We continue our series for Epiphany, "The Best Part of Heaven," which in a word is relationships. We highlight these affirmations from the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds. In the Apostles' Creed, we say that "We believe in the resurrection of the body," and in the Nicene Creed, we say that "We look for the resurrection of the dead." In our lectionary Gospel reading for today, I'd like to highlight this verse:
And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he, Jesus, went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed. Mark 1:35 (KJV)
Transcript of sermon
Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on February 7, 2021
for Briensburg UMC
This passage from Luke, I mean from Mark 1:29-39. It tells us about a time when Jesus healed a whole bunch of people, as they brought them to him and he healed them and restored them physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually; a complete restoration healing that comes in the casting out of demons or in the cure of diseases.
And so people's minds and hearts and feelings were, as we know, all involved in the stresses and the difficulties and Jesus healed them all. And then he went off to a private place to pray, as he often did, and we continue to pray together and to work together And then have our times when we step aside and in solitude, to worship and praise the Lord.
That healing and salvation are pretty much interchangeable throughout the scriptures and in our lives. God brings salvation to us. God brings healing to us. God brings restoration to us, all in Christ. That's why God loved the world so much, he sent Jesus to be our savior and as we accept and receive that salvation, then we find our healing and wholeness of body, mind, and spirit.
Now, ultimately the resurrection addresses, and defines, and illuminates that. So we celebrate. We celebrate every Sunday. We celebrate the resurrection of Christ. We celebrate in all of our prayers, in our communion with Christ. We celebrate that he is alive forever more. He holds the keys as he says and we enjoy the benefits and the hope and anticipation of the resurrection of the body, in this as promised in the scriptures.
Jesus wept. John 11:35 (KJV)
The shortest verse in the Bible is, "Jesus wept." This verse appears during the narration about the resurrection of Lazarus, the good friend of Jesus. And he didn't weep days out from the event, but he had the verse occurs right minutes before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Excuse me.
So, that tells us something right there about the sting of death, as Paul calls it. And as Wesley put it in his hymn, "Where O Death Is Now Thy Sting?" That it hurts. That death hurts and even though Jesus knew what was coming, in just a few short minutes, it still hurt. That pain of separation hurts, there's no way around it. And it hurts when we're separated from things and objects that are important to us and it happens when difficulties arise that bring us separation from our friends and family.
One of the great, horrible things about family separation is at the border, is children being separated from their parents and we empathize with deep, inconsolable pain and that is in being separated from each other in this life. And then think about the people that are refugees and separated from each other, from their family, friends, and country, often times, and then the separation that comes in war and other strife of humanity.
These horrible conditions that we pray that will be addressed and alleviated because of the suffering that is caused by all kinds of separation like this and some more painful than others, but all are painful and especially the pain that comes with death; the sting of death that comes with the separation that we experience, not only ourselves from our own body at some point, but the pain of separation from somebody that we love, from our family and friends. And from others, that way that we care about, and even from animals and plants and other life forms, we feel a little bit of that, but especially from the closer we are with somebody, the more that pain hurts and the deeper it seems to go.
We never do really get over it. The pain of death and separation is not something we just go on and move on from, but rather that we learn to deal with, and to cope with, and to make adjustments for, and to compensate for.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die; 26 and those who live and believe in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
John 11:25-26 (KJV)
In the case of Lazarus, we have some of the most comforting words of the Bible that are used in most funeral rituals of most Christian denominations, where Jesus said to her in this, in the King James version, Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die. And those who live and believe in me, will never die. Do you believe this?"
That's a very challenging question. Believe us, thou this? Do you believe this? That the person who believes in Jesus will never die?
When we accept that and believe that kind of an idea that Jesus brought us, when we believe Jesus, when we believe God's word on that, we're believing something that we have not yet personally experienced. We're believing in the resurrection that we have heard about in Jesus and Lazarus and a few others in the Bible, but otherwise we're believing something that is to happen in the future.
This conversation took place in the context of Jesus and Martha talking about the death of Lazarus and Jesus told Martha that her brother will live again. And she said, "I know he will be raised again and live in the general resurrection, in the last day."
But you know, that's not a lot of comfort for the moment, she thought and that's why he said, "Well, you don't have to wait until the last day because I am the resurrection. I am the life."
And then, we, know the rest of the story as it unfolds of the resurrection of Jesus, but before... I mean of Lazarus, but before the resurrection of Lazarus, Mary was asked this question, do you believe? Believest thou this? Do you believe? And you know, the other affirmations that we've been talking about these past few times in the Apostle's Creed, and the Nicene Creed about eternal life, like last time we talked about the forgiveness of sins and this, and the others, are some that we experience as we believe them. We live into them as we believe them.
And so, as we believe in the forgiveness of sins and we practice that in our lives, we experience the benefits and joy of forgiveness and reconciliation as we go. But with the resurrection, we don't really experience that a resurrection, we won't until the general resurrection on the last day. But in the meantime, we do experience the joy of anticipation and the comfort of our hope and of our belief and confidence in the continuing life that continues regardless of the state of our body and then with that hope of the resurrection in the last day, when we lay aside the earthly tabernacle, and then we have a certain graveside service usually, along with any other funeral arrangements, of a time of committal, then we commit the body to its resting state there, where it will be until the general resurrection.
We hopefully, usually... And there is a prayer in some of the older liturgies that I continue to use in the funeral graveside services when I conduct those and I pray, whereas the spirit of the dearly departed, loved one, hath returned to God who gave it. We therefore, tenderly commit to the ground, their body; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Looking for the general resurrection in the last day, in the life of the world to come. We find comfort in our belief and hope and confidence in the coming resurrection, even as we continue to experience the resurrection life that Christ has brought us in the spirit.
But Jesus was talking about his body as the Temple.
John 2:21 (GNT)
I thought of framing this message around the questions who, what, why, where when and how. And I think that can apply to just about everything that we study in the scriptures, but the why is often raised in our conversations and discussions about the resurrection, about the coming resurrection is, why, if we're spiritually still alive, as Jesus talked with Mary about, as we affirm in the church that the eternal life that we have, and the spiritual life that we have, if that continues and then why have a resurrection of our body.
And I think largely we can just speculate about that, but there are some hints given in the scriptures about that; the why. And I think it points back first to the why of creation in the first place. Why did God create the heavens and the earth and all that is within them?
And you go back to the creation stories and accounts in the book of Genesis, and they tell how God formed and fashioned the body of a person out of the dirt, out of the clay of the dust of the earth, and then breathed into this figurine, the breath of life and man, woman became living beings. And that made them somewhat of a temple and if we can extrapolate that out and see that same kind of example of creation extending throughout all of God's creation, we think of the Psalmist who said that, he said to David, when he was thinking about building a house for the Lord, and he said, "With heaven as my throne and earth as my footstool, how can you build me a house that would even began to accommodate who I am." You know, I think of God as the one, the one who filleth all in all, and is in all, and is among us and within us, and is within all of creation.
When Jesus was walking with his disciples among the temple buildings there, and they were looking all around and he got in a discussion sort of negative remarks were made by the Pharisees and Sadducees and that might be a good time to tell this little thing where they say that the Pharisees believed in the resurrection and the Sadducees, the other major party there in the time of Jesus, did not believe in the resurrection. And that's why they were sad. You see?
But they were talking to him and they didn't... They were arguing with Jesus a little bit and Jesus said, "If you tear down this temple, I will build it back in three days." Of course, then their mind went to the temple where they were walking around and the stones that were there and the structures that were there in the temple grounds. But the Bible said that Jesus was talking about his body as the temple. That's the way it's worded in the Good News. He was... He spoke of his body as the King James says; the temple. And Paul emphasizes this quite a bit in his writings. "Know ye not that ye are the temple of the Lord?" And also speaks also the way that he talks about us being like stones in the building of the temple. And so individually and collectively we're temple; the temple of the Lord.
And then the revelation and the promise in the Revelation. "I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men and he will dwell with them and they shall be his people and God himself shall be with them and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. There shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying. Neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away.'"
So there's a thread there from the creation until the completion of all the restoration and symbolized by the city of New Jerusalem, that through all of that, that we are temple. Our body is the temple and its resurrection is a part of that celebration of life. That we're created in the image of God, to be a temple of the spirit of God, and when the resurrection day comes, then that general resurrection will be the final restoration of that condition, of us being fully alive and fully restored to our purpose that we were created.
So I think that that's where we can, that still leaves a lot in the room to think about, but that is a direction that our minds can go to think about why there will be this resurrection in the last day, why we believe in this resurrection, and as we do place our confidence there, while we don't experience directly the physical resurrection, we do experience the anticipation and the joy and the hope and the promise. We experience the sense of faith in death and we, it's another aspect of that eternal life that we can enter into now, in the by faith, in something that is promised for the future and something that brings us comfort even today when we think about our family and friends and the scene of the resurrection. That is that we look for in the future.
He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Matthew 28:6 (KJV)
And that the resurrection of the body is emphasized in our creeds and in the Bible and in our conversations because some suggestions came right away that, that perhaps it, this was only a non-physical resurrection that Jesus experienced and that we will experience. That minimizes the connection there with the physical part, the body, the resurrection of the body. But Jesus assured his apostles when he first appeared to them, he even said to Thomas, "Put your finger in my hand and then your hand in my side. Take a look and see, and feel and experience that this is, I'm really here." That the body has been raised from the grave.
And we have the famous verse that we usually announce our celebrations of Easter every year. He is not here, for he is risen, as he said. And that in the King James from Matthew 28:6, becomes a call and response for our Easter service and begins that celebration for the 40 days from Easter to Ascension, when Jesus appeared to the disciples in many different places, under different forms, and sometimes under recognizable forms, except their eyes were held so that they didn't recognize him. Other times, in other forms, that they couldn't recognize, but then recognized like in Emmaus, in the breaking of the bread and other experiences that he had in relationships that he continued in the body after the resurrection.
But now this new body that he had, or this resurrection body that was renewed and completely restored it, it was done so. We see in the scriptures that he was free from the limitations of before. He could appear in rooms and disappear, and he could have different forms and different places that he could be, and different ways that he could appear than what he could before. And then... And so his body was free from those limitations and we don't really know exactly how that works, of course. We can speculate about it and wonder and get some experience, some kind of insights and all like that, that we can meditate on, but we don't really know.
As we say, in the opening of our funeral services,
Here and now dear friends, we are God's children. What we shall be has yet remains to be seen. But we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
So in the meantime, we might get some insights on that. We might even learn some things, but not very much. Most of it we'll find out when the resurrection happens, then it'll all come together and we'll experience it together in that resurrection.
And this is not just in the Old Testament either because the Prophet Ezekiel was taken to this valley of dry bones and God said, "Son of man, will these bones dries again?" And God told him to prophesy over the bones several times, as he prophesied over the dry bones that the various elements were pulled back together from wherever they had dispersed from the time of death and brought to life. And so we see that come, a demonstration right there, going back into the Old Testament.
And then Paul writes in Romans 8:19, that all of creation is waits with either longing for God to reveal his children. That all of creation is being renewed and we're all being renewed together and so this renewal and our resurrection, and part of that renewal is a sign at the end and a celebration on the last day that that restoration is complete, that everything has been brought back to the place that it was created to be, back to the state that we were created to be in the beginning and fulfill God's dream when he created the heavens and the earth and all that is within them, including us. And called it all good, by the way.
And so we find our comfort, and our joy, and our hope, and a sense of direction is enhanced by this belief in the resurrection of Jesus and in the resurrection that we will participate in the resurrection of the body. We believe in the resurrection of the body. We look for the resurrection of the dead.
The Trumpet Sound
For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 1 Thessalonians 4:16 (KJV)
I'd like to close by reading what Paul wrote and let God speak to our hearts through this portion of his letter, to the Thessalonians.
But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (KJV)