Acts 10:34-43
Psalm 118
Colossians 3:1-4
Matthew 28:1-10 jail-bars-bent

by Matthew B. Harper

Prison, with a sentence of any length, is a death. It is one of those experiences that changes you forever. Even if your sentence is short, whatever comes next will be touched by your time in prison. This death is more profound when you have a longer sentence, as I do. Coming to prison meant that my old life, and the plans and dreams I had, all died. Acknowledging that was a long and painful grieving process. It felt like the end of my world, and in a way it was.

This is not to say that prison isn’t deserved, or that it isn’t fair and at times even a mercy. But prison is a consequence for sin, and sin always leads to death.

For my crime, murder, there seems to be no healing possible. For every other crime, no matter how serious, life still remains. Even after a rape, robbery, or ransom, there is life. Hurt and traumatized though it may be, life remains and healing a new life can be found. But in murder, that precious life is snuffed out. Death is always too soon, death is always unfair.

Yet, like the Psalmist, I rejoice.

“God’s love endures forever!” the psalm declares. With shouts of joy and declarations of victory the Psalmist affirms they will not die but live. So too do I rejoice. As the psalm says, I too have been chastened by God, severely, but not given over to death. I am punished, and the weight of punishment is heavy, but I am given over not to death but to new life.

Grace is also unfair. God’s loving redemption is a gift beyond imaging. Not only do we not deserve it, we deserve the exact opposite. But Grace is what we receive. Our sins are forgiven, the price paid; death is overcome, resurrection triumphs.

My old life, my old dreams, are dead. So too are my old hurts, insecurities, and crime. They had to die. My sins killed them, Christ’s blood covered them. All the hurt and trauma I have caused doesn’t get the last word. Where there was death, only God can bring life, and God does. It is unfair; gloriously, ridiculously, wonderfully, unfair.

But its not just unfair to me. This isn’t just my testimony. We read today about Peter preaching to Cornelius’ household. “God does not show favoritism,” he proclaims “but God accepts all.” God passed judgement on sin, and through Christ’s death the penalty has been paid. The ongoing work of the Holy Spirit testifies to the truth of the Gospel and fills it with life-changing power.

Cornelius was a Roman, a gentile, and a member of the forces occupying the Holy Land. What humility and grace was being showed as Peter preached the good news to him and his whole household. This wasn’t something they decided to do, but God appeared both to Peter and Cornelius. God had to show the way, and to break down the barriers. With God there are no barriers to grace. It isn’t something given to those who deserve it, but to all of us who need it. The unfairness of grace is what makes it available to all of us.

We all need grace. We need it from God, and from one another.

The Apostles knew what had happened, and thought they new what came next. This was death, and death was final, wasn’t it?

Death is only final until God gets involved.

Resurrection. Glorious resurrection. New life spoken into the pain and grief of death. Comfort, love, and the fulfillment of God’s promises. Angles appear, Mary is comforted, Christ is alive.

Christ is still alive. Resurrection is real, and ongoing. Death is unfair, but it has been proved temporary. Grace is unfair, but it is eternal. And grace abounds, growing each day with every act of love and devotion. When the final measure is tallied up, grace wins.

Resurrection is real.
Christ is alive.
Grace wins.

Today we celebrate. We proclaim Alleluia in the streets, and lift our hearts to rejoice. This is eternal life, and the love never stops. It even reaches behind these prison walls.

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