Myers Park Baptist Church
Charlotte, North Carolina
Easter Sunday, April 8, 2007
THE DAWN OF THE NEW CREATION
Texts: I Corinthians 15:1-9, 11 and Luke 23:55-24:12
What happens when Easter begins to happen? Surprise, amazement,
fear, bewilderment. We are perplexed; we are wild with joy. This is
the absolutely new and the wildly unexpected happening before our
blinking eyes. I invite you into the mystery of Easter today.
I begin with the witness of Luke. To use Paul's words, "I hand on
to you what has been delivered to me." It feels like a sacred duty
to me: To hand on to you what has been handed to me, person to
person, community to community, over two thousand years of history.
I remember going to the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit last year and
standing almost in awe before those actual fragments of manuscripts,
hand-scribed passages of Hebrew scripture from two thousand years
ago. It would be close to sacrilege if I would take a pen and begin
to change a Hebrew letter here and there to suit my fancy and fit my
That's how I hold the five witnesses to the Resurrection:
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul. I examine them, translate and
interpret them, ask questions of them, wrestle with them, enter into
conversation with them. I do not change them. I hand them on to you
as they were delivered to me.
Picture the five witnesses to the Resurrection as five
overlapping circles as in a Wenn diagram. They each have their own
stories to tell; they each have stories that overlap with one or
more of the other circles. And at the center there is a shared
witness, bedrock witness to the Resurrection that all five hold and
What is common to all is an empty tomb and then a series of
appearances of the risen Jesus in a transfigured body that Paul has
to invent a phrase to describe: A "spiritual body." These
appearances are not provable, not in our modern sense of provable.
They stand too far away; they are wrapped in mystery. But without
them Christianity is unexplainable.
Luke begins his Easter account, as do all the Gospels, with
women. They are described as the women who had "followed him from
Galilee" (Luke 23:49). They had watched Jesus die on the cross. They
had followed those who put Jesus' body in the tomb owned by Joseph
of Arimathea. They had prepared spices and ointment to anoint his
body. Then they had observed Sabbath and rested. Later in our text
Luke tells us who they are: Mary Magdalene; Joanna, wife of Herod's
steward; Mary, mother of James the disciple; and others.
Early dawn on Sunday they came to the tomb to anoint his body.
They found the stone rolled away from the entrance. They went in and
found the body of Jesus gone. They did not know what to think; they
were puzzled, perplexed, confused.
Then suddenly there appeared two men with clothing shining with
dazzling light. I have no experience with such. If I reported such
you would take me to a doctor. The women trembled, terrified, and
lowered their faces to the ground.
The angels - - or "messengers," which is what angel means in the
Bible, messengers from God - - did not say what angels often say in
the Bible: "Be not afraid." They asked a question. Sometimes a
question is what we most need, not an announcement: A question which
begins to draw us into the light the way early dawn begins to
introduce us to the day.
They ask the women: "Why do you seek the living among the dead?"
Imagine going to visit the grave of someone you love. You hear a
voice say: "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" What could
these words mean? Is the one I love, whose body lies here, not dead
but living? Can you begin to believe such a thing?
The angels' words are what I'd like to say to Titanic director,
James Cameron, and his cohorts who made their documentary on what
they claim could be the bones of Jesus. I call them "Raiders of the
Lost Bones." I want to ask: "Why do you seek the living among the
Then the angels complete their announcement: "He is not dead, but
has been raised." Then they say, "Remember how he told you, while he
was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to the
sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise?" That Jesus
told these things to these women means that they were part of the
inner circle of Jesus' disciples. Not just Peter, James and John.
Mary Magdalene and Joanna, too!
I have a friend who played a practical joke as a boy. His parents
would always leave a murder mystery on the bedside table in the
guest room. My friend and his brother sneaked into the guest room
and carefully tore out the last chapter. When the guest came he
began to read. The next morning he came to the breakfast table
bleary-eyed and with the question: "Who dun it?" How did it end? The
last chapter of a good mystery novel not only tells you who did it
but also helps explain everything you've been reading about
throughout the book. The characters, the actions, all.
The resurrection of Jesus begins to explain everything we've read
before, experienced before. It gives us new eyes to see what God has
been doing all along and what God intends for the world from this
The text says they remembered Jesus' words, then went to tell the
eleven disciples and others what had happened.
And how did the eleven respond? "But these words seemed to them
an idle tale, and they did not believe them."
Would they have believed men? It's a tired, old story - -
and tragic: Only men can be messengers of the divine, we are
told. But Jesus is making women the first messengers of Easter!
An idle tale, they thought. But there was something about the
women's words that hooked Peter. He ran, he ran to the
tomb. The last time we had seen Peter was on the night of Jesus'
arrest. He had denied he even knew Jesus. Now he heard the report of
the women and ran. And he stooped and looked in. And he saw the
linen burial cloths lying there. And no body lying there. And he
went home filled with amazement.
This is how Easter begins: With an empty tomb, with angels'
words, with women the first evangelists of Easter, with people
confused and disbelieving and filled with wonderment. And if this
were all that happened, Christianity would never have been born.
Something else began to happen. The risen Jesus began to appear
to people in a body which was like and unlike his earthly body. All
five witnesses have their different stories. In the weeks ahead I
will tell Luke's stories, but today I want to go to the fifth
witness, to Paul. He is writing to the Corinthians. It's about 53-54
C.E., twenty years or so after Easter.
"I hand on to you what has been delivered to me," he says, and
then begins to quote exact words passed down over these twenty
years. You can imagine them read in earliest Christian worship as we
read them today:
That Christ died for our sins
in accordance with the scriptures
and that he was buried
and that he was raised on the third day
in accordance with the scriptures
and that he appeared to Cephus [Peter]
then to the twelve.
Then he appeared to more than five hundred at one time
most of whom are still alive, though some have died.
Then he appeared to James [the brother of Jesus]
then to all the apostles.
Last of all [Paul adds], as to one untimely born,
he appeared also to me.
Whom did Paul leave out? Ah yes, the women! The ones who first
witnessed the resurrection and told the men! It is a sad fact that
in the ancient world women were not counted as reliable witnesses.
It is a fact of the new creation that God called women to be
the first witnesses to the resurrection! Mary Magdalene became known
as "Apostle to the Apostles"! How far has the church moved into the
new creation? Not far enough!
Then there are those almost impenetrable words: "Christ died for
our sins in accordance with the scriptures." Could this mean that he
died on account of our sins, because of them? And that
God was using his death to deal with our sins, ours and our world's?
Then the words: "He was raised on the third day in accordance with
And here I go back to the mystery novel and the last chapter,
which gives us new eyes to see everything that's gone before. All
the pieces begin to fall in place.
Jesus' death and resurrection give us new light to see all of
scripture. Easter illumines a God who has been at work raising the
dead since the beginning:
- the God who scooped us out of the clay and blew into us the
breath of life;
- the God who took Noah and started the world all over again when
it had descended into violent chaos;
- the Holy Mother of God who formed "our inmost parts" in our
mothers' wombs and then brought us forth into life;
- the God who took Abraham and Sarah and began a new people;
- the God who heard the cries of Hebrew people in Egypt and
passed them over from slavery into freedom, from death into life;
- the God who went into Exile with the Hebrew people and then
delivered them from Babylonian captivity;
- the God who said in Hosea 6:2: "After two days God will revive
us; and on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live
- the God whose own suffering servant would bear our sins and
make us whole;
- the God of Ezekiel who showed us a valley of dry bones and
said, "Can these dry bones live?" Then said, "I will send my spirit
and they will rise: Toe bone to head bone, flesh, sinews, rise!"
When Paul says, "In accordance with scriptures," he is not
prooftexting a line here or a line there. He is saying, This is what
God has been about forever. And he is announcing that now in the
death and resurrection of Jesus something new has dawned. It is what
Paul called "the new creation."
He had experienced it in the most radical way. There is no
plainer way to say it: Paul was a jihadist for his faith. He
persecuted the church with violence.
Then what had happened to others happened to him: The risen Jesus
appeared to him, and Paul the jihadist became Paul the apostle of
Jesus Christ, evangelist of the new creation.
There was in first-century Judaism a fervent hope in
resurrection. Not all had this hope, but many did. And this is what
resurrection meant: That one day God would raise from the dead all
the righteous Jews from all ages and bring a complete transformation
of history. The kingdom would fully come. There would be no more
pain, suffering, injustice, oppression. It would be the resurrection
of the whole world.
When Jesus talked to his disciples about the Son of Man, about
death and resurrection, this was probably what they were imagining.
It was all they could imagine. It may have been all Jesus could
But what happened on Easter was something completely new, outside
their frame of reference: That a single person, Jesus of Nazareth,
would be raised by God, and that his resurrection was the beginning,
the dawn, of the new creation.
This new creation was not a new creation fully come, but one
which had dawned. It was the new creation at work in the midst of
the old creation. Which means if we enter it, we enter it by faith,
by the slenderest of faith.
There's still enough of the old creation around for us to believe
that's all there is. There's still enough of the old creation around
in us to hold us back. Eli Wiesel, holocaust survivor, Nobel
Laureate, has said: "I have my reasons not to have faith in God. I
have my reasons not to have faith in humanity. I chose not to use
Easter faith gives us eyes to see the dawn of God's new creation
in the midst of the old. It gives us courage to live by the new
creation rather than by the old one.
So now we live by the forgiveness of sins rather than by the twin
bondages of guilt and unforgivingness. Easter came first to the
guilty and defeated disciples as utter grace, free forgiveness and a
So we choose by faith to work for justice in the midst of the
powers and systems of injustice. The old creation is giving way
brick by brick, law by law, institution by institution, person by
person, to the new creation.
We say in our church covenant here that we "covenant to be a
community of God's new creation" and as such are "open to all and
closed to none." The divisions, hatreds and bigotries of the old
creation no longer count; they are giving way to the
shalom of the new creation.
Easter faith lets us trust in the God of Easter who says:
"Behold, I am making all things new.... In this world you will find
tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world!"
Easter is the dawn of the new creation. And while it is not yet
fully come we can taste the goodness of its morning light.
If anyone is in Christ, behold, there is a new creation!
When any prison door opens, behold a new creation. When the
hungry are fed, behold a new creation.
When the ancient enmities between religions are overcome, behold,
a new creation.
When anyone turns to Christ and follows the way of Jesus and is
baptized, behold, there is a new creation.
When any broken relationship finds healing, behold a new
We experience it in every experience of joy. "We have God's joy
in our blood," says Buechner. We experience it in every experience
of love. We have God's love in our blood. We experience it in every
experience of pardon, healing, hope and release. We've got God's
pardon, healing, hope and release in our blood.
Why do you seek the living among the dead? Christ has been