Resurrection: Past, Present, Future

Wetteren Resurrection: Past, Present, Future

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; April 17, 2022

Easter Sunday

Isaiah 65: 17-25, Luke 24: 1-12


In my 15 years of ordained ministry, nothing has been as humbling as writing Easter sermons. Year after year, I ask myself how I can possibly string together words to describe the indescribable. How can the mystery and wonder of God’s love revealed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus possibly be expressed in the short time provided? But recently, during my daily devotions, I have been studying the writings of Paul using a Bible given to me by a friend. It’s The Message translation with commentary provided by Eugene Peterson—my favorite Presbyterian (God rest his soul). Anyway, while reading Paul’s letter to the Christians in Colossae, I happened upon a priceless jewel in the third chapter. Hear these words from The Message translation:

So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective. Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you.

And here is the jewel. In response to Paul’s words, Peterson offers a compelling image of a “resurrection triangle,” which is what I want us to explore together. In Peterson’s analogy, the first corner of the triangle is the resurrection of Jesus Christ that took place two thousand years ago. The second corner tells the story of the general resurrection of the dead in the future. The third corner is the resurrection that is taking place now, in you and me. Resurrection past, resurrection future, and resurrection present.

First, let’s look at resurrection past—the corner of the resurrection triangle that took place that first Easter morn. Luke paints a picture of a loyal group of women who follow Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem. Even when he is arrested, they remain. They watch as he is crucified. They follow Joseph of Arimathea when he takes the body of Jesus, wraps it in linen cloth and places it in a rock-hewn tomb. After the Jewish Sabbath, the women return early in the morning with embalming spices. To their surprise, they find the stone has been moved away and Jesus is nowhere in sight. Suddenly two men, dazzling in their brightness, appear and say to them, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” And that’s when it hits them. That’s when the women remember all that Jesus had said about his death and resurrection. Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Resurrection past!

Now, let’s move to the second corner of the resurrection triangle—resurrection future—or the resurrection of the dead. In that day, there will be a new heaven and a new earth as described in Revelation 21:

…[F]or the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”

The heavens and the earth in Genesis give way to a new heaven and earth in Revelation—a new heaven and earth in which all the faithful reside with Christ our Savior. Resurrection future!

Finally, the third corner of the resurrection triangle brings us to what is taking place in the here and now, in you and me. Although it is writ large throughout Scripture, Colossians 3 does a wonderful job describing Resurrection Present. Again, from The Message:

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory… As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.

To be faithful followers of Christ, each of us must experience the Risen Lord in our own hearts for, as Martin Luther put it, “It really doesn’t matter if Jesus rose from the dead if he isn’t risen in you.” Resurrection present!

Returning to Eugene Peterson’s commentary:

Resurrection is not only what happened to Jesus; it’s not only what will happen to us after death; it’s happening now. What happened to Christ is happening to us. Present tense. Christians not only will be raised from the dead, but we are already raised from the dead so that we can experience the power of God that enables us to walk in newness of life.

People who live this way find that the resurrection doesn’t remove us from the sweat and tears of our humanity into some paradise where the gritty quality of our ordinary daily lives is left far behind us. We would like that. Sometimes we think this happens to other people. But it doesn’t. When people talk that way, they aren’t telling the truth. When people talk as if being raised with Christ has removed them from doubt, pain, difficult responsibilities, and trying relationships, they are only fantasizing. [The miracle of resurrection for us today] isn’t that we’re delivered from our present circumstances; it’s that we’re transformed by them.[i]

Resurrection is available to each of us now as an invitation to live the way of Jesus. Once Jesus burst forth from the tomb, everything changed. Jesus is no longer only in Galilee or Jerusalem. Jesus is everywhere and he offers wholeness to all people of the world for all time. We, who have experienced the power of Christ’s resurrection, know that new life is possible for the vulnerable, the alienated, the desperate, and the grief-stricken. We know that resurrection touches us all because resurrection—past, present, and future—is at the center of all we do and all we are.

This Resurrection morn, we gather in person and virtually as a faith community. Here, the presence of Christ is known to us in the preaching of the Word, by the waters of Baptism, and at the Table of our Lord. Here in this sacred space, through liturgy, prayer, and song we are bound together in our common search for transformation.[ii] Christ is here among us to gather us in, and then, by the power of the Spirit, Christ sends us out to be his hands and feet in the world.  Let us faithfully live a resurrected life—now and forevermore. For Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!

[i] Colossians 3 commentary in The Message Study Bible: Capturing the Notes and Reflections of Eugene Peterson.

[ii] Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart, 161.

*Cover Art by Stushie Art, used by subscription