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The First Congregational Church, Columbus Ohio
Easter Sunday, April 16, 2006, 11a.m.
A sermon delivered by The Rev. Timothy Ahrens

Dedicated to the memory of Dr. William Sloane Coffin, mentor and friend and my grandmother, Josephine Kellermeyer, who was raised to eternal life on Easter and always to the glory of God!
The Church of Resurrection

Part VII of VII in sermon series:"The Changing Face of Christianity"

I Corinthians 15: 1-11, John 20:1-18

In a land far away and long ago, on a hill with a stone table laid the body of dead lion, Aslan. Aslan had been slain the night before by the Witch of Narnia. Now all was silent as the sun rose. Only the sound of two girls crying and holding their beloved could be heard through the clearing on that hill.

As Lucy and Susan turned to walk away, a terrible sound cracked the silence of the morning and shook the hillside. Returning in haste, they saw that the stone table was broken in two and there was no lion. Lucy cried, "they might have left the body alone." Susan wailed, "Who has done this? What does it mean? Is this more magic?" From behind them, a great voice responded, "Yes, it is more magic." The girls turned to see Aslan - now alive and standing strong before them. He continued:

It means that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there was a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who has committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards" (C. S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Harper Trophy, San Francisco, CA., 2000 edition, first published 1950, p.163).

With these words, C. S. Lewis taught generations of children the truth of resurrection through The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe found in the Chronicles of Narnia. Now, in film, this fairy tale continues to acknowledge the powerful truth that deep magic cannot defeat the Deeper Magic which goes back before the dawn of time. It teaches that an innocent victim who has committed no treachery has the power to defeat death itself. This is our story!

For us, this Truth of God's power to overcome death has been within our grasp for 2000 years. The first words of John's Gospel proclaim:

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life and the life was the light of ALL people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5).

In a land far away and long ago, on a cross, on a hill Jesus Christ was crucified. He died for the salvation of the world. He died as the earth shook, storms broke out, and the curtain of Jerusalem's Temple was torn in two. Despair blanketed the world because the Innocent One - God's only begotten Son - suffered the death penalty at the hands of the Roman State.

First, the story was just beginning when God's Light went out on Calvary. We, the Church of the Resurrection, know that God always goes through the cross to eternal life. God always has the last word. As Resurrection People, we know that God's way never ends in death. God's power goes back before Time. God's way leads to the cross AND through the cross to life. Therefore, we should not be afraid when faced with the cross' agony and death's pain because God is always moving through the cross and through death itself to life eternal. (Reference from Dietrich Bonhoeffer "The Cross of Christ and Remembrance of the Dead" 2/21/32)

Jesus was our Master Teacher. He taught us how to be the Church of Resurrection. He said, "do not be afraid . . . be faithful." He meant, "stand and do not fall on my word. You shall overcome fear." He said, "Be peacemakers." He meant, "go through the cross and violence of your age to peace and true justice. You shall overcome violence and war." He said, "Love one another." He meant, "go through the pain of un-love, no love or hatred to truly love one another. You shall overcome the absence of love."

As the Church of Resurrection, Jesus leads us through fear, through war, through hate and no love in life to the other side of darkness. Darkness has never and will never overcome the Man of Nazareth, our crucified and Risen Lord. Therefore, we must also go through the cross - through the taunts, through the pain, through furious scorn, exhaustion, vexation, fatigue and death itself. The more the storms of life, the more Christ comes to us. And the more he comes to us, the more we believe in the hope of the Resurrection!

Second, the Church of Resurrection, Jesus also shows us the way to Victory! Christ shows us not only how to live and move through the cross to life, He shows us how to be victorious. Writing to the Church of Resurrection in the First Century, the Apostle Paul proclaimed, "Death is swallowed up in victory, O death where is your sting? O grave where is your victory?"(I Cor. 15:54-55). Death has no victory. The grave has lost this battle.

Easter is a victory celebration. Easter is the greatest victory celebration ever won in the history of the world! It is the victory of God in Jesus Christ over death. Bread and wine, the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are the signs this victory. For in them, Jesus is present and alive today. We believe the same Jesus who was crucified on the cross, laid in the grave, forced open the tombstone, and rose victorious from the dead is present with us as our living Lord. In holy communion, we come to know him in broken bread and grape juice/wine poured out for us. This is our Victory Dinner, our Feast of Life!

Oddly enough, we, in the Church of Resurrection, tend not to speak of victory easily or often. So many of us have faced too many defeats, and experienced too many losses in life. So many of our victories have been thwarted by too many weaknesses exposed over too many years. Even so, deep within, all of us seek to be victorious. We want to win. We want to be on the winning team. We want our families to prosper, our businesses to grow and our church to be the Beacon on Broad St., the Cathedral of Grace in Central Ohio. We want a victorious life. We want to be imbued with a winner's spirit. But, having faced our losses, we have become realistic. Our sights are a little lower and our goals have changed to meet the horizon of a setting sun.

Allow me to share good news! The beauty of being the Church of Resurrection means that the Victory is already ours. In Christ's Resurrection, it is not we who are victorious, but Jesus. We proclaim this and believe it despite all we see around us, despite the graves of our loved ones, despite the death that war brings upon us and the young lives which street violence has stolen from us.

The Apostle Paul's song in I Corinthians 15 mocks death and sin. Although Death strikes fear into the human heart as though "It" is Lord of life, Jesus crushed Death's Lordship of this world on the first Easter. Death and Hell can damage us no further. They act like mean dogs on a chain, but Jesus holds them fast and claims the victory. They lost their power long ago. In the face of Christ's resurrection, they are old and toothless and clawless. And we, the Church of Resurrection, are heirs of Christ's victory. We need not covet our own victories, for Christ reigns victorious and invites us to His celebration! (Reference Dietrich Bonhoeffer "Chrisus Victor", 11/26/39)

Finally, as the Church of Resurrection, each us as members of this beloved community, need to go to the graveyard again with the women of the Gospels. In John's Gospel, Mary Magdalene appeared at Christ's tomb in the predawn hours of Easter. She had gone to anoint the dead body of her Savior, her teacher, her beloved friend. There is such gentleness and simplicity in this woman. She is a model of faith and love.

When Mary finds the gravestone rolled away, she runs to the disciples to tell them the news. They outrun her in the amazing race back to the tomb. When Mary arrives, they have already departed to tell the others. Alone, she begins to weep. Angels minister to her and then she hears her teacher speak her name. "Mary," he says. Immediately, she recognizes her rabbi's voice and she embraces him crying: "Rabonni!" Which means, "Teacher!" With that he leaves her with the promise of later returning - which he does in one appearance after another.

We have traveled the globe this Lenten Season. We have encountered many stories of Christian witness and faith. None has been more beautiful than this story of Mary and her Risen Rabbi. Mary enters Easter to care for the dead and by the time of sunrise, her dead Savior has risen and is caring for her. She, who has embraced eternity, runs to tell the world this great good news.

How many of you have passed through days when death knocked at your door? I have. On those days you and I find our way to hospice and hospital beds, to morgues and memorial services. We stand by the living as they stand by us, and together we remember the dead. We must remember even though those days are our hardest, they are not our only days. With Rabbi Abraham Heschel, we would be wise to remember that:

We are on the road to heaven, if today we walk with God. Eternal life is not a possession conferred at death. It is a present endowment. We live it now and continue it through death. With God, time is eternity in disguise. (Found in Credo by William Sloane Coffin, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 2004, p. 170).

As I opened, now I close. When the Witch of Narnia was defeated, Lucy, Susan, Peter, and Edmond became the Queens and Kings of this great land. While they were assuming their roles as rulers, the great Aslan quietly slipped away. Mr Beaver said:

"He'll be coming and going. One day you'll see him and another you won't. He doesn't like being tied down - and of course he has other countries to attend to. It's quite all right. He'll often drop in. Only you mustn't press him. He's wild you know. He's not like a tame lion" ( Ibid, p. 182).

As Christ's Church of Resurrection, the Kingdom of God has been left for us to nurture, support and care for. He has given us the Holy Spirit to guide our feet, our hearts, our mission. He will be back. But, we mustn't press him. After all, he has other countries to attend to. They, like us, are seeking to be His Church of Resurrection. May the Risen One who is wildly in love with us, help us to always remember: "Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:39). Amen.

Copyright 2006 First Congregational Church