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Love, Death, Resurrection

Date: 20/04/2014/Speaker: Rev Miak Siew

Matthew 28:1-10
28:1 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.
28:2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.
28:3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.
28:4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.
28:5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.
28:6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.
28:7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”
28:8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
28:9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.
28:10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

John 20:1-18
20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.
20:2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
20:3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.
20:4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.
20:5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.
20:6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there,
20:7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.
20:8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;
20:9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.
20:10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.
20:11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb;
20:12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.
20:13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
20:14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.
20:15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
20:16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).
20:17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
20:18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Hallelujah! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!

Through the 40 days of Lent, through the events of Holy Week – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday – we finally arrive at Easter Sunday.

Easter is the central to the Christian faith. Yet, we often rush through to Easter, focusing on Resurrection without putting Resurrection in the context of Love, Death and Crucifixion. It is like flipping to the end of the book to find out what happens at the end without reading how we got to the end.

I wonder how many of you like spoilers? I don’t. Especially when someone tells you “Dumbledore dies!” or “I am your father!” But for the story of Holy Week, the story of Easter, we are happy to have the spoiler – Jesus is resurrected, love conquers death and we live happily ever after.

Too often, we are so familiar with a story it becomes “meh” to us. It loses its significance. After all, familiarity breeds contempt. “So what?” we would ask. Or “I already know lah, you don’t have to repeat yourself.” We repeat it so often that unfortunately instead of becoming second nature, it comes going through the motions. “This is my body broken for you, this is my blood poured out for you. Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus said. Do we really remember? Or is it a weekly ritual we just go through the motions? When we are called to reflect on our sins, our transgressions, do we really reflect, or do we just wait impatiently for the celebrant to get over and done with and break the silence?

Can we revisit the story of Easter as though we are going through it for the very first time? Can we encounter God in the communion, can we re-encounter Easter again for the very first time?

I, too, had to approach these passages again as though I read them for the very first time. As I was preparing for this sermon, I realized that the lectionary passages were the same passages as last year’s Easter. I preached last year, and I, too, had to re-counter these passages.

Something struck me when I read my sermon last year – Mary didn’t recognize Jesus when he first appeared to her. She only recognized him when he called her name “Mary!” and she exclaimed “Rabbouni!” She only saw him as the gardener. How often are we so focused on work, on tasks, that we see people only as their function, instead of seeing them as human beings?

I was reflecting at the end of the day on Good Friday with the Prayer of Examen and I realized I did exactly that. I heard Heather singing Were You There? in the congregation on Friday and it moved me to tears. I thought it would be wonderful to have her open the Easter Sunday service. I spoke to Heather immediately after Good Friday service and asked her if she could do it. And I totally ignored Mark. I didn’t even say I. I was so focused on the task that I didn’t “see” Mark. All that mattered was what was needed to be done. We need to be reminded that is not Jesus’ way. We are to see each other – and relate with each other. Our God is a God of relating, of relationships.

I invite you to join me as we revisit Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday before we celebrate Easter Sunday.

The night of Maundy Thursday – the night where Jesus broke bread and shared the cup with his friends in the upper room, the night he washed his disciples feet, the night where Jesus gave us a new commandment – ” “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you” – was also the night of Jesus betrayal. We often forget about that.

I don’t think Judas followed Jesus because he thought he would profit from it. I think he did, at least in the beginning, believed in what Jesus taught. Along the way, he changed.

Perhaps he got greedy. He kept the purse for the group, and he helped himself to it. It started with a little bit here, and a little bit there. First it was one or two coins, then a few more, and then it got serious. He dipped into the purse more and more – just like how many things start small and grows into something that is out of control. Like addictions, and infections, and diseases. Just like how power corrupts, and we slowly get eaten away by that power. Judas had power over the purse. And perhaps that corrupted him. Or did the purse have power over him? And soon, he would be willing to betray everything he used to believe in for 30 pieces of silver.

Are we, sometimes, like Judas?

Perhaps he became disillusioned. Jesus could perform miracles – heal the sick, multiply the loaves and fishes, and even raise the dead. Why didn’t he just make things right once and for all? Why doesn’t he just kick out the Romans and restore Jerusalem? Why doesn’t he set them free from foreign occupation? Judas perhaps lost faith and hope – he wanted things to change and he wanted things to be different, immediately. But all Jesus did was promise more trials and tribulations. Maybe he just lost it, and thought to himself, “I don’t believe I can change the world. I don’t even believe that Jesus can change the world. This has no meaning, and I am giving up.” So he went to the chief priests and asked “What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?”

In some translations, and in the words we use during communion, we read it as “betray him to you.” That is appropriate translation in this context but the Greek word ” paradidōmi” actually means “to give, hand over to another.”

It is easy to cast Judas as the villain. I think people vilify Judas because they are trying to avoid seeing themselves in Judas. The more extreme they caricature Judas, the more they hide the truth – anyone of us can become Judas. I am as susceptible to becoming corrupt as you are, just like Judas. It is not easy following Jesus – it is easy to profess our faith – but it is not easy to live out our faith.

It is easy to choose the easy way out. It is always tempting to go for instant results, instant gratification. But Jesus’ way is not the easy way. It is the way of tears, of blood, of pain, of sacrifice.

Will we, somewhere along the line, give up on Christ and give Christ up? For 30 pieces of silver? For a partner? For a career? For fame? For acceptance? For glory?

Before we say, “I will never betray Jesus. Never!” Let us remember, that the person he trusted his ministry to – the ROCK – his disciple Peter, said the same thing, just 2 chapters before in Matthew 26:35 “Even if I must die with you, I will never deny you.” Yet, he did. Three times. We, too, will fail, every now and then.

One of the reasons we are called to remember the meal on Maundy Thursday, is not only remember God’s love and forgiveness, and what Jesus did, but also remember the darker side – the betrayal. We are called to reflect on our sins, our transgressions, so we can be reminded where and when we fail, and we can change.

God already knows that we will fail now and then. We are not perfect. But the grace of God – our prodigal Parent – embrace us and wastefully pours unconditional love onto us.

Even Judas was at the table, and Jesus washed even Judas’ feet. That is the depth, the width, the length of love.

Then when Jesus was handed over, given up to, betrayed, he was crucified. We arrive at Good Friday. What does Good Friday mean to you?

How many of you have watched Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ?” I haven’t. I don’t like blood, I don’t like gore. That also explains my discomfort with worship songs that go “washed by the blood,” or “died for my sins.” Even our worship song today “Because He lives” – we have “He lived and died to buy my pardon” which I asked Kenny to change it to “He lived and died, to give me freedom.”

It is difficult, challenging and unsettling to question what some people may consider as a belief that is central to the Christian faith. But the theory of substitutionary atonement (also known as the satisfaction theory of atonement) only came about in the last years of the 11th century – it was developed by Anselm of Canterbury in his work Cur Deus Homo (“Why God Became Human”), written between 1094-1099.

Pauline in her sermon last week talked about atonement as at-one-ment with God – our reconciliation with God. These theories explain how that reconciliation works.

There are other theories of atonement. Abelard, a contemporary of Anselm, came up with the theory of moral influence – Jesus came to show the way how to be – “The Way” – how we are called to live out our lives.

I think it is my responsibility to expose the problems of the theory of subsitutionary atonement.

John Dominic Crossan critiques the theory of substitutionary atonement:

“God was offended by human sin, and because that sin was a human affront to divinity, no adequate satisfaction was possible. Therefore, in his mercy, God sent his only begotten Son to suffer and die in our place. That is why Mel Gibson’s film is two hours of unspeakable suffering as Jesus bears punishment for all the sins against God since the dawn of creation. In that theology, God is imagined as a Divine Judge who can no more forgive everyone than a human judge could walk into the courtroom and forgive all those under indictment.

Notice, however, that the traditional metaphor for God is Father rather than Judge, and that in human courts we expect a father to recuse himself from judging his own child. We do not think one can be Judge and Parent at the same time.

My purpose here, however, is not to highlight the transcendental conflict between Divine Parent and Divine Judge, but rather to point out the confusion in that theology between sacrifice, substitution, and suffering, as well as the mistaken presumption that whenever the New Testament mentions the sacrifice of Jesus, those other two aspects must and do accompany it.

Human beings have always known two basic ways of creating, maintaining, or restoring good relations with one another— the gift and the meal. Both the proffered gift and the shared meal represent the external manifestation of an internal disposition, and both events have their delicate protocols of what and whom they involve and when and why they take place.

These elements of the gift and the meal came together in animal sacrifice. How was one to create, maintain, or restore good relations between a human person and a divine being? What visible acts could do that with an Invisible Being? If by gift, the animal was totally destroyed, at least as far as the offerer was concerned. No doubt the smoke and the smell rising upward symbolized the transition of the gift from earth to heaven and from human being to God. If by meal, the animal was transferred to God by having its blood poured over the altar and was then returned to the offerer as divine food for a feast with God. In other words, it was not so much that the offerer invited God to a meal, but that God invited the offerer to a meal.

That understanding of sacrifice clarifies the etymology of the term. It derives from the Latin sacrum facere, that is, to make (facere) sacred (sacrum). In a sacrifice, the animal is made sacred and given to God as a sacred gift or returned to the offerer as a sacred meal.

Sacrificial offerers never thought that the point of sacrifice was to make the animal suffer or that the greatest sacrifice was one in which the animal suffered lengthily and terribly. Whether for a human meal or a divine meal, an animal had to be slain, but that was done swiftly and efficiently— ancient priests were also excellent butchers. Likewise, sacrificial offerers never thought that the animal was dying in their place, that they deserved to be killed in punishment for their sins but that God would accept the slain animal as substitutionary atonement or vicarious satisfaction. Blood sacrifice should never be confused with or collapsed into either suffering or substitution, let alone substitutionary suffering. We may or may not like ancient blood sacrifice, but we should neither caricature it nor libel it.

Think about how we ordinarily use the term “sacrifice” today. A building is on fire, a child is trapped upstairs, and the firefighter who rushes in to save him manages to drop the child safely to the net below. Then the roof collapses and kills the firefighter. The next day the local paper bears the headline “Firefighter Sacrifices Her Life.” We are not ancients but moderns, and yet that is still an absolutely acceptable statement. On the one hand, all human life and all human death are sacred. On the other, that firefighter has made her own death peculiarly, especially, emphatically sacred by giving her life up to save the life of another. So far so good. Now imagine if somebody confused sacrifice with suffering and denied that the firefighter had made a sacrifice because she died instantly and without intolerable suffering. Or imagine if somebody confused sacrifice with substitution and said that God wanted somebody dead that day and accepted the firefighter in lieu of the child. And worst of all, imagine that somebody brought together sacrifice, suffering, and substitution by claiming that the firefighter had to die in agony as atonement for the sins of the child’s parents. That theology would be a crime against divinity.

It is certainly correct, therefore, to call Jesus’s death— or in fact the death of any martyr— a sacrifice, but substitution and suffering are not the point of sacrifice. Substitutionary atonement is bad as theoretical Christian theology just as suicidal terrorism is bad as practical Islamic theology. Jesus died because of our sins, or from our sins, but that should never be misread as for our sins. In Jesus, the radicality of God became incarnate, and the normalcy of civilization’s brutal violence (our sins, or better, Our Sin) executed him. Jesus’s execution asks us to face the truth that, across human evolution, injustice has been created and maintained by violence while justice has been opposed and avoided by violence. That warning, if heeded, can be salvation.”[1]

When we subscribe to substitutionary atonement, we are crucifying Jesus all over again. We are, at the end of the day, treating his Death as a get out of jail free card. We can still be grateful for the get out of jail free card, but it still follows Deuteronomic theology of a God of retribution. It does not line up with a God of Love, Grace and Mercy.

Challenging the theology of a God of retribution, the Divine Judge who punishes, where everything that happens to us is framed with a reward and punishment, didn’t start recently. Jesus challenged that too.

In Luke 13, some people told Jesus “about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.” In plain English, Pilate executed some Galileans who were fulfilling their religious duties.

Jesus replied to them “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?” They did not just tell Jesus what happened. They wanted to know if these people who died deserved to die because they were more guilty. After all, they were carrying out their duties to worship God. How can God allow them to be killed? They were concerned about what they think is the justice of God. They were not really worried about those who died – they were worried for themselves – after all, if those who were offering sacrifices were killed, what about them?

Jesus goes on further and speaks of the incident of the tower of Siloam collapsing, killing 18 people. He asks them if they thought these 18 were “worse offenders” than others.

We often ask the same questions when bad things happen to people. Did they deserve it? When natural disasters hit, and thousands are killed, we often ask, “Did they somehow deserve it? Is it a form of divine justice?”

Jesus’ reply is “NO!”

The basis of this line of reasoning, that somehow people deserve the things that happen to them, is based on the idea of a God of Retribution. This is our wrong concept of Divine Justice. Justice is NOT retribution. Retribution is NOT justice.

Good things should happen to good people, bad things should happen to bad people. But that is our human concept. Jesus’ “No!” is telling. This is not the correct understanding of God. The concept of a Retributive God contradicts the concept of God as love.

This radical God of Love – who took human form to be amongst us, who chose to be a servant instead of a king, who chose the difficult path, instead of the easy path, the one who rejected Satan’s temptation for instant success and instead chose to drink from the cup of pain – this is the God of Easter, and the God of Love, the God of Resurrection.

The stone has been rolled back – but not by our power. When Mary finally recognizes Jesus, Jesus says to her, “Do not hold on to me.” Imagine – here Mary was, weeping and grieving at the death of her beloved friend and teacher, thinking that she will never see him again, and when she finally recognizes her, he says, “Do not hold on to me.”

We are not to hold on to Jesus because resurrection is something that is meant to be experienced. It is something that gives you new life, so that you can pass that new life on. It is something that gives you love and that love sustains you in the darkest moments, through your valleys of death. It is the living water that never runs out.

“Do not hold on to me” but to go out and be that living water that brings resurrection and new life to everyone and everything around you.

“Do not hold on to me” as though the Risen Christ is an idol – that is idolatry, but live out resurrection as a disciple.

Are we going to put Jesus back into the tomb, or are we going to embrace our call as followers of Christ and live our resurrection?

We need to be followers of Christ not just in word but in deed. We need to remember this story – the story of Easter – and allow it to give us life – resurrect us – so that we can live out fully, and abundantly even when things are not going well.

We may start from love, but that doesn’t mean we will not be tempted to give up, to not follow the Way of Christ, to take the easy way out instead of persevering through the difficult times.

I remember – a little more than a week ago, when I told myself, “Nobody will come for Good Friday service. Why bother?” “You are burning out, just skip Good Friday.” And then I realized what I was doing – giving myself excuses from doing what I should be doing. And I realized what I must do.

We have gone through Love on Maundy Thursday, Betrayal and Death on Good Friday and Resurrection today, may you always remember – even though we start from love – that does not mean we don’t get betrayed and we don’t give up once in a while, we do things that instead of giving us life but instead give us death. We need to remember, at the end of it all, like what Gwee said – when we get to the end, that Resurrection and Love have the last word.

Alleluia! Christ has risen! Christ has risen indeed!

[1] Crossan, God and Empire, 139–141.