An odd kind of Easter
Easter is not as we expected to be is it? It’s not what we were looking forward to. Normally today we would have invited as many from the community to come and join us for a big service together at the chapel. We would have decorated the building with balloons and we would have handed out flowers and chocolates at the door.
Coronavirus stopped that. Maybe it has stopped other things too, lots of chocolate eggs, trips to the seaside, meals with family and of course bank holiday Monday football. We identify maybe less this weekend with the sense of celebration and joy at meeting the risen Jesus and more with those disciples in lockdown fearing the enemy outside. It feels like we are in a place of death and exile.
So how can we celebrate Easter? I want to take you to these words in Romans 4
“He (Jesus) was handed over to die because of our sins
and he was raised to life to make us right with God.”
I like those words because they show that it is the full Easter story that we need to fully grasp the Gospel. We need both parts of the story, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Some people are so quick to rush to Sunday that they miss that the events on the Friday were good too. Yes, Sunday is coming but on the Cross Jesus said “It is finished.” But we can lock our focus on the crucifixion and then the resurrection becomes an after-thought like the lazy ending to a story “They all lived happily ever after”, “It was all a dream” “He came back to life again.” We know that those types of ending are cliched fairy-tales, we know that this isn’t how the pandemic story will finish. So we need a better narrative that links Friday and Sunday together properly.
Jesus in the big story -faith in a promise
Now a little background and context. These verses come at the end of a chapter that has mainly been about Abraham. It’s based on Genesis 15. In that chapter, God appears to Abraham and once again promises to bless him. Abraham points out that he is childless and his servant will inherit from him. The promises look useless, as worthless as if you got tickets to the theatre for an anniversary at the moment, as pointless as winning a trip to the Safari Park.
But God shows Abraham the stars in the sky and says to him that his descendants will be like that, uncountable. Abraham believes God and his trust, belief, faith is counted to him as righteousness. Paul uses this to point that Abraham’s special status was not down to him keeping the law, he hadn’t been circumcised, he was still messing up. Yet God says that Abraham is righteous, in the right with him. Abraham trusts the promise. He has faith. Central to that promise was not just the many descendants but a specific one.
Jesus is the promised descendent, the one who brings blessing and curse not just to Israel but to the whole world. And so, we too can receive that gift of righteousness not by our effort to do good but by trusting the promise.
Abraham was right to trust God’s promise, he did have many descendants and the specific promised one came. We too can trust God’s promise in Jesus. That is why we are justified by faith. So let’s look in a little bit more detail at what that means.
I find my justification in his vindication
Jesus died for my sin and was raised for my justification. What does that mean. I think so often we tend to try and split verses apart when together they tell a holistic story. The point Paul makes here is that the whole act of dying and rising is crucial because through it Jesus does two things.
So often we have talked about this great exchange. May I return to it again. But first of all, can I show you how our present situation maybe gives us a little more insight into things. I think we often struggle with the idea that we can be affected by Adam’s sin so totally and rescued by Christ’s death and resurrection so completely. This is because our society is so individualistic. Yet we’ve begun to see that life is a lot more interconnected. We see it as people from across the political divides root for one person, the sense that Boris’s battle with the virus some-how capture’s the country’s fight. We see it in the way that just one person can bring death into a country unleashing havoc and tragedy so that our country has in a sense experienced death. We see it in households. Sarah was forced to stay home because of my sickness and had to wait for my recovery so that she could go out again.
So this gives us a little bit of an idea of how one person can represent us. Further, we have the illustration we have used more frequently of the sweet exchange. A prince meets a beggar girl who has lived a shameful life. She is dressed in rags and massively in debt. He loves her and marries her. He takes on her debt, it is reckoned to him so that he cancels it. In return he gives her full access to his wealth, his account is reckoned to her. Jesus does that for you and me.
On the Cross, Jesus died, taking the debt, the shame, the guilt of our sin on himself. He receives out punishment. However, more than that, his death is obedient. So, Jesus is innocent, more than that he is triumphant. His resurrection is a declaration of his innocence and his triumph, he has defeated sin, he has defeated death. Satan can no longer accuse. Jesus is vindicated. Vindication is another way of talking about justification. Jesus is raised from shame to honour. It is this honour, the honour of victory that we are invited to share in. His righteousness is about his just and glorious reign as king.
We were meant to rule over creation for God but we have allowed death to reign over us and over creation. Now, Jesus reigns over death. And he invites us to reign with him.
Our sermon hymn this morning is the beautiful Easter hymn “He arose…” I love this hymn because it takes us to the aftermath of the Cross.
Low in the grave He lay—
Jesus my Savior!
Waiting the coming day—
Jesus my Lord!
You see his death is very present in they hymn but he is waiting. So the chorus reminds us that he has risen and triumphed. This is picked up in the power of the lines
Death cannot keep his prey—
Jesus, my Savior!
He tore the bars away—
Jesus my Lord!
Now, I want to come back to us. First of all, the fact that Jesus has risen helps us to live through a death like experience such as a pandemic. We are waiting a coming day. However, I want to say to you today that there is more than one way to die, coronavirus lock down is not the worst thing that could happen. Imagine being subject to such a penalty not for a few months but for eternity. Jesus came so that you need not fear his judgement, need not fear death. He has come so that you and I can be raised with him to eternal life.