Easter April 20, 2014 Matthew 28: 1-10 1 Corinthians 15: 19-26
Rev. Catherine Purves
I am a first child. My brother is three years younger than I am. Some of you are undoubtedly the firstborn among your siblings. Others will be the youngest or the dreaded middle child. People have based their whole careers on developing elaborate theories about what it means to be a first child and what it means to follow after the firstborn. You’d have to ask my brother whether he was scarred for life because he was born three years after I was. I suppose it’s hard enough having a minister in the family. Having that minister as your older sister might well have an adverse effect on the way you view the world.
If you’re not a first child, then there has always been someone ahead of you. Even if you weren’t consciously following in their footsteps, they were still out front blazing a trail through the neighborhood, school, and extended family. You could benefit from their accomplishments and from their hard-won wisdom. You could count on their protection and their understanding. You could anticipate what possibilities your future might hold, because your older brother or sister was already years ahead of you, and they did everything first.
But what if the one who was born first in your family was not an exemplary child? What if your older brother or sister was a holy terror? Then you will be forced to try to make your own way in the world in spite of a weighty inheritance of suspicion and judgment. Then, everyone – from school teachers. to coaches, and possibly even the local police – will view you will a jaundiced eye, just waiting for you to put a foot wrong, because you’re his brother or her sister. What a burden to bear growing up: to have a juvenile delinquent ahead of you, setting the stage for you to fail. How can you escape the fate that everyone assumes must await you because you are following in the footsteps of an undeniable wastrel?
The whole human family was in that predicament, according to the apostle Paul. Our unsavory older brother was Adam; our firstborn sister was Eve. We are still living amidst the fallout of their disastrous coming-of-age. Talk about ruining the neighborhood for us! It was a virtual paradise before they showed up. In terms of family systems theory, we’re doomed. How can we ever get out from under that legacy?
Adam and Eve will always be ahead of us, setting the stage for our demise. They welcomed sin into the human family, and now we are all tainted by it. And because of our firstborn brother and sister, death, our greatest enemy, came into the world. Not only are we scarred for life because we are forced to follow in the footsteps of Adam and Eve, but our life will be cut short and it will be forever overshadowed by the inevitability of death.
I hope that you can see that we are well and truly trapped in this dysfunctional family because of our oldest siblings. We cannot stop sinning. We cannot avoid death. We will always be the younger brothers and sisters of Adam and Eve. We are forever linked to them and their misdeeds. And we are forced to live in the human family and the world that they corrupted. What was a paradise is now a wasteland. No matter how you interpret the book of Genesis, no matter what you think it is saying about our oldest human ancestors, surely, we can agree on this: that sin and death now dominate this world. And this is the world that we have inherited. We must live with the consequences of the fact that we are the younger brothers and sisters of Adam and Eve.
But, into this impossible and inescapable family situation came the revelation that there was yet another, even older brother. His name was Jesus. Now, you might be thinking that, surely, he was in the same boat that we are, insofar as he too was a descendent of Adam and Eve. It appears, from his place in history, that Jesus was a middle child, not the firstborn. But this is not the case. Certainly, he was fully a member of the human family. He is our brother. But before Adam was, he was. Before Eve sinned, Jesus was the firstborn, faithful Son of God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and lived among us…we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” That was Jesus.
Now, we brothers and sisters in the human family have discovered that our lineage is not indelibly tainted and irreparably doomed. Though Adam and Eve are our older siblings, and though the whole family has disastrously followed them down the road of sin and death, we have an older brother. Now, he is the one who has gone ahead of us. Jesus has opened up a different path for us. He has enabled us to envision another future. He has changed what had appeared to be the inevitable course of history, set in motion by Adam and Eve. For Adam and Eve, and for those who would follow after them, sin and death were the ultimate, unavoidable realities of life in the human family. But no more! Jesus, our true eldest brother, has given our human family a new trajectory, a new future that is rooted and grounded in the fact that he is the firstborn Son of our Father. We are no longer trapped because we are related to our older siblings, Adam and Eve. We now look to our oldest brother Jesus, who has become the new head of the human family.
But some of you may say, that’s all very clever, but you’re still talking about ancient history. What difference does it make now that our oldest brother is Jesus rather than Adam and Eve? Thousands and thousands of years have passed, for goodness sake. Surely, family legacies must have a limited lifespan, for good or for ill. From the distant mists of history, how can Adam and Eve harm us now, and how can Jesus help us?
At this point, we must interject the remarkable story of Easter, because that changes everything. When the women went to the tomb on Easter Sunday in order to mourn for their dead brother, teacher, and friend, they found an empty grave. They were ready to consign Jesus to the past. They would never forget him. They would honor his memory. They would remember his words and his deeds. His example as a man of God and as a loving brother would live on. But his life and witness were behind them now. That’s what they thought. Jesus, their eldest brother, was history, just as Adam and Eve were history. That’s what many who call themselves Christians still think.
Except that he wasn’t, he isn’t history! The one who was Lord before the world began and who would become our Savior through a tremendous act of self-sacrifice and love could not be constrained by history. He broke the bonds of sin and death which had entered the world and then dominated history when our older brother and sister, Adam and Eve rebelled against God. But sin could not defeat Jesus, and no tomb could hold Jesus. As the angel said, “He is not here; for he has been raised.”
Looking into the empty tomb, the women were mystified. They had seen his dead body laid there. But the angel said, “Go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’” Jesus is going ahead of you! The resurrection means that Jesus has not just done something in the past. He is changing our future. He is alive! Now! Today! He is our future. He is still ahead of us!
Jesus is and always will be the firstborn Son of the Father. Before Adam and Eve were, he was. Before the human family began its disastrous descent into sin and death, our eldest brother was ahead of us, and a plan of redemption was already in the heart of God. When, in the fullness of time, that plan came to fruition, and our eldest brother defeated sin and death for us, he was still ahead of us. He didn’t just get us back on the right track and nudge us in a new direction. He went ahead of us. On the glorious day of resurrection he became firstborn from the dead! A new future was opened up for us and for all those whom Jesus has claimed as his brothers and sisters. Now, each and every day, he continues to go ahead of us, as the angel said, drawing us into God’s future as it unfolds for the world, and leading us into everlasting life!
Because of that, we can genuinely sever our ties to our other siblings, Adam and Eve. We are part of God’s new family now, as we were always meant to be. And so, we live now in confident Easter hope, because nothing can change the fact that Jesus is our brother, our Savior, and our resurrected Lord. He was and always will be ahead of us, accomplishing our salvation.