The Resurrection

The Rev. Bradford Ayers Rundlett

Acts 10:34-43
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1st Corinthians 15:1-11
Mark 16:1-8

Bienvenido, buenas dias, Dios de Bendiga, y Feliz Pascua.

It’s all pretty far fetched isn’t it? What a first century Jew from Nazareth did, and what that meant, and still means. In the creeds we profess our belief that the Supreme Being, the Creator of the universe, became human, so thoroughly human in fact that he experienced everything we humans celebrate and endure; including death – we killed the Incarnate God, we sealed him in a tomb, but he defied death, walked out of his tomb, and ascended to some place somewhere called Heaven or the Kingdom of God.

Any one who says they don’t have some serious doubts and questions about that is flying on automatic pilot. It is incomprehensible. We surrender to it, and call it faith.

Today, Easter Sunday, we are immersed in a specific tenet of our faith – the resurrection; Jesus took our sin and conquered death. And there is so much more to that than words can convey. We have to hear it like the first century Jewish people heard and understood it. As the Jewish prophets said (and said, and said) we are imperfect; we have a problem with sin. Repentance rarely sticks.

According to the Bible, Hell is not like the inside of a volcano that’s about to blow it’s top; no demons with horns and pitchforks; no flames licking your eyelids. Jesus described Hell as eternal exile from God. Yes, there is some mention of fire and brimstone, but according to Jesus Hell is cold, dark, empty and lonely.

It’s as dark as the deepest depths of the ocean, where every last photon of light is crushed to oblivion.

It’s as dark and frigid as a moonless winter night in the most remote area of the Artic.

It’s as cold and lightless as the stone tomb in which the body of Jesus was laid to rest then sealed with a huge stone that could not be removed.

What does The Holy One do with unrepentant sinners? Is Hell real? Is it a place of perpetual torment? Does God send people there? If Hell is real, is Heaven also real? And how true are our images of either?

I don’t believe any of us can say for sure what happens after our final heartbeat. Eternal punishment seems rather severe, even for the worst of sins. I’ve done some things in my life that I’m not proud of, but by any standard everlasting torment sounds excessive and unjust, especially by a merciful God whose love is so completely encompassing and apparent in Jesus.

We’ve all had thoughts and actions we should never entertain. We are unquestionably guilty. What does God do with that? What does God do with us? Does God sentence us to everlasting agony? Is Jesus’ death in vain for some of us; is his death on the cross insufficient?

Wouldn’t the God we worship be heart-broken to see us wounded relentlessly and eternally? Can God’s love for us accommodate our expulsion?

The Epistles and Gospels tell us that God had a desperate plan to keep us out of Hell and in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus took our hatred, greed, laziness, hubris, lustful objectification, jealousy, and insatiable appetite – he took our offenses – every last one of them – and our punishment, and left all of it in the dark, cold depths of Hell, setting us free to live with compassion and generosity.

For our sake a Nazarene Jew, the Messiah, the Savior of the world was beaten, ridiculed, whipped until he had hardly any skin left on his back, then nailed onto a tall, rough, wooden cross for three interminable, excruciating hours; and there he died.

God designed an infallible plan to save us; it required a sacrifice. Jesus offered to be the sacrificial paschal lamb. He did what he had to do and no one else could do; he gave his life to save us.

His lifeless body was taken down, placed in the tomb neither he nor his family could afford, sealed by a massive rock, and guarded by Jewish and Roman soldiers. What happened after that we call “the Good News.” It is the Easter event. Like Good Friday there is great irony in the word “good.” Terrible agony is enveloped in unimaginable grace. Torture and death are the means of redemption. Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension are about love beyond comprehension.

Jesus was very succinct about our resurrection and admission to the Kingdom of God. And most of what he said was in parables. Is our resurrection and welcome to eternal life anything like we hope or imagine?

Epic poets Dante and Milton; artist Hieronymus Bosch, created frightening, detailed, depictions of how most of us imagine the more dreadful afterlife to be. However, most of that and what we believe is not in the Bible.

The word “hell” comes from the ancient Greek word Gehinnom  and the ancient Rabbinical Hebrew Gehinnam which is the name given to the valley southeast of Jerusalem – The Valley of Hinnon. The Canaanites sacrificed children to their gods and goddesses there. And all of the refuse of Jerusalem flowed down to The Valley of Hinnon and settled. It was a cursed place. Hell  (as we call it) was not an “other” world or afterlife, it was a smoldering, filthy, maggot infested heap of human refuse.

Jesus referred to Gehinnam in his run-ins with smug religious leaders who paraded around in fancy vestments, made a profit from the poor, and determined who could worship in the Temple. Jesus had little patience with corrupt leaders; his message to them was “If you treat other people like trash, you are trash, and the flames and maggots of Gehinnam will have you for dinner.” In one of his parables he described Hell as self-chosen exile to the cold and dark, perpetually separated from God, family, and friends.

Our sacred texts insist that the choice is ours; not God’s. God is infinitely merciful. Jesus takes the shame and blame for our arrogance, for our failure to care for each other, especially the poor, hungry, injured, diseased, and homeless. God has given us free will to accept or reject the mercy and grace offered.

Yes the poor of this world make us uncomfortable. They challenge our priorities; they expose our selfishness.

When my younger son Ethan, good friend Scott Zetlan, and I traveled to Haiti last July to cheer all of the graduates of the central highland region where – especially the individuals we support – we visited some of the families. It was a humbling and heartbreaking experience.  I will never forget one man saying to us “We realize some people think we have no value because we are poor.”

Jesus insisted that The Kingdom of Heaven is not another place, an alternate dimension. It is a community under construction here and now, by people with enough room in their hearts for everyone else. We are not waiting for Heaven to fall down out of the sky, fully constructed, with doors open only to the select few who qualify. We are called to create Easter communities, sanctuaries of compassion in this broken world, places of grace and hospitality, with doors wide open to everyone. No one is excluded.

The Kingdom of heaven is in communities where there is respect, nutritious food, good medical care, quality education, and compassion for everyone – no exceptions.

In the Book of Revelation John of Patmos declared that people from “every language, tribe, and nation” are welcome and will inhabit the City of God. 

Christ is our judge, but the mercy of God is greater than sin. God lets us decide – cold, dark, eternal solitude, or everlasting, boundless grace, compassion, and joy.

In this glorious and challenging season of Easter the only unforgiveable sin is the one we will not let God forgive; the sin we hold onto because we want to keep doing things we shouldn’t, our refusal to admit we are wrong, or our stubborn insistence that we are so bad God will never forgive us.

Easter is not a free pass into Never Never Land or a last minute rescue from The Perfect storm. Easter is an invitation to build the Kingdom of God – right here, right now – with open doors to everyone.

Recalling our covenant with God as composed in the sacramental service of Baptism “Will you [with God’s help] proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?”

“Will you [with God’s help] seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”

“Will you [with God’s help] strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”

With open arms our Savior Christ invites all of us “Come beloved of God; inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ Our sovereign and Savior has declared, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my [sisters and] brothers, you did it to me.’

We celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on this Easter Sunday, and acknowledge that it is not a once only event, but a perpetual offering of new and unending life in Jesus Christ. It is not a one-way ticket to eternal life in the Kingdom of God; it is the promise of new life now; today. It is the challenge to embrace one another, and build communities of compassion and justice.

When the disciples asked Jesus when God’s Kingdom would come, when the resurrection of all the faithful would occur, he said only God knows. Jesus would then redirect their attention to a world that needs help now; to people desperate for true faith, love, peace, and joy.

I believe there is more to life than whatever time we have in this skin. I believe there are mysteries and wonders beyond our wildest hopes and dreams. I believe there is more than enough grace to wipe away all our sins. I believe there is more to the resurrection, more to Easter, than Jesus conquering death and ascending to heaven; more even than pearly gates, saints and martyrs, a heavenly banquet, a mansion with room enough for everyone; more than angels, archangels, cherubim and seraphim, and all the redeemed people of God. And someday we will be in Heaven to see for ourselves.

I believe as well that Easter is every moment of every day that we devote ourselves to loving God and our neighbors. It is the new life we are given today, and the new life we share. It is not fretting about tomorrow, but accepting our Savior’s promise of abundant life now.

Today is Easter. We have a Kingdom to build, people to welcome, and the gift of new life in Jesus Christ to share.

Feliz Pascua, y Dios de Bendiga.

Amen.