The Church’s three scriptures for today are magnificent, almost too much for a single homily to express.
So, one way of encapsulating the meaning of these sacred texts is to look for a “golden thread”- a single commonality that ties all three together and if you look carefully you find it. What is it? Sin.
Note in our first scripture the Apostle Peter insists that we “repent and be converted so that our sins may be forgiven.
And in our second scripture, from the First Letter of John, we hear that the purpose of this text is that it is written so that we “may not commit sin” but if anyone of us “does sin, we have an Advocate”- Jesus Christ. And that he is “expiation for our sins”.
And then in our Gospel, Christ the Lord testifies that the purpose of his revelation, of his death and resurrection is “that repentance might be preached in his name for the forgiveness of sins”.
Now I know that preaching about sin is likely not “trending” right now. It’s not considered positive and barely mentioning it evokes emotions of resistance. Sin is not positive and isn’t the purpose of preaching to edify and lift us up, not weigh us down with guilt?
But if the scriptures, rather than our opinions or emotions are our guide for proclamation, we can’t ignore the “golden thread”. The scriptures for today are identifying sin as a reality, a predicament and offering us the possibility of deliverance. We can ignore this and rest in pious generalities rather than facing a reality of human existence or we can take our medicine, swallow the bitter pill and trust that the end result is hope and healing.
What is sin?
Simply put, sin is willfully and deliberately resisting the will and purposes of God, specifically God’s will and purposes expressed in his commandments. Sin is a refusal. God offers us a possibility for our lives and our answer is no.
Now with this refusal comes consequences, and sin initiates these consequences and we might think of the consequences of sin as a trap from which it is near to impossible for us on our own to extricate ourselves from and sin, our refusal of God, can be so insidious that we intentionally or inadvertently trap others in our predicament. In other words, sin has a viral quality to it, and the misery of sin is rarely just our own, but it’s consequences are usually shared by others.
So, think of the commandments of God, not as a grim list of prohibitions, but God’s wisdom, a warning about the kinds of refusals that lead toward misery for ourselves and for others. Through his commandments, God is not trying to seize our joy, but to maintain it. He is not inhibiting our flourishing, but enhancing it.
God’s response to our sin is not, as many think, merely condemnation, but a rescue operation led by God himself- Jesus Christ. Christ comes into the world as God’s response to our sin- our refusals of God. This is clearly expressed at the very beginning of Gospel, in the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, which testifies that the purpose of Jesus, expressed in his name is “to save his people from their sins”.
Now, the Gospels are clear that God’s rescue operation in Christ is not simply to reinforce existing commandments or offer us a self-help strategy that will guarantee us our best life now. Instead of these, what God in Christ does is to enter into the human condition itself and confront the reality of our refusals with his will to love us.
He manifests this in his willingness to forgive us for our worst, our worst being manifested in the horror of the cross, and then through his death, enter himself into the deepest and darkest consequence of our refusal which is death. He does this to reveal the extent to which God is willing to go to forgive us and to find us- our refusal can look like the cross and he maintains his power to forgive us for even that and we our refusal could go as far as far can go- even into death itself and even there we would come face to face with his will to rescue us.
In other words, God in Christ reveals that it might be our intention to live in alienation from God, but it’s not God’s intention simply to accept that situation as our status quo. Our capacity for refusal is always met with God’s capacity for rescue. That’s what God in Christ is all about. That’s his mission. That’s his purpose. That’s the reason for his revelation. God in Christ is the one who is strong enough to get us out of the trap.
God reveals in Christ that his response to our sin, to our refusals, is not merely to condemn us, but to rescue us from the trap and he does this by entering into the predicament that the consequences of our sin, our refusals creates. This is what the cross and resurrection of the Lord reveal.
It’s also the reason for the joy of Easter. The joy of Easter is not our elation at the fact that winter has turned to spring or life proves itself to be resilient in the face of tragedy, or even that God is powerful enough to pull Jesus alive out of a grave, but that God in Christ has successfully enacted his rescue operation and in doing so demonstrated that sin, our refusals of God, need not be the last word or the final judgement. God in Christ has in the revelation of his resurrection given us the most surprising and best of all possible second chances.
Now, in order for this to be true, it all has to have really happened. And that brings us to a point the witness of the Gospel is making today that deserves our attention.
In today’s Gospel there is an account, an eyewitness account of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and this testimony goes out of its way to insist that the resurrection of the Lord Jesus happened not in metaphor or in simply or as a matter of mind or emotions, but in the real body of the Lord Jesus. The resurrection was and is a physical event, not some kind of symbol. Note, only is the body of the Lord Jesus real, but he demonstrates how real his body is by eating.
The resurrection is so outrageous, so outside the realm of what we conceive possible that there is a tendency to make of it something other than what the scriptures describe- but the actual testimony is stubbornly insistent that none of our qualifications or equivocations of the dense physicality of Christ’s resurrection will do. We can dabble in symbolism all we want, but none of that will save us from our sins.
Sin is not an abstraction. It does not just happen in our minds or imaginations. Our refusals of God happen in the real world and have real world consequences. The very fact that we are so uncomfortable hearing about sin is testimony to its power over us. Rescuing us from sin is not a matter or revealing metaphors or symbols, but of entering into the real world and this is what God goes in Jesus Christ. Sin is a real world problem that demands a real world solution.
The forgiveness of sins is real because God in Christ is real- as real as his being born into this world, living in this world- as real as his death on the cross and as real as his resurrection. The reality of his body is demonstrating this to us. So, in regards to the resurrection, paraphrasing the words of the American writer John Updike “let us not mock God with metaphor”.
If Christ has not been truly raised then our refusals of God are the final judgment and there is no way out of the trap.