“What does New Life Look Like? Daring to leave the Tomb”

John 20:1-18 (MSG); Mt 5:1-12 (MSG)
South Presbyterian Church – April 5, 2015 – EASTER!
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift


Okay. Here we go. It’s Easter.

Some of you have been listening to Easter sermons for more years than I’ve been alive! Nothing intimidating about that! J

This has been a different kind of a Lenten season for us at South … To paraphrase Paul wrote to the Corinthians: EVERYTHING has become fresh and new (2 Corinthians 5:17). Why?  Because we are HERE … we’re not down the road.  Because we have new PARTS of us … all of you who worship here at the Meadows.  Because we aren’t DEAD. We are alive.

The full quote from Paul is: 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

I had the pleasure of watching the movie Jesus (the one starring Jeremy Sisto) with a friend of mine. She knew the story well enough … but it was interesting because  she began to WEEP at the part where  they were torturing Jesus. And this movie wasn’t all that graphic … she just sat there and sobbed and when I later asked why, she said she just can’t get over what human beings will do to hurt each other.

I didn’t find myself moved at that point. Maybe I didn’t want to be. But when he arose and Mary Magdalene saw him for the first time … I started bawling my EYES out. And MY reason???? Because this is the assurance that speaks to ME … that God’s love will never DIE! That NOTHING can keep God from getting through to us, even death ITSELF can’t keep us from God.

And through the experience of seeing this and talking about it with her, I found myself really identifying with the Disciples and all the followers … Mary, Mary Magdalene, the OTHER Mary … Martha … the risen Lazarus … all those people.

What did those three days look like to them?

How did Peter cope with having betrayed his friend?

How did the women … the only ones who remained at the cross to witness his death … how did they deal with the TRAUMA of that whole thing?

How did ALL of them who had relied on him so HEAVILY for their very EXISTENCE for three years … how did THEY react and grieve and PROCESS everything?

And now … he’s ALIVE again?  Whoa!

Do I dare BELIEVE that?  (Clearly Thomas didn’t.)

What does it MEAN?

What should I DO?

Those are all great questions. But there’s ANOTHER image to  consider:  Jesus when he comes to.

What was THAT like?

Did he just wake up?   Was there a JOLT (!) like we see on TV when someone’s heart has stopped and then they get ZAPPED with the paddles that re-start their heart?

Was it GENTLE?  Was it a subtle reawakening that took the whole time in the tomb for him to re-inhabit his  body?

I think about that sometimes.

I’ve just been through the pain and humiliation … I’ve died … I’ve given up everything!

And then I find myself ALIVE in a way that I never have been before.

And I look around and think … ok.  NOW what?

I don’t mean this to be disrespectful or to TRIVIALIZE in any way what, to me, is one of the great Mysteries (capital “M”) of human history.

It’s just that I want to understand and I want to find the GIFTS that God has for me and for us in this experience of Jesus coming back to life.

MANY of us have gone through different tortures … some physical, some mental or emotional. We have suffered at the hands of others. And we might even have experienced a part of us DYING in some way.

We’ve lost people or jobs or homes … maybe we’ve had everything taken from us at one time or another.

I have.

That’s a story for another day … but it’s what PROPELLED me into ministry.  Losing everything. Not knowing really which way was up. Friends … family … job … reputation … I don’t know HOW long I was in that cave but God was doing SOMETHING. And I couldn’t tell you if there was a JUMP START or a slow and gentle progression of my healing but there came a time when I KNEW I had a new life.

And for ME, that’s when the REAL challenge came … was I doing to step outside that cave and INTO that new life … or was I going to renovate and decorate the cave because it was familiar and comfortable?

Stepping outside meant being SEEN and not recognized.

Stepping outside meant being VULNERABLE in ways that I wasn’t when I was safe inside the rock fortress.

Stepping outside meant  living in a bright LIGHT that was really BLINDING after my stay  in the healing and life-giving darkness.

And then there was the whole question of … what will this new life BE like? What will it LOOK like? What will it FEEL like? What will I DO? IS there something for me to do?

So many unknowns.

So many questions.

Almost no answers.

In a very real way, that’s what we did as a church, isn’t it?

We dared to step out into a whole new LIFE.

One year ago today we were tearfully worshiping, asking God to bless us with faith and COURAGE.

One year ago today we watched that part of the Jesus movie in worship where Mary first sees Jesus, thinks he’s the gardener and when she throws her arms around him, he says, “Mary, you must let me go. I have not fully formed yet.” And we wondered with each other … what will that new FORM of Jesus BE for us in our lives?

Can he DO another miracle and give these old bones new life … which was the Easter sermon last year… non-traditional but a propos!

And now we know … one year later in hindsight … the answer is YES! There IS new life because we dared to step outside of the cave which had housed us and kept us comfortable for a hundred years.

The answer is YES! God DOES do miracles in this day and age.

The answer is YES! because WE said, “Yes!”

And those first followers said YES!     And JESUS said YES!

We never know what happens to the cave where he was buried. It belonged to Joseph of Aramathea. Did he end up being buried there, too? Did the apostles continue to revere it and visit it because of the miracle that occurred there?

Tradition has it that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is built over the remains of Golgatha, also called Calvary, the hill just outside of Jerusalem where the Romans crucified Jesus and the location of the tomb which was very close to Golgatha where the body of Jesus was laid.

Maybe it is.

But for most of us, we would say, “Why venerate the TOMB when we can venerate the NEW LIFE?”

Yet many of us DO venerate our own tombs, don’t we? We keep calling up hurts and slights from our past. We won’t let go of them because in some way we KNOW them … they’re FAMILIAR to us. As long as we hold onto them we know who we are and we don’t have to REDEFINE ourselves.

Where’s the new life in THAT?

There isn’t any.

To have the new life that Jesus promises us … we HAVE to come out of the tomb. We have to let GO of who we WERE … we have to be willing to be in a strange, new world where people don’t RECOGNIZE us anymore because we are so very different from who we USED to be.

To have new LIFE, we have to LIVE!!! We can’t just sit around and REMINISCE. We HAVE to be doing new things and figuring out where God is leading us to be.

That’s the challenge for us today … not to just sit back and say, “Oh, wasn’t that a nice little story?”  “Oh, WOW … wasn’t Jesus a cool dude?”   “Yeah, I’m  a Christian. … Just don’t expect me to get too strange and whacky about this. I think my life is fine, just the way it is.”

Is it?

Well then you’re not a Christian. Because to be a Christian means to live your life as Jesus did and he was ANYTHING but boring. He was changing and growing … being challenged and challenging others … ALL THE TIME!

He chose new life.

And that’s what we’ve started to do as a church.

Now the question is … what’s next?  I’m sure he wondered the same thing.

We’ve come out of the tomb … we HAVE new life. We don’t quite know what it looks like yet, but we’re starting to get glimpses. And we just have to remember that we can’t go back into the tomb no matter how inviting it might seem at times, and that’s ok because GOD is WITH us … as a CHURCH and as INDIVIDUALS.

We can trust this new life because, as Paul wrote to the Romans: (Romans 8:38-39) I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of what happened on THIS day.

On THIS day, God said, “YES! You are MY people and NOTHING will keep us apart. Nothing can come between us. NOTHING can stop my love from getting through to you!”

And friends … my brothers and sisters … that IS our New Life in Christ. It’s the New Covenant. It’s the Life Everlasting.  And it is our Easter Celebration!!!

Amen and Amen!


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