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God has the last word

24 March 2016

Sam Wells explores the significance of the Resurrection for the preacher

Roger Wagner

THE Resurrection is the epicentre of the Christian faith. It’s the event without which there would be no Christianity. It’s the focus of faith, which looks back with conviction to what God has done, and of hope, which looks forward with confidence to what God will do.

It brings together all the key themes of the Old Testament — the (new) creation on the eighth day; the new liberation, from death and sin as well as slavery; the new covenant, at a mercy seat flanked by cherubim; the final end of exile, in a new promised land of eternal life.

Most succinctly, resurrection brings together the two great “benefits” of Christ’s passion: deliverance from the prison of the past (what others have done to us, and what we have done and regret) through the forgiveness of sins; and freedom from the fear of the future, through the gift of life everlasting with God, one another, and the renewed creation. Paralysed by past and future, we cannot live in the present. Resurrection gives the ability to be present — to live, not just for ever, but now.

Two problems arise in preaching resurrection. The first is reflected in the lyric, “risen, conquering Son”. Does not the most glorious Lord of life have a way of redeeming the world without losers, conquest, triumph? Is faith a cosmic playground proclamation that “My Dad is bigger than your Dad”?

Surely heavenly perfection goes beyond the language of conquest, and enters new and inspiring territory that is less about victory, and more about breakthrough. Like an outbreak of laughter around the universe — an inclusive, non-defensive, non-aggressive, intriguing, and engulfing image, designed to be infectious. Like a heavenquake that rolls away the stone of despair, oppression, lament, grief, death, sin, fear.

The second problem is, what does the resurrection of a single being 2000 years ago — albeit the second member of the Trinity — mean for the resurrection of all beings (or, at least, all believers, possibly including all people of good will, and the odd righteous Hindu such as Gandhi, together with those of our family and friends who didn’t make it to church that often), today and on the last day?

The connection is not obvious or simple. Explaining what actually changes because of Easter, why death is dead after Jesus’s resurrection when it seems still to be alive and well all around us, why sin is overcome when it, too, seems to be in rude health, is essential to preaching resurrection. There isn’t a rational, knockdown answer to this, which is why the preacher has to explore the heart and the gut, as well as the head.

In the end, resurrection says, the cross, with its shame, betrayal, death, and grief, does not have the last word. God has the last word. And God’s last word is, “You will be with me always.” Nothing can separate us. It’s the best word of all.

 

The Revd Dr Sam Wells is the Vicar of St- Martin-in-the-Fields. His most recent book is A Nazareth Manifesto (Wiley-Blackwell, 2015).

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