Sun, Apr 08, 2018

A resurrection-shaped community


Easter--what is it really about?

According to the Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne, 

Easter is a celebration of "the greatness of the salvation that is God's free gift to you through Jesus Christ".

According to the Catholic Archbishop of Canberra, 

through the resurrection of Jesus "we find hope, light and eternity".

According to the head of the Churches of Christ in Australia, 

"The resurrection of Christ reveals God's power over death, and gives us hope of the resurrection life to come".

According to the President of the Australian Christian Churches--

formerly known as the Assemblies of God--

Easter is about "hope for this life and hope for the next".

According to the Director of Australian Baptist Ministries,

Easter "opens the opportunity for each of us to experience God's embrace of acceptance and confidence for the future".

According to the Bishop of the Chinese Methodist Church in Australia,

Easter "reminds us that [Christ] will return to judge the world"...

but offers us the hope that "everyone might ultimately know Him, not as Judge, but as the Savior Lord".

And, according to the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Australia,

Easter is, ultimately, the celebration of our belief in our "sure and certain hope of the resurrection from the dead".


Me... me... me--

in the end, that's what they're all really saying, isn't it?

The resurrection of Jesus--

the whole point of the Easter story--

is all about me.

It simply exists to pander to my needs and to placate my fears.

Now, I don't wish to pick on these church leaders unduly because they're not alone in that.

Down the ages, that's what so many of us have heard;

that's how the central, fundamental message of Christianity has been-- 

and continues to be--


It's all about an individual, personal relationship with Jesus.

It's all about what makes me feel good...

what helps me to experience 'abundant' life.

It's all about reassuring me that I am saved...

that I am going to heaven...

that I am destined for eternal life--

even if everyone else isn't.

But, in the end, is that what Easter--

is that what the resurrection of Jesus--

is really about?


According to the theologian, Benjamin Meyers...

the resurrection represents, fundamentally...

God's commitment to the reconciliation of the world--

the whole world.

As such, he argues, it can never be "a private matter"...

nor can it be "primarily concerned with 'spiritual' salvation".

Rather, resurrection "changes what is possible for all human lives".

The resurrection--

the whole Easter event--

is not primarily, or even essentially, about me as an individual.

It's about us as a community--

as a global community...

as a community that is the object of God's love and the recipient of God's grace.

The resurrection--

the whole Easter event--

is primarily communal and corporate.

According to the New Testament scholar--

Scott Spencer--

"For the early church depicted in Acts, the resurrection of Christ is less a creedal article of individual faith and hope than a creative force of community formation and fellowship".

I think he's dead right.

And I think that that is precisely what we see in our reading this morning from the book of Acts.

According to the author of Acts...

the resurrection had a profound impact on the earliest followers of Jesus.

He wants us to believe that they were transformed because of their experience of the risen Christ.

Those who had timidly denied him or cowardly deserted him--

those who had huddled together... 

because of their fear of the authorities who had put Jesus to death--

suddenly became bold and courageous.

Their whole way of life changed.

The author points out that their boldness was seen in their willingness to speak--

even in the face of threats and physical danger--

and to proclaim that new and abundant life was possible through Jesus Christ.

And yet, that's not really the most surprising part of the transformation.

Rather, according to the author of Acts...

it's the nature of their communal life that was most remarkable.

Their experience of the risen Christ shaped their communal life--

not just in their gathering together for worship...

for prayer...

for celebrating the Lord's Supper...

and for studying the scriptures.

None of that was particularly significant.

Rather more remarkable was the author's claim that they performed many signs and wonders--

and that people were healed through their ministry.

Symbolically, he was claiming that they were continuing the ministry of Jesus.

But, even more remarkably--

and as counter-cultural then as it would be today--

he claims that there was not a needy person within the faith community...

because they shared what they had so that no one went without.

Their experience of the risen Christ produced an extraordinary transformation in their attitudes...

their attachments...

and their allegiances:

they treated as family those who were not family;

they made Christ known in the way that they spoke and lived and acted--

becoming a channel of God's healing, liberating love;

they dared to proclaim that God's love was at work in the world through them;

they were willing to suffer in doing what was right...

standing up to the authorities and defying the powers-that-be...

when their policies hindered the liberating work of God in the world--

even though the authorities and powers-that-be expected religion to be quiet... 

and to maintain the status quo.

According to the author of Acts, the resurrection totally transformed the first Christians.

Or, to put it another way, their transformed communal life was a testimony to their experience of resurrection.

In other words...

experiencing the presence of the risen Christ ought to be transformative...

energising his followers to continue the work that Jesus began:

fighting for justice...

healing the sick...

feeding the hungry...

providing for the needy...

making the broken whole...

lifting up the downtrodden...

welcoming the outcast...

speaking out for those unable to speak...

denouncing policies and practices that marginalise and dehumanise...

and being willing to put themselves on the line.

Those are the fruits--

or the characteristics--

of a community that has experienced resurrection.


According to the author of Acts...

resurrection is not a doctrine that needs to be defended; 

nor is it one that needs to be ascribed to or creedally affirmed.

It's certainly not a personal commodity;

nor is it primarily concerned with an individualised, spiritualised salvation.

Resurrection is an experience that is to be lived--

and it is an experience to be lived communally and corporately.

Perhaps the theologian, Peter Rollins puts it best:

"Without equivocation or hesitation, I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ...I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, every day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system".

To believe in the resurrection of Christ--

to experience and to know the resurrected Christ--

means being a community shaped by the resurrection of Christ.

It means being a community that lives resurrection.

It means being a community that is Christ for the world.


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