Fr. Stephen's Easter Message
Fr. Stephen's Easter Message
In the Epistle reading from Romans, St. Paul says, “we know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him” (6:9). Another translation says, “death no longer has dominion over him.” I like that word “dominion” because it gets at the heart of what we celebrate at Easter. When St. Paul uses the word “death” he’s not just talking about physical death. He’s talking about Death as a dominion.
The root word for “dominion” is domain -- a dominion is a place governed by a ruling or controlling power. What Jesus has defeated is the dominion of Death -- he’s defeated a world, a place where death used to rule. The world that God made back in Genesis at Creation was free from the dominion of Death but because of our sins the power of Death entered it. We freely let the Devil, Sin, and Death in through the back door of God’s creation and gave them unlimited power over us. By sinning, we sold ourselves into slavery under the power of a tyrannical maniac who wants nothing more than to see us experience an eternity of misery and suffering. One person I heard said the most poignant, modern image of what it means to live under the dominion of Sin and Death is to think of ourselves as being in the hands of a human trafficker.
That is the dominion of Death that Jesus came to defeat and free us from, that is the dominion of Death that Jesus has definitively defeated today, and he’s defeated it by taking it all on himself. Life is stronger than death! We are no longer slaves! We are no longer held captive by powers stronger than us who want to destroy us! We have been liberated by the power of Jesus’ resurrection from the most terrifying existential threat of our lives! Death is not the end! It is finished! Thanks be to God!
Here’s the thing though: the result of Jesus’ destruction of the dominion of Sin and Death is not just a big pile of rubble. Jesus didn’t just destroy Death and leave us to live in the ruins of the old world; he also restored Life.
By his death and resurrection Jesus is not just cancelling but creating. He cancelled our sins on the Cross, but in his Resurrection he has created a new world, a new, restored Garden of Eden that is 100% death free. Out of the rubble of our fallen world, he has created a new place for us to live. This is what I want you to be convicted of: we live in that restored Garden of Eden now.
St. Paul describes our life in this New Eden in his letter to the Colosians, he says: “You have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Jesus has created in himself a new place for us to live and we live in him through Baptism and the Eucharist. And it’s not just a spiritual or immaterial place -- though it is hidden, or disguised, from the physical world. We’re in it, now, here, as we are, because we’ve been united to Christ through Baptism and we live in Him. In Christ, we can now live in a death-free world where the effects of sin no longer have power. Which means we can live in peace, harmony, and serenity because nothing can harm us -- there are no threats to life or joy in this new world. What’s more is that we can actually be co-creators with God in expanding and growing this new world through our own witness of announcing the Good News that a new world has been inaugurated and everyone is invited.
That sounds good right? Maybe even too good to be true. There’s a major issue that poses a great challenge in accepting that this new world is in fact real. When everything is going well in our lives it’s easier to accept that maybe this new world really exists, but it’s a whole other ballgame when we’re faced with suffering.
When we experience suffering the temptation is to believe the lie that Death is still in charge. It’s tempting to think we’re still under the dominion of Sin and Death when: we receive a life-threatening diagnosis, our Christian values seem to be eroding away from society, or a tragedy hits our family. It’s tempting to believe that our residence in a restored paradise is nothing more than pie-in-the-sky fantasy when we have to live through everything that’s resulted from the coronavirus -- death, violence, division, declining church attendance -- I’ll just stop there. When all those things happen it’s really easy to glare at God in resentment and say, “if this is what your paradise is like, I’m out! If your new Garden of Eden includes tragedy, suffering, and pain I don’t want anything to do with it.”
Or maybe our rejection of God’s new world for us is more subtle. Rather than a clean break, maybe we just lower our expectations for what Christianity can actually give us. Because we don’t want to get our hopes up about what God has done for us because we don’t want to be disappointed, maybe we just settle for something less. We settle for a more “realistic” version of Easter that offers us little more than a change of scenery.
Those are understandable reactions and objections. But, the invitation of hope at Easter is to see that even our suffering has been transformed. The invitation is to recognize that what Jesus did through his Cross and Resurrection was to take suffering, which before was a meaningless, slow-erosion of our dignity and happiness, and repurpose it. The Resurrection of Jesus means that with suffering, we now have a power-tool we can use to build with God a bigger paradise.
Through the lens of the Resurrection, rather than seeing suffering as evidence proving the Devil’s lie that Easter is a fraud and therefore God can’t be trusted, we can see suffering as a participation in the same work of restoration Jesus did through his Paschal Mystery. Because we live in a new world, suffering gives us the opportunity to make Jesus’ story of death and resurrection our own story.
How we follow Jesus’ lead and step into this new paradise happens when we set aside our fear. When we set aside our fear that allowing ourselves to get our hopes up will only lead to disappointment and heartbreak. We enter into this new paradise when, with child-like trust and wonder, we give ourselves permission to hope and believe again. In this posture of receptivity we can be convicted and inspired in a new way by the resurrection announced by the angel: “Do not be afraid. He is not here; for he has risen.”
Fr. Steve Blaxton
on Sunday, April 4 at 8:00AM