How This Grace Thing Works

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April 5, 2013 by Pastor Ben McIntire

He is risen!  (Now you say, “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”)

If you went to church on Easter Sunday, chances are good that you heard and participated in this proclamation. Easter Sunday is the day that we Christians celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus. We believe that God raised his Son, Jesus, from the dead and rolled away the stone that sealed him in the tomb after he was executed on the cross. Our theology, our understanding and teaching about this miracle, is that because Jesus was raised from the dead to live in a new and undying body forever, we will all experience the same “resurrection of the body” on the Last Day and then live eternally in God’s Presence. I put that phrase in quotations because it is part of the Apostles’ Creed that we confess most Sundays when we gather in church.

One of the Big Questions that our Christian faith addresses is “what happens when we die?”

The short answer is that we will be in God’s Presence, and on the Last Day we will be resurrected into new, incorruptible bodies for all eternity. “Incorruptible” means that these new bodies will not age, decay, or generally cause pain, discomfort or get sick the way they (so annoyingly) do now.

The next question that is usually asked is “So how do I get this eternal life with a new, resurrected body?” It’s the question that a rich man asked Jesus in the Gospels (Matthew 19:16, Mark 10:17, Luke 18:18) and one that people are still stressing out about. I think the best and most succinct answer comes from another place in scripture, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

In other words, God gives us this gift of faith in Jesus—not just belief that he lived and died and rose again—but a relationship, placing our trust in God. And this gift of faith is graciously given to us, a FREE gift. That is why we talk about God’s grace, because it is free, not deserved or worked for.  So now we ask, “how does this grace thing work?”

Mumford & Sons"Roll Away Your Stone"

Mumford & Sons
“Roll Away Your Stone”

Check out the Mumford & Sons song “Roll Away Your Stone” on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlYrOBvt9IQ

Great song, right? And I love the imagery of rolling away stones, especially during the Easter season! The reason I bring up this song is because I think it’s about GRACE and as it says, “exactly how this grace thing works.” Let’s go through the lyrics, and I’ll explain what I mean.

Roll away your stone, I’ll roll away mine
Together we can see what we will find
Don’t leave me alone at this time,
For I’m afraid of what I will discover inside

Think of this song as a conversation with God, being sung to God. As God rolled away Jesus’ Resurrection Stone on Easter morning, we can roll away our stones and take an honest look at ourselves and our lives, but that can be scary and unpleasant! There may not be dead bodies in there, as in a tomb, but we may find some spiritual deadness.

‘Cause you told me that I would find a hole,
Within the fragile substance of my soul
And I have filled this void with things unreal,
And all the while my character it steals

I’ve talked about the “God-shaped hole in our souls” in my Easter post, which is linked above, and how we always try to fill that hole with all kinds of stuff. But the only thing that really fits correctly in that space is our relationship with God. As we stuff things into that gap (booze, drugs, sex, bad relationships, food, money, clothes, you-name-it) those things truly do steal our character and change who we are, often into people we don’t like and don’t want to be.

Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I see

Anyone who has watched the news, read a newspaper, or gone out in public knows exactly what these two lines are talking about. No explanation needed.

It seems that all my bridges have been burned,
But you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart,
But the welcome I receive with the restart

Burnt bridges, rock-bottom, the pit of despair—it is at that point in our life when we finally know for a fact that we don’t have it all together, we can’t handle it all on our own, we are not the master of our own universe, that we can finally turn to God and hand ourselves over. We can let go of trying to be God, and let God be God. And God says, “that’s exactly how this grace thing works!” God provides, God saves, God makes a way where it looks like we are up against a brick wall. The “long walk home” comes from Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, where a father with two sons grants one his inheritance early as requested. The Prodigal Son squanders all that money on wild living and partying until it is gone and he’s reduced to feeding pigs. He is so hungry and lost that he decides to go home and offer himself as a slave to his father, to work for him and earn enough to buy food. It’s not the long walk home that changes his heart though; it is the father, who runs to him when he appears over the horizon, and his display of grace toward this son who was lost but has now returned. The father receives the son back, not as a slave, but as a son! That is grace. No matter what has been done, God’s grace is freely and lovingly bestowed on us.

Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I see
Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I’ve seen
Stars hide your fires,
These here are my desires
And I will give them up to you this time around
And so, I’ll be found with my stake stuck in this ground
Marking the territory of this newly impassioned soul

These lines come from Shakespeare’s Macbeth,  Act 1, Scene 4.

MACBETH: The Prince of Cumberland! that is a step on which I must fall down, or else o’erleap, for in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires, let not light see my black and deep desires; the eye wink at the hand; yet let that be which the eye fears, when it is done, to see.

macbeth

First of all, what Macbeth is saying: “The Prince of Cumberland is between me and my plans for power and glory. Stars, hide your fires and do not shine any light on the evil desires and plans I have. The eye turns away from the deeds my hands will do, because those deeds are terrible to see.” So what the song is saying, is that we have our evil, black and deep desires inside us but we can give those things up to God this time around. That’s called repentance, turning away from sin and turning toward God. And so, we stake out new territory, as “newly impassioned souls” who are filled with God’s grace and the new desire to live according to God’s good purpose.

But you, you’ve gone too far this time
You have neither reason nor rhyme
With which to take this soul that is so rightfully mine

These last lines seem to cause all sorts of problems for the people who are trying explain this song’s meaning on various websites. Yet as we remember this song is addressed to God as praise for His grace, they make perfect sense. God has gone too far, with no good reason to accept us poor sinners. Logic and fairness demand that we receive punishment for our sins, but God shows us grace, love and forgiveness anyway. God takes our sin-covered filthy souls (which are so rightfully ours) and cleans us off, washes us in the waters of baptism, and restores us to His family for Jesus’ sake.

Happy Easter season!

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, your grace is amazing and much more than I deserve. Thank you for showing mercy and love to me, for forgiving me, and for leading me in better paths. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Pastor Ben serves at St. Mark Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Storm Lake, Iowa.

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