The rhythms of life and death21 Apr 2019

Bible Readings Psalm 118:14-24, John 20:1-18
and 1 Cor 15:9-20.

‘You who seek life in death, 

Now find it in air that once was breath, 

New names unknown, old names gone, 

Till time ends bodies but souls go on, 

I’ve just finished reading the book “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi and this poem graced the beginning. I’s an auto biography of a brilliant young man who, even from a young child, had a yearning to understand the deep meaning of life, meaning he believed could only be found in the intersection of life and death. This yearning took him on a journey into literature and philosophy in which he gained masters degrees. Paul found that whilst words could express the deep meaning of life it wasn’t really fulfilling his need to understand the intersection of life and death…  

So he went back to studying, this time as a Dr. but it wasn’t until he started specializing in Neuro surgery and neuro science that he began to find the meaning he was looking for. The brain being the organ that determines how our bodies, our emotions, our thoughts and our feelings are lived out fascinated him… but more than that he came to see the reality of the deep connection between life and death. A reality he often held in the decisions he made for his patients…He came to understand that we never fully appreciate the value of life until death comes into close view. 

His search also brought him back to the Christian faith, which he abandoned for many years in favour of science, but over time he found that while science could do many things it left gaps when it came to the central aspects of human life such as love, fear, hope, beauty, striving, envy, weakness, suffering and virtue. Christianity with its central values of sacrifice, redemption and forgiveness provided him with a far more compelling way of living out life.    

He not only understood this as a Dr. tragically at 36 yrs old, a Professor in his field with a promising future ahead of him he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, so he came to understand first hand the intersection of life and death and battled to live his life to the full to the end. His wife wrote at the end of the book “Paul’s decision to look death in the eye was a testament not just to who he had been in the final hours of his life but who he had always been.”  

He saw the rhythms of life, death and resurrection life in a very profound and personal way.   

Resurrection life, its what we celebrate today…Karoline Lewis observes “where resurrection really matters is when it matters for you and for me.” It might be the death of a dream; it might be when you attend the funeral of a loved one. It might be when you face your own death. Resurrection is personal.  

Today I invite you to sit with the questions where does resurrection life matter for me?  Where does resurrection life matter for us? What are our resurrection stories?  

Today I invite you to take in both sides of the cross, death and resurrection life because we live in the rhythm of the cross each and every day. I invite you to think about where the cross impacts your life…because at the end of the day it’s the reality of Jesus Christ meeting us in our lives that gives Easter Sunday its fullest meaning.  

Today we’ve heard John’s version of Mary Magdalene’s resurrection story and a brief bit Paul’s resurrection experience.  Jesus breaking into their world… powerfully, unexpectedly tipping their lives upside down through the reality of resurrection life.  

But let’s zoom in and focus mostly on Mary Magdalene…This is Mary’s personal response to the rhythms of death and resurrection life… 

It’s stunning to see that Mary’s encounter with the resurrected Jesus doesn’t come out of her incredible faith or belief. No, Mary’s a woman in grief, a woman who is totally bereft, a woman who’s been left lost and confused by the tragic horrific events of Easter Friday. Events that ended with Jesus dead and the disciples scattered….  

Mary Magdalene was feeling the full force of the sting of death as she came to the tomb that Easter morning, she’d experienced the reality of Easter Friday with all the grief and confusion sudden death brings, weighed down even more by the unjust manner in which Jesus’ life had been ripped away. She’d numbly gone through the motions of Easter Saturday that place between the grieving of what was before the reality of resurrected life was visible… 

Early on that first Easter Sunday morning… Mary wrapped in the gloomy cloak of grief stumbles through the dark to Jesus’ tomb. The light hasn’t yet broken forth over the horizon, she reaches the tomb only to find the stone had been rolled away… 

the tomb was empty… 

For those of us reading with a detective eye we might say… the empty tomb, Mary that’s good news, its an early supernatural sign of the resurrection…  

But for Mary, it just added to her grief and confusion…. At a loss to know what to do she rushed to tell the disciples that Jesus had been taken away, she believed his body had been stolen adding insult to her already injurious grief.  

The others came, saw and went but Mary stayed at the tomb and wept, oh how she grieved…. 

In that place of cutting pain and honesty, that utter aloneness that death often brings Mary wept for all that was lost, her precious Lord, her shattered dreams, her future hope….  

And yet it was in that place of cutting pain Mary was about to experience the reality of resurrection life, the reality of her resurrected Lord coming back for her…  

Can we get a hold of this? Can we grasp when God seems totally absent, He might be closer than we know. When God seems totally dead, he might be doing his greatest resurrection work in our lives?      

As Mary wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb something caught her eye... two Angels sitting at the head and feet of where Jesus had been laid… they ask her the obvious “woman why are you weeping?” 

Again, for the detectives among us this is the second sign that there was something supernatural going on… Mary still can’t see, her sight dimmed by dark lenses of grief and despair… 

Mary hears something behind her, startled she turns to see a stranger.  This stranger kindly asks… “Why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?”  

Jesus and the Angels didn’t need to know who Mary was weeping for, Jesus didn’t need to know who Mary was looking for, these questions were for Mary, these questions were helping her to express the reasons for her grief, these questions were getting her ready to move from death to resurrection life… 

Stop and think for a moment. Do we notice the things and the voices God might be using to call us into new life? 

Mary’s vision blurred by her grief assumes he’s the gardener “they’ve taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they’ve put him, if you know please tell me.”  

Persistently holding on to her grief and her bereft belief that Jesus’ body had been taken away, her reality shaped by what she saw… Mary pleads with this person to tell her where they’ve taken him… 

How do you think it was for Jesus at that moment? He knew his resurrected life was about to change Mary’s future dramatically but in that moment he lived the reality of her grief and despair for him. 

Mary’s grief must’ve hit Jesus in a deep place as he simply calls her name… “Mary” …and in the calling of her name … “Mary”….Mary suddenly recognizes her Lords voice and turns to him …. 

Miraculously, in Mary uttering one word…”teacher”…she passes from Easter Friday into Easter Sunday…from death to resurrection life…  

One word from the risen Jesus heard and received into Mary’s life saw all that was broken, ugly and distorted, all that was dead transformed in the miracle of resurrection life… 

We only have to look at nature to see the deep spiritual principle of resurrection life at work. Every day the rhythm of death and resurrection pulsates within our universe…you and I are participants in life’s natural rhythm of dying and rising…  

When breath becomes air and air becomes breath… 

When the seed falls into the ground and dies, so that the plant might be born… 

When the cicada sheds its dead shell 

Truthfully most of us are happy to see this pattern in nature, but do we really want to apply it to our own lives?  

The cross in the rhythm of death invites us to look below the surface, to probe those dark places tucked away deep inside and bring everything of death to the cross… sin, illness, pain, grief, trauma, confusion, everything where we cause others hurt…  anger, frustration, unforgiveness, judgmentalism…the cross invites us to bring these things to a place of letting go, a place of dying…  

The cross, in the rhythm of resurrection life that Jesus offers invites us to freely receive the gift of salvation, healing, renewal, restoration, resurrection into something far better than we ever were before. But we can never come into the place of life until we have given over to God the place of death.  

One commentator astutely observes “most of us think we’re in the land of the living heading to the land of the dead, but in fact we are in the land of the dying heading to the land of the living!!” Eternal life…The gift of Resurrection that Jesus Christ brings. 

What might the land of dying look like for you and me?  

It can be barren and dark littered with  

the loss of dreams,  

the loss of physical wellness,  

the loss of jobs,  

the loss of security in our physical surroundings,  

the loss of relationships,  

the loss of trust,  

the loss of self esteem,  

the loss of identity  

the loss of our treasured loved ones 

The loss of our wonderfully created environment   

Life is so difficult for us precisely because it carries the rhythm of death within it …but it’s in the very rhythms of death that Jesus can come for us, calling us by name in the most radical of ways…God’s promise of resurrection life can break into our bleak and dying present bringing an open future that rips apart even death!   

So what might the land of resurrection life look like? 

It’s lush and green full of new life, new hope with the promise that the best is yet to come… 

It is abundant inviting us to live life fully now embracing the rhythms of death knowing God can work through them to bring new life. 

It is vibrant with life lived out in a community of love. Love found in our relationship with God and our relationship with each other as a community of Jesus’ followers. 

It reaps an abundant harvest providing food for the poor, freedom for the oppressed, healing for the sick. 

It is flourishing as we care for our environment wisely the way God intended. 

And when death knocks on the door, Jesus answers ushering us into life forever with God. 

Whatever your landscape looks like your reaction to Jesus resurrection matters…. 

Why? Because Jesus’ resurrection is as personal to you and me as it was to Mary, as it was to Paul... Imagine you were to die tomorrow… Jesus wouldn’t come and resurrect your wife or your husband or anyone else he would come and resurrect you…. Resurrection life radically changes us moving us from death to life, but I can’t experience your resurrection life and you can’t experience mine….  

But that experience is most fully lived out as a community of people. Jesus calls us to celebrate our resurrection life as one body in Him. 

For some encountering the radical resurrection life of Jesus will be a life shattering, life changing event, for others it will be the sudden realization that Jesus is with you right here right now quietly asking “child why are you weeping?”  and then calling you by name! However it comes Jesus calls our name and waits for us to respond…  

Today, Easter Sunday we celebrate Jesus’ work on the cross in bringing resurrection life… 

Today, resurrection life invites us to enter into God’s future found In Jesus Christ, a future that rips apart even death…. 

Today, resurrection life invites us to experience Jesus for ourselves because how the resurrection affects us is deeply personal… 

Today, resurrection life tells us Whether we live or die we belong to God. As it says in Romans “If we live, we live to the Lord, if we die, we die to the Lord; so then whether we live or whether we die we are the Lords.” 

Today, resurrection life invites us to share our story, just as Paul Kalanithi did in his book, and through it is touching people even though he has died… R.L. invites us to share our story as Mary did with anyone who is willing to listen…. 

Today, resurrection life celebrates Jesus having taken on and overcome the powers of sin, evil and death so that we might always find in our dying we are born to new life…  

No longer do we need to seek life in death,  

we can find that life in Jesus breath. Amen 

 

Lord the words ‘Resurrection life’- trips off our tongues so easily but do we really know what it means? Your inbreaking of divine life into our world is so far beyond human understanding that we can only stammer at the mystery. Maybe that is why you first chose women and failed disciples to be your witnesses to your transformation of reality in Jesus’ triumph over sin and death. 

   

Jesus today, help us be aware of your resurrecting presence. Let us hear you call our names as your witnesses. Help us find you in the crosses and empty tombs of our lives, let us cling tightly to you in the mystery of death becoming life. 

 

Heavenly Father hidden away in our depths, help us allow the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection to change the dark places of our hearts so we can witness to your healing. Lord help us take on your power to forgive, to love realistically, to hope in difficult circumstances. As we do may our hearts, minds and lives be transformed into your likeness, then help us in our own unique way, to reveal God’s transforming love in our world.