April 3, 2008

Impossible Resurrection

Every now and then people feel stuck. The circumstances of their lives, the sins and consequences of their own actions, or the inflictions of others' trespasses upon them create an impossible, immovable situation. A logjam. A roadblock. A room with no doors or windows – no way out. Stuck. This kind of thing is deadly.

And so the pastoral question arises: Can you imagine any way that God could be at work in this situation? Any way that God can redeem this mess?

Answer: No, I cannot imagine any way out of this. I don't see any way to go.

It would seem to me that for people in that kind of place, Easter morning is a particularly startling and happy occasion. In the most unlikely of ways, God chose to work things out for Jesus. The impossible situation of his death is turned upside by an empty tomb. And once again I am reminded that we belong to a religion whose roots lie in the odd fact that a man came back from the dead. If you are looking for a sensible faith, orthodox Christianity is not the place. Try the Unitarians, because there is nothing sensible about resurrection.

For some, the fact of Jesus' new and different Sunday-morning-life is intellectually too embarrassing to name, or empirically too impossible to believe, or socially too bizarre a thing with which to be associated. Fair point.

But for those of us "stuck" in places of deathly impossibility, cross and resurrection is the very power and presence of God. See 1 Corinthians 1 for more on this.

One theologian describes Jesus' journey to the cross as a walk into a dark room, a room with no doors or windows or perceivable ways out. The room's name is death. He took upon himself the sins of the world and it killed him. We killed him. No more and no less. We get together on "Good" Friday because it's worth sitting for a moment with the hard fact that he died. And for us, no less. (In order to feel the power and punch of Easter morning, perhaps we must pretend for a moment that we really don't know how the weekend ends up – a practiced naïveté.)

He died. And there the story ends.


Impossible story! Dreadful ending.


But then God does an amazing feat. Suddenly – out of nowhere, it would seem – a door appears in this deathly room. An impossible door, but a door nevertheless. It is a door through (not around) death and out to the other side, resurrection life. This same Jesus, dead before, is now restored to a similar yet better life.

"Impossible," you say. Yes. And true. The one true thing, in fact.

So let's be clear. Easter morning is not for the well ordered life. Stay home or go golfing (weather permitting) if your world is already well settled and well managed. Otherwise you'll have no need for a new-life-door and, by default, you'll have no need for Sunday.

No, Easter morning is for the lame, the paralyzed, the broken, the confused, the depressed, the stuck. Easter Sunday is for everyone who cannot see a way out of whatever room holds them captive—including that great big room that holds us all captive, hereafter referring to by the church as "sin." Easter is our morning to entrust ourselves again to following this resurrected Jesus through God's unpredictable door of new and different life.

Or, the put it Paul's way in Romans 6:

That's what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we're going in our new grace-sovereign country.

Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the Cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin's every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ's sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That's what Jesus did.

Blessed impossible Easter. Thanks be to God.