Sermon preached for Easter Sunday at Crescent Springs Presbyterian Church.
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
2 Corinthians 5:13-21
For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Almost two years ago now, I made my second visit to this state of Kentucky. I was in town for you all to vote on whether or not to call me as your next pastor, and it was a great weekend—the first time I’d met many of you all, and you were more lovely and gracious and welcoming than I’d even hoped for. As anxious as I was about the vote on Sunday, I felt so incredibly confident that the Spirit was calling me to this church. After four years of seminary, wondering what might come next, it was amazing to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
That rental car had its radio tuned to the local pop station, and I had it turned way up, loud to match my mood, as I headed back from church to the hotel over near the airport. A song came on the radio that fit my feelings that weekend perfectly. It was a peppy, poppy little love song, not a lot of substance but full of joy.
The song begins something like this:
I feel like new sunglasses, like a brand new pair of jeans
I feel like taking chances, I feel a lot like seventeen
I feel like windows rolled down, new city, streets and cabs
I feel like anything can happen, laughing,
You take me right back, when we were kids
Never thought I’d feel like this
Like when I close my eyes and don’t even care if anyone sees me dancing
Like I can fly, and don’t even think of touching the ground
Like a heartbeat skip, like an open page
Like a one way trip on an aeroplane
It’s the way that I feel when I’m with you, brand new
I was on the verge of a brand new life that day. A brand new life in Kentucky, a brand new life as a pastor, a brand new life with you, and every bit of it felt full of joy. The sun was bright and it felt like God was singing directly to me, through this silly little pop song.
And I can’t help but hum the tune a bit when I hear Paul’s words to the Corinthians, words much older and grander but spoken, I think, with the same amount of joy: “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
As a culture, we love newness. New trends, new ideas, new horizons. We love buying products labeled “new and improved!” After a week’s vacation, we’re glad to say we feel like a new man or a new woman. And when something breaks or ages, we’re trained to throw it away and head to Wal-mart, or Target, or Ikea and just buy it new.
We like new. We like shiny, happy, fresh, young, new. So Paul’s words should be an easy sell.
Everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
I have noticed several billboards on I-71 in Cincinnati advertising the work of plastic surgeons. Paul’s words would not be out of place on some them, promising a “brand new you.”
But Jesus is not a plastic surgeon, and God does not throw people away when they break or become worn. God’s interest is not in making us shiny, happy, fresh, young. Being a new creation in Christ does not mean wiping away all that we were.
Some of us may feel brand new this morning. But more of us, I imagine, are feeling much the same as we did yesterday, and the day before—a little tired, a little worn out. A little creaky, maybe, a bit rusted, even. Not so shiny. Not so young. Not so new.
Jesus may be out of the tomb and on the move, but we could use ten more minutes of rest.
Listen closely to what Paul says, though: 16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.”
Being new is not about changing who we are. It’s not about a facelift or a makeover. Being new is about changing how we see ourselves—or more accurately, seeing ourselves as God sees us. It is about recognizing that in Christ God has already made us new, is making us new each and every day. Paul knows that Christ has died and risen for his people, and so Paul is committing himself to seeing them as worthy of that gift. Paul has decided he will see the people around him not as the cast-offs of the Roman Empire, but as the people God loves enough to die for. As the people God has made new, from the inside out.
It’s not about being peppy and poppy, or shiny, fresh, and young. Being new creations in Christ is about seeing with God’s eyes, seeing how much we are loved and worthy of the new life Christ offers us.
It’s less like getting a facelift than it is like getting a new glasses prescription. It’s seeing newness in ourselves—the newness that comes when we accept God’s love for us and walk boldly out of our own tombs and into a world that is desperate for our gifts.
Christ has led the way for us. Christ left death behind and walked back out into the very world that killed him, with hope and confidence. He still carried the wounds in his hands. He didn’t look brand new. But everyone who saw him knew something was different. He had left the power of death in the dust, and the whole world was brand new.
Every single morning, God offers us Easter. Every single morning, God rolls the stone away and hopes that we will go out into the world with hope and confidence. We may still carry yesterday’s wounds. We may not look new at all. But God has promised us that death cannot hold us, that despair cannot crush us, that no force in this whole world can stand against us, not when we Christ’s own ambassadors. Not when we wear the seal of God’s love right over our hearts.
It is not always easy, seeing this newness in ourselves. We are so accustomed to living our old lives of anxiety and exhaustion. So accustomed to seeing ourselves from a human perspective. It may take awhile, to open our eyes to see God at work in us. The gospel of Mark tells us that the women who found Jesus’ tomb empty ran away in confusion and terror. It was hard for them to imagine a new ending, a different ending than death. Hard for them to imagine that new life was available for Jesus—impossible for them to know that new life would be available for them.
But this is the work of Easter—opening our eyes to see the Risen Christ, alive and on the move now, in our neighbors and the strangers we pass by, in our friends and family, and perhaps especially in ourselves. This is the work of Easter—seeing the world with new eyes. Seeing the world with Christ’s eyes. As utterly worthy of love and of life.
A few weeks ago a friend of mine shared a poem that she had found meaningful, by a young poet named Sabrina Benaim. Sabrina wrestles with depression—which is in some ways a kind of myopia, a dark shade pulled over your eyes that keeps you from seeing how loved you are. She closes her book, though, on a note of hope—a note of resurrection—in a poem titled “A Spell, a Prayer.” I want to read you a few excerpts this morning. She declares, after wrestling with the darkness for a long, long time:
I am feeling better
so I say good morning and mean it
that’s a big deal
yes, today is a good morning
to feel joy
with the release of a breath I no longer need to be holding
light hits everything at a different angle
I will make a habit of tilting my head
when the sadness waterfalls
I will let the salt cleanse the wounds I cannot see
I forgive myself even if I am the last person I want to forgive
wherever I have come from
wherever I am going
I will remember the present as the only place to start
today is a good day to wake up and be great
and have gratitude for the restless pump of a heart
for the way it does not know how to hold back
I will exhale and I will begin to do the same.
I think Sabrina’s poem is probably a better reflection of what it means to be made new in Christ than the pop song I quoted earlier, even if I still have a soft spot for it. When God makes us new, God does not obliterate what is old or broken in us. When God makes us new, God forgives—and helps us to forgive—those busted, raw spots. When God makes us new, God takes the person we have always been and helps us to love it. When God makes us new, God helps us let out that breath—of fear, or anxiety, or anger—and breathe deeply instead of the spirit’s peace and power.
Two days ago, a few of us gathered in this sanctuary for a Good Friday service, to bear witness to Christ’s crucifixion and death. During the service, we wrote down the things we carry with us that wear us down—our sins and shames. We laid them at the foot of the cross.
This morning, the cross is draped in white, white like the linens Jesus left behind. And on each of those strips of cloth is a single word: forgiven.
Jesus did not die for nothing to change. Jesus did not rise for no one to notice. If you can feel old sins and shames wearing on you, wearing you down, then I hope you will come to the cross after worship today and take one of the strips of cloth with you. I hope you will be bold enough to carry your forgiveness alongside your wounds.
The message of Easter is simply love. Love stronger than death, love stronger than time, love stronger than anything we can imagine. Let that love fill you. Let that love strengthen you. Let that love be the lens through which you see the world. Let it be the lens through which you see yourself.
You beautiful, beloved, new creation in Christ.
Friends, Christ is alive! Alive and at work, making all things new. Making each of us new, every single day, morning by morning, until at last we can see it for ourselves.
Let out that breath you have been holding. It is a good morning.
And to feel joy.
 Ben Rector, Brand New, 2015.
 Sabrina Benaim, “A Prayer, a Spell.” Depression and Other Magic Tricks, 2017.