limit on creation’s brokenness, both our power to enact it and our ability to experience it. Death ends the tyranny of human wrongdoing. We may rule for a day or for a generation, but we cannot rule for all days and all generations. Death also releases us from the pain we suffer as victims of the world’s tyranny. This is necessary, lest we fall into eternal despair.
Death didn’t come because God was angry. Death came because God isn’t mean. God refused to let brokenness, wrongdoing, and pain last forever. We are supposed to live eternally in joy, love, and peace, not in imperfection.
That’s the way it was before that first Easter. Each generation rose and fell. Many were amazing. Every one of them had something good to share. None of them were perfect, nor were the individuals that comprised them. Wherever imperfection showed up, it had to come to an end. Since all of us were (and are) imperfect, we all had to come to an end too.
I often tell my confirmation students to think of this like a Pac Man game. Throughout history, death was Pac Man, chasing us, eventually gobbling us up. It had not only the right to do so, but the duty. It ended us and our imperfection with each bite.
It’s no accident that the descriptions of death in the Old Testament refer to it as “nothingness” or “powerlessness”. Our broken selves were just…gone. At best we were insubstantial shades, unable to affect the world further.
When you think about it, this system was just! If something is wrong, get rid of it! Makes sense. It wasn’t satisfactory, though. God still loved us. The same God who wouldn’t stand for his children hurting each other in a broken world forever also couldn’t stand being separated from them by death forever. The story of our relationship with God wasn’t supposed to be, “We’re here, then we get gobbled up by death, now we’re gone and that’s it.” God’s will for us was still life everlasting.
This is where Jesus comes in.
We’re going to tell the rest of this story on Thursday. Join us then for Part 2: how Jesus changed everything on the cross and Easter morn!
In these days of increased physical isolation, we, the body of Christ, step into new opportunities to be Christ’s hands, heart, feet and voice. For some of us, social connection has increased through phone calls, social media and letter-writing. For others, prayer and meditation time have lengthened and expanded to include people throughout the world who are in this with us. A group of you are making masks; others are tending to your neighbors. For some, the physical isolation is mostly a burden; for others, new gifts with new routines are welcomed. For those who are spending more time than usual with pets and/or family members; for those with increased financial strain, stress can reach new levels. We are not always our best selves in times such as these.
To all of us, the resurrected Christ breathes peace to us as he did to his first followers isolated from the world, hiding in fear, overcome with despair (John 20). Rather than condemning them for their denial of him, their lack of faith, their loss of hope, Jesus said it again: Peace be with you – until it got through their thick skulls and seeped into their hearts. We are Easter people now, who dare to hope in the midst of great uncertainty, who dare to speak, act, love, and connect knowing the final word from God is a resounding YES to life even when – especially when – we don’t know how long life will be turned upside down.
While we worship from a safe distance, know there are some among us who are ready to hear your laments and connect with you. Women and men from this community serve as Commissioned Visitors. They have moved through training grounded in God’s word. They are ready to hold safe space with you by phone when you desire a friend in Christ (and, later, in person, when COVID-19 precautions are no longer needed).
It has been my great joy to worship among you, preach from time to time, visit some of you in your homes and during hospital stays, and to work closely with the Commissioned Visitors in their formation.
My time in the role of visitation pastor has ended, and surely our paths will cross again.
I offer great thanks to Pastor Dave who welcomed me and my gifts, to the interview committee, to the Commissioned Visitors (past and present), to the amazing staff, and to you, sisters and brothers in Christ. I was warmly welcomed into the Shepherd of the Valley community from the first day, and I treasure this chapter as a great gift.
Resurrection Hope to you.
We gather on Maundy Thursday to hear Jesus’ words to his disciples on the night in which he was betrayed. By this point in the story, Jesus knew what was going to happen. He had foretold his own death and resurrection. He knew this would be the last night they were together in this way. He knew the trials that lay ahead.
As we go along, consider this question: if you had only a little time left with the people around you, what would you say? Tonight we hear some of the ways Jesus answered that question in a dramatization between Jesus and the Devil.
The family of Eleanor Foster are holding a memorial and time of remembrance on Friday, April 10th at 7:30 PM via Zoom. If you’d like to join, here is the information:
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This Thursday and Sunday, we’ll be sharing communion via our video services. You are absolutely welcome to participate with us if you desire! Nobody is required to; communion is not a law. If you wish to share in communion on Maundy Thursday and Easter, here is what you need to know.
Join Pastor Dave for our last session of our 5-part video series talking about Communion. We are united with eternal life.
Join Pastor Dave for Part 4 of our series talking about Communion. Once God give us his blessing, are we worthy?
Pastor Dave is back with another video where he talks about Communion. Today he discusses the abstract word known as "Grace." Grace is a gift from God and an expression of God's love that transforms the world.