Saturday, March 30, 2013

On the First Day... In the Garden: Ressurection as New Creation In John's Gsoepl (john 20:1-18)

 can help but think of a friend of mine Tim keel when I read John’s account of the resurrection. Tim is the founding pastor of Jacob’s well in Kansas city, and he was also a lecturer in congregational leadership and life at Laidlaw out in West Auckland. I went and audited his classes on “Missional Leadership”. Tim talked of the fact that as a church we have found our imaginations held captive to one way of understanding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, one motif that flows through the whole of scripture. That is the priestly narrative, of sacrifice and forgiveness of sins, paying the price and ritual purity. There is nothing wrong with that, its biblical, it’s beautiful and meaningful, it is where we get our judicial understanding of what Christ has done for us … that catch cry of the reformation, that wonderful release from guilt and shame… we are justified by faith, made right with God through the gracious acts of Jesus Christ.  But if we don’t see or hear the other narratives running through the whole of scripture and through the gospel and finding their fulfilment in the crucifixion and resurrection we can miss something of the wonder and the glory and the reality of that event.

Tim keel talks of four narratives, four threads that are woven together in scripture…

The priestly narrative: ritual cleanliness. 

The Liberation Narrative: God as liberator; the slavery to freedom story that Israel tells of her journey to nationhood.

The restoration narrative: God as restorer… the story of exile and return,  of reconciliation, renewal and restoration. We started the year by looking at the book of Haggai which fits in this both historically and theologically.


The creation, recreation narrative: God as creator, God has made the heavens and the earth and is making a new heaven and a new earth.


You can see these threads running through the different gospels, they are lenses which help us to grasp the wonder and depth of what the LORD has done for us.


So how does this apply to today, to the resurrection, to John’s gospel, why start with this bit of academic theological… musing.


Because I can’t help but look at John’s story of the resurrection without seeing the wonderful narrative of God’s new creation, that in Christ’s death and resurrection this new creation has started , the new heavens and the new earth are breaking into the realms of the old, into history, into peoples lives, into your life and mine and the world which we live. ‘Therefore’ says Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17 in Christ, you are a new creation, the old has gone the new has come’. 


John’s gospel starts not by looking at back at Jesus birth, showing how his coming was in fulfilment of scripture; or even his genealogy, his whakapapa, linking him back with the story of God’s liberation, sanctification and restoration but with Jesus origins in eternity… In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. He was with God in the beginning Through him all thing were made that have been made, without him nothing was made that has been made.’  Then John goes on to say in his prologue ‘the word became flesh and dwelt amongst us, the creator entered into his creation. We can see in the gospels a taste of this new creation, the recovery of sight for the blind, Lazarus raised from the dead, but with the resurrection there is a fresh start the reality of new creation enters our world. The image behind me is a part of the eagle nebula called the pillars of creation… dust left over from some cosmic event.


John’s resurrection account starts with on the first day… in the garden. It may seem that John is simply placing the events when and where they happened, but these are words that resonate with creation, full of the origins of genesis, on the first day… in the garden. Here is the origin the genesis of the new creation long hoped for in passages like Isaiah 65 we had read to us today.


The new creation like the old that comes into reality in the spoken word of God… the word became flesh… Jesus triumphant cry from the cross ”it is finished”


It’s a new creation that starts by overcoming decay and death, sin and wrongdoing that marred the old. Death has been swallowed up by victory.


But it’s a new creation that does not come like the old creation, with a big bang… if I may borrow the words of physics, it comes slowly into the world, like a new dawn slowly sheds its light on the waning darkness of night.  It comes as Jesus said as a seed falls to the ground and dies so it will bear much fruit. It starts like the seedling breaking out of the soil… on the first day in the garden. The tomb is empty Jesus has risen.


It comes into the life of a women mourning and weeping in the garden, full of grief because her hope had been brutally killed and now the worst of indignities, she thinks, his body has been stolen. It comes with the reassuring speaking of her name, of being known, “Mary”, and in a way that is totally the opposite of a grief induced hallucination, from realising the one she had thought the gardener is in actual fact her Rabboni, her teacher, Jesus.  New creation breaks into her life, just as it had when she had first encountered Jesus, this time it brings hope when there seemed to be an end of hope, joy where there was only sorrow, love in the place of loss and purpose and meaning as she is told to go and tell the others.


New creation that goes on past where we stopped reading in John’s gospel today, to Jesus disciples gathered in a locked room , full of fear, and Jesus appears in their midst, right away he offers them peace, instead of fear. He breathes on them and they receive the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God that hovered over the waters, the agent of God’s creation, now fills them. Jesus invites them to go beyond the walls to be agents of reconciliation and renewal. That they can bring that new creation into the lives of others  If you forgive the sins of anyone they are forgiven, there is the hope of new creation, restored relationship, new birth… but also Jesus says if they do not forgive then there is no forgiveness. This new creation does not force its way in to the old, Jesus may not be hindered by walls and locked rooms but for it to grow we must unbolt doors and walk out from behind our walls, physical and spiritual.


It is new creation that breaks into the life of a man who is so hurt and cut off, that he  is not willing to even entertain the idea that Jesus is alive unless he can have hands on proof. He encounters Jesus and is true to his word and believes. Thomas is the first to confess “My Lord and my God” to recognise the divinity of Jesus. It is new life and new creation that can reach into our lives as Jesus says ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe”. While we have the book of Acts and it tells the story of the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome, Thomas takes the gospel east to Syria and even to India where some churches claims him as their founder.


It is new creation that breaks into the life of Peter, who denied Christ three times, who simply wants to go back to his old life and the familiar “let’s go fishing”.   It is a new creation over a breakfast meal that restores Relationship and gives purpose and meaning… “Do you love me peter, do you love me  Do you love me… yes then feed my sheep.


It is a new creation that we can read on in the scriptures that is manifested in the creation of a new people, a new way to be human. People from across the barriers of society coming together as one in Christ, to live in a new way , to live out and live in new creation.


It is new creation that goes beyond those gospel pages…  John says the reason he wrote his gospel is so that you and I may believe. This new creation breaks into our lives and into our world. It happens when broken lives are made whole, when people turn to Christ for new life, beyond that it breaks in where poverty and suffering are meet with care and justice, like a young nun on a train hearing the call to care for the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, sparking a world-wide movement. A mercy ship, a floating hospital takes medical care and christen concern to  the poorest of the poor, In simply acts of kindness round our neighbourhood and sacrificial love, in caring for the old creation and wanting to see the new bloom within it.


There are set backs and as we know the old resists the new, Paul talks of the battle that rages between the new nature and the old. It’s liberating to read the letters written to those first expressions and a new people, of new humanity to see that they like us wrestled with how this new life was to be lived out together, but even in the midst of that the new creation seems to reach out and break into the old.


There are struggles on a grander scale.
Sometimes facing a decline in the church in the west it is hard to this new creation happening, it can feel like death and decay. But even here there is the hope of new creation, new life and new birth, new creation cannot be contained and domesticated in a certain way of doing things, in an understanding of being God’s people, in buildings and rituals and structures. The Spirit of God that hovered over the chaos at creation also hovers over the world and is about the work of new creation of liberation of restoration of making clean and pure, and just and waits for us to go and find where those growth tips of new creation are and join ourselves to the mission of God. In the end no grave or other structure will hold the risen saviour Jesus from being the font of new creation.

The way we order the different writing in the bible mean that the gospel story finishes with a book attributed to John, revelations, a book which was written to those who found themselves suffering in the struggle between the powers of the old and the reality of the new in Christ. It is written in a type of literature called apocalyptic language, a sort of code from the first century that we are not totally familiar with today, its full of pictures of what is happening in the world as part of a cosmic framework, and in the end it tells the story that the new creation that breaks into our world with the coming of Christ and his death and resurrection will find its ultimate fulfilment in the return of its risen king. The old has passed away and the new that has come will be consummated. But for now as we encounter and believe in the risen Jesus Christ that new creation comes into our lives, into our world, it breaks the chains of the old and gives new life, it bring healing and wholeness, hope of change at an individual level, at a communal level at a systemic level.

So today we celebrate that first day… in the garden… Jesus is alive… he is risen… new life, new hope, new starts, new creation, the old has passed behold I make all things new.

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