Death defeated, death destroyed

Easter Day (April 4, 2010)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Is. 65:17-25; Ps. 118:1-2, 14-24; I Cor. 15:19-26; Lk. 24:1-12

This morning we participated in the Easter sunrise service on Mt. Nebo, the site from which Moses viewed the “Promised Land” before he died (Deut. 34:1-4). More than 150 persons jammed into a small chapel on the mountain top to sing hymns and proclaim that Christ has risen.

The hazy view from Mt. Nebo, looking toward Jericho

The Common Lectionary readings for this Easter Sunday highlight God’s victory over the powers of death.

In the Gospel reading, the Galilean women come to Jesus’ tomb to anoint his body. But the stone has been rolled away and his body is gone. “He is not here, but has risen!” two men in dazzling clothes tell the women (Lk. 24:5). The forces of evil allied to crucify Jesus. But their most powerful weapon, death itself, proved impotent to hold him down.

Diwa Hopkins visits with Cindy after the Easter sunrise service on Mt. Nebo

In the Epistle reading, Paul also declares that Jesus has been raised from the dead (I Cor. 15:20). Christ is the first fruits of this resurrection; those who belong to Christ will rise at his return (v. 23). In the meantime, Christ is securing the surrender of all powers that resist his reign (v. 25). In the end, Christ will hand over the kingdom to God the Father, “after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. . . . The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (vv. 24, 26)

Marker on Mt. Nebo

We live in the span of history between God’s convincing defeat of the powers of death, and their full and final destruction. The resurrection offers compelling proof that the powers of death are no match for God’s authority. Their weakness has been exposed, their ultimate threat disarmed.

But if death has been defeated, why were there so many violent killings in Iraq this week? Or why does the military occupation of Palestine continue? Or why is there so much poverty and suffering in the world?

While the powers of death have been defeated they have not yet been destroyed. For a time they retain residual power and influence in this world. Indeed, many still cling to greed, domination, force and the threat of death as the best tools for protecting self interests.

In this “March Madness” basketball season, perhaps a sports analogy is appropriate. The powers of death are like a previously undefeated team that arrogantly tramples its opponents all season long. The team seems invincible. In the final game of the tournament, it dominates a seemingly much weaker team — What kind of game strategy is suffering and a cross? — and prepares to declare itself the champion. But in the last minutes of the game, the “weaker” team rallies and wins an extraordinary victory. While the arrogant team has been defeated, it will live to play more games next season — perhaps still dominating for a time. But its power has been diminished by the memory of its indisputable defeat in the championship game. Its invincibility has been exposed.

Today, in the face of war, famine, dispossession, occupation, injustice and all that feels unfair, we cry out to God to act quickly and decisively to destroy what remains of death’s powers. But God waits patiently, offering every opportunity for the enemies of the cross – which sadly too often include the Christian church – to come to their senses and embrace the ways of God’s kingdom.

And we must wait too; but not passively. By our words and actions we boldly announce God’s Easter victory over death – light has triumphed over darkness, truth over falsehood, love over hate, nonviolence over violence and the way of service over the way of domination.

Even now we are to live into the vision that God promised through the prophet Isaiah: “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth.” (Is. 65:17) In God’s new order, distress, sickness, death, displacement, domination and violence will no longer hold sway. They will be replaced by joy, good health, long life, secure dwellings and right relationships (vv.19-25).

Like Moses, we may not live to see God’s promise fulfilled in our life time. But Easter gives us a bird’s eye view of the new heaven and earth that God is creating. Death has been defeated! Death will be destroyed!

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