Saturday, 9 April 2016

Hope is kindled!

One of our boys talks in his sleep. We were on holiday, had been watching The Lord of the Rings, and were sharing a room in a B and B, when our comatose 12-year-old declared: ‘Don’t worry mummy. Hope is kindled!’

The resurrection of Jesus gives hope

1.      It gives hope to people who are crushed

The first followers had lived for Jesus. They had put their trust in Jesus.  They had hoped that he was the Messiah. ‘We had hoped that he was the one who would redeem Israel’, say these two people as they walk on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus.

And the Messiah, for Jews, was the one who would come as God’s ruler. He would establish God’s kingdom of peace and justice. He would not die, but would bring an end to death. And when he reigned, those who had died would rise. There would be a general resurrection from the dead – some to eternal glory, some to eternal shame.

These followers had staked their life on the conviction that Jesus was the Messiah.

And now he was dead.

The dementors of Harry Potter suck out all hope from their victims.
But we don’t need dementors to do that. Death does that. It crushes us. It leaves us desperately empty on the inside.

Now we might have said to them: “You don’t need to despair: ‘Jesus body is in the tomb, but he is not dead. His Spirit is alive. And you will go to be with him in heaven.”

That is what many people would say today. We have this vague idea that on death the spirit is released from the body. It will be free. And what happens to the body does not matter.

It is the sort of belief that is behind poems like Mary Frye’s poem ‘Do not stand at my grave and weep’:

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint on snow.
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die!

And that assumption of dead bodies but free spirits has crept into Christian theology, like the camel that shoved its way into the tent.

So the argument goes: When Jesus died, his body was put in the tomb; but his Spirit was free. All this talk about resurrection of the body makes God into a magician who does conjuring tricks with bones, as one former Bishop of Durham so memorably put it. And it is not necessary. Even if Jesus’ body is in some ancient grave, we can still say that Jesus is alive.

But we have to understand that that was not the Jewish belief.
It was not an option for the first followers of Jesus
And I would say that it is not an option for us:
In the creed we declare, ‘We believe in the resurrection of the body’.

Those two people on the road to Emmaus could never have said ‘Jesus is alive’ while his body was in the grave.
They were far more materialistic, and – to be honest – far more realistic than us.
For them, the Spirit and the body were totally connected. The Spirit could not live apart from the body. And the body could not live apart from the spirit. It is like, to use an analogy that Tim has used before, your computer hardware and software. The software without the hardware is useless. The hardware without the software is a piece of junk. You need both. So when Jesus died on the cross – he was dead.

And so you can imagine their confusion when the women tell them that the body of Jesus was missing and that angels had told them that Jesus was not dead but alive.

That is what they are talking about on their way home to Emmaus: ‘We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel’ (v21), they say to the companion who has joined them as they walk along. ‘And now, to make matters worse, some women are saying that his body is missing and that angels have told them that he is alive (v23). But, they add, nobody has seen him’ (v24).

If you were Jesus, wouldn't you just long to say: ‘Hello! It’s me!’
He doesn't. Instead he invites them to think, to really think through what the prophets in the bible said about the Messiah: that the Messiah would first suffer ‘these things’ (v26) and then enter his glory.

And as Jesus spoke to them, we are told that a fire began to burn deep in their hearts. It was a fire that nothing was going to put out – not suffering, persecution, disaster or tragedy. It was a fire that made them get up and go back, (it was about 11 miles), to Jerusalem to tell the others.

It was the hope that – as God had promised - Jesus was alive, not just spiritually, but physically.

Jesus had risen from the dead. The Messiah has come. And notice has been served on decay and death

I pray that you might have some sort of experience when the word of God, the power of God breaks into your life. You are crushed and broken. You are cold and weary. But then, a glimmer of light breaks in. It may be sudden and dramatic. It may be gradual. It doesn't matter. But hope is kindled. And you are set on fire.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, had that sort of experience:
 “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

It is not just famous old Christians like him! I was speaking to a young woman yesterday. She is getting married here. And she told me how she was crushed. She hadn't any church background, but a friend invited her to go to Great Barton Freedom Church. She went along and God touched her. She spent the entire service in tears. Since then she, and her fiancée, worship regularly and they have now been baptised.

A fire was kindled in her heart

2.      The resurrection of Jesus gives us hope for our bodies and for this created world

It was Jesus’ body that rose from the dead.

God didn't give Jesus a completely new body. He took Jesus’ old body, the body that had been pierced with nails, and transformed it. Yes, it was very different (the two disciples didn't at first recognise him, and the risen Jesus was able to eat fish and yet also appears and disappears at will), but there was continuity between the old and the new.

The resurrection of Jesus shows us that God will take the stuff of this world and he will transform it.

And that is really important because it means that this material world matters, and what we do in it and with it matters.
It is not just about our ‘inner life’, our ‘sense of identity’ or ‘happiness’, our ‘spirit’. It is not just about saving people out of this material world so that they can be with Jesus in heaven.
It is also about the transformation of this material creation.

This created world is a gift from God, and it needs to be treasured.
And that means that what you create, make, repair, sow or stitch, paint, carve, write, cook, build, plant matters. How you do it matters. For whom you do it matters.

You can use the stuff of this world for yourself
Or we can treat it as a gift of God. We can delight in it and shape it, but we do it with deep gratitude, integrity and justice. We use it to bring glory to God.
Because one day God will take this creation, this matter, and he will transform it.

And because it was Jesus’ body that rose from the dead, our bodies also matter.

Your body has a precious dignity and an astonishing potential destiny.

What we do to and with our body matters.
One of the deep tragedies about the sexual revolution is the fact that people, in pursuit of experience or self-expression or passion, end up doing things to their body or allowing things to be done to their body that shows no respect for the dignity of their body.
You may hate your body and wish you have a different body. You may have tried to harm your body. You may try to reshape your body into the way that you think it should be (or others think it should be).
But I would counsel caution.
Yes, we live in a fallen world, with imperfections and flaws and weaknesses. And our bodies are imperfect, flawed and weak. But I beg you, treat your body well. Because you are precious and it is precious.

And one day – on that final day when the Messiah returns in glory - just as Jesus’ broken body was resurrected and transformed, so God will take all that remains of our bodies, that scattered dust, and (don’t ask me how) he will use that dust to give us new bodies: bodies that have some continuity with the old body, but that are transformed, completely soaked, in the glory and radiance of God.

Because of Jesus’ bodily resurrection, we know that the stuff of this world matters.

Is that why, it was when Jesus took bread and broke it, that the eyes of these two people were opened?

It was not the rumours of the resurrection that convinced them
It was not their reasoning about the empty tomb and the grave clothes
It was not even the preaching of the word: Jesus revealing the scriptures to them
It was something that he did with bread

Maybe as he broke the bread, his robes rode up and they saw the scars on his wrists.
Maybe as he broke the bread they remembered how he had broken bread only a few days earlier and said, ‘This is my body’.

We don’t know. What we do know that as he broke the bread they realised that the one who had been with them was the risen Jesus.

And in a few minutes we will do something with bread. We will take it, remember Jesus’ words, give thanks to God for it, break it and eat it.

And I pray that as we do that he will open our eyes.
We will see a small piece of bread but we will also see Jesus, who gives us bread, who shares bread and who will one day transform bread.

And that hope will be kindled – the hope that one day the Messiah, the resurrected Jesus will return, that the dead will rise, and that this bread and this creation, including our bodies, will be transformed, and will be filled with the radiance of the glory of God.  

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