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Paschal Mystery

by Tim Isbell

After Death... New Life and a New Spirit

The Paschal Mystery is the central mystery of Christian faith: a process of transformation where we, after undergoing some kind of death, receive a new life and a new spirit. It is a crucial part of living joyfully after experiencing the loss of a dream, a loved one, our health, or any number of other things. Originally designed as a 2-sermon series for Easter and Pentecost (it fits all 3 lection years: A, B, and C), it can just as easily fit into the calendar almost anywhere on sequential Sundays. I developed the Paschal Mystery series a couple of years prior to The Alternate Life, it is a good sibling series to the Paschal Mystery.

The core ideas of this series of the Paschal Mystery emerged from The Holy Longing, by Ronald Rolheiser. He is currently the President of Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas.

This web page summarizes the series; sermon notes are available by clicking on the sermon title below. You can also download the Presentation file from the sermon notes files.

Paschal Mystery 1: After Death... New Life

John 20.1-18 (Revised Common Lectionary: ABC Easter).

The first in the series uses the story of King David and the death of his first son with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12.13-35), and Mary Magdalene at the Jesus' tomb (John 20.1-18). The message draws a distinction between terminal death and paschal death, and between resuscitated life and resurrected life. It also unpacks the 5 stages of the Paschal Mystery:

  1. Real death (Good Friday)
  2. Receiving new life (Easter)
  3. A time to grieve the old and readjust to the new life (the 50 days)
  4. A time to let go and let the "old" bless you (Ascension)
  5. Receiving a new Spirit to go with the new life (Pentecost)

This message also provides examples of how God plays his Paschal Mystery out in the lives of those who trust Jesus. For example, "the death of our youth." Imagine that you wake up tomorrow morning and realize it's your 70th birthday. You are no longer young. All the cosmetics, exercise, plastic surgery, and positive attitude cannot change that. Your youth is dead. But you look in the mirror and see what you perceive is a vibrant person, despite the physical limitations. You are now alive as a 70-year-old, not as a 20-year-old. Your Good Friday has occurred; your youth has died. Resurrection, too, has happened; you have the life of a 70-year-old.

You have a choice: you can grieve and let go of your lost youth, but if you do you will be an unhappy, fearful, and frustrated 70-year-old. Or your can let your youth ascend. God helps us say, "It was good to be 20, good to be 30, but now it's time to be 70." And new life will come. Some of the happiest people in the world are 70, and some of the unhappiest people in the world are 70. The difference is not who has kept himself or herself the slimmest or most youthful looking, but who is receiving the new life of a 70-year-old. The happy 70-year-old is the person who has received the spirit of her age.

The message extends this sort of thinking to the death of our wholeness, the death of our dreams, and the death of our honeymoons.


Paschal Mystery 2: After New Life... New Spirit

Acts1.1-13, 2.1-18 (RCL ABC Pentecost)

In the Paschal Mystery, the Holy Spirit comes into the life of every believer not... to improve the life of the believer so much as to actually live out the resurrected life of Christ through the believer.

Because I preached this sermon several weeks after the first one, I needed to spend some time at the front end of Part 2 reviewing the key elements from Part 1. If you preach these on sequential Sundays you could substantially reduce the review.

The biblical thrust picks up on the "new Peter" who stands up to preach the Good News to a Jerusalem crowd just a few weeks after the crucifixion when he timidly denying even knowing Jesus. Then the sermon moves to 3 things that swing into motion when believers experience their own Pentecost.

  1. The Holy Spirit beings to generate confidence that we are now part of God's divine community. This section uses a great illustration about bus drivers in New York City that I picked up from Gordon MacDonald's book The Life God Blesses.
  2. We begin to assume characteristics appropriate to our new family identity. This one takes advantage of another illustration from The Life God Blesses, and also a story out of the life of William Booth (founder of the Salvation Army).
  3. The Holy Spirit starts offering empowerment. The secular world sees extraordinary performance and attitude and attributes it to personally developed skills and aptitudes. But the person filled with the Holy Spirit comes to understands and testifies that whatever observers find odd, and attractive, is God infused capacity that carries a person far beyond skills and aptitude. 


As we live transparently beyond our Pentecost people won't ask, "Show us what you have" or "Tell us what you know." They will say, "Show us the Father." Christian living is not about living with Christ's help, it is Christ living his life in us. Christ was not Paul's helper, he was Paul's life. Christ is not so much the one who gives us life, he is our life. If Christians find it hard to live the Christian life, they are probably trying to live it instead of trusting Jesus to live it through them. Divine power is the life of Jesus, crucified and risen again, living through us. It is God's Plan A for building his Kingdom.


Paschal Mystery - Single sermon version

In 2015 I preached on Pentecost Sunday I preached a 1-sermon version of this material at Antioch (CA) Nazarene Church. I prefer to do this in two sermons, but if you have to do it ine one... take a look at this one.



Blessings,
Tim
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