2016 Unity Walk: Defying Death

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The third annual Unity Walk will be held on May 1 this year.   An interfaith group of people from Trenton and throughout Mercer County (the United Mercer Interfaith Organization) have committed themselves to make a public witness to their hope in God’s desire for peace to reign throughout our city. We do this important work by traveling to all of the murder sites in our city over the past year and gathering to pray at those places. I would highly encourage you all to participate in this event to the best of your ability. As Christians we celebrate and worship a God who has conquered the power of sin and death through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. One of the central practices of our faith is an active defiance against death. When we or others might be tempted to concede to death’s power saying it is an inevitable part of life, we who follow Christ say loudly, “No!” We do not believe that death is something that ultimately needs to be accepted or that it is finally a necessary part of life. We believe that “…Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.” (1 Thessalonians 4:14).

We hear a lot about heaven in popular culture (it seems like it is mentioned in every other romantic song on the radio) and we hear about resurrection often in church. Neither is necessarily a bad thing. I highly encourage folks to enjoy their “heavenly” relationships and resurrection is pretty much what we are all about in the church. I think, however, that we get so accustomed to the idea or what we are told should be our idea of the defeat of death, that we forget how powerfully defiant the very idea is. Death is the one thing in life of which we can be absolutely certain, but in the person of Jesus Christ we cannot even be sure of that. In fact, in our faith we say that we can be certain that death’s power is certainly defeated and obsolete. It is that boldness of faith that compels us to proclaim God’s life and love in the places that seem filled with the certainty of death and fear. In his work, On Councils and the Church, Martin Luther identifies seven external marks or indicators of the church. Perhaps most interestingly, Luther identifies the final mark as:

The Sacred Cross” and describes it as the church bearing, “…every misfortune and persecution, all kinds of trials and evil from the devil, the world, and the flesh (as the Lord’s Prayer indicates) by inward sadness, timidity, fear, outward poverty, contempt, illness, and weakness, in order to become like their head, Christ. … Wherever you see or hear this, you may know that the holy Christian church is there.

The church has been entrusted with incredible good news. All sin has been forgiven, God’s mercy reigns, and Christ defeated death so that we might inherit eternal life. Many of us are keenly and personally aware of the joy that such Good News brings. Knowing the power of the Good News of God’s unconditional love we as the church are blessed with the opportunity to enter into places where there are “…all kinds of trials and evil from the devil, the world, and the flesh…” Such places certainly include the murder sites in our city. We travel to those places to witness the steadfast love of God that perseveres even in the midst of fear and violence and the grace of God that destroys the power of death itself.

Wounded without Shame

Second Sunday of Easter

Acts 5:27-32

Revelation 1:4-8

John 20:19-31

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The Piercing of Jesus’ Side by the Holy Lance of Longinus by Fra Angelico

Christ is risen! He did it! Victory over sin, death, and the devil. For a while there things didn’t look so promising for our savior. He was betrayed by his friends, abandoned by his followers, and handed over to be beaten and crucified. He is deeply wounded and those wounds left marks. His hands and feet were punctured by the crucifixion nails; his side was pierced by the soldier’s spear. Jesus is buried and descends into the dead. Finally, three days later he is raised to new life and appears to his disciples again beginning with Mary. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He has defeated the power of sin and death and has transformed it into new, abundant, and eternal life. But what does that new life look like? In Jesus- in some ways- that new life doesn’t look that much different from the old one… at least not on the surface.

The apostle, Paul, has some pretty big expectations for what the resurrection means for Christians. When we are raised from the dead we will follow after Christ’s resurrection. He is the “first fruits of those who have died.” (1 Cor. 15:20) “For as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:22). Jesus defeated the power of sin and death through his own life and death and was raised. We who are in Christ will also be raised after death. Paul then draws a parallel to the life we received from the first human, Adam, and the first fruit of the resurrection, Jesus.

So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body… Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit… The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.

-1 Corinthians 15:42-49

When we die, we die like Adam did. Dust to dust, weak, dishonored, and physically. When we are raised, we are raised as Christ was- with a “spiritual body” Paul calls it. I’d be curious about what that “spiritual body” is capable of. Do I get to fly? How old will I be in it? Will I still get hungry? Who knows? Paul doesn’t give us much of a description about what that body will be like, but he simply points us to Jesus.

So what do we find in the resurrected body of Jesus? We find his old wounds still there. When Jesus appears before his disciples, he shows them his hands that had been punctured by crucifixion nails and his side that was pierced by the spear of a soldier. This just doesn’t add up. Those marks are proof of the weakness of his human body- of our human bodies! I thought all of that weakness and perishableness of our bodies was going to be transformed. Paul said the perishable is planted, the imperishable is raised; dishonor is planted and glory is raised; weakness is planted and power is raised; the physical is planted and the spiritual is raised. When I see Jesus standing there with ugly, gaping wounds in his side and hands, my first thought isn’t “this is an imperishable, powerful, spiritual body.” It looks a lot more like a perishable, weak, and physical body. Continue reading