05.09.10 The Church’s Resurrection, Rev. 3:1-6 Sermon Summary
When I read this passage, I can’t help but think of the importance of baptism for the renewal of the church. Here’s why.
- When Jesus urges the church to “remember what they have received and heard, then to obey and repent,” he outlines the process of becoming a believer in the first generation church. These activities are the precedents for baptism. (See the sermon scraps for how this relates to infant baptism.)
- Jesus also employs the popular symbol of life arising from the state of death. Ephesians 5:14 says, “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” The passage in Revelation is a wakeup call for the people of Sardis. Our “waking up from sleep” sacramentalized by Baptism.
- The most significant clue that evokes baptismal thoughts is the reference to baptismal garments. Galatians 3:27 says that, “all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” In this passage and several other times, Revelation contrasts the soiled clothes of the churches under duress with the white robes of those who overcome. In ancient baptismal liturgies, baptizands are given a new robe to signify their having put on Christ.
- A final, less direct reference to baptism is the seven-fold spirit of God held in the right hand of Jesus. Again, in ancient baptismal liturgies, baptizands are anointed with oil while invoking the presence of the seven-fold Spirit of God (from Isaiah 11:1). These are the Spirit of wisdom & understanding, of counsel & might, of knowledge & the reverence of the Lord, and joy in God’s presence.
Jesus criticizes Sardis for their presumption. They appear alive, but really are dead. This isn’t the first time Jesus says this of religious people. In Matthew 23:27 he says the same thing of the Pharisees, that they are whitewashed tombs; beautiful on the outside, dead inside.
Given that we are to hear God’s Word to the church today, to our church, I have to ask: we who have received baptism, who have received new life in Christ, are we still living as though dead? Are we, like the people of Sardis, asleep and in need of a wakeup call from the resurrected Christ? If so, then I believe it stems from our misunderstanding what we say in the Apostles’ Creed when we refer to the “resurrection of the body.”
The Apostles’ Creed is an ancient formula used in baptism. Baptizands were required to recite three things: the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and some form of the Creed. In the final stanza of the Creed, we say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”
We’ve misunderstood the “resurrection of the body” in two ways. The first is we hear it as it applies to us as individuals. It is the resurrection of MY body that I believe in the Creed. And the second is that we think of the resurrection of OUR bodies as something that occurs after we die.
But the resurrection of the body, in which we confess belief related to the Holy Spirit in the Creed, is not a reference to our individual bodies and to an event in the future. It is a reference to the Body of Christ which occurs in the community of the church and in the present time. The “resurrection of the body” in the Creed is an activity of the Holy Spirit working in the lives of the people of the church to manifest the presence of the resurrected Christ. It is the present activity of the Holy Spirit, not something that we await. The resurrection of the body is our participation in this life in the ministry of Jesus Christ as his church.
This is what Paul means when he says in Romans 6:3-4 that we are buried with Christ in his death, so that we are raised with him to new life. That new life is now. We don’t have to wait for it. We have been awakened from our sleep, and we are not to return to sleepy ways. Sardis needed to wake up again, and this is the Word of God to our church also. Wake up! Remember the life we have in Christ. Remember our baptism. Put on the white robes of Christ again. Live the baptized life.
To live the baptized life is to live at the ready. Twice the city of Sardis was taken by surprise and captured. So when Jesus says he will come to them like a thief, they would identify with that warning vividly, like a reference to September 11, 2001 might evoke a sense of urgency for us.
The apostle Paul uses this same language in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6, “Now, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.”
Jesus himself warns in Matthew 24:42-44, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
This passage presses upon us the importance of waking up to the presence of the resurrected Christ. It urges us to live our lives in light of his presence, to live as children of God, as children who are adopted and engrafted into the family of God through baptism. So let us all wake up, welcome the presence of God into our lives, and live our lives as God’s children.
Questions for Further Reflection
- It’s easy to hear Jesus’ warnings of his coming in a threatening way. But what if he was only being urgent? How would your life change at work, school, or play, if you expected God to be present, not surprising you as a judge, but accompanying you on your journey?
- How would you live your differently if you believed that your “eternal”, “resurrected” life begins in this life?
- Does your life, or your church’s life, have an appearance of being alive but is really dead? What changes do you or your church need to make in order to be actually alive?