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God With Us…Forever!

San Williams

April 20, 2014
Colossians 3:1-4

As we all know, the profundity, the mystery of Easter become trivialized when the focus is on chocolates and Easter bunnies.  However, one particular bunny story points us toward Easter, rather than offering an escape from it.  I’m thinking of The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown.  Many of you know this one.  The bunny plots all sorts of ways to run away from his mother. What if I become a fish and swim away, or a rock hidden on a high mountain, or a bird and fly away? What if I become a sailboat and sail away from you?  But the mother’s love is steadfast. Each of the baby bunny’s attempts to run away is met by the mother’s vow to search for, find, and be with her fleeing bunny.  Why such unrelenting commitment?  Because that’s the way mothers are. That’s what mothers do.

Well, the story of the Bible can be summarized as the story of a runaway humanity and a God who loves us and vows to be with us forever. In the beginning, God created us in God’s image to live in relationship with God.  When we rebelled and sought to manage life on our own, God refused to abandon us.  Out of the waters of the flood, God offered a new beginning and made an everlasting covenant.  When we were enslaved in Egypt, God did not forget about us, but heard our suffering and delivered us from bondage.  Later, when we were taken into exile in a foreign land, God made a way through the wilderness for us to return home.  Even when we persisted in ignoring God’s commandments, by cheating our neighbors, treating the alien with contempt, robbing the poor, oppressing the weak, yes, God’s love continued unabated.  Through the prophet Hosea, God cried out:  “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?…My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.”

Then at a certain time, God’s compassion became flesh and dwelt among us.  At the beginning of his Gospel, Matthew tells us that Jesus’ name is Immanuel, “God with us.” Throughout his ministry, Jesus revealed how God is with sinners of all stripes–the marginalized, the lost, the lowest, and the least.  Accordingly, Matthew ends his Gospel with the resurrected Christ promising his disciples:   “Lo, I am with you always.”  As our Brief Affirmation of Faith declares:  “God is like a mother who will not forsake her nursing child, like a father who runs to welcome the prodigal home.”

But here’s the question.  What if that nursing child grows up to reject her mother?  What if the prodigal does not come home but continues to live in defiance of, and disregard for, his father?  To put it more pointedly, what if God should come among us, full of grace and truth, and yet be rejected, betrayed, tortured, and killed?

The wonder and the joy of Easter is that nothing—nothing past, present, or future—will turn God away from the creatures God made and loves.  The resurrection of Jesus is God’s exclamation point on his promise to be with us “always!” It would be one thing if Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to sit on the right hand of God in order to wipe God’s hands of his creation, dwell in heaven, and forget about people on earth.  But, as you know, that’s not the Easter story.  Just as Jesus’ whole life was lived for others, his resurrection to the Father is not for his sake, but for ours.  John puts it this way in his Gospel:  “I go to prepare a place for you…so that where I am, there you may be also.”  In Jesus, God and humanity are so bound together that when Christ rose from the dead he took all of sinful humanity with him.

Not that any of us can comprehend what this means.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, in this regard, “Christ did not come into the world so that we might understand him, but that we might cling to him in order to be caught up in the immense event of resurrection.” Or as our reading in  Colossians puts it:  “Our lives are hidden with Christ in God.”  That is, the full glory of our relationship with God is not yet revealed.  At present it is hidden beneath all kinds of mistakes, disappointments  and sins. Many people, perhaps all of us at times, feel  alone in universe and have trouble believing that in Christ God has already claimed us for all eternity as God’s beloved.    We tend to think that this is something we haven’t earned and don’t deserve.

I read this week about a young lawyer who shared an experience at a Quaker service, telling the assembled the story of his recent visit with a prisoner.  The lawyer was known among the prison staff as a spiritual person, so a corrections officer asked him to try to get through to this deeply depressed convict.  The lawyer recounted that he simply sat with the prisoner and told him that he believed with all this heart that God was already dwelling in this prisoner’s heart.  That was all—no sermon, no extensive prayers.  The prisoner began to weep.

What if our lives, all our lives—and I do mean all our lives– really are hidden with Christ in God? In that case, God looks upon even the most lost among us not as convicts, or ne’er-do-wells, or you fill-in-the-blank, but as children bound for glory, just like us.

Doesn’t that conviction change the way we regard ourselves and others?  The theologian Karl Barth declared that “the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ may be known by the fact that it snatches man upwards.”  Our Colossians reading makes the same point:  “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”  This higher level is not some abstract spiritual life that contemplates heaven at the expense of earthly concerns. Rather it places our life in a relationship with God that nothing—not even death—can sever.  Through Christ, our place with God in glory has been secured, settled, pre-destined.

So, friends, Lift up your hearts.  Christ our brother has risen.  And the scandalous, joyful news of Easter is that he has taken us with him so that we, too, can dwell in the house of the Lord…forever!