Text: Isaiah 65:17-25
Date: Easter + 3/31/13
Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed. Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Blessed is the eternal King who came, who comes, and who is coming again in the name of the Lord.
Today we celebrate the cornerstone event of human history, the historic fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Yes, we said, “historic fact.” St. Luke, among the other evangelists, is our fact-finding committee. As he said, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us…it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account…that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4). Today we arrive at the conclusion of our Lord’s earthly ministry in His resurrection from the dead. Without editorializing, personal opinion or emotion, St. Luke simply records for us the plain, unvarnished, unembellished facts as it happened.
Nevertheless some, even many, question to this day the factualness of Jesus’ resurrection. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to us. How many people who have not heard or been taught the inspired words of the Bible, nor been moved by the Holy Spirit through those words to believe their message, how many consider “religion” and matters of faith to be but a fantasy, only one’s personal, private, almost self-manufactured opinion. With Pontius Pilate they dismiss any claim of universal, objective Truth and wallow at the mercy of relativism.
We shouldn’t be surprised at this, however. For, actually, it was the first disciples themselves who, upon hearing the report of the women, dismissed the outrageous claim of an empty tomb, a missing body and the appearance of two angels who tried to explain, “He is not here, but has risen.” St. Luke tells us “these words seemed to them an idle tale,” so much humbug, “and they did not believe them.” Even after Peter ran to see for himself, he went home merely “marveling at what had happened,” hardly a description of a strong, emboldened faith. And that fact is the part of the story that actually supports the historicity and factualness of it all, for unlike a fantasy or manufactured tale that would certainly rather portray the first disciples as strong, triumphant believers, they are shown as doubting and slow to believe. Wouldn’t you be, also?
I believe it appears to be the invention of the Washington Post newspaper to award politicians or other public speakers who are not telling the truth two, three or four “Pinocchios” depending on the severity of their lying. The fictional character Pinocchio, of course, created by Carlo Collodi, was a puppet made of wood who became a real boy, but, when he told a lie you could tell because his nose grew in relation to the size of the exaggeration or untruth. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Washington Post would give the Christian celebration of Easter as many as five Pinocchios or more. But St. Luke says, “No, there are no Pinocchios. These are the things that have been accomplished among us.”
Okay. So we who have come here today don’t question the fact of Jesus resurrection. And so we need to know today also that Easter is not only about the fact of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. It is also the door through which we can see and begin to receive the eternal life He came to give us. And there, it seems, “just-the-facts” St. Luke doesn’t help us much.
What is that new, eternal life, and when does it happen? For that we listen to the prophet Isaiah today where the Lord God says, “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth.”
Near the end of Isaiah’s prophecy the Lord God uses the return of God’s people from captivity to their true home, Jerusalem, to speak, at the same time, of the goal of His saving work of the whole world, in the words of Revelation, “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev 21:2). The great and surprising thing about Easter is that this eternal life, while spoken of as a future event, begins already now in the lives of God’s New Testament people, already here while still surrounded by sin and death.
The first amazing thing about the new heavens and new earth of God’s creation is that it will be so glorious and all consuming that, God says, there will be no thought of our former struggle with sin and death. I’m not sure if this means it will be as if our memory will be totally wiped out or whether, though we may recall the former things, they will be considered just that: former, no longer an occasion of mourning or concern. For now, in this life of faith, recreated in Christ Jesus, we certainly still struggle both with current sin and the memory of past sins. Our joy in God’s gift of new life seems at least tempered for now, if not tested to the breaking point. But the hope that we have been given, living as if we believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, gives a new, godly confidence and peace.
The women and disciples were mourning a death that first Easter day. To highlight Luke’s words, they were perplexed, then frightened, then doubting, misbelieving and only marveling. We too at times are perplexed, maybe frightened and even doubting our faith—especially in these last days when protests, challenges and judgments are made publicly, not against all religion, but, it seems, only against Christianity. The reasons vary from raw secularism to the deteriorization of fundamental issues of morality, sexual identity and even the otherwise serious discussions of redefining God’s creation of marriage. Of course God isn’t allowed to be part of that discussion!
When God declares, “Behold I create new heavens and a new earth, the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind,” He means He will save, redeem and re-create not only the heavens and the earth but ourselves. It is only in the remembering of our new identity and status in the risen Christ that we can continue to live lives of faith and holiness even in contrast to and struggle with the sinful world around us.
God describes the joy of His new creation as a perpetual state both for the Church and for God Himself. Through Isaiah God described only the limitation of the power of death, saying, “No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill not his days.” The better, Good News of Easter, however, is not only a limitation of the power of death, but the death of death itself in the life everlasting.
As members of God’s new creation, now through His Word God creates in us a new heart and a new will so perfectly aligned with God’s will that He will hear the slightest emotion of prayer in the heart, the half-uttered prayer, and will at once fulfill it. “Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.”
Back in “the day,” the day of creation, of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, they used to pet wolves and lions. It was only as the serpent interrupted them that things changed. Wolves and lions now eat one another and livestock and lambs. They are wild and untamed (that is, unless we are now talking about the Cubs and Tigers opening day tomorrow!) But God saved us then with the promise of a Savior, saying to the tempter,
“Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life (Gen 3:14). Now comes a day when, not just for “all the days of your life” but, at the end He says to him, “and dust shall be the serpent’s food,” like forever!
On Ash Wednesday you will recall we were all reminded of the truth, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Today that has all been reversed, forever! We say in the words of the Psalm, “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord” (Ps 118:17).
You know, I always thought the story of Pinocchio had a good ending, being returned to be a beloved puppet of his maker. Our ending, however, will be better—for it will be but the beginning as God’s beloved creation. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them…. …and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 2:19; 4:24).
Easter. The Lord is risen. He is risen, indeed. And we, too, shall arise as the scripture says. “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Blessed is the King who came, who comes, and who is coming again in the name of the Lord.