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The Lord makes alive

April 3, 2018

Resurrection Sunday

“My heart rejoices in the Lord;
in the Lord my horn is lifted high.
My mouth boasts over my enemies,
for I delight in your deliverance.

“There is no one holy like the Lord;
there is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.
“The Lord brings death and makes alive;
he brings down to the grave and raises up.
The Lord sends poverty and wealth;
he humbles and he exalts.
He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap.

1Sa 2:1-2.6-8a

For sure, some of us will have already gone up some of those high buildings. Last year, I had the opportunity to visit the city of New York, and I went to the top of the Empire State Building with its 102 floors. When going up with the elevator people do not realize the acceleration and the great vertical speed that these elevators reach. It is an impressive movement: it is perceived a little in the stomach, or it is felt in the ears and when the elevator brakes, the body seems to be a little lighter than normal. The person who is interested in technical characteristics will realize that there is a very powerful electric motor hidden there.

If you allow me the comparison, this elevator can be compared to the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Despite the “force of gravity” of death, Jesus returns to life and rises from the grave on the third day. Today, we can say that we are celebrating it in real time. The day before yesterday, Good Friday, had a sober service with less happy melodies, as well as our custom of putting black paraments and not placing flowers on the altar. And today, everything is white and the songs and lyrics are happy; we had a festive Easter breakfast and today a service where spirits are more encouraged. The saddest day and the happiest day of the church year are very close to each other. If we observe the mood difference that they evoke in us, we can compare it with a mood that rises, like the speed of one of those elevators: from the underground of sadness to the viewpoint of joy. Our Lord has risen, alleluia! He is no longer dead; he is no longer in the grave, but lives! What a great upwards movement!

“The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up” reads our preaching text. This word of the Old Testament has been confirmed and fulfilled with the Easter miracle. In this way, we can realize what the above and below would be: the deceased are deposited in the ground; his world is therefore ‘below’, there one can say there is the kingdom of the dead; there is where the darkness is, there is night. Above, on the contrary, it is day, there is the light, above is the life, and above is God. The Passover is, so to speak, the miraculous elevator of Jesus that goes up, towards the light. We call the “resurrection” the mightiest powerful miracle that pulls up.

But the Bible does not speak only of the resurrection by itself, but also that Jesus was raised. Not only is it that “Jesus is risen”, but also: “God raised him up”. This is how it is formulated in our text, of the Paschal promise of the Old Testament: “The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up”.
There we are, so to speak, with that huge and powerful elevator engine. It is the Father in the heavens who has taken his Son from the grave and death, he with his great power of life, with his creative power, with his all-powerfulness. Easter allows us to be amazed at what God is capable of doing.

That is why, and we should take note, His power acts in both directions. In other words, it not only goes up but also down. And the same goes for the elevator engine: it pulls up and it drives down. And our preaching text does not omit it:
“The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up”.
Some do not realize this. The resurrection is a miracle of God, but death, is it not something natural? To go up, you need strength, but to go down, doesn’t the law of gravity take car of that? But let’s think about the death of Jesus: Who allowed Jesus to die? The Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus? or Pontius Pilate who condemned Jesus? or the Pharisees who, filled with hatred, planned to kill him? or Judas who betrayed him? or he himself who, despite the danger, nevertheless preferred to enter Jerusalem? Behind all those earthly reasons is the ultimate reason and this is God Himself. The Heavenly Father had determined that his Son should die, that is why he sent him into the world. That is to say: “The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up”.

And to this day it is like that. The last cause of a person’s death is not senile weakness, or terminal illness, or the incompetence of doctors, or the miscalculation when passing a car, or the deadly bullet of the murderer – the last cause is always God who has determined death as a consequence of sin in our world. Again: “The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up”.

But he also brings life back; he causes us to rise from the dead. He did this with Jesus and in this way he showed that he will also do it with all of believing humanity. Whoever belongs to Jesus must once “descend into hell” (as our Apostle’s Creed states), that is, to the place of the dead, but God will raise them up to have them in his celestial glory. That is the precious Easter message for us today. Just like that wonderful event that happened two thousand years ago, it is the Gospel message of life for today. And it does not wait for our death to begin acting. No. If we believe in Jesus, the resurrection force of God begins to work in our lives right now. That is very clear, when we are aware of the words of the Old Testament that we are sharing today:
“The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up”.
There was once a woman who had not fared so well in life. Certainly, she had a good husband, but they could not have children. This made her get sick every so often. She also had an enemy who, thoughtlessly, mocked her infertility. The woman prayed to God, and finally God answered her and granted her a son. She was so happy that she composed a psalm of praise. The psalm speaks of how God, through his power, can change the things that we consider to be ‘impossible’ to change. ‘The barren women have children, the rich become poor, the poor become rich, the dispossessed take on power, the princes or rulers are overthrown’. And it is precisely in this context that the word of the prophet is applicable to what we are reflecting on today, the resurrection of Christ:
“The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up”.
By the way, the woman who had prayed was called Hannah and her son was called Samuel. Our reading comes from the book that was named after him. So, this relates in a very personal way to us, to our life. Maybe we have similarities with Hannah’s life, in terms of waiting for an answer to our prayer. Perhaps more than one of us today has the spirit of Good Friday rather than of Easter Sunday. You may find yourself very down, in terms of spirit, you are beaten, depressed, lying on the floor. You hear the word from deep down, from down there. But, today is Easter and our Lord has been raised for two thousand years. And God is almighty, like a powerful engine that wants to lift you up, carry you up. That’s what he wants to do with you today. That is what the Lord wants to do with us as a Christian congregation, as a Pilgrim church. This is what Hannah’s testimony shows, and what she wants to show most of all is the resurrection of Christ. God wants you back up; he wants to raise you, to put you on high so that you have another spirit, to put your sight on the horizon again. Ask him, trust him and be patient. And do not forget that Easter means that your Lord has already risen!
It is true that we have to cross the valley of darkness. No matter how much encouragement God has given you in this life, the day will come when he will take you down to the place of the dead; but not because he wants to leave you there. No, it’s for another reason. For the same reason that it took place on Good Friday and Jesus had to die on a cross: because that belongs to God’s plan. And after Easter we realize it. It is only for that reason that you will have to go downwards once so that God can then lift you definitively upwards, upwards, to heaven where the risen Lord will also be waiting for you. “The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up”. Amen.

Rev. E. Pellini

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