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"If ye then be risen with Christ…."


27 March 2005 11:00 | Rev Canon Dr John Cullen

NT: Colossians 3.1-7; Gospel: John 20.1-10

"If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set you affections on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:1-3).

"If ye then be risen with Christ..." seems a rather odd way for St Paul to address his readers or hearers - and that includes us, of course, to whom these words are addressed this Easter morning. It's rather odd to say "If you have been raised with Christ…" because it suggests the resurrection applies to us, rather than just as something that happened to Jesus. And then Paul goes on: "For you are dead...." How are we to understand that?

Since Maundy Thursday, through Good Friday, and last night, Easter Eve, the church has been commemorating in one way or another the events of these great Holy Days, helping congregations to ask themselves what the various incidents of these last days of Jesus' earthly life mean for us today. As the old spiritual puts it: "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" But the church's liturgies of this Easter weekend invite us to ponder as well: "Were you there...", at the Last Supper, in the garden, at Jesus' trial?".

And now this morning the question is: "Were you there when God raised him from the dead? Were you there when they saw the risen Lord?" It's important that we ask these questions, because otherwise we regard the events of this greatest of all Christian festivals as though they were simply events that happened to Jesus, so long ago. But that is only half the message of Easter. What we have come together to celebrate today, is not just that the resurrection happened once to Jesus, but that resurrection happens today. And I'm not just talking about life after death. I'm talking about life before death - the new life for all who are "in Christ" - now.

All of us who have been baptised have been initiated into Jesus' way of living and loving, into Jesus' way of being human. And that way of living, loving and dying requires us to look at life differently: to see our daily life as resurrection life, with the potential of life in all its fullness. That's a way of life we are given the opportunity of living in the here and now; which is why the Christian church is referred to as the community of the resurrection - today.

What we are celebrating this morning is not the happy ending to a story which would have been tragic without it. We are celebrating God's vindication of, God's saying "Yes" to, a way of life that the world wrote off as a failure because it brought the one who lived it, Jesus of Nazareth, to an early and shameful death. But for those of us with eyes of faith, those who are prepared look beyond this world and its values, and to live according to the teachings and values of Jesus, a whole new range of possibilities opens before us.

The Good News of this Christian faith of ours teaches that to live Jesus' way of self-giving love is to discover that we are drawing on the very life of God himself, because God is love. And to embrace such love, is to be at one with God, to let God be in you, and so allow yourself to be changed into his likeness, from one degree of glory to another.

But to live that way is by no means easy. It involves a turning around and looking at life differently. So many of our ways of living are in fact ways of dying, because they are life-denying. When we hold back, or hold on to attitudes, to people, to possessions, to things the way they were, we are denying the very principle of life. We deny that there is a purpose, possibility and hope beyond out limited vision. And so we fall victim to the way of death.

Our Christian faith offers another way - the way of Life. Our faith says that in the midst of things, behind things and beyond things there is a presence, a purpose and a power; there are new possibilities to be realised - now! To live this way is to live not just beyond birth; it is to live beyond death. It involves a dying to the old way, in order to embrace the way of Jesus, the resurrection way, the way of life in all its fullness.

This morning we celebrate the presence of the risen Christ here in our midst. He is here in this his holy communion of love, in the bread of life and the cup of salvation. He is also here in his word of life in the Holy Scriptures. But he is also here in you, in each one of you.

For if you have been baptised into Christ, then you are united to Christ, you are another Christ, a member of his body in the world today. All of us who claim the name Christian, followers and friends of Jesus, we have died to the way of the world, and our life is now united with Christ in God. That means we are now members of the body of Christ, we are resurrection people, signed with the sign of the cross, we are now, because of Jesus, citizens of the kingdom of heaven. We are the ones who have the responsible for bringing about the will of God here on earth as it is in heaven. We are the hands and feet and eyes and lips of Jesus. He is present in the world today in and through us.

So you see Christianity is much more than just a value system. It is a way of daily living, it's a way of looking at the world and all that goes on in it, it's a way of being human that reflects the life-style of Jesus - the Jesus who comes alive for us in the pages of the Gospels. So we can say with all our hearts today: "Christ is risen!" He is risen in us, he lives in you and in me. So to that question: "Were you there when they saw the risen Lord?" you can say, "Yes indeed I was, and I have been, and am with him, this very day!"

May you all have a truly blessed Easter, and may you be blessed by the risen Lord in your living of the resurrection life today and always. Amen.
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