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Bill & Ellen Bontrager

SHEPHERDS FOR PEACE

1710 C.R. 121, Hesperus, CO 81326

970-259-3384

wdb@frontier.net

WHY THE RESURRECTION IS IMPORTANT

As Christians, we claim as an essential tenant of the faith, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the one we call the son of God, the carpenter turned preacher from Nazareth.

Saint Paul spent all of chapter 15 of his first letter to the Corinthians talking about the centrality of the resurrection. And many scholars have examined in detail the many theological guarantees the resurrection confirms.

But I am not Paul, nor am I a theologian. And so I want to look at the resurrection through the eyes of the first to be offered what the resurrection represents.

Mary Magdalene went early to the tomb only to find the soldiers gone, and the stone removed. [John 20:1-2] She ran and told Peter and John who then ran to the tomb. [3-4] Peter and John looked, saw some things, and "believed". [5-9] But they did not yet "understand", and so returned to their own houses. [9-10]

Mary had apparently followed them back to the tomb, but, when they left, she stayed. Mary stood outside the tomb weeping; and as she wept she stooped and looked into the tomb. [11] She sees two angels, and converses with them. [12-13] She then turned and saw someone whom, for whatever reason, she did not recognize. [14] This person asks her the questions which, for me, bring the issue of the purpose of the resurrection into clear focus:

"Woman, why are you weeping?"

"Whom (or we might say, 'what') are you seeking?"

If we are honest with ourselves, every one of us, on many, many occasions in the past, have stood in front of open tombs, weeping, seeking something.

What are our tombs;

Why do we weep;

What do we seek; and

What has the resurrection to do with those three questions? That is what I want to explore.

One tomb we all face is the tomb of physical death. We weep as we sense the absolute stupidity, and futility, and meaninglessness of life, because death will erase it all. This was, after all, the focus of the writer of Ecclesiastes. What we want, at a minimum, is to know if there is life after death. Maybe we also want to know what that life will be like -- will it be like this life of tears, or worse, or better. The resurrection tells us that there is life after death but does not tell us the nature of that life.

However, there are other tombs which we often face. Many are what we consider emotional: fear, anxiety, despair, depression, confusion, disillusionment, uncertainty, anger, etc. These tombs tend to paralyze us. And so we weep in frustration because we cannot seem to get free from, or to control, these emotions. They sap out strength and, in one way or another, produce a sense of hopelessness. What we want is relief. We want freedom from the oppression. We want peace, joy, hope, contentment. We want to love and be loved. We want relationships with others, without fear of what happens if they come to know our true inner nature. We want to have meaning and purpose to life. We want dignity and a sense of value -- of worth. The resurrection, as we shall see, answers all of these things.

Other tombs are tombs which we have created by placing our hope, our trust, our faith in someone or something which has failed us. The tomb may represent spouse, parent (or child), employer (or employee), a great public figure from sports, or theater, or government. The tomb may represent economic, political, governmental, religious, ethnic, commercial, or nationalistic systems to which we have attached our very personhood but which has now shown itself a failure. We weep in a combination of anger -- how dare they do this to me; of pain -- I hurt; of frustration -- why does this continue to happen to me? We want the pain to end, and we want to attach to something which will never fail us, never forsake us, never hurt us. The resurrection answers the need.

We create other tombs by developing patterns of sin. Alcoholism, drug addiction, pornography, homosexuality, work-aholism, materialism are some common examples. We weep because we feel imprisoned, unable to break the chains which bind us. Even Paul, in Romans 7, cried out: "Why do I keep on doing what I do not want to do? Why I do not do the things I ought to do? Who will set me free from this life of sin and torment?" Freedom is what we want. The resurrection offers us that freedom.

The resurrection was an event nearly 2000 years ago. But it was planned for thousands of years before that.

"In the beginning, God." If that is not truth, then there is no truth, and no resurrection. Search the depths of your being. If you still say, having searched to the bottom, "there is no God", then you will leave here today with no hope or help for any of your tombs. But if you say, within that depth, "Yes, I know; there must be; there is no alternative worthy of consideration", then you are open to meeting God today in, I hope, a new way through seeing the resurrection in its historical and practical facets.

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was chaotic pieces scattered through the universe, formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep." When we stand in front of our various tombs, we stand in moments of chaos, void and darkness. We stand in need of great constructive help.

"And the Spirit of God was, like a mother chicken hovering over her helpless chicks, moving over the surface of the waters." Here we see that God had a Helper. This Spirit of God was, of course, God and a representation of God in the same manner that if I am happy I send forth from me a spirit of happiness which you can see and which represents me at that instant in time.

"Then God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light." And so God, knowing the situation of chaos and darkness, spoke. His word spoken produced light, and the darkness vanished. The word spoken was an exact expressions and representation of God for it represented all that was in the mind of God at the moment. When I speak to you here today, I choose my words to express myself to you. It was the same with God. Later we discover from the Apostle John that God took His word and made it alive in fleshly form so that we might behold Him. That fleshly form is the one we call Jesus, the Christ, of Nazareth. This is the one who was no longer in the tomb, but was asking Mary two key questions.

Six more times in the first chapter of Genesis, we find the phrase: "Then God said, 'Let there be . . ." Five more times the word of God went forth and took the chaotic pieces previously created and molded them into an orderliness to serve the purposes of God. At the end of these words, the universe, the planet earth, the plant life and animal life were all in existence.

Yet one more time the word went forth; another image, or likeness of God came into existence: mankind. Mankind, like God, had total freedom including the freedom of choice; a creative personality; a desire for relationship; the ability to love expressed though focus upon others more than upon self; and the desire to do acts of service for others. But all of this energy of man was to be expressed in submission to the leadership of, and under the authority of, God.

As we know, our fore-parents made a choice to seek after their self-interest rather than God's interest. This became known as sin. And we all do it. As a result, the serpent which spoke such wonderfully deceitful words is now wrapped around us, imprisoning us, and staring us in the face with hypnotic charm. We find ourselves blind; truth has disappeared; we have lost our way. In the process, we have lost life for we have not the life for which we were created but merely a physical existence lacking any meaning.

And so we stand at the open doors of tombs which we have, by our sins, created. We weep in helplessness, frustration, and despair.

But we still have the image of God within us, all be it badly damaged and hard to recognize. And this image keeps whispering to us that what we have is not what we were designed for.

When our fore-parents, Adam and Eve, created their first tomb, God came to them in the garden, and spoke truth to them. God then killed an innocent animal and from that animal made clothing for them even though they had already made clothing for themselves. But their clothing had already proven inadequate, for they could only hide from God considering themselves still naked. They needed clothing supplied by God, which would require a sacrifice provided by God.

Thousands of years later, God's word became flesh and dwelt among us. This word said of himself, "I am the lost way, the lost truth, the very essence of the life which was lost". And we, in our sins, killed him on a cross, beguiled by Satan into believing that we had to protect ourselves and our way of life from this obvious madness.

We put him in a tomb so that we did not have to consider the claims of God upon us, or the meaning of the image of God in which we were made. And then came the resurrection. And The resurrection met Mary at the door of her tomb of the moment, where she was weeping and questioning. The resurrection asked her: "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?"

During her prior three years with Jesus, Mary had come to a point in her understanding that she knew Jesus, dead or alive, could and would be able to satisfy her every need. That he could and would answer all the questions. That he could and would release her from all bondage. And so she replied, "If you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him and I will take him away."

And then The resurrection spoke her name -- "Mary" -- and she received back all the freedom previously surrendered. The serpent, wrapped around her, was crushed under the bruised and bloodied Word made flesh of God exactly as God had promised Mary's fore-parents Adam and Eve.

All her tombs disappeared. Just as Paul shouted in answer to his question concerning who would set him free from his prison of death to sin: "Thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord!" ---- Mary experienced it. She was the first of many. I am such a one although I have not yet given to the Lord all of my tombs, I keep creating new tombs, and I am still weeping over too many things which He would heal if I would but allow Him.

With his simple word, "Mary", God through Jesus Christ created a direct linked relationship with Mary. The Spirit of God, the Helper, came into her to comfort her, and help bear her burdens, and to teach her how to live.

With His word, Jesus did not create a religion but relationship. He did not create a doctrine but an inner transformation. He did not create an institution or organization but merely an ability to recognize others who also had His spirit, and to unite with them in fellowship, service and support.

Today, He stands beside you as you standing weeping at some tomb of your life. He is asking you the same questions:

"Why are you weeping?"

"What are you seeking?"

And he is gently calling your name.

Do you hear his voice? Do you believe he who took all the chaotic pieces of creation and put them into a beautiful orderliness is able to do the same with and for you? Do you believe that he who would sacrifice an animal to make good clothing for Adam and Eve would sacrifice his son to make god clothing for you? Do you believe that he who conquered death by resurrection can, in fact, offer you the way and the truth to himself as true life?

If you believe these things, then you have today experienced the meaning of the resurrection.