Happy Easter! Christ is Risen! I want to begin by thanking Fr. Chris and Fr. BE for their insightful sermons over the last few weeks. They could not have given us a better perspective for these challenging days. Nothing better and nothing more needs to be said about it so I’m going to point us in a different direction. I want to direct our minds, as we just heard in Colossians “…above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”
I once saw an old preacher raise a tattered Bible in the air and proclaim. “I’ve read the back of the book….we win!” He is so right. It is because of this day, because Jesus stepped out of the tomb, because He lives, because He is seated at the right hand of God, that we truly do win. But to more fully appreciate it let’s go back to the beginning to put this win in its context.
In the first chapter of Genesis we read, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image after our likeness, so God created them in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” We know that when God said, “Let US make man in OUR image” He was not talking to the angels. In this same chapter we see God creating everything that is by His Word, the Word that would become flesh, while the Spirit hovered over the face of the deep. Thus the “us” is a clear reference to the Holy Trinity.
What does that mean? It means that we are not made in the image of the angels; rather we are made in the image of the Holy Trinity. Stop and let that sink in for a moment. You are God’s image bearer; therefore you are a sacred being. Jesus’ victory over death was so that God could gather back to Himself His sacred beings, His image bearers, that had been lost to Him through the fall of man.
This perception of ourselves as sacred beings is important because too often the Gospel that is presented stops with the message of the forgiveness of sins. Thus it is all too easy for folks to see themselves only as forgiven sinners. But our identity in Christ is so much more than that. That is why, in the post communion prayer that we will pray today, we thank God for assuring us,“that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people; and are also heirs through hope of thy everlasting kingdom, by the merits of his most precious death and passion.
Listen to St. Paul to the Romans in chapter 8. “…but you have received the spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirits that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” Fellow heirs with Christ! That is what Christ’ victory has done for us. Now I don’t pretend to understand what all of that means but I do know that it’s even better than finding out that you have been adopted by Bill Gates. If you are in Christ, then from a spiritual point of view, Easter has made your life a rags-to-riches story.
Consider what being fellow heirs with Christ means for us? There are numerous benefits. First it puts this temporal world into proper perspective and thereby helps us to remain faithful to the end. The very next verse after St. Paul tells us that we are fellow heirs with Christ he says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” St. Paul had already suffered much in his missionary journeys but that was not going to stop him because he had his eye on the prize. St. Paul could take up a temporary cross and stay true to Christ because he knew that a permanent crown awaited. That is our assurance as well. Looking past the temporal to the eternal will keep us steadfast.
Second, knowing that we are fellow heirs with Christ gives us a healthy form of restlessness. St. Paul goes on to write, “And not only creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
Growing up in a Navy family we moved every two years. My father would get orders at about 18 months and by 24 months we were gone. Life as a Navy family meant that while we always made friends wherever we were, and we loved most of the places where we lived, we still did not put down roots too deeply in any one place.
Similarly as Christians, while we should be grateful for this life, the knowledge that there is permanent home to which we are journeying should keep us from putting down our roots too deeply in this world. The eagerness we feel for our complete redemption allows us to have a godly detachment and that helps to keep us out of the reach of the world, the flesh and the devil. It also helps us to live generously in the service of others. The riches that will be ours as fellow heirs of Christ make the riches of this world look like monopoly money and it’s easy and fun to give away monopoly money.
A friend of mine truly has this perspective. He inherited $400,000 and he turned around and gave it all to his deceased brother’s widow. He did not give a tithe or a half; he didn’t even keep just a little for himself. He said to me in a very matter of fact way, “She needed it more than I did.” He knows where his true riches are.
A third benefit of embracing our identity as fellow heirs with Christ is that it fills us with hope. Just a few verses later St. Paul uses the word “hope” five times in one verse. Hope is such an invaluable gift because the opposite is a nightmare. I have read of prisoners of war becoming so hopeless that they willed themselves to die and so they did.
And just like the other two benefits that I mentioned, hope has us look beyond this world to look above where Christ is seated. It forces us to do so because what we hope for is not offered in this life. Resurrected bodies in a new heaven and new earth cannot be won in the lottery, ordered from Amazon or delivered by Prince Charming.
The Scripture says that hope is the anchor of our souls but only if our hope is correctly placed. The important difference between Christian hope and secular hope is that Christian hope is placed in a Person while secular hope is placed in circumstances. Christian hope is rooted in a God who is faithful and true and so we know that His promises are certain. Secular hope is focused on circumstances that may or may not be realized.
To encourage you to deepen your hope by deepening your relationship with the Lord I have thought of an acronym for hope. H. H is for honor. Make it a major focus of each day to honor God in both your words and your deeds. You may have noticed that many of the collects in the Book of Common Prayer begin by giving to God the honor that is due His name. “O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you….” “Almighty and everlasting Lord…” “O Lord, from whom all good proceeds…” “Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things…” “O God, your never failing providence sets in order all things in heaven and on earth…” In these collects the Church is teaching us that worship begins by honoring God. Then honoring God with your words leads naturally to honoring God with your deeds especially when those deeds point others to Him. H is for honor.
O is for offer. It is such a profound line in the 1928 Mass where we pray, “And here we offer unto Thee O Lord ourselves, our souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice unto Thee.” And it is a wonder that because God’s mercies are new every morning we are able to make a new fresh offering to Him every day. There is a beautiful prayer of self-dedication in the Book of Common Prayer that would be beneficial to add to your daily prayers. “Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to thee, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly thine, utterly dedicated unto thee; and then use us, we pray thee, as thou wilt, and always to thy glory and the welfare of thy people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.” O is for offer
P is for pray. Pray about everything! That is what St. Paul said to the Church in Philippi. “In everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God…” Jesus shows us that we are to pray for everything when He has us pray, in the very same prayer, for both for the kingdom to come and our daily bread. Don’t fall for the lie that the Lord is only interested in the big things of your life. The Scripture says that we are to cast our cares on Him because He cares for us. When I was in seminary at Christmas time I tore Boston apart looking for a specific Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. You would have thought that I was on a quest for the Holy Grail. That silly toy was that important to me because it was that important to my son. Now multiply an earthly father’s love by infinity and you will be certain that you can take everything to your heavenly Father in prayer. P is for pray.
E is for exalt. By this I mean to praise or extol the Lord. Years ago there was a very popular chorus called “I exalt Thee” and a little kid in our church misunderstood what we were singing and so he sang very loudly “I exhaust Thee.” There are times in the Old Testament when it looks like the Lord is nearly exhausted with His people and so we want to learn from that negative example and live a different way. We want to exalt Him and one of the best ways to exalt God with our lives is to be an Easter people. We should be a people of celebration and life. We don’t bring glory to God as His children if we live like we had been baptized in lemon juice. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. We are an Easter people. I freely admit that life can be tough and even seem to be unfair but life doesn’t get the final word, God does and He is good all the time. So let’s consider ways to live in such a way that exalts God. E is for exalt.
In his book “How Happiness Happens” Max Lucado gives a wonderful illustration. An Italian named Andrea Mosconi would get up six days a week, put on his coat and tie, and go down to a violin museum in Cremona, Italy. The museum held some of the most priceless instruments in the world including one made by Stradivari himself. It was Mr. Mosconi’s job to play each instrument daily because if they were never played the instruments will lose their vibrancy and begin to deteriorate.
Max Lucado says that we have a similar job every day, except instead of bringing the best music out of violins; we are called to bring the best out of other people. Why? Because, going back to an earlier point, standing before you is not just a check out girl or a bag boy or a mechanic. Standing before you are sacred beings, image bearers of God. A famous Pentecostal preacher in Nashville used to say that we should be so filled with Christ than when a mosquito bites us it flies away singing “There’s power in the blood of the Lamb.” We are to be Christ like to those sacred beings, those image bearers of God, and bring out their best. That is our calling as fellow heirs of Christ.
Well I too have read the back of the book and sure enough we win! And so this glorious Easter day resounds with the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians.
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, which gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.