Because he rose

He is risen

I love stories! I devour novels and whilst I respect beautiful, poetic language, it’s a good plotline that makes me want to hide in a quiet place and keep reading.

Part of the joy of a story is the climax moment, just a few pages before the end of the book, when everything comes together and the various strands of the story connect.  We finally find out who did it, the couple finally disclose their love for one another and kiss in the moonlight, the villain is humiliated.

We can describe the events of Jesus’ betrayal, trial, death and resurrection in Jerusalem at Passover in AD33 as ‘the Easter story’.  I’m nervous about that phrase, in case calling these historic events a ‘story’ makes them sound made up, but the real life story of what happened is the climax of the story of the life on earth of the Son of God, Jesus.

This year in my preaching at St Chads, I’ve talked about stories a lot.  In our Living Free series, we’ve seen that our identity is found in God’s story and not the scrappy first drafts of the stories we tell ourselves.  And whilst God’s story spans from before creation into our eternity with him, the events of that weekend in Jerusalem are the key moments in that story. They, more than anything else, define our story too.

The world in which we live tries to make sense of life through a whole range of other stories.  Evolutionary biologists tell the story of natural selection, how millions of years of survival shaped what it is to be human.  (I keep meaning to ask one what the evolutionary advantage is of my hair no longer growing on top of my head, but my eyebrows finding a new gear of growth in my 40s!!). There’s the story of human progress, its fragility this week perhaps best shown by the Notre Dame fire, with the majesty of such a stunning a Cathedral built 800+ years ago, collapsing in one evening.  Or the story of political confusion, with egos battling for votes, appealing to greed and fear, and often finding fault instead of listening to constructive ideas.  Or the scary story of environmental crisis, with fossil fuels running out, plastics destroying oceans and the earth warming at a dangerous rate.  Or the myth of progressive tolerance, which has turned into bitter control of anyone in possession of different views.  These stories all have reality in them but they conflict in our minds, leaving us confused. And none of them answers the deep desire of our heart – to know God and experience his forgiveness.

The Easter story has one thing which none of these stories contains: Resurrection.

No humanly invented story of experience would include such a plot twist – death seemed like the end, but Jesus rose!  And his resurrection is more than the story of one man, one miracle, one empty tomb and some baffled Romans.  His story is our story. The God who created us on earth also created us for eternity. Humans gradually improving and then ecological or violence destroying is not the end of the story. Death, decay, devastation are not the end.  The great plot twist, Jesus rising from the dead, impacts how we read the earlier story and how we look ahead, knowing the story isn’t finished.

Because he rose. What he achieved on the cross was real.  The stain of sin is washed away, the gap between us and God is bridged, the enemy is defeated, sacrificial love is more powerful than selfish hatred.

Because he rose. Our future joy is real.  Life is greater than death, hope is greater than fear, and that heavenly banquet will taste amazing.

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Cynicism or Sabbath?

Holy Saturday

“Joseph of Arimethea took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away.  Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there in front of the tomb. Matthew 27:59-61 

Waiting…

The agonising tension of not knowing, no rest without resolution.

It was the very worst Sabbath.  The day set aside for renewal, for family, for togetherness, for delight, for recovering peace with God, celebrating work completed, resting in trust, living in hope.  None of that seemed possible on that Sabbath.  The darkest day, ended at sundown, feeling like it might never rise, tomb sealed with a stone, death and evil had won, hope extinguished.

Recently when reading the Bible, I’ve attempted to engage in stories by remembering that when you’re in a story, you don’t know the ending.  Holy Saturday might be a sunny rest for us, maybe the first BBQ of the year. But it was far from Sabbath rest for Jesus’ followers. The women left sitting in front of the tomb had no idea of what would happen the next day. 

Waiting is painful, because our brains feed on the pleasure of resolution.  Think of that surge of happiness you feel when the last piece in a puzzle is found, you know a quiz answer, a story is completed, a phrase of music returns to the original chord, that is the pleasure of resolution.  At those moments of resolution dopamine in released in our brains, giving a pleasure sensation.  When things are unresolved, stories unfinished, children don’t return on time, phone calls or texts not returned, we live in tension.  Our craving for resolution leaves us uncomfortable.

Modern technology is training us to rush to resolution.  In our accelerated culture, you can sell anything that reduces the discomfort of waiting and brings quick resolution.  

God knows the end of every story, but loving us doesn’t always include disclosing his full plans when we think he should. He’s in charge, not us.

Because modern life helps us avoid waiting, we have no training for it.  When we are delayed, we rush to other ways to reduce the discomfort, one of which Is cynicism.  Cynicism is making up a negative story (usually with a dose of blame) to try and make sense of what we don’t understand.  That can be an easy way out from having to live with mystery.  

This Lent as a church, we fasted from negativity, including cynicism.  I’ve discovered that part of fasting from cynicism has been choosing not to have all the answers, not having to find a quick fix to those things that don’t make sense.

Sabbath is usually about resolution, ending the week by returning to God.  When God instated Sabbath in creation, it was because his work was finished on the sixth day.  When Jesus died on the cross, in the afternoon of the sixth day of the week, he too declared “it is finished”.  But until he rose, those he loved didn’t know what he had completed.  

Not everything is resolved in time for Sabbath, and so we find rest through trust. Choosing to leave what we cannot resolve in God’s hands ready for the start of the next week.  That Saturday must have been agony for Jesus’ disciples and the women who supported him.  They didn’t know the outcome of the story, they had no idea of the glorious history changing surprise that awaited them the next morning.

So how do we wait in trust and not cynicism?  

Are you in a Holy Saturday right now?  A situation that isn’t yet resolved, an illness that isn’t healed, a broken relationship where forgiveness isn’t forthcoming, or powerlessly waiting for a decision?

Cynicism seems like the easy way out.  Rather than wait for God’s resolution, it’s tempting to jump to create our own story, to think that knowing best is better than not knowing what’s going on.  But God has another way – the way of trust and not cynicism.  He does know the end of the story, his resolutions are better than we can imagine.  

The Resurrection teaches us that there is always hope.

Good Friday: Jesus and Blame

 

 “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth;  he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested?”  – Isaiah 53:7-9 

 

 “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”  – 1 Peter 2:23

 

This weekend is a festival to celebrate the historic events which are the basis of our hope.  Today’s very name, Good Friday is the greatest expression of what it means to live in hope and not negativity.  We re-tell Jesus’ story of the Cross and Empty Tomb to remember that our sin is dealt with, we’ve left the grave and we live in Resurrection hope.  The very worst injustice – evil crashing down on the only fully innocent man.  Death and darkness become the source of hope when God re-tells his story.

 

As a church we have fasted from negativity through Lent, committing ourselves to intentionally abstain from criticism, cynicism and blame. A key part of our fast from negativity has been to fast from blame.  Blame is a means to defend ourselves, telling a story in which I am the victim and ‘they’ are evil.

 

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes: ‘Nowadays, to win sympathy for your cause, you have to establish your credentials as a victim.  This has overwhelming advantages.  People empathise with your situation, give you support, and avoid criticising your actions.  It has, however, three drawbacks: it is false, it is corrupting and it is a denial of humanity. A victim is an object, not a subject; a done-to, not a doer.’

 

We could call Jesus a victim. An innocent man was betrayed, falsely tried, lied about and executed. Yet he chose not to behave as a victim.

 

Amidst the many beautiful ways Jesus walked through the Easter story was that he never blamed anyone. He did not open his mouth, he did not protest, he didn’t lower himself to the identity of victim or defend himself by blaming others.  The very nature of the cross was him taking on responsibility for humanity’s sin and rebellion against God, which is the very opposite of blame.

Blame is the first step of revenge, something which Jesus taught us not to do. He didn’t retaliate, he made no threats.

More from Rabbi Sacks:

“When bad things happen to an individual or group, one can either ask, ‘Who did this to me?’, or ‘Given that this has happened, what then shall I do?’…So different are these questions that they generate two modes of being: respectively a blame culture and a penitential culture.  The first focusses on external cause, the second on internal response.  Blame looks to the past, penitence to the future.  Blame is passive, penitence active.”

This is the way Jesus lived, died and rose again.

It was tempting for Jesus to look to the past and blame those who did this to him. Jesus looked to the future at who he was doing this for.

It was tempting for Jesus make himself a victim, a passive object of evil.  Jesus chose to be active, defeating evil and overcoming death.

 

Inspired by our saviour, we too can live free from blame, not just for lent but for life.  When we see pain, mess, brokenness, we can live in penitence, taking responsibility for our part. Recognising that we contribute to that brokenness and knowing that, because of the cross, we can be forgiven and they are not the end of the story.