The Day of New Creation

Isaiah 65:17-25

17 Look! I’m creating a new heaven and a new earth: past events won’t be remembered; they won’t come to mind.
18 Be glad and rejoice forever in what I’m creating, because I’m creating Jerusalem as a joy and her people as a source of gladness.
19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad about my people. No one will ever hear the sound of weeping or crying in it again.
20 No more will babies live only a few days, or the old fail to live out their days. The one who dies at a hundred will be like a young person, and the one falling short of a hundred will seem cursed.
21 They will build houses and live in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They won’t build for others to live in, nor plant for others to eat. Like the days of a tree will be the days of my people; my chosen will make full use of their handiwork.
23 They won’t labor in vain, nor bear children to a world of horrors, because they will be people blessed by the LORD, they along with their descendants.
24 Before they call, I will answer; while they are still speaking, I will hear.
25 Wolf and lamb will graze together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but the snake–its food will be dust. They won’t hurt or destroy at any place on my holy mountain, says the LORD.  (CEB)

The Day of New Creation

The other day, Joy and I took our kids to see Zootopia. It was pretty good, but I thought the opening scene was an unnecessary info-dump. An info-dump—also known as overt narrative exposition—is usually considered a big No-No in the world of novel writing. In movies, they can get away with it a little more, but it’s still iffy.

What happens is, you have all this great world-building that you’ve done, you’ve created a history and lore, and background circumstances that have led up to the current story. The info-dump happens when you stop telling the story and start imparting all of that history. There’s no plot to it, it’s just spewing out information. When the info-dump comes at the beginning of a novel or movie, it means the real story that the author or screenwriter wants to tell hasn’t actually begun yet.

Now, if you haven’t seen Zootopia yet, I promise not to give away any spoilers. This little info-dump scene at the beginning showed Judy, the story’s protagonist as a kid in a play. She and her friend, a young fox, told about how long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away… Wait. Sorry, wrong movie. Anyway, a long time ago, predators ate prey. Then, they grew out of their ruthlessness and lived together in harmony. They even built the great city of Zootopia. Yay! After this little background info-dumping scene, the actual story begins. See? No spoilers. You have to have plot to have spoilers, and info-dumps contain no plot.

That opening scene really wasn’t necessary, but it does kind of loosely describe resurrection life in God’s peaceable kingdom. “Wolf and lamb will graze together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox…” (CEB). It’s a restoration to God’s original intentions for creation. You see, in Genesis 1:30, God gave all the animals—everything that breathes—the green grasses for food. In the beginning, there was no predator and prey. Sin messed everything up. Adam and Eve were the gardeners. When the caretakers of the garden fell into sin, the garden fell apart, too.

The thing we often forget about resurrection is that it is not only the promise of life after death. Resurrection includes God’s power to create a new reality for all of creation. Resurrection isn’t only about us. It is absolutely cosmic in scope. Resurrection has—and continues to—swallow the effects of sin. And sin is pretty bad stuff.

The reality of our world is that every morning, people wake up to fear and sorrow. The sound of weeping and cries of distress can be heard in every city across the world. Infants die every day. People’s lives are cut short through acts of evil, such as the bombings in Belgium, or through accidents and mishaps. People try to make ends meet to build a home and live life, but they end up homeless and hungry. People across the world plant crops only to have them destroyed or stolen by invaders and the violent. People in our own city work all day and come home to poverty and want because they don’t have enough.

Many mothers across the world bear children for calamity. If they refuse to fight as child soldiers, boys might have their arms cut off. Girls are kidnapped, sold into sexual slavery as brides. Babies starve, and children die of malnutrition. Women are gang-raped. Whole peoples are targeted for destruction based on their religion or culture.

And closer to home, children wander the streets of this very neighborhood. Children who are hungry. Children who come to this building every time the lights are on because they know they can get a meal, even if that meal occasionally comes with the annoyed stares of some of our congregation members.

Sin has messed our world up. Sin causes us to see division and distinctions between people whom God created as equals. Sin leads us to accept injustice, inequality, violence, exploitation, inhumanity and say, Well, that’s just the way things are. Sin is what allows us to prey upon others with hardly a second thought. Sin is what allows us to hide our faces from the very systems of injustice that keep poor people poor here and across the world. Sometimes we participate in these systems without even knowing it. But I think part of the problem is that sin keeps us from even caring to find out where our food and clothing come from.

We live a charmed life in this country. We come to worship on Easter Day dressed in our Sunday best. Today, people will watch parades, gather with family and friends, watch children hunt for plastic eggs filled with candy, celebrate with dancing and games in the streets of their cities.

Elsewhere in the world, children are born into bloodshed, people suffer from gut-wrenching calamity. Sin has shaped the world in the twisted image of the Evil One. The question I often ponder is, Do we care? Do we care enough to do something about it? Do we care enough to stand up and say, I see how sin is destroying human lives, and then roll up our sleeves or raise our voices—in whatever small way we can—to work at fixing the problem and making things right? Do we see with resurrection eyes?

Resurrection re-imagines the world in God’s image. The prophet Isaiah saw a vision of the world with resurrection eyes. Isaiah paints a bold picture for us that ought to challenge everything we see, say, and do. It ought to push hard against what we know and accept as Just the way it is. Because, Just the way it is, says there are those on top, and there are those on bottom, and I’m fine with that because I’m on top. Sin says we don’t owe anybody anything. Resurrection life says God’s will for creation reigns in my life now because in Christ we are new creations.

On Easter Day, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It wasn’t something the Disciples of Jesus expected. On that Sunday morning, the women went to the tomb of Jesus with spices so they could embalm his body properly. They went looking for a beaten, bruised, and blooded corpse. They expected to see the result of sin and worldly power devouring the weak and humble. They expected to see just the way things are. Once again, the powerful have turned justice into poison and thrown righteousness to the ground (Amos 5:7). Once again, an innocent has been sold for silver (Amos 2:6). Once again the wealthy have crushed the head of the poor into the dust of the Earth (Amos 2:7). The death of Jesus is just one more once again. One more just the way things are.

In the Gospel of John’s account, Mary Magdalene spoke to angels and to Jesus without recognizing any of it until Jesus spoke her name. It’s not easy to see past the way things are with resurrection eyes—not at first, anyway—because it’s not what we expect. This new vision can startle us as it startled Mary Magdalene. It can perplex us as it perplexed Peter and John.

They expected to see the way things are. Instead, they encountered an empty tomb and a risen Jesus. Instead, they found that God had tilted the cosmos on its head and shouted aloud that nothing will ever be the same. The resurrection of Jesus is the day of new creation. God will no longer stand for, just the way things are. From now on, God will transform everything into the way God intends them to be.

But like I said, seeing with resurrection eyes isn’t always easy. Flannery O’Connor’s short story, A Good Man Is Hard to Find, illustrates this. In it, The Misfit’s gang murders members of a family a few at a time by taking them back into the woods and shooting them. While this is happening, The Misfit and the Grandmother have this strange little talk about the resurrection.

The Misfit says, “Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead, and He shouldn’t have done it. He thrown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him, and if He didn’t, then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can-by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness.”

In the moment before her death, the grandmother finally sees with resurrection eyes: “‘Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!’ She reached out and touched him on the shoulder.”

Then The Misfit shoots and kills the old woman. And he notes, “She would of been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

We Christians in America are a lot like the grandmother. Often times, we don’t take resurrection seriously until something forces us to acknowledge it. We typically go on about our lives seeing life as just the way things are. We don’t throw away anything to follow Jesus. We only add Jesus into another compartment of our lives.

But the beauty and power of Christ’s resurrection demands that we open our eyes to see what God has done, what God is doing, and what God will do. Isaiah declares God’s vision, and it’s beautiful. God is creating a new heaven, and a new earth where the way things are will no longer be remembered. Isaiah calls us to rejoice in God’s new creation. We can join our rejoicing to God’s as God finds gladness in us. No one will ever hear the sound of weeping or crying again. No more babies will die after a few days. No more will a person’s life be cut short. No more will houses be built and taken away from those who need shelter. No more will crops be planted and stolen. No more will we labor in vain. No more will women bear children to a world of horrors, because we and our descendants will be a people blessed by God.

In the resurrection, God has answered before we could call. Even as we spoke the words, God heard and acted. The peaceable kingdom has become our new just the way things are. The resurrection of Jesus Christ demands that we open our eyes and see with resurrection eyes. We cannot afford to ignore the fullness of what the resurrection means for us and for all people. This is the day of new creation. And we can live into this new reality now. We can be the community of faith God calls us to be.

God is the one who is and who was and who is to come. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The day will come again, as it was in the past, when the wolf and the lamb shall graze together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The resurrection of Jesus challenges us to see beyond the status quo to the way things ought to be. Do we see, on this day of new creation, with the eyes of resurrection? Are we willing to let God’s kingdom come in us?

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

The Day the Manna Ceased

Joshua 5:9-12

9 Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” So the place was called Gilgal, as it is today.

10 The Israelites camped in Gilgal. They celebrated Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day of the month on the plains of Jericho. 11 On the very next day after Passover, they ate food produced in the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. 12 The manna stopped on that next day, when they ate food produced in the land. There was no longer any manna for the Israelites. So that year they ate the crops of the land of Canaan. (CEB)

The Day the Manna Ceased

Imagine the significance of this day in the life of the Israelites. This is the generation of Israelites born in the desert. Their parents were the ones God rescued from slavery in Egypt. The only life they knew was a sojourn in the wilderness where they were fed by God’s own hand with manna and quail, where God fed them like infants, where God alone provided everything they had and everything they needed.

Their parents had experienced the first Passover when the destroyer came to strike down the first-born of Egypt (Exodus 12:23). God fed them in the wilderness. Now, the children of Egyptian slaves observe the second Passover in the evening, probably a few weeks after crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land and setting up camp at Gilgal. This Passover meal marked an end and a new beginning. God had rolled away the disgrace of their enslavement in Egypt. God set their feet on a new path from which they would never turn back.

This day, the next day after the Passover, is the day of their first steps when they transitioned from infants resting in the protective arms of their mother to toddlers taking their first steps away from that protective embrace, walking wide-eyed into a world bigger and fuller than they could have imagined. Imagine their wonder and their fear, their delight and trepidation when they took their first bites of new food: the produce of the land. They had never eaten anything like it before. Manna and quail were all they had ever tasted.

But this day, for the first time in their lives, no manna came. Imagine the people going out to gather it in the morning, but finding nothing. God weened them like a mother stuffing the first cheerio into a child’s mouth. This day they would eat the produce of the land. Imagine raising a grape to your lips for the first time, wondering in doubt and uncertainty if the strange little egg-shaped fruit will taste good or horrible. Then, you bite into it, feeling the tough consistency of the skin and tasting the juicy sweetness of the flesh inside.

Imagine your first bite of warm bread made from grain.

I think their minds would have been blown at the goodness they were tasting. Their natural doubts would have given way, quickly, to amazement at God’s providence. And yet, their lives would never be the same. From now on, everything would be different. They would have to work for their food. God would provide for them, but in a new way: a way that required their cooperation with God. This new life would require obedience to the covenant God made with them. The Law told them everything from how to properly care for the land, to how they should conduct business, to how they should worship, to what and how they should eat. And in this moment, on this day, they are forced to experience a very sudden change in their diet.

Food is incredibly significant stuff. Passover was a meal. With the exception of an entirely burnt offering, the sacrifices in the Tabernacle and Temple were meals. The people and the priests ate portions of the sacrifice. The sacrifices were meals with God. And that meant something significant!

The reason certain religious leaders got in such a tizzy over Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners is because eating with someone was a sign of connection and friendship with them. Eating with someone meant acceptance of that person. The Pharisees and religious leaders would never break bread with a tax collector or a prostitute. But Jesus did both. Jesus even broke bread with Pharisees.

Food is significant. We have certain expectations around events in our lives: holidays, birthdays, anniversaries. Imagine the uproar that would ensue if your family decided they were going to have hamburgers for Thanksgiving instead of turkey, and stuffing, and cranberry sauce, and candied yams, and green bean casserole, and mashed potatoes, and at least two kinds of gravy, and six different kinds of pie, and hot yeast rolls dripping with butter. Instead, your mom says, Do you want cheese with that burger? Oh no! You would protest because you don’t eat hamburgers on Turkey Day.

It’s the same with birthdays. I always get Chicken Kiev on my birthday. Always. That is my meal: two chicken breasts pinned together with toothpicks around a slab of butter, rolled in a milk-egg mixture, then rolled in crushed saltine crackers, and fried to perfection. When you slice into it, melted butter just gushes out. On July 27th, there is no substitute for Chicken Kiev at dinner time. None. People have tried, but it doesn’t work for me.

Joy and I were talking about this the other day, and she still remembers when her mom told her, Hey, I made tuna-noodle casserole for your birthday supper! And Joy’s response was, Oh. Tuna-noodle casserole. For my birthday. Thanks. She had an expectation for that birthday meal, and it was not tuna-noodle casserole.

When the Israelites celebrated the second Passover, the food and the ritual of eating it reminded them of how God had provided for them in the past. It was more than just food to fuel their bodies. It pointed them to the one who provides bread and sustenance, the one who gave them certain promises, the one who gave them life and freedom, the one who made covenant with them to be their sovereign, their provider, and their God. It reminded them of what God had accomplished for them in the past, and gave them confidence in God’s continued presence and care in the future.

Have you ever really paid attention to the words of the Great Thanksgiving in our Communion liturgy? It’s also called the Eucharist, which comes from a Greek word meaning Thanksgiving. The Great Thanksgiving prayer begins with thanks and praise. We give thanks to God for all of creation. We sing a hymn of praise to the Living God called the Sanctus.

We thank God for the work of redemption in the past, and the things we remember in the prayer change with the seasons of the Christian Year. During Lent, we focus on the significance of forty days, and recall the flood, the procession of the Israelites to Mount Sinai, Elijah’s fast, Christ’s fast in the wilderness, the forty days following his resurrection, and the forty days we use to prepare ourselves for the glory of Easter.

We remember and give thanks for Christ’s saving work, his command that we share this meal together, his death on the cross, and his resurrection to life. We pray for the Holy Spirit to come and be poured out on the elements of bread and juice to make them be for us the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ so that we can be the body of Christ for the world. We pray for our sanctification, that we might share in Christ’s victory and feast at the great banquet in God’s kingdom.

Eating together means something. When we eat the bread and taste the juice of the Eucharist, we are sharing a meal with God. We receive God into us. We are filled with God’s grace, power, and presence. We’re also reminded that we are a community together. We are called to love one another. And love means we bear with each other even when we can only see a person’s faults.

The irony of the Pharisees complaining that Jesus ate with sinners, is that he ate with them, too. And they were sinners. They had faults. They were not perfect. But they sure thought of themselves as better and more righteous than others.

The celebration of this Passover as the people stepped into the Promised Land became an opportunity to encounter God in a new and fresh way. The thing is, when we grow up, when we step out of Mom and Dad’s close embrace as the Israelites stepped into that new land full of rich food, other things can grab our attention. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself, but it becomes a problem when we no longer remember who it is that provides for us. Stepping out like this, growing up and seeing beyond the only horizons we’ve ever known, is a blessing but it can also lead to temptation.

It risks the possibility of forgetting. When the land flows with milk and honey, we can begin to rely more on the land than the one who gave it. We can begin to rely more on the produce than the one who provides. The wealth we gain can tempt us to celebrate ourselves and our possessions more than the God who richly lavishes upon us everything that we have. We can begin to seek first treasures on earth instead of seeking first the kingdom, work, and reign of God.

It didn’t take long for this generation of Israelites to forget. And the next generation… and the next. It doesn’t take us long either.

Lent calls us to remember the story. Our journey through these forty days is meant as an opportunity for us to remember what God has done for us, and what God promises for us. Lent offers us a chance to encounter God in new ways and draw near again. It’s a chance for us to savor this new food, to remember and to be renewed. Because God is still leading us out of disgraceful wandering. We are not as we should be.

Yet, the invitation from God is that we remember and return.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!