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This series will take us through big beliefs of faith, using the book Café Theology to consider the big story of God and how it affects our smaller stories of faith. We know how to “say our prayers,” but we do we know how to hear from God? Wrestle with God? Abide in God? This series will dig deeper into four aspects of prayer.
Week 5: He is Risen! Reflecting on Resurrection

This week, the Rev. Jane Ferguson teaches on the topic of resurrection and some of the reasons why it’s so fundamental to the Christian life.

In the church, we spend a lot of time talking about the death of Jesus and how important this is, but, even on Easter day, we often neglect to talk in detail about what Resurrection and Ascension might mean and how it should impact our lives. Sometimes we forget what we’re redeemed from (sin, pain, death) and gloss over grief. Or we forget we resurrection offers us (hope, new life and transformation).

In Lent, we begin our journey to Holy Week. We look ahead to Good Friday, the day that reminds us:

  • Jesus stands with us in our sinfulness. He is with us at our very worst–in our bitterness, anger, depravity and unloving ways. Jesus doesn’t shy away, but drinks the cup of suffering to the bottom.
  • In His death, Jesus really dies. He fully abandons the desire for power or influence and knows His disciples will feel lost. There was no stay of execution or last minute pardon.
  • Yes, we see God after His death in the tearing of the curtain, the eclipse. Something has happened, but no one knows what.

Then there is Holy Saturday–my favorite day in the church year because there is space for pain and doubt in a different way:

  • It is worse than Good Friday! Nothing happens. Jesus is dead and not risen. All hope is gone.
  • The Son of God Himself goes to the place of the dead.
  • Yet He is absent from the earth—and with His absence there is no hope and no future for anyone.

But this is where we begin to see that Jesus knows the depths of our pain and suffering. It means that God is not a god who keeps Himself to Himself. He is not a god who remains remote from human experience and human pain. He is a God who pitched His tent among us (John 1:14). Ruth Burrows writes of

the unutterable wonder that God too had a human birth: he came into the world as we come into it; he came to drink with us the bitter cup of humanness. He drank it to the dregs and thereby transformed its bitterness. Bitter it is, and yet sweet, for his lips meet ours over the brim
(Before the Living God, Hidden Spring, 2008/1975).
And then we reach Easter Sunday, when Mary Magdalene meets the risen Jesus at the tomb; Jesus who is transformed, different and alive, not token alive—an apparition or ghost—but fully alive.

Why is this important?

(1) The resurrection affirms and in no way negates the reality and negativity of death.

Resurrection doesn’t cancel out crucifixion or make it acceptable. There are still nails and pain, suffering and death, bewilderment (from the disciples) and real consequences. So what is true of Jesus’ resurrection is also true of ours. The risen life in Christ is a journey where there is still pain; we still have to face death, loss and separation. While we can trust that those we love, when they die, will be in good hands, they’re still not in our hands—and that still matters. As Nicholas Wolterstaff wrote after losing his son:

People do sometimes think things are more awful than they really are. Such people need to be corrected—gently, eventually. But no one thinks death is more awful than it is. It’s those who think it’s not so bad that need correcting.”
(Nicholas Wolterstaff, Lament for a Son, p.35)

(2) The resurrection defeats death, but does not do away with it.

We have to start with recognizing the agony of death before we can go here! The tension of the Christian life is we have to maintain both that death is awful and that resurrection is real. One does not cancel out the other. Our friendship to those experiencing loss, our funeral services need to stand with people in their agony AND offer hope.

In the same way that we can only really face the depths of our sin once we know we are forgiven, we can only stare death in the face when we have the light and true hope of the resurrection; otherwise, we would be overcome.

3. Resurrection proves Jesus is the Messiah.

There were many who claimed to be the Messiah, the anointed one of God. Yet to be the ‘son of God’ didn’t, to an ancient audience, indicate the second person of the Trinity, but was understood as an angelic figure or a king of Israel, or THE king of Israel–the messiah. Jesus’ ministry in many ways wasn’t was expected of the Messiah. It took the miracle of the resurrection to vindicate His claim. He was the anointed one of God (Romans 1:3-4). Not only that, but He was the divine Son of God!

4. Resurrection stops the crucifixion just being another miscarriage of justice.

Jesus’ death was a miscarriage of justice–an innocent man was crucified (cf. Matthew 27:24-25, Luke 23:46-48, 1 Peter 2:21-25). Without the resurrection, Jesus’ death is another story of injustice in action. With the resurrection, this injustice has been overcome—defeated!—and through it, men and women who ARE guilty and deserving of death can be declared innocent and set free.

5. Resurrection gives us a taste of what is to come.

Resurrection sums up the ‘now’ and ‘not yet.’ Resurrection tells us it will come, even though it’s not here yet. The Spirit works for unity, and we know we have the Spirit, but we also still see division, disunity and anger within the church. It reminds us, too, of our own healed resurrection–different, perfected, not easily recognizable, but real, physical and complete.

6. Beginning of Creation’s Renewal (my favorite reminder of the resurrection!)

Romans 8 tells us creation is groaning, waiting for renewal, as well as people. When Jesus is resurrected, He doesn’t leave His body behind–this is important. Instead, it is all redeemed. This teaches us that physicality matters. Matter matters! People’s physical health and healing is a work of redemption, a sign of God at work in the world, a taste of what is to come. And the same is true for the whole cosmos.

Jesus’ resurrection is not possible without the hopelessness and despair of His death and complete surrender. Yet through his resurrection, the power of death and evil is defeated, and we have hope for the future—for transformation, for healing and renewal, that Jesus is who He said He was and that God will deal with the demands of injustice. Through that victory, Jesus was then ascended into heaven where He is above and over every power in heaven and earth. Through His ascension, He could send His Spirit to fill us and guide us as we continue in the mission God has given us to do here on earth.

My mentor and friend once got up into the pulpit one Easter day and simply said, "It’s all true," and then sat down–a powerful sermon you can get away with only once in a lifetime. Yet it is true. And sometimes we make it more palatable and undermine this stunning, moving, life changing, world changing work of God. The power of God raised Jesus from the grip of death and that same resurrection power is the life blood of our life in Him—the inheritance which we have in Him (Ephesians 1:17-21).

Questions for Reflection
  • The resurrection is the defining moment in Christianity. Without it, Jesus died for no good purpose. Which of the points above explaining the importance of the resurrection are new to you?
  • How have you seen the tension of the pain of death and suffering with the hope of resurrection and new life in your own life?
  • Have the churches you’ve attended focused more on the death of Jesus or the resurrection? Why do you think this is?
  • Read 1 Corinthians 15. What does it tell you about the reality of resurrection and what we can look forward to?
  • Trusting God’s resurrecting power means letting go our attempts to resuscitate(!). Where do you get tempted to rely on your attempts to bring life, rather than that power of God Himself?

A Prayer for this Week

Heavenly Father, thank You that in You we have a hope that is victorious even over death itself. Help us as we face sin and suffering in this life, to do so courageously and with faith in Your power to transform and bring new life. Show us more of this resurrection power in our lives, that others might see in it the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. In Jesus’ name, amen.