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Newness of Life (Easter 2014)

. 6 min read

2014/04/20
Christ Church, Mountain Top, Easter, Communion
Prayer,
Psalm 118.1-2, 14-24
Children,
Matthew 28.1-10
Message,
Romans 6.3-11
Easter.
Resurrection. But no Walking Dead, no Umbrella Corporation, not even a zombie
unicorn apocalypse. Jesus was dead, he is now alive, he will never die again –
and he is no Zombie Jesus. And no apocalyptic summer blockbuster either.
What
is this crazy story? Myth? Metaphor? An ancient sci-fi or fantasy? Some of us
are so familiar with the story that we yawn and ho-hum our way through the
motions on Easter.
      Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed!
Alleluia!
Some
of us are here only to please a family member – and, honestly, it’s a good
thing to make momma happy (Murphy). When momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
Some of us are out-and-out skeptics, even if we show up here every week. This
resurrection thing it not simply irrational but beyond imagination. (And, I’ll
admit, I feel sorry for folks with such a stunted imagination, but I digress.)
In
Paul’s letter to the Romans, he invites powerful imagination. He takes the
story of personal transformation – something he imagines as impossible without
Jesus – and overlays it with Easter, with Exodus, and with Creation.
      With Creation (Ziesler): In chapter 5, he
talks about the human story encapsulated in Adam, the first human, the
proto-human. In Adam, all our stories are found. In Adam, we sin, and we die.
But, Paul tells us, there is a new Adam, a new proto-human, with a new story:
Jesus. In Jesus, we are righteous, and we live.
      With Exodus (Wright): Here in our main
text, Paul uses baptism language in a way that aligns with Israel’s deliverance
from slavery in Egypt through the Sea. It is only through water that we
experience God’s gift, “newness of life”. He even uses slavery language to
describe the human condition apart from the grace of God: “That we might no
longer be slaves to sin” (6.6) and “Death is no longer master over him” (6.9).
      With Easter: In the Sacrament of Baptism,
powerfully visualized in baptism by immersion, we are buried with Christ, we
die with Christ, we are crucified with Christ, we are resurrected with Christ. And,
here is where we discover that the gift and promise of Easter, and the
imagination required to appreciate it, is so huge, so much larger than we
thought.
      Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed!
Alleluia!

A
couple major stories (Katz, Eden) have been published this week on Yasiel Puig,
the “absurdly talented phenom” (Rymer) of the LA Dodgers. Last year, in his
first season in major league baseball, he hit .319 (starting when he was called
up in June), and hit .333 in the playoffs. Despite being in the minor leagues
the first two months of the season, he finished in second place for Rookie of
the Year in the National League. But this week’s stories are not about his
accomplishments in sport, but about the story of his 2012 defection from Cuba –
a story of imprisonment, assassination, death threats, human trafficking,
captivity, immigration, and drug cartels.
      In Cuba, Puig was paid $17 a month to play
baseball; after his escape, he signed a $42 million free agent contract with
the Dodgers. It’s still planet Earth, but it might as well be a whole ‘nother
world. And to pass from one world to the other, to begin a new life, he had to
go through a death.
Perhaps
Paul’s language, and the Resurrection story, is not such an irrational idea,
and unimaginable tale, as we may think. For Paul, Jesus’ death and resurrection
opens the door for us to a new life – not just in a time yet to come but
beginning now. Pope John Paul II, following Paul’s ideas long before he became
Pope, wrote his Easter Vigil 1966
poem and named Jesus “the Man who became the Body of History”. The Apostle Paul
used the same language on a much more personal tone with the Galatian
disciples: “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live,
but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live
by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal
2.19-20). Jesus’ story – death and resurrection – becomes our story as we are
“baptized into Christ”.
      Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed!
Alleluia!
Over
20 years ago, I was stuck. I needed to move in a new direction, but I couldn’t
figure out how to make a move. My father-in-law told me, “Don’t let your past
define your future.” Great advice. Difficult advice. I have learned to live by
it, learned to die and embrace new life. I have discovered for myself that it
is only possible because Jesus Christ has opened the door, because of Easter.
      Maybe you are mired in a depression you
can’t imagine ever being in the past. There is newness of life. Maybe you are
stuck in a relationship that is violent or abusive. There is newness of life. Maybe
you find yourself in a dead-end job. There is newness of life. Maybe you are
beset by self-destructive habits. There is newness of life.
      Jesus is the “body of history”. In his
death, we die to our past, whatever it is. In his resurrection, the door is
opened to an Easter future.
      Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed!
Alleluia!
The
main difficulty of the passage from Romans 6 is the language about freedom from
sin. We hear that, we look at our lives, and we conclude – nope, not yet
anyway, maybe I don’t believe hard enough (as if that were possible), maybe I
don’t try hard enough, maybe Easter just doesn’t work, or doesn’t work for me.
      What we miss when we struggle with this
language is that Paul is not talking about sin in terms of human behavior but talking
about Sin in terms of a Power, as a violent slave master, that rules and
dominates our lives with destructive and lethal force. He is using the language
of Exodus (Wright).
      Israel had lived in slavery for over 400
years. In a cataclysm of plagues and then through the water of the Sea, God
delivered them. They were no longer slaves. Pharoah no longer had dominion over
them. They were no longer subject to abuse. But they had no idea how to live as
free people. It took time. All the facts on the ground were new. The reality that
defined and shaped their life was freedom. And they had to learn to live in it.
Yasiel Puig has to learn to live in a new world. I had to learn to live in a
new future.
      Often, that’s exactly what we need to do.
When Paul describes freedom from sin in Romans 6, he is using the imagery of
Exodus to describe the power of Easter. He is speaking about the new reality
that we are no longer enslaved and dominated by Sin and Death. He is describing
the new facts on the ground, the freedom, the “newness of life” in which we are
called to live and learn. We can learn it. We can live it. Because it is no
pipe dream, fairy tale, or scifi adventure. It is based on the new facts on the
ground, on an event in history that changes everything.
As
surely as Christ is crucified, so we have died to our old way of life.
As
surely as Jesus’ tomb is empty, so Sin and Death are emptied of their power.
As
surely as Christ is risen, so we are unstuck, free to live gloriously,
victoriously.
Easter.
Resurrection. And no Walking Dead, no Umbrella Corporation, no zombie unicorn
apocalypse. But if apocalypse can mean simply the end of one world and the
beginning of something new, the end of one life and the beginning of a new one,
then it just might be the perfect word for the day.
      Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed!
Alleluia!
Resources:
John
Ziesler, 1989, Paul’s Letter to the
Romans,
London: SCM, Philadelphia: Trinity Press International.
N.
T. Wright. 2002. Romans in The New
Interpreter’s Bible, Vol X.
Nashville: Abingdon Press.
Karol
Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II). Easter Vigil
1966 and other poems.
Debra
Dean Murphy, “What Is There To Say?”, posted on the Ekklesia Project site 15
Apr 2014
“Escape from Cuba: Yasiel Puig’s Untold
Journey to the Dodgers”, Jesse Katz, 13 April 2014, Los Angeles Magazine
“No
One Walks Off the Island”, Scott Eden, ESPN
the Magazine,
17 April 2014.
“Yasiel
Puig 2.0: What to Expect from the Dodger’s Absurdly Talented Phenom in 2014”,
Zachary D. Rymer, Oct 21, 2013.