On to Bethlehem – Easter 2011

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I have had the opportunity to preach Easter sermons on a few occasions.  I usually tried to use the sermon as an opportunity to think deeply about the incarnation, especially why Jesus came “in the flesh.”  Sometimes this meant that I would use text which is more associated with Christmas than with Easter, to shake up the listener who was expecting the “normal” Easter sermon.  Bill Mallonee wrote the song “On to Bethlehem” a few years back as a Christmas song, but it strikes me as appropriate for Easter as well.   He just released a live acoustic album on Bandcamp with a nice version of the song, so the lyrics have been on my mind the last few days.

God wraps Himself up in human skin for those who want to touch. And God let them drive the nails in, for those of us who know way too muchYou come bearing all our burdens, and take Your lovers for a ride. But we stay holed up in our cages, fashioned by our own design.

I find these lines a remarkably clear presentation of the Gospel, but also a frank description of the human condition.  In the incarnation, God did in fact “wrap himself in flesh,” but he did so in order to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).   I think that people get overly excited about the torment of the Cross, distracting them from the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  That is easy to do with recent films like Passion of the Christ, and no doubt it was a bloody torturous death.  But the point is that Jesus becomes our sin-bearer, the one who is willing and able to make atonement.

We have opportunity to really know God, to be “in Christ” as a new creation.  “But we stay holed up in our cages, fashioned by our own design.” Cages are prisons, in this case without bars.  As a culture we silence the gospel by playing Easter games, celebrating with eggs and candy and the like.  That sort of a diversion from the truth is obvious when you know the truth, but to most people the Easter Story is a fantasy of happy bunnies and spring sales, nothing to do with “God wrapping himself in flesh.”

As a Church, we build a cages made of false expectations of what it means to live a Christian life, as if we have to pay back Jesus for becoming our sin-bearer.  Rather than realizing we are “in Christ,” dearly loved children adopted into the family of God, we measure ourselves against other Christians and pronounce ourselves “spiritual.”  Rather than “being in Christ” we try to out-do each other.  The essence of Grace is that we receive this adoption purely by God’s love, without merit in our own goodness, nor do we keep it by our own good works.   Grace means that we simply be “in Christ.”

This Easter, it is time to see the cage for what it is, and step out into the fresh light of the Gospel of the Grace of God.