Hope for Bodily Life
Scriptures: Romans 8:18-25; Mark 16:1-8
I have asked Angela Lewis to come and help me do a short
skit based on a parable by Henri Nouwen. We are two fraternal twins talking to each other in the womb before we are born.
Girl: Hey, brother, I have been thinking. I think there is life after
Boy: Really? What makes you think that? Have you seen a sign of anything out there beyond this cozy place where we have been living the last nine months?
Girl: No, but there must be something more than this dark place, some place where there is light and freedom to move.
Boy: What's wrong with this place? We are warm, comfortable, safe, well fed through this tube. We have everything we need right here. Why do we need to believe in something beyond this?
Girl: I don't know, I just think there must be something more. I also think there must be a Person out there.
Boy: What do you mean? What kind of person?
Girl: I think there is a Mother out there.
Boy: A mother! Where did you get that idea? I'm telling you, this is all we've got, so we better make the best of it.
Girl: Don't you ever feel those squeezes we get once in a while? They are happening more often. They can be quite painful. I think they are preparing for something that is about to happen.
Boy: They are just part of life. You have to get used to them.
Girl: No, I think they are getting us ready for another place, some place much more exciting than this where we will see our Mother face to face.
Boy: You've got to quit imagining things.
As you may have guessed, the Bible is on the side of the
girl in the skit. In Romans 8 the apostle Paul says, "We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies" (Romans 8:22-23).
In the present we feel the squeeze, the pain, the anguish of human
bodily life waiting to be delivered from it suffering and dysfunction.
In the movie Grand Canyon Kevin Kline plays a lawyer named
Mack whose car breaks down late at night in a crime-riddled neighborhood of Los Angeles. He calls for a tow truck, but before it arrives he is surrounded by a gang. The gang leader shows him a gun and tells him to get out of the car. Just then the tow truck arrives driven by a man named Simon, played by Danny Glover. Simon hooks the car up to the tow truck. Then he says to the gang leader, "I'm asking of you a favor. This truck is my responsibility, and now the car is too. If anything happens to them, I lose my job. So I got to ask you to let me go my way here."
The gang leader says, "Are you asking me out of respect or
are you asking me because I got the gun?"
Simon says to him, "Man, the world isn't supposed to work
like this. Maybe you don't know that, but this isn't the way it is supposed to be. I'm supposed to be able to do my job without asking you if I can. That dude is supposed to be able to wait in his car without you ripping him off. Everything is supposed to be different than what it is."
The gang members finally let Mack and Simon go. But later
in the movie Mack's wife Claire begins to notice other ways that the world is not the way it is supposed to be. She sees a baby abandoned on the street. She sees people living in cardboard boxes, and she says to Mack, "The world doesn't make sense to me anymore. There are babies lying in the streets. There are people living in boxes. There are people ready to shoot you if you look at them. And we're getting used to it."
That may be the most disturbing thing of all. There are
bombings that kill dozens of people, and we are getting used to it. There are shootings in schools, and we are getting used to it. There are people under freeways dealing drugs, and we are getting used to it. We're like the boy in the skit. We are getting used to living in the womb, forgetting the fact that God wants to deliver us, that God cares about this world and wants it to be reborn.
And that's where Easter comes in. One of the most important
details about Easter is the empty tomb. All four gospels are clear about this. When Jesus rose from the dead, he did not leave his body behind.
Leaving bodily life behind was the goal of the Greek philosophers in
Jesus' time. Their ideal was for the soul to rise up to be with God leaving all the problems of bodily life behind. That is also the picture of life after death you sometimes get from near-death experiences, where people have the sensation of rising up out of their bodies and entering at tunnel of light, leaving their bodies behind on the operating table. Those are powerful experiences for people, but they are not the story of Easter. Because on Easter Jesus did not leave his body behind. The goal of Easter is not to escape bodily life but to transform it.
In Romans 8 the Apostle Paul says,
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God. in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Romans 8:19-21).
The ultimate goal of Easter is not just to raise our souls
up to heaven but to make us part of a new creation, a new heaven and earth, where death and suffering will be no more, where hunger and poverty will be eradicated, where love wins out over hate, where injustice is swallowed up by righteousness, where violence gives way to kindness. That's the kind of world God is after, and Jesus' resurrection is its first installment.
The rest of the movie Grand Canyon is a series of vignettes
about grace in a world that makes no sense. Claire, you remember, grieves over a world where babies are left lying in the streets, but before the movie is over she and Mack adopt one-a little glimpse of the new creation. Simon, the tow truck driver who saved Mack from the gang, uses some of the money he earns to help his sister, a single mother struggling to raise two children in a violent neighborhood. Then Mack uses some contacts through his job to help Simon's sister find a safer place to live. And in the climactic scene of the movie, Simon takes the whole group of them-all these struggling, hurting people-on a nine hour road trip to the Grand Canyon where they stand in awe of something bigger than themselves.
That is a little sneak preview of the new birth where God transforms
the whole creation into what it was meant to be all along.
One last story. In 1984 at the height of a civil war in
Lebanon, a Presbyterian missionary named Ben Weir wrote a report on his mission work to U. S. Presbyterians. He begins with a description of the situation. He writes,
The land of Lebanon has been marred, scarred, and charred with all the weapons of war imaginable to humankind. We are witnesses, here in Beirut, to homes destroyed and people brutalized in untold numbers.
Today we could substitute Syria for Lebanon, and Damascus for Beirut.
Then Ben describes his work. He says, "Our own efforts at rebuilding
and renewing seem small and necessarily partial." That could be said of most things we do here at Southminster: handing out food at the foodbank, serving homeless women at Hospitality House, putting siding on a home in the Dominican Republic, worshiping with the folks of Praiseallujah-our own efforts in this world seem small and necessarily partial.
Nevertheless Ben Weir says,
We are thankful that God has given us the opportunity to have a part in healing and rebuilding. We are part of the church's efforts to reestablish worship services, to assist persons moving back to villages, to encourage youth leadership, to give support to those whose hope lies in the future.
Then he concludes with this magnificent testimony of faith:
The kingdom of God is a kingdom without weapons, without oppressive powers, without torture, without hunger-without exploitation of individuals and peoples, without prejudice, without an irresponsible use of what God has given us. It is a kingdom full of life, of faith, justice, peace, love-mutual understanding and reconciliation, of real possibilities for every human being. That is what we look toward, and we have no right as Christians to settle for anything less.
That, thanks to Easter, is our hope for bodily life.