David A. Davis
April 9, 2023
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For the last six weeks during the season of Lent here at Nassau Church, we have been listening, studying, and pondering the stories Jesus told. The parables Jesus told. So this morning, this Easter morning, let’s do one more parable. One more parable from the teaching of Jesus.
Jesus tells the one about the old and new wineskins in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In each gospel, Jesus brings up the wineskins in response to a question about why his disciples do not fast as frequently as the followers of John the Baptist or those who follow the other religious leaders. Only Luke refers to the teaching about not putting a new patch on an old garment and not putting new wine in an old wineskin as a parable. As parables go, this one seems straightforward at least in terms of the wineskins. As new wine ferments it expands and an old wineskin, being brittle and dry, would no longer be able to be stretched and would start to leak. What is not as straightforward about Jesus’ teaching and what makes it more parable-like is what Jesus means in terms of the old and the new.
The most common interpretation has to do with the old covenant or the law, and the new covenant Jesus brings as in “This cup is the new covenant of my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Every time you drink it, do it in remembrance of me.” But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” That doesn’t really sound like a bursting or leaking relationship of the old and the new. And that last sentence from Jesus in Luke just leaves the parable listener all the more “parabolically confused.” “No one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says ‘the old is good.’”
So the old is good or the old is bad or the old is just old. The new wine will be better after it ages? Jesus is not likely playing the role of a wine steward here. Perhaps the parable intends to point far beyond that theological tightrope Jesus walks of the old and the new covenant. What if the “new wine” Jesus refers to in the parable can be better referenced by the new commandment Jesus offers in the Gospel of John at the Last Supper. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Or maybe “new wine” points to the “new teaching” of the apostles all through the book of Acts. A new teaching, the teaching of the gospel that lands them in prison over and over again. Or what if the “new” is the new creation the Apostle Paul announces to the Corinthian Church. “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away, see everything has become new.” It could also be that the “new” Jesus mentions in the parable of the old and new wineskins ought to come with a capital “N”. Some way for it to point all the way to the promise of the new heaven and the new earth John the Revelator sees. As the Lamb of God seated upon the throne, the victorious Christ proclaims, “Behold, I am making all things new.” The Risen Jesus and his promise of “new”. NEW in all caps, like a received text message intended to be a shout!
And yes, in response to the gospel’s promise of “new”, in response to the Risen Jesus and his promise of “NEW”, some prefer the old wine, some opt for the old, some crave the old, some even fear the promise of new. The only thing mentioned more than the Jesus being raised from the dead in the gospel of Matthew’s recording of the empty tomb is fear. You heard it in the call to worship this morning. For fear of the stone rolling, stone sitting, earthquake announcing angel, those guards shook and became like dead men. To the women there at the now empty tomb, the angel said “Do not be afraid”. Do not fear. When they left the tomb quickly it was with fear and great joy. Suddenly Jesus met them and as they clung to his feet and fell down and worshipped him, he said, “Do not be afraid”.
“They left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy.” Fear and great joy. It is a jarring combination of emotions. It’s not something to really be explained. You don’t make sense of it. Fear and great joy. But the combination, it is part of the human experience. You can’t explain it but you’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. An 18-year-old arrives on a college campus somewhere, anywhere. She is so glad to be out of high school. She is, honestly, so happy to be away from home. But her chief goal that first week is to not let her roommates know how wicked scared she is. Fear and great joy. Ask any first-time parents who have just brought a baby home from the hospital, they’ve just arrived home with their adopted newborn, ask any first-time parents and without using the exact words, I assure you they will describe fear and great joy to you. When both dads take the morning off from work because their son is getting on the bus for the first time and heading off to first grade? That moment when the bus drives away, it is fear and great joy. The saint of the church, with a fullness of life far beyond what the psalmist describes, four score by reason of strength, that pillar of faith and strength who is both ready to go to glory and anxious about getting there. That’s fear and great joy. You can’t really describe it but you’ve seen it. You’ve tasted it. You know it.
Some translations, some commentators, some preachers, they try to soften the fear; opting for the word “awe” or “wonder”. They try to go with that old biblical use of the word “fear” as in “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111). Fear as in worship and reverence. “Filled with awe and a lot of excitement” the women left the tomb quickly. No, they were scared to death, scared by death, sacred of the mystery that life might somehow be rising out of death, scared of the new. Otherwise, the Risen Jesus would not have said to them, “Do not be afraid.” It was great joy and fear. “Do not be afraid; go and tell them to go to Galilee, there they will see me.” Do not be afraid of the promise of new.
One of the most influential preachers in my life once said this in a sermon on Easter morning:
Ours is a religion of the dawn. Creation begins in the morning. The women come to the tomb in the morning. The morning is when it happens. Lose the morning and you have lost the day. Resurrection is an event of the morning, and when Jesus is raised from the dead it is always morning, always daytime, always the new day….The theme of Easter is that you and I become something new. We are given a second chance to get it right.
With all due respect to a mentor now gone to glory, if the theme of Easter is just a second chance to get it right, if Easter is just one big mulligan, one big do-over for humankind, that’s not enough. Because you and I, humankind, the world, we will never get it right. Before the resurrection is an event of the morning, it is a death-vanquishing, life-restoring, tomb-stomping event in the dark. It’s a light breaking, night shattering, overcoming of the dark. It is something new alright. Something “NEW”
Easter better be about more than a second chance. Second chances aren’t enough when you are stopped in your tracks by the magnitude of all that is opposite to the mighty works of God. All the powers and principalities that work to destroy life; the promise of life in all its fullness and abundance. When the fear of God’s new thing stokes the sinful desire to cling to power and sew division and spread lies. A fear of God’s promise of a new day that can result in demonizing, silencing, expelling others who yearn for a better way. Second chance isn’t enough when it comes to the symbol, the sum, the prototype, the theme, the weight, the rallying cry for all that works against God’s way, God’s reign, God’s new thing. God’s kingdom to come now. When confronted over and over again by such utter darkness, it’s not a second chance I need, but rather, the hope, the promise, the God-given Word of a victory. The promise of God’s new heaven and new earth. The promise of the Risen Savior who proclaims “Behold, I am making all things new.
Don’t misunderstand, I have no allusions when it comes to death. I’ve stood next to far too many open graves in the cemetery. Back in January, I stood in this pulpit looking out at 600 people who were here for a memorial serve for a friend and neighbor who was my age who was diagnosed with lung cancer just 7 months before. Jeff never smoked a day in his life. An overflowing sanctuary, half of which were young people my kid’s age, my kid’s friends. In the midst of my own very real grief, I had to stand here with something to say. Death and darkness abound and are very, very real. And when it comes to the blasted world around us, I have lived long enough to agree with John Calvin and the other Reformers who wrote about the total depravity of humankind.
But you and I, we dare to cling to the promise of new! The new of everlasting life, yes. The new that death and darkness will be no more, yes. The new that there will be no need of light there, for God alone shall be our light. Yes. The promise of the new kingdom that comes here on earth as it is in heaven, a newness where gun violence, and bitterness, and the evils of fear and hate and bitterness will be no more, yes. The new that the city of Jerusalem and all that is the land of Jesus’ birth would have a future of peace, yes. The new that the earth could thrive forever with swords turned in plowshares and threats of war be no more, yes. The new that all of the “isms” that threaten the common good could be vanquished and poverty and hunger and homelessness gone forever, yes. The new that creation could be restored, redeemed from humanity’s destructive touch to that which God proclaimed as good, yes. The new that abundant life can rise out of the shambles of broken relationships, and a flourishing career can come after the depth of job loss, and youthful vitality can rise from weak knees and tired bones and weary souls, yes. The new that in the confidence of resurrection hope, you and I are called even now to be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord, in the Risen Lord, our labor is not, shall not, will never be in vain.
For on Easter Day, the people of God rise not just to celebrate a second chance, but we rise to stare down the world’s darkness, proclaiming together that the victory over death was his, the victory is ours. For Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! And today our Easter shout is to the Risen Savior who from the very throne of God proclaims again, “Behold, I am making all things NEW!”