“Standing on a London street corner, G.K. Chesterton was approached by a newspaper reporter. ‘Sir, I understand that you recently became a Christian. May I ask you one question?’
‘Certainly,’ replied Chesterton.
‘If the risen Christ suddenly appeared at this very moment and stood behind you, what would you do?’
Chesterton looked the reporter squarely in the eye and said, ‘He is.’”
Summary of sessions 1 & 2.
In light of the historical evidence surrounding the birth of the church, the most plausible explanation is that Jesus was raised bodily from the dead and was seen by many eyewitnesses.
The cross of Christ is the victory; the resurrection of Christ is the new creation, the forgiveness of sins.
Resurrection and Relationship.
Resurrection and Growth.
Resurrection and Mission.
Centering Text: Matthew 28
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When theysaw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
1. Resurrection and Relationship – “saw him…worshipped him…some doubted…all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Leading question, “How does the language or concept of relationship resonate with your own life of faith?”
In the Gospels, the first contact with the risen Christ is either non-recognition – is he the gardener? – or fear – the one whom we betrayed, and denied, and deserted is on the loose! This is why the risen Jesus must repeatedly say to his frightened disciples, “Peace be with you.”
Remember from last week, resurrection is a person – Jesus Christ. “I am the resurrection and the life…” (John 11). He is the one we see, worship, and some/sometimes doubt. He is the one in whose authority heaven and earth hold together in the new creation breaking forth. He promises to be with us always, to the end of the age. Recall his ascension is not his absenting, but his presence to all.
A Reading from Walter Wangerin, Letters from the Land of Cancer, pp. 178-9.
2. Resurrection and Growth – “make disciples…baptizing them…teaching them to obey.”
Leading question, “How does the language or concept of spiritual growth describe your life of faith?”
Leaking the results of our congregational “Listening Season” survey…
Recommended Reading – Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing up in Christ, by Eugene Peterson. He is the translator of “The Message” version of the Bible. This book is a commentary on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. There is perhaps no better writer living today to comment on spiritual growth and maturity in the North American context. For example,
“First birth and then growth. Neither metaphor stands alone. Birth presupposes growth, but growth proceeds from birth. Is it an exaggeration to say that birth has received far more attention in the American church than growth?
…so – growing up ‘healthy in God, robust in love.’ That is my subject: finding and living into the form of what one psalm translation terms ‘the beauty of holiness’ (Psalm 29:2 KJV). The formation of our minds and spirits, our souls, our lives – our lives are transformed, growing up strong in God, growing to maturity, to the stature of Christ.
We cannot overemphasize bringing men and women to new birth in Christ. Evangelism is essential, critically essential. But is it not obvious that growth in Christ is equally essential? Yet the American church has not treated it with an equivalent urgency. The American church runs on the euphoria and adrenaline of new birth – getting people into church, into the kingdom, into causes, into crusades, into programs. We turn matters of growing up over to Sunday School teachers, specialists in Christian education, committees to revise curricula, retreat centers, and deeper life conferences, farming it out to parachurch groups for remedial assistance. I don’t find pastors and professors, for the most part, very interested in matters of formation in holiness. They have higher profile things to do.
Americans in general have little tolerance for a centering way of life that is submissive to the conditions in which growth takes place: quiet, obscure, patient, not subject to human control and management. The American church is uneasy in these conditions. Typically, in the name of ‘relevance,’ it adapts itself to the prevailing American culture and is soon indistinguishable from that culture: talkative, noisy, busy, controlling, image-conscious.”
NT Wright, After you Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, p. 115.
“Jesus didn’t say, as do some modern evangelists, ‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.’ Nor did he say, ‘I accept you as you are, so you can now happily do whatever comes naturally.’ He said, ‘If you want to become my followers, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.’ (Mark 8:34). He spoke of losing one’s life in order to gain it, as opposed to clinging to it and so losing it. He spoke of this in direct relation to himself and his own forthcoming humiliation and death, followed by resurrection and exaltation…
…what this means is that the normal standards, even the standards of virtue itself, are challenged at their core. No longer is the good life to be a matter of human beings glimpsing the goal of ‘happiness’ in which they will become complete, and then setting about a program of self-improvement by which they might begin to make that goal a reality. They are summoned to follow a leader whose eventual goal is indeed a world of blessing beyond bounds, but whose immediate goal, the only possible route to that eventual one, is a horrible and shameful death. And the reason for this radical difference is not obscure. It is that Jesus’ diagnosis of the problem goes far deeper than that of any ancient Greek philosopher.
Jesus believed and taught that humans in general, including God’s people Israel, had a sickness of heart which all attempts at self-betterment could not touch. If the project of God’s kingdom was to be truly launched, catching up humans into a new life and vocation whose language they would then have to learn, this sickness had to be dealt with. The corruption and decay of the old world and the old human heart, the habits and patterns of thought, imagination, and life, had to be not just reformed, but killed.”
3. Resurrection and Mission – “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Leading question, “How does the call to mission resonate with your life of faith?
A helpful re-framing to consider when speaking with skeptics: Even if you don’t believe the resurrection, you should want it to be true.
From an NT Wright sermon,
“The message of the resurrection is that this world matters! That the injustices and pains of this present world must now be addressed with the news that healing, justice, and love have won…If Easter means Jesus Christ is only raised in a spiritual sense – then it is only about me, and finding a new dimension in my personal, spiritual life. But if Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead, Christianity becomes good news for the whole world – news which warms our hearts precisely because it isn’t just about warming hearts. Easter means that in a world where injustice, violence, and degradation are endemic, God is not prepared to tolerate such things – and that we will work and plan, with all the energy of God, to implement the victory of Jesus over them all. Take away Easter and Karl Marx was probably right to accuse Christianity of ignoring problems of the material world. Take it away and Freud was probably right to say Christianity is wish-fulfillment. Take it away and Nietzche probably was right to say it was for wimps.” Quoted in Timothy Keller, Reason for God, 221.
Embracing the wild “ring of truth” – a reading from Brian Doyle, Grace Notes, 9-10.
If the first contact with the risen Christ is non-recognition or fear, the second reaction occurs when Jesus speaks. He speaks as God with a creating word and forgiving sins. “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:22-23) Or, as in our centering text, “Go therefore…”
This power to forgive is sometimes called the “Office of the Keys.” Recall the temptation from last week to make the resurrection our power and source of glory in this world. Rather, this is the only power the church has in the world: The power of the forgiveness of sins. And what does this power look like? Suffering. Taking on the weight of another person, and giving back the promise of Jesus Christ himself.
1 Corinthians 5: 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Follow-up question, “How does the ministry of forgiveness/reconciliation alter your understanding of mission or evangelism?”
Poems for Resurrection in Three Dimensions
Session 1: Resurrection When: Historical Evidence.
“Seven Stanzas at Easter.” A poem by John Updike (1932-2009).
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.
And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta*, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
Session 2: Resurrection Then: Theological Explanations.
“Death.” A poem by John Donne (1573-1631).
DEATH, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so:
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death; nor yet canst thou kill me.
From Rest and Sleep, which but thy picture be,
Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow;
And soonest our best men with thee do go–
Rest of their bones and souls’ delivery!
Thou’rt slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke. Why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And Death shall be no more: Death, thou shalt die!
Session 3: Resurrection Now: Practical Expressions.
“Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” A poem by Wendell Berry (1934-)
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.
Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.