An Easter Sermon: Resurrection and the Stone-Sealed Tombs of Our World

An Easter Sermon: Resurrection and the stone-sealed tombs of our world

Chase Tibbs

Contributor at Christianity Now
Chase is currently a student at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana. Pursuing an MDiv and MTS, his interests lie in reimagining faith for persons of faith in postmodern contexts. He is influenced by the Holiness movement, process philosophy, existentialism, liberation theology, and postcolonialism.

4/1/18 Covington United Methodist Church, Covington, IN

 

“When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.’” (Mark 16:4-6)

What a journey it has been this Lenten season. We received the ashes of human mortality. We lamented our willful complicity in sinning against God’s creation, in violating the God-given human dignity of those most vulnerable and disadvantaged, and in failing to radically love ourselves as God loves us. We saw the Messiah ride into Jerusalem not on a war horse of exploitative wealth and power, not of certitude and might, but on the meekness and weakness of a donkey, accompanied by a band of societal expendables.

God, becoming human, was wounded alongside the rest of the broken and beloved creation. The very pain, agony, and despair known by humanity was known by God in the Crucified Christ. Refusing to watch us suffer alone, Jesus climbed up onto the cross with us and shared a burden that was never his to bear—the burden of another. And he died. His body, barely held together by his tortured flesh, was buried in the dirt from which comes all life, and a stone was rolled in front of the tomb to finally snuff out the light once and for all.

And yet the young person dressed in white sitting in the tomb says to us today, “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.”

This morning, I want to invite us as a community to reflect on what the Resurrection of Christ could possibly mean for our world and our relationships today. Is it merely something that happened 2000 years ago to someone else, or might it have the potential to profoundly transform and restore this very moment in time in which you and I find ourselves enfolded? The Resurrection of Christ has always meant different things for different Christian communities in different times. But if it is going to mean anything for our world and our relationships today, it must speak to the stone-sealed tombs of our time.

It must speak to the genocide of Rohingyan Muslims, the global labor and sex trade, the Syrian refugee crisis, and the exacerbation of poverty in rural and urban America; it must speak to Pulse Night Club and Stoneman Douglas High; it must speak to the mass incarceration of people of color, impoverished whites, the mentally disabled, and many without access to affordable housing. Resurrection must speak to broken families and broken individuals, the nursing home and the hospital bed.

What can the Resurrection of Christ speak to our world today?

There are four aspects of resurrection that I would like us to consider this morning. I believe these four aspects are crucial for understanding the profound power and gravity of the Resurrection of Christ. The first aspect of resurrection is hope.

Resurrection as Hope

Let us begin by saying what we are here to celebrate–the Resurrection of Jesus the Christ–is a very radical possibility that must not be watered down. It is radical because when we speak of Christ’s resurrection, we are dangerously suggesting there is hope; hope in the face of the hopelessness that pervades our human relationships; hope in a world of suffering; hope as a radical alternative to allowing the imperial powers of hell have the final say.

Allan Aubrey Boesak ministered in South Africa during the Apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu. For a time, his life consisted of several funerals a week with Bishop Tutu for young black men who were terrorized and murdered by white, South African Christians. In his book, Dare We Speak of Hope? Boesak brings to light St. Augustine’s understanding of Hope as a mother with two daughters: Anger and Courage.

“Anger at the way things are,” says Augustine, “and courage to see that they do not remain the same.” Boesak tells us that the “Anger of Hope means that one refuses to accept something that is wrong, to put up with what is driving one to despair. The Courage of Hope,” he continues, “means to have the firm resolve…to attack injustice, even if one has to pay a price for doing so” (Boesak, 45).

Resurrection as hope is not the product of Pilot-like, hand-cleansing Christian quietism or neutrality. Nor is hope, as Boesak says, “the result of the Christian triumphalism that is so rampant today, certain of every victory, not because we share in the powerlessness, vulnerability, and suffering–and hence the victory of the cross–but because we have made common cause with the privileged and powerful, wielding our Bibles like weapons of mass destruction against those whom we have made vulnerable.”

What anger and courage Jesus must have felt in order to bring such real hope into the world. The truth of resurrection has no room for avoiding the reality of death and suffering, or escaping into some kind of “extra-worldliness.” No, Christ’s resurrection concretely grounds us firmly in the here and now, but it also lifts our eyes to see the potential for new life amidst loss, a way forward when the edges of our path feel narrow, and gives us reason to press on when we feel like rolling over and giving up.

Resurrection as a Social Reality

As Resurrection is hope, it also occurs within the bounds of relationship with each other and with God. We must understand the sociality of resurrection if it is to mean anything for us today because, essentially, we are relational beings. Paul, the earliest theologian in the New Testament, says that the Resurrection of the Christ is not something that solely happened to Jesus privately, rather it is something that happens to us in community.

To the church in Corinth, Paul writes, “…you are Christ’s body…for even as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though are many, are one body, so it is Christ…you are the Body of Christ…” (1 Cor. 12:12-27). To the people of Galatia, he says, “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (2:19-20). And later to the church in Rome, “…we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (8:16-17). According to Paul, dying and rising with and in the very Body of Christ–the Church–is essentially a social reality. In 1 Corinthians 12:26, he goes as far to say, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”

Another way he talks about this is by saying Adam represents the first humanity which brings death and destruction and loss into the world, whereas Christ symbolizes the second Adam, the second humanity, which brings salvation, healing, and restoration to a broken world (1 Corinthians 15:42-56). Christ is the restorer of the Garden. While, biblically, ascension is always of the individual, when the Bible talks about the hope of resurrection, it is saying something about humanity, about human dignity, and about the restoration of the relational wellbeing that flourished in the Garden.

The difference can be seen clearly in the ways early Western Christianity and early Eastern Christianity often depicted the Resurrection of Christ. In the western tradition, Christ is mostly depicted as resurrecting alone. But in almost all Eastern Christian depictions of the resurrection, Adam and Eve, who symbolize the first humanity, are raised with Christ, which, again, is much more in line with the earliest theology of resurrection in the Old and New Testaments than the more westernized, individualistic interpretations.

To me, this means when we speak of Christ’s resurrection, we must speak of our communal salvation, not just the salvation of us as individuals. We are persons-in-community, and as I’ve quoted Dr. King before, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” My salvation is tied up with yours, and yours with mine. This is the social reality of our being resurrected together in Christ.

Resurrection, More Than Resuscitation

When we speak of Christ’s resurrection we must speak of hope. And we must also speak to our human sociality and interrelatedness alongside the more personalized understanding of resurrection. And now, although similar to speaking truthfully of hope, if resurrection is to mean anything for us in our world today, we must speak of resurrection as more than resuscitation.

Resurrection is not the erasing of past suffering, nor is it the rewinding of our very real pain. Resurrection does not seek to forget the crucifixion or hide the scars we have gained along life’s journey. The Resurrected Christ is a Christ who still has the holes in his hands and feet, still carries the lashes on his body. Christ appears to the Disciples with a gash in his side. And a resurrection that pretends to erase the past, that tries to forget where we’ve been, only offers to us the false hope of resuscitation.

Resuscitation is false hope because it does not take the reality of our vulnerability and finitude into account. Resuscitation aims at a quick fix and is therefore counterproductive to the radical power of real hope. Treyvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Rekia Boyd will never again get to grow old with their family and friends. Our loved ones who wrestle with dementia and other bodily ills will not magically regain their ability to remember as they once could. I will never get to hear the words, “I love you” from my grandfather who passed before I was born. That’s the false hope of resuscitation, and it impedes the true power of resurrection.

Milton Keys is a friend of mine who has cerebral palsy. He is the most convicted, Spirit-filled preacher I have ever met. Milton believes in resurrection. And oftentimes, he has told me, that people in churches will come up to him and ask if they can lay their hands on him and pray for him to be healed. The people who want his CP to be prayed away believe in resuscitation. They want the reality of him being differently abled to be erased, to disappear, or perhaps to be unseen. That’s not resurrection for Milton.

Resurrection grounds us in the urgency of the now, the urgency of reality. On one hand, true hope reveals what black Americans have long referred to as “a way out of no way,” it arouses a passion for what seems impossible; yet on the other hand, true hope, as any theology of liberation would agree, must reveal a way forward from right where we are.

Resurrection as Response to the Tomb

Finally, when resurrection becomes true hope, when it speaks to individuals and communities, and when it offers something more than resuscitation, resurrection must be known as a response to the tomb.

Recall what Paul says to the churches in Corinth, Galatia, and Rome: “You are Christ’s Body,” “I [a member of the Body] have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live but Christ in me,” and if ”we suffer with him…we may also be glorified with him.” If we are to be raised and glorified in the Body, we must also join in Christ’s relentless commitment to the people crucified and entombed by tragedy in our day by bearing their burdens as if they were our own.

You may not be suffocating under the pressures of rural white poverty, but as Christians we are called to bear their economic burden as if it was our own. You may not be the elder who is journeying through life without the physical presence of their life-companion, but as Christians we are called to bear their burden of loss as if it was our own. You may not be a young black man who was born into a world that would rather incarcerate him than allow him to pursue the education and life of his dreams, but as Christians we are called to bear his burden of oppression. You may not be your coworker or classmate who is struggling with depression and anxiety, or your neighbor who is mourning the gradual impairment of a physical ability, but as Christians we are called to bear their burdens.

You may not be a person who identifies with the LGBTQIA community or is often a victim of the heteronormativity that plagues our churches, but as Christians we are called to bear their burdens of exclusion. We may not be the American Islamic or Jewish faith community in Indiana who in the last year and a half have increasingly had their sacred spaces vandalized, their hijabs yanked at, or their children threatened at school, but as Christians we are called to bear their burdens of marginalization regardless of their religious experience of God. And I, I may not be you, and you may not be me, but as followers of the Crucified and Resurrected Christ, we are called to carry each other’s crosses…so that Hope, Resurrection, and New Life can be known!

We are to be Christ’s Body. When we are crucified with Christ, it is no longer we who live alone but Christ in and with us. If we suffer with Christ, we may also be glorified.

Resurrection is not something to simply be known in the faculties of our brain, or privately hidden in the heart; No! Resurrection must be lived—it is to be experienced when we lay lifeless in the tomb. Fundamentally, resurrection is an action, an act of resistance. Do you simply believe in the resurrection of Christ, or are you an incarnation of it in the world? This subversive act of resistance to the powers of hopelessness and despair requires a sacrificial faithfulness to, first, live and die in solidarity with others.

True hope must speak to the stone-sealed tombs of our world.

The Joy In Being Raised

If any of you are like me, you may be wondering, How can there be any joy if Hope is the mother of Anger and Courage? How can there be any joy in being glorified and raised with Christ if it first requires our suffering?

After praying about this through Holy Week, I couldn’t help but think of our Roman Catholic brother Cesar Chavez. Chavez fought all of his life so that Mexican immigrants, the Chicanos, would not be exploited and terrorized by wealthy landowners. Chavez not only believed in the resurrection of Christ, he lived it.

This radical follower of Jesus once said, “If you are outraged about existing conditions, you cannot be free or happy until you give all your time to change them and do nothing else but that” (Soelle, 203). All who knew Chavez knew him to be both free and happy. You want to really know the joy of resurrection? Then our hope must act to remove the stones that have sealed the crucified in their tombs. For when we suffer with Christ, we also begin to know the joy of being glorified!

Christ Has Been Raised. Christ Is Not Here.

And now, I must tell you, “you who are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, He has been raised. He is not here!”

Perhaps you came this Easter morning longing to look away from the suffering of the world, the brokenness of our relationships, the pain of our human finitude and mortality. Or maybe you came here today cynical and hopeless, retiring to your corner convinced change can’t happen, new life isn’t possible, and that there is no way forward for you and for others.

Our faith tells us Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, has been raised. Christ is not here! And because of this, God wants to offer you something so much more than a chance to avoid the reality of pain, so much more than the cynicism of our times.

God longs to do a new work in your life, in your family, in your community, and in this world. The God of Jesus of Nazareth has come to say “Though you’ve been rotting away in the tomb in the absence of light, though the powers of Hell think they have spoken the final word over your time on earth, though the wealthy and powerful elites have celebrated their crushing blow against the impoverished and oppressed, the stone has been rolled away, and you can be resurrected in Christ!”

Resurrection looks like taking the hand of someone who has lost a loved one and saying, “You are not alone.” Resurrection looks like a church who, beyond their food pantry, commits to confronting the systemic poverty that forces people into pantries in the first place. Resurrection looks like you supporting, and showing up at, the protest. Resurrection looks like you calling up a family member or an old friend and saying, “Let’s talk. I want to make things right.” Resurrection looks like you and your partner seeing a counselor. Resurrection looks like a church that partners with and invests in a socially or economically disadvantaged community. Resurrection looks like you saying I will not tolerate the violence to which God has opened my eyes to see…Because Christ has been raised. Christ Is Not Here!

So let us ask ourselves this question, What can the Resurrection of Christ speak to our world today? How can it restore us, and God’s beloved creation through us?

 


 

Bibliography

Attridge, Harold W., Wayne A. Meeks, and Jouette M. Bassler. The HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books with Concordance. San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 2006.

Boesak, Allan. Dare We Speak of Hope?: Searching for a Language of Life in Faith and Politics. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014.

Sölle, Dorothee. The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001.