In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We all like to think we have some choice in the matter. In any matter. But especially in religious matters. We can never quite believe that dead means dead. To us, dead is down but not out. Dead is barely breathing. Dead is deciding whether we’d like to live or not. But dead is none of those things. Dead is dead. Sure, Paul says that when we were dead, we walked around. But there was no choice in our walking. Dead in our trespasses and sins, in which we walked around. The one who pays the piper calls the tune, and Paul tells us who is paying the piper: the one who exercises authority in this age, the spirit who is even now at work in the sons of disobedience. But more than that, even our own way of living, the passions of our flesh, gladly doing the desires of our flesh and our minds, by nature children of wrath, like all the rest. I believe that I cannot by my own will and mind believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him (and I rather prefer my will and mind). It never was a question of us wanting to do the right thing and being unable. It wasn’t the sort of imprisonment where we wanted to be free but couldn’t. No, the world, the devil, and our own flesh paid the piper, and we danced to the tune happily and contentedly. The dead don’t know they’re dead. They just go on being dead; not only can they not live, they don’t really want to.
There is no exception to this rule. No one is more alive than anyone else. No one is more inclined to life than anyone else. If anyone claims to become willingly a believer in Christ, all that means is that he was dead and the Holy Spirit gave him a new will. The whole problem of salvation is that those who are not saved never will it; and only the already saved will to be so. The dead never consider that they might not be living; and only the living know that they were dead. The great mercy of God is that He raises the dead and makes them alive, but only with and in Christ. The huge love of God is that He loves us not to death, but to life. I’ve heard unbelievers joke that Easter is about a zombie Jesus, that He’s some religious version of the undead. Which is ironic, because we’re the only walking dead around here, constantly trying to make Jesus like us in death. He is the only one in the history of this dying creation who has let death chew on Him and, in the end, it’s death that dies. Now the work of God in Christ is all about spreading His life to all creation. It is all with Christ: making-alive-with; raising-with; seating-with. It has to be with Christ, because apart from Him there is no life at all. This is the reverse of every zombie film: in this story, the dead eat the living and instead of the living dying, the dead live.
And now? Now there is a new creation. God makes new people from Jesus’ pure humanity. Instead of one woman from the side of a man, now it is every man and woman from the blood and water that came from the pierced side of the Man. That is pure mercy. That is the miracle of grace and faith: to make new and living people out of old and dead people. No works and no boasting on the part of the dead, just the work of God and boasting in Christ. While the dead walked around in trespasses and sins, the living walk around in the good works prepared for us by God, before we even knew what good works were. We used to think that good works were whatever seemed right to us, and to those around us. If no one else could see anything wrong with it, then it must be right. If it made us happy or feel good, or made life easier for us, or if we just wanted to do it and there were no consequences that we could see, how could it be too wrong? But you didn’t learn Christ that way! “If indeed you heard [Christ] and were taught in Him, to lay aside [what is] according to the former life of the old man, which is being destroyed according to the deceitful desires/passions, and to be renewed by the Spirit of your mind, and to put on the new man, what is according to God, which was created in righteousness and the holiness of Truth” (4:21-24). The former life, the old man, the sinful desires and passion of the flesh, they can barely even be recognized without the Holy Spirit; and they certainly can be rationalized and defended, often successfully in the eyes of the unbelieving world. But when you were baptized, it was exactly what happened to St. Paul: something like scales fell from your eyes, and with the Holy Spirit driving out the old man and clothing you with the new man, a new creation has been made by God. Now, we see what good works truly are: what the Lord commands for the sake of our neighbor. And the neighbor, as Jesus teaches us, is the one who does good to the one who needs what God has given to us. To us, Jesus has been that neighbor, caring for the dead by sacrificing His own life. As the life of Jesus gives us life, we become His Body, doing whatever He has given to each member to do. And so Jesus goes, walking around in every part of His creation, restoring life to the dead, and doing His good works in and through them.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/17/15