Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Easter 2012: Creation and New Creation

the recap below is in two parts, marked accordingly - the texts for Easter were Revelation 21:1-4; Romans 8:18-26; John 20:1-18

Part One: Before Communion

Our text before us from Romans 8 is a resurrection text that pictures the hope of the entire cosmos bound up in what God has promised to do for a new humanity destined to be raised in the power of Jesus’ resurrection.

Romans 8:19: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God”
pairs with verse 23, “and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”

Also, the same rich theology is found in the passage which serves as our regular assurance of forgiveness during preparation for communion: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new (2 Cor. 5:17”).

We explored this passage at greater depth during the homily but before we received communion we took note that Paul gives us some important teaching regarding what one of our postures should be towards this great hope of cosmic redemption and our resurrection. The posture? Patience! This may seem a little counter-intuitive. After all, didn’t we just read that “the whole creation”, as one translation renders it, “stands on tiptoes” awaiting the resurrection of human beings? And what are we supposed to be in response to that mind-blowing news!? Patient?!

Why would Paul stop at that point to exhort us to patience? Because he wants Christians to be real about what it is like to experience the promise of redemption in the midst of the messiness of a world that is not yet fully redeemed; he wants us to be real about what it is like for us to experience God’s grace and then fall back into faithlessness; and there is a certain way that he wants us to wear this realism - and the way is patience.

I recently saw at a local coffee shop an ad for a math tutor In addition to listing his credentials as a mathematician and math educator he also included this line: I am patient. I thought that was genius marketing, for everyone who struggles with math anxiety needs a patient tutor.

What Paul is saying here is that we are to have a big-picture patience towards our fellow human beings, with a fallen world, and with ourselves. We need to have patience while we await in faith and hope the promise of the resurrection.

When you sin; when you become furiously frustrated with the seeming futility of your endeavors; or, when you feel paralyzed by doubt - St Paul exhorts you to be patient. He does not say pretend everything is OK or better than it actually is; he does not say become a hedonist or nihilist in the face of your angst; he does not say ignore your sins or your frustration. Instead, he says, in so many words, “be patient with them and with all else”. The question is begged at this point. Why should you be patient? Our answer is in two parts. (1) God is patient with us (2) you have an anchor that holds you to the promise of the world to come - the resurrected Jesus. So, in the meanwhile you can be patient with yourself and others, even if it is a restless patience - and it often is.

But you say you don’t my failure - how can God be patient with me? How can I be patient with myself in light of what I know about myself? Well, here is where it is important to remember that Good Friday and Easter are joined inextricably together. So, when we take a glance back at Good Friday we remember that it is precisely in what is perceived by human judgment to be failure that God heals the world. Jesus went to the cross a failure, a human failure; he disappointed all of the human expectations of who Messiah should be and what Messiah should don. So, he died alone! He was in the minds of even his followers, a failed Messiah.

Even though Jesus’ perceived human failure on the cross is not due to any defect on his part, it is vitally important that we comprehend the ramifications of the fact that he willingly put himself in the place of human shame and failure in order to identify with our shame so that we might be embraced by the Father’s love. In that moment of separation from God the Father, when Jesus had all of the evil and sin of the world taken into himself, that is the same moment that he claimed our failures, in order to take them through the purging fires of death and into the promise of resurrection. As St. Paul puts it in the 6th chapter of Romans, “if you have been united with him in a death like his you shall surely be united in a resurrection like his.”

Discussion Questions:

1. Can you think of occasions when you should have been more patient with the frailties and failures of those around you? What was going on in your mind and heart when you did not exercise patience?

2. Read the part of George Herbert’s poem and Ben Myers’ comment on it below. Then discuss the question that comes at the end of that.

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd any thing.

"A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here";
Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee."
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
"Who made the eyes but I?"

"Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve."
"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
"My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
So I did sit and eat.

Commenting on this poem, New Testament Prof Ben Myers wrote on his blog recently:

“The opposite of love is not hatred, but shame. "Love bade me welcome yet my soul drew back, / Guilty of dust and sin" (George Herbert). Divine love is the abolition of shame. It is hospitality, welcome, the healing of the wounded gaze. "Love took my hand and smiling did reply, / Who made the eyes but I?" Shame stoops over, looking inward on the self. Quick-eyed love stands up straight, face to face with the beloved.” Ben Myers

In light of what Myers says above, do you think you should ever feel ashamed before God? What should it sound like to preach the gospel to yourself if and when you do feel ashamed before God?

3. In light of what we have talked about above, do you think some of these insights (e.g. Jesus’ deliberately taking a place of shame) might help you tell the gospel story a bit more robustly than you might have some time ago? Explain what you mean with examples.

Part Two: After Communion

When the tomb was discovered to be empty this was a mind-blowing experience for the early disciples; no one expected that Jesus would be raised from the dead. It is not as if his disciples went away from the events surrounding his crucifixion and said, as one theologian has put it: “that’s OK -God will raise him from the dead. No, emphatically no! No one expected a resurrection from the dead in this way (devout Jews expected a resurrection at the end of history but not one person, namely the Messiah, in the middle of history). But very early in the life of the church (and we saw it in our Romans text this morning), within not too many years of the disciples’ first experience of the resurrected Lord, they begin to incorporate the reality of the resurrection into their devotional theology; their theological imaginations are taken over by this staggering event and the resurrection of Jesus becomes another crucial lens through which to understand God’s love for this world.

It is this lens that makes it possible for Paul to say what he does in Romans 8, where he spells out the promises of individual salvation in the broader context of God’s creation and new creation. I submit to you that not enough importance is put on the importance of seeing our salvation as individual people within this broader story of what the creator God has always intended for his fallen creation.

Warp and woof is a lovely phrase that not many people use anymore; it is comes to us from the world of weaving. The warp threads, in a piece of woven fabric, run lengthwise while the woof threads run crosswise. I like to use this phrase when talking about creation and new-creation/redemption because creation and redemption taken together are the warp and the woof of God’s intentions for this world. He who created did not have to be coaxed to redeem; it was the same love that drove him to create a world - a world that would one day be in dire need of redemption - that drew Jesus to the cross to die on our behalf. Jesus Christ holds the weaving of creation and new creation together. The fall of humankind had cosmic ramifications and so the resurrection of humankind in Christ does as well. The same love that drew forth a world of divine image bearers is the same love that redeems the failures of divine image bearers

The English poet, John Donne, captures the important connections between creation, new creation, and resurrection in these lovely verses taken from his poem entitled, Hymn To God, My God, in My Sickness:

We think that Paradise and Calvary,
Christ's cross, and Adam's tree, stood in one place;
Look, Lord, and find both Adams met in me;
As the first Adam's sweat surrounds my face,
May the last Adam's blood my soul embrace.

So, in his purple wrapp'd, receive me, Lord;
By these his thorns, give me his other crown;
And as to others' souls I preach'd thy word,
Be this my text, my sermon to mine own:
"Therefore that he may raise, the Lord throws down."

What Donne expresses in this beautiful verse is what Paul implies in Romans 8: God’s intention in creation and redemption springs from the same love. Moreover, when we remember that creation and new creation are the warp and the woof of God’s creation-project, we are also provided with one of the reasons why we can trust the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For, God, unlike us, has no other motive than love when he creates and when he redeems. The only motivation for creation was to make something beautiful; God did not need beauty. His desire to make beauty is sheerly gratuitous. Likewise, in his new creation, our redemption and resurrection, we recognize that he is also motivated by sheer generosity. Redemption and creation are gratuitous, free of charge, and both flow from the fount of God’s love.

Expanding on this idea - Rowan Williams in his book Tokens of Trust, in reflecting on the warp and the woof of creation and new creation puts it to us that we can trust God because his only motive is love; he has no private or hidden agenda. His agenda is for the sake of humankind, whom he created in his own image and in whose image, now known to us as the face of Jesus Christ, we are being redeemed. To illustrate his point, he offers this example from the healing of the man born blind in John 9.

“Jesus asks the blind man he’s just cured whether he believes in the Son of Man. He’s certainly not asking whether the man is of the opinion that the Son of Man exists; he wants to know whether the former blind man is ready to trust the Son of Man - that is Jesus in his role as representative of the human race before God. The man - naturally - wants to know who the ‘Son of Man’ is, and Jesus says that it is him; the man responds with the words, ‘I believe’.

He believes; he has confidence. That is, he doesn’t go off wondering whether the Son of Man is out to further his own ends and deceive him. He trusts Jesus to be working for him, not for any selfish goals and he believes that what he sees and hears when Jesus is around is the truth (Williams from Tokens of Trust, p.5)”.

Questions for discussion:

1. Rowan Williams, in the book mentioned above, observes that a great many people nowadays have a profound distrust of authority. Many, many people simply don’t trust that the authorities and institutions that they have dealings with are really are working for them. Do you agree with his suggestion? Give some examples based on whether you agree or disagree.

2. Can you put into your own words why it is important to see creation and new creation as the warp and the woof of God’s “creation-project”?

3. If someone were to ask you why they should believe in God or trust him, would you feel comfortable using the ideas put forward above, especially the thoughts of Williams around the healing of the blind man?

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