In our text this morning we witness the two Mary’s exhibiting a myriad of emotions at the tomb of Jesus. Sorrow upon the belief that Jesus’ body had been taken. Fear from the lightening-like appearance of the Angel. And great joy from great news that Christ is risen! Sorrow. Fear. Joy. It’s these emotions that sum up these last few days. The sorrow in suffering. The fear of death. The joy of Resurrection. Suffering. Death. Resurrection. Suffering. Death. Resurrection. Suffering. Death. Resurrection! THIS is the day that the lord has made and suffering, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins is what THIS day is all about. Or is it? Is that what today is all about??
Now some of y’all are looking at me crazy like, “of course that’s what today is all about, the bible says God sent his only begotten son to die for our sins so that we might have eternal life.”… Now because I know ya’ll are good bible reading Christians I won’t argue with you on that. But I do want to elaborate on it. You see there’s a part of the story that doesn’t get enough mention this week in my opinion. These 30+ yrs leading up to the time Jesus was crucified, died, and buried only to rise 3 days later and live again. Yeeeees ya’ll I’m talking about the LIFE of Jesus, not just the death; but specifically…The Incarnation.
Traditional biblical exegesis links our salvation to the act on the cross. The suffering. The death. But you’ll have to pardon me if the incarnation and subsequent life of my savior works better for me than suffering and death. I like the idea of life over death but maybe that’s just me. But hear me out my brothers and sisters, because I’m of the belief that the Lord saved me the moment that God decided to come down from His post in glorious heaven as Jesus Christ to walk among men and women. Sin and suffering. Dis-ease and despair. Ladies and gentlemen my salvation begins with the incarnation and 30 something yrs later it’s affirmed on the cross. Now ya’ll I’m only 31 and I’m tired already. And you mean to tell me that in the form of His son, God chose to retreat from the richness that is the kingdom of heaven to the poverty of this world, to be tired with me?? Better yet to be tired for me?? Freedom in heaven for free-doom on earth? You MUST be a fool. Or you must be a living, loving God who saved a wretch like me. This, saints, is where my salvation begins; with the incarnation.
But this is not the only reason. It goes much deeper than that. Skin deep. If we apply the core components of hermeneutics to examine culture in the same way in which we use hermeneutics to exegete the teachings of the bible, we’ll find that salvation grounded in suffering and death has been problematic in Black Christianity for generations. Now they are really looking at me crazy Larry. But let me unpack this: stolen people, brought to stolen land, then given a religion by those thieves in order to use that religion to justify the enslavement of those stolen people. Just read the book of Philemon. Theologians will denounce it as a story that defends slavery, because slavery is bad and the bible doesn’t defend bad things. But the short of it is, a runaway slave was to voluntarily return to his slave owner under a request that he might be accepted back as an “equal,” which we know is just code for, “willing slave.” Now this may sound outrageous to me and you but it’s this kind of internalized theological oppression that provoked Harriet Tubman to lament that although she saved 1000 slaves, she could have saved a thousand more if they knew they were slaves.
So you might say, “well I’m not a slave” and you might ask me, “what does any of this have to do with Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross?” And I say to you, it’s internalized suffering. Internalized oppression. Have you ever weaponized your faith to convince someone to do something you wanted them to do? “God don’t like ugly; if you don’t take out the trash you’re going to hell.” Then you take your belt off. Where do you think we learned that? Telling someone what the bible says and then whipping them? We’ve probably sent more people to hell at this point than God himself, using it as our personal jail to perpetuate the very suffering that we’ve endured and internalized as a culture. I’m not exempt from this internalized suffering either, running myself ragged to save the world as if Jesus didn’t already do that? But I do it nonetheless, because deep down inside there is something within me that needs to feel closer to my savior and you can’t get much closer than hanging on the cross. The problem is, all Jesus really needs us to do to get closer to him, is live, and to do so with as little suffering as possible; because he already did that for us.
So for these next few minutes I want you to indulge me as I take you on a journey through the Land of the Living: Living water, living stones, living love, and living good.The Gospel of John 19:28 recounts that one of Jesus’ 7 last words was: “I Thirst.” But how could this be, The Son of Man…thirsty?? Maybe it was the miles he was forced to walk on the sleepless night before. Or the incessant lashes from leather whips laced with bone and metal that tore away the flesh on his back; a beating that was usually fatal. Or maybe it was the hair of his beard that they ripped from his face or the crown of 1 inch thorns and thistles painfully penetrating his skull. It must have been the 3hrs and 650yd long trek down the Via Dolorosa to Golgotha carrying the 100lb crossbar on his shoulders. If that wasn’t enough surely the 7 inch nails driven into his hands and feet in such a suffocating way that Jesus had to lift himself by his own wounds just to breathe; His body void of fluids from sweat and blood lost. And Jesus declared, “I thirst.” Ya’ll if you ask me…that’s enough to drive anyone to drink. And I’m not talking about that drink that some of us have lined up as soon as we leave here for Easter Brunch!
Ironically, that’s the first kind of drink they offered our Lord prior to the crucifixion according to Matthew and Mark; a wine containing myrrh offered by a group of Jerusalem women to numb him of the oncoming pain. But Jesus refuses to drink this. Now ya’ll know if that would have been one of us, “Uhh sista, sista, make mine a double and put it on my tab imma pay for it on the Cross.” But not Jesus you see He had committed himself to the Father as a living sacrifice and any attempt to lessen the pain of this sacrifice would have been in violation of His commitment. It’s the pain and admission of thirst that may be of the greatest importance in that it reminds us of Jesus’ humanity. That he was in fact a man. This was tangible, physical, suffering, of which extreme thirst is one element that most of us can readily identify with. And so Jesus accepts the second offering of wine vinegar to quench his thirst, possibly in fulfillment of Psalm 69:20-21,
20 Scorn has broken my heart
and has left me helpless;
I looked for sympathy, but there was none,
for comforters, but I found none.
21 They put gall in my food
and gave me vinegar for my thirst.
Now to be clear wine vinegar does not contain alcohol, rather it’s a product of grape juice and yeast fermentation that has then been exposed to oxygen long enough to rid it of its alcoholic content, therefore forming vinegar. Yeast, or leaven, was a consistent symbol of sin in the Old Testament. Therefore Jesus’ drinking of this leavened beverage could be symbolic of his taking the sins of the world into himself so that we might drink from living water. LIVING WATER!
John 4:10 reads in the story of the women at the well, “”Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”” My brothers and sisters in Christ: What kind of water are you drinking?? There’s an old movie that I still enjoy to this day called The Waterboy, you’ve probably seen it. And in this movie Bobby Boucher goes to be the waterboy for a college football team after his mother falsely tells him that his father died of dehydration in the Sahara Desert. So Bobby was serious about keeping the team hydrated. In an unusual turn of events Bobby becomes the star linebacker of that same college football team, never relinquishing his duties as waterboy. In the final game, the championship game, Bobby was tackled and knocked unconscious and the only thing that could revive him was a drink from his magical water that had come from a glacier. So Bobby’s girlfriend, Vicky Valencourt, gave him a sip of his magical water and Bobby popped right up and said, “Now that’s some high quality H2O!”
Have you ever had a drink that resurrected you from the dead?? That revived you? I’m not talking about that shot of your favorite white or brown, what I’m talking about won’t leave you hung-over the next morning. I’m not talking about Red Bull that will give you wings just for you to crash-land 5hrs later…what I’m talking about will give you wings of eternal flight. I’m not even talking about Voss water, you know; expensive water that comes in a fancy glass bottle and that somehow makes it better than all the others. No, no, no I’m not talking about pricey Voss water ya’ll I’m talking about Cross water that’s already been paid for. LIVING WATER. That Bobby Boucher, high quality H2O. Your cup may runneth over but if it’s not with living water you need to turn it over and fill it with the blood and love of Jesus Christ. What are you drinking these days??? Who’s your bartender?? “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
Jesus hung HIGH on Calvary; he quenched His thirst with a cup full of our sins, He Lived and Died for YOU and MEEE! The least we can do is LIVE for Him. Mother Teresa once said she desired to “satiate the thirst of Jesus on the cross for the love of souls.” My brothers and sisters in Christ when we offer living water to those in need we are giving water to Jesus on the cross. We serve Him by serving others. “I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink…truly I tell you just as you did it for one of the least of these, you did it for Me.” Matthew 25:35-45
What are you drinking these days? Is it sour wine? Are you sipping on a cup full of haterade and shame and hurt and anger? Are you willing to empty out that cup and allow Christ to pour his life into yours? Fill you up to the brim so that you may share God’s life with others who thirst? If so, God promises that you’ll never thirst again.
We’re in the land of the living this morning folks, and God not only wants the palate of our souls to be wet with living water but he also wants the foundation of our communities to be that of living stones. I won’t stay here long because I’ve mentioned before of my time spent in the holy land, a place where people from all over the world travel to see dead stones. Yes I’ve walked the Via Dolorosa, and I’ve placed my hands at Golgotha. I’ve even been inside the very tomb where the two Mary’s find a rolled back dead stone and no signs of a dead Jesus, and at no point in my life had I felt closer to God than in that moment…Until I met God in the face of a Syrian child in Zaatari refugee camp. Or until I shared a cup of tea with God in the hills of South Hebron, Palestine. I’ve never felt closer to God than when in community with God’s people, living stones.
1 Peter 2:4-5
4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house[a] to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Saints, God’s saving grace is within the communities of those denied by society. Communities like Palestine, and Syria, and the South Side of Chicago where young black boys are senselessly chopped down to dead stones by violence. The word says it’s these living stones that are precious to God and used to build the kingdom. And I don’t know about ya’ll but I want to be in that number of kingdom builders, amen?
Likewise Jesus wants us to reside in a neighborhood of the Land of the Living where our hearts can be hearts of living love. Living Love. I like the sound of that. You see love is a verb. And in order to carry out that action you’ve got to live it. How many of you are familiar with the Simpsons? Did ya’ll know it’s the longest running American sitcom ever? I can testify to that because it’s only been off air a few years and I used to watch as a kid. But the older I got the more I realized that I was gaining nothing and losing brain cells. But I made an exception for one episode, the season finale. And while I was abstractedly listening, Homer Simpson said, “There’s a reason why life comes before love in the dictionary.” And it was so profound I thought I was hearing things or maybe I’d accidently changed the channel or something. But my mind was blown, and I never forgot that. So I’m going to take a page out of Homer’s script and say to you, there’s a reason why live comes before love in the dictionary. You’ve got to be a resident of the land of the living before you can put love into action. In Paul’s letter to the Romans he writes that love in action,
“9 must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[a] Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[b] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[c]
Love in action, is Living Love and living love is a life that is pleasing to God.
And finally, life in the land of the living, is good living. It’s living good. The opposite of good, however is evil, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that “live,” l.i.v.e. spelled backwards is “evil,” e.v.i.l. I also don’t think it’s coincidence that “lived,” l.i.v.e.d. backwards is “devil,” d.e.v.i.l. To live backwards is evil ya’ll. To have lived backwards is to live in the past, and that ain’t nothing but the devil. But Jesus! Nothing but Jesus! Oooh but Jesus! Woke me up this morning, and he started me on my way and I’m just thanking him that the direction he pointed me in was forward. Thank you Jesus. I’m taking my seat but before I go I wanted to leave you with this: my favorite commercial on tv right now, All State Insurance’s
The Good Life Anthem
“There are man-eating sharks in every ocean, but we still swim. Every second somewhere in the world lightning strikes, but we still play in the rain. Poisonous snakes can be found in 49 of the 50 states, but we still go looking for adventure. A car can crash, a house can crumble, but we still drive, and love coming home. Because I think deep down we know, all the bad things that can happen in life, they can’t stop us, from making our lives…good. People live for good. And so do we. Good Hands for the Good Life.”
So as we celebrate the resurrection of our savior this Easter morning, be reminded that you don’t have to wait in Galilee to hear the good news that Christ has Risen! You don’t have to wait in Galilee to hear the good news that you are saved and your sins have been forgiven. You only need to look to the incarnated life of Jesus to find good news. So strip yourself of the suffering, drink of living water, build on living stones, fill your heart with living love and your life with good living. Live right. Live forward. Live Jesus. Amen.