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Easter: Jesus comes again today

25 April 2011

Easter:  Jesus comes again today

Often, we conflate resurrection and ascension.  On the third day after his death, Jesus was raised to the right hand of the Father in heaven, and declared to be Lord.  

A consequence of this conflation is that our attention is moved from earth to heaven.   ‘Set your mind on things above, where Christ is’.  

Together with this switch to heavenly-mindedness, resurrection tends to direct our attention to what happens after death.  Jesus died and was raised to life by the Father.  So those who die in Christ will be raised after their death.   Thus, the centre of gravity in our Christian faith is not now, but our dying and life after death.  

And there is something else to note in the way we commonly think about resurrection and celebrate it.   Look through the resurrection section of any hymn book.  Can you find a resurrection hymn, ancient, modern or ultra-contemporary, that is not built on the simple pattern of death on one day reversed and overcome by resurrection?   Where are the songs that remind us that it was Jesus, who lived a distinctive significant life, who is raised?   Did Jesus simply come to die?  What his life up to his death just a vehicle to get him there, or is it significant as the action and revelation of God? 

The Gospel stories of Easter day, and the few days after that, give us a different perspective and invite us to imagine resurrection in a different way. 

Jesus comes again to the disciples, the women first.   Comes again is the key phrase.   

He had been so brutally taken from them on the cross.  So decisively taken from them by the sealed tomb.  So mysteriously lost to them when they could not find even his body.  

He had been so derisively rejected and discredited by those who scorned him.

So shamingly deserted by his disciples.  Peter went out and wept bitterly.   All the promise he had once with Jesus was now empty – he had wasted it.

On Easter day, Jesus came again to them, Jesus unrecognizable and yet recognizably the same, as Mary found at the tomb.   So strangely other, and yet accessible, as He came into the closed room where they were gathered for fear and said Peace by with you.

He walks with them, listens to their disappointment (It has all gone wrong, the enterprise of Jesus is finished, we expected him to be the Messiah…and look what has happened), talks with them, breaks bread and blesses it – and they know, It is the Lord, he has come again to us.  We have seen that breaking of bread before.  

All these are stories of Jesus coming again – and Jesus does not come again to them to say, Look I am alive and that means death is conquered.    Or to say, Look, miracles do happen.  

Jesus comes again to pick up with his disciples the work that was unfinished, the work that was disrupted by the cross.   Jesus comes again and gives them bread as he had given it to thousands in Galilee.   Jesus comes again to take them back to the beginning, showing that what he had opened up in earlier days is not abandoned as a failure.   The call to discipleship has not been invalidated, rather Jesus comes again to restate it, so we can pick it up and carry on.  

Jesus comes again to Peter who thinks he has given up Jesus for ever by his betrayal, and that he can expect nothing from him any more.  Jesus comes again to Peter,  broken by failure, and forgives him.  Jesus forgives but  not by saying, What you did does not matter.  Nor by saying, I give you closure, you can now  get on with your life.  Jesus forgives Peter by calling him again to share in his work, as he had called Peter in Galilee.  Peter has the work of Jesus still to do on earth:  Feed my sheep. 

Jesus says to all of them,  Go into all the world and preach the good news – and I am with you to the end of the age – not on the other side of the end of the age, when there is no more work to be done, no more world to care about.  

The risen Lord has no life to offer us except the life on earth he lived with the Father.   The way he followed himself and showed us in his earthly life and ministry is the way of the Beloved Son of the Father.   The resurrection does not start some new kind of religion which is different from what we see in the incarnation, ministry, teaching and suffering of Jesus.  The resurrection endorses Jesus and all he already was and did in his life on earth:  God says, That is the way:  He is my beloved Son, go with him. 

Having given us Jesus, God has nothing more to give, nothing more he wants to give, nothing else that is good and saving for us.  Jesus,  having pioneered the way of being human, from the Father, with the Father, to the Father, on the real earth, has no other way to offer us.   So Jesus comes in resurrection, and says to us:  however you have failed, however our mission has been interrupted,   it is still possible, still open to you, come follow me now, on this earth, as in Galilee, even in Golgotha.   I come again. 

Resurrection is much more than God’s affirmation of Jesus in order to contradict the judgment of the world which put him on the cross.  It is God affirming Jesus in his whole life, being and way.  When we confess Jesus is Lord, we are not praising a heavenly being with words of  glory and power.  We are accepting quite soberly, definitely, maybe fearfully, that we are called to follow Jesus who came on earth, and who comes again on earth to say,  The rule of God is close, and to sign it by doing good, feeding the hungry and healing the sick, giving good news to the poor and enlightening the blind, and who leads us in the way of the cross which proves to be unavoidable.  We cannot say Jesus is Lord if Jesus does not come again to us, take us back to the beginning and give us a second chance at being his disciples, walking with him in the world.

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