Jeremiah 31: 1-6, Acts 10: 34-43, John 20: 1-18
I have a friend from early school days whom I still see from time to time. She is a devout and practicing Jew – and matters related to Jewish and Christian faith often come into conversations.
I remember one such conversation several years ago – and at one point she said to me: “But surely, Louis, you do not believe in a resuscitated corpse.” I immediately replied, “No of course not…. But neither does the Christian faith. My friend replied: “Well that is the way at least some Christians speak of the Resurrection”.
We are not gathered here today because of a resuscitated corpse: that would be to base our faith on a weird and rather horrible bit of magic. We are gathered here today because Jesus is alive – because God has raised him from the inevitability of physical decay and death which every human being must face, to a whole new level of being which is life in God.
And through Baptism you and I are united with Christ in that divine life which swallows up physical death – we are united with Christ in a life which see physical death as simply one more step in our journey to God. In one of the most powerful passages in the Epistle to the Romans, St Paul lay out for us this teaching:
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ
Jesus were baptised into his death? We were buried therefore with
him by baptism into death, so that Christ was raised form the dead
by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall
Certainly be united with him a resurrection like his”. Rom 6: 3-5
It was this faith which strengthened the great Lutheran Bishop Martin Debelius when he was confronted by a Nazi officer during World War II. Bishop Debelius had been helping Jews to escape to safety and to avoid the death camps. The Nazi officer threatened Debelius. – “Don’t you know I have the power to kill you?” And the Bishop replied: “You have no power over me. I died in my baptism”.
In the courage of Bishop Debelius we see the signs of this new life breaking in upon us. At gifted moments we see this new life and we experience it as it touches us within the limits of our physical nature: it may come in the experience of beauty, in art or music which takes us into a larger world; it may come it the experience of nature, standing beside a lake or river, or looking upon the majesty of a great mountain, when the wonder of our Creator is more real to us that even the spot on which we stand; this new life may embrace us in the intimacy of love of family and friends; and in worship, we can find that we have been moved beyond the rites themselves into a larger space – a space filled with glory and presence of God.
But we do not live in such gifted moments all the time. Most of our days one filled with the humdrum realities of our physical lives in which self- centred pride has the upper hand and the divine life we have been given in baptism seems remote.
Our situation was well described by Martin Luther in a vivid image: Luther wrote:
“Yes, it is true that we died in our baptism. But often the corpse
floats to the surface”.
Luther knew that in his life. You and I know it in our lives. Baptism plants the seed of the divine life in us, but the care and nurturing of that seed as it grow into a mature plant is the work of a lifetime. The old life – the self centred life – continues to assert itself: and we either confront it our give into to it in all the choices of our daily lives.
The ones whom we call saints in the Church are those in whom the divine life, the risen life – has been claimed, laid hold on – as the path to the deepest fulfilment of our human lives in the life of God. It was this life which Jesus promised to us when he said,
“I have come that you might have life, life in abundance”.
Christian mystical writers see that abundant life in terms of a cosmic dance: at Christians, we sing a carol which sees the Incarnation of God in Christ as an invitation to the dance.”
And now at Easter, the cosmic dance comes to its climax in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The risen Lord stands before us today, inviting us to share the divine life: Come, he says; come to the dance.”