Today I had the opportunity to worship at my “home church”, College Hills in Lebanon, Tennessee. When you’re in full time ministry, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to go back “home” for Sunday service; in my 10+ years of ministry, I think this is the second time I’ve worshiped at College Hills. This is pretty easy to understand; I have commitments at Mayfair to keep me occupied most Sundays. But since I was “off” today (as one friend jokingly put it), we decided to spend this Easter holiday back home with family.
There was much about worship this morning that was familiar. Sunny and I saw several old classmates from high school whom we hadn’t seen in years. We talked for a few minutes,
showing off introducing our children and catching up. After service, we spoke with Larry Locke, the longtime minister at our church. Larry began preaching in Lebanon not long after I was born; for as far back as I can remember, he has been the voice of Sunday morning for me. His pastoral influence is one of the reasons I wanted to become a preacher. Today was also special because we had the opportunity to worship with people who know my family. My father died 23 years ago; last week marked the 14th anniversary of Mom’s death. All of that to say, I’m hardly ever around anyone who knew my parents. But that wasn’t the case today. I hadn’t been in the building five minutes before one sweet lady told me how proud my parents would be to have such beautiful grandchildren. And she meant it, because she knew my parents well. This feeling of familiarity made today a special memory, without a doubt.
But all of that familiarity was mingled together with something simultaneously foreign and new. Whenever Sunny and I have the chance to worship elsewhere on a particular Sunday, it always feel awkward and weird. I don’t know how to explain it; I guess we’ve just grown so comfortable being with “our people” on Sunday that worshiping elsewhere — even at home — just feels unusual. (Not bad, just odd.) Call me old fashioned, but I like very much the feeling of worshiping alongside the families that we share a context with in Huntsville. I can look out over the crowd as we worship and I see the young mother who’s just been diagnosed with cancer or the widower who buried his wife three years ago or the newborn babe swaddled up tight as her Mom rocks her to sleep…I can see all of this and it means something to me, because I love these people and I’m in community with them. Seeing my brothers and sisters like this as we worship gives me just a slight glimpse of what God must see when we worship together as a corporate body. And when we’re somewhere new, that’s missing and I miss it.
But there’s more: our classmates have all grown up and gotten married and started having children. Although there was a certain degree of familiarity with them (since we shared our formative years together), it’s quite obvious that there are entire volumes of their lives that I simply know nothing about. Even the church itself is at once familiar and foreign; when I was growing up, we were the College Street church and we met downtown; the church has since relocated and has taken the name “College Hills”. I remembered back to the old church building and the way the light used to dance in through the stained glass windows and how PA system would occasionally pick up the wayward signal of a local driver’s CB radio and the salty language that would broadcast throughout the auditorium for just a second or two, certainly long enough for us kids to snicker. I remembered our pew, second row from the back, far right hand corner, where my family would sit each Sunday morning. I remembered the way my Dad would sit with his legs crossed and his arm stretched across the back of the pew behind my mother. I remembered all of this and a hundred other things and before I knew it, my surroundings didn’t feel quite as familiar to me anymore.
And as I participated in worship this morning, feeling so out of place and so at home all at the same time, it struck me how fitting it should be to feel such things on a day like today. If the resurrection of Jesus tells us anything, it tells us that the mystery of resurrection will be a mingling of the familiar with the foreign. Christ’s risen body retains the scars of the crucifixion (John 20.20, 27); He remains a familiar figure to His closest followers. He even engages in the routine, familiar practice of eating (Luke 24.41, 42; John 21.12, 15). And yet, there is something foreign, something different about His body, too. He appears suddenly to His disciples (John 20.19). There are moments when the disciples don’t seem to recognize Him, at least not initially (Luke 24; John 21).
Paul says it this way in 1 Corinthians 15:
20But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
If Paul is correct, the resurrection of Christ is a preview of coming attractions. It is to be differentiated from other “resurrections” in Scripture. We refer to the raising of Lazarus (John 11) as a “resurrection”, but in reality, it’s more of a resuscitation. Lazarus died again one day; Christ lives even now. So the resurrection of Jesus Messiah stands as the firstfruit, the great hope for our own resurrection life.
The hope of resurrection is that the familiar will meet the foreign in a grand and beautiful consummation of God’s glorious, eternal purpose for Creation. It’s not enough to hope for a transformed existence in a foreign ethereal “streets of gold” heaven. The hope of resurrection is for a redeemed realm where God’s love becomes tangible; where new heavens and new earth are the new reality; where injustice and inequity are met with Jubilee; where famine is expelled at the banquet table of Jesus Messiah; where death is swallowed up in eternal life; where valleys become mountains; where tears are wiped away; where lion and lamb lie down; and where the reign of God is all in all.
This is the hope of resurrection, the hope of the Gospel. Praise be to God.
Easter Sunday 2010