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April 25, 2011

Romans 5:17-21

Hebrews 2:10-15

The resurrection is so central to the New Testament. You only have to read the story of the early church in Acts see that every sermon, every summary of their faith begins with the resurrection. It is the experience that established the church. They constantly refer to it.

In a very different way the Presbyterian church in New Zealandin the 20th century talked a lot about the resurrection. The subject of resurrection was hotly debated and still there are deep divisions between those who followed the arguments of Lloyd Geering and those who rejected them. In the 20th century it was a very theoretical affair, all about whether scientifically speaking the resurrection could have happened and whether the text of the bible provides reliable evidence.

In many ways it seems to me that this debate is not only an inconclusive one… but a distraction at Easter time. Mainly because the conclusions people come to are largely determined by the beliefs they bring to it. If you are basically an atheist in your orientation, naturally you will find the witness of scripture unpersuasive. And you are not likely to be in church on Easter morning. On the other hand if you believe in some way in the existence of God… in some way in a creator who sustains the universe in existence then it would be strange not to believe in the possibility of the resurrection. If God can hold the universe in existence, God can surely raise a man from death and even re-create the universe anew.

The question that we really need to grapple with is not whether the resurrection might have happened… but rather what did the event that started the movement called Christianity mean? [Leunig cartoon]

What did it mean for those whose lives it shaped forever?… And of course, what then might it mean for us?

To enter into what it meant for them we need to imagine ourselves in the locker room after the match is lost… Or in the first century in the locked upper room after their lives had been destroyed. I’m imagining the disciples sitting there in the falling dark beginning to cheer each other up. “There was nothing we could have done… realistically… they have an army”. And a little voice in their heads says to them “But you could have done what he asked… follow him to his cross”. And again someone says “Realistically, we didn’t have a chance, we would have been the laughingstock ofJerusalem. At least we got out with our lives… let me go check the door again… just to make sure it’s locked” And someone else says, “Going into Jerusalem at that time was just stupid, it was bound to bring things to a head… we need a more realistic strategy…something safer, a proper risk assessment” “The whole society is crazy… Jews are becoming more like Romans everyday.” And as they talk the protesting voice in their heads is getting fainter and fainter.

The New Testament understood the resurrection, not merely as the survival of death but as a victory over death… everywhere there is talk about death having a kind of control over our lives, it talks about the dominion of death… not only are we held by a often sub-conscious fear of death… not only do we seek to secure our lives with all sorts of protection mechanisms, we end up being caught up, individually and as a society in taking life from others, not necessarily killing them, or at least not always, but draining their life, diminishing their status and value, ignoring them because we can pretend they aren’t there.. stereotyping them… (by ‘them’ I mean the ‘others’ our ‘transgressors’). So many ways we end up taking life from others to secure our own.

On Friday night I had a dream… It was a bit like a B-grade horror movie. We discovered a dead body floating in a barrel in our basement (which is strange cause we don’t have a basement). In our shock and horror (as the dominion of death kicked in) Jan, ever the one for practical solutions, decided to boil it up, and cook it and chop up the bones into tiny pieces. Before she did so the police came round with their dogs, but they smelt nothing thanks to the water and fortunately I felt, didn’t find the body in the barrel. Like a lot of dreams it seemed to go on and on… in this case the stranglehold of death got tighter and tighter.

Let’s reflect for a while on the dominion of death in our lives

[holding stones then placing them around the cross – music Dobbyn – Roll the stone away]

Let’s share with others some of the ways we see the dominion of death in our world and even in our own life (although you may not feel able to share your personal confessions)

You can’t understand the resurrection unless you understand the experience of those first disciples who found themselves caught up in a world and a crowd and in a political moment in which one man was betrayed and abandoned for the sake of the satisfaction and security of everyone else. And they ran away. They experienced the dominion of death. That’s the background. Even Paul, probably the most influential Christian leader had the same kind of experience. Remember his conversion… He says to Jesus “Who are you?”… and Jesus defines himself with his response “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” God met him AS his victim when he was caught up in the dominion of death

Let’s go back to the locker room. The upper room with the security locks on the door and the rationalisations beginning to lock into place in their minds.

Read John 20: 19-23

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Their victim rose up in their midst…

On Friday Britta and Madison got up at 5.30 in the morning to be movie extras onKing Edward Street. To be Zombies in a movie about the end of the world – zombie apocalypse – among the walking dead. [show zombie picture]

It struck me that resurrection under the dominion of death looks like a zombie apocalypse. Those disciples in the upper room must have been terrified when their victim appeared in the room still wounded. To them he was a zombie. Until he spoke….Peace be with you…

When God raised Jesus, God vindicates him to those who abandoned him. God identifies himself with our victims…. We find ourselves to be guilty. We are judged by the one or the ones we have judged.

But the only reason we are here to tell the tale is that the victim present at our trial refuses to press charges.

The one God vindicates and acquits, the innocent one, in turns acquits us, the cycle of violence is broken.

Not just any victim addresses us with forgiveness but God the creator who transcends death, for whom death is nothing, shows us the way death consumes us and dominates us… and in a moment of great reversal, the moment we call forgiveness, invites us to share in God’s new world in which death is nothing. God invites us into a bigger world… the world of the forgiveness of sins… invites us to relax… as those who are loved even as we are, so we don’t need to prove ourselves any more, we don’t need to keep the body in the barrel, we don’t need to bow in submission to what is realistic in the current political environment. We don’t need to surround ourselves with further aftermatch rationalisations and justifications.

Instead we can confess and be glad.

This is the true voice of God… the voice that addresses us every time we share in the Eucharist

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