Psalm 118, parts 1,2,3
This has been a week filled with bad news. Earthquakes in Italy, fire and tornadoes in the southern USA, ongoing war in Iraq and Afghanistan, danger in pirate infested waters off Somalia, massive layoffs. These are crucifying times; and each of us know crucifying times in our lives too; times of despair, and devastation, times when things are falling apart, ending times.
We also are familiar with those Easter Saturday times too….the waiting time after deep loss, the empty space between ending and beginning ..wondering if hope will ever return.
The central Christian message, honours those times and seasons of our lives, but also challenges us to risk resurrection, to risk faith that God makes all things new â€“ that new life rises out of what feels dead, that hope rekindles. Life is stronger than death. That is the central story of our faith that we celebrate today.
And it is a crazy story! We can get so familiar with it that it gets disarmed, rendered harmless, even sentimental. Familiarity can ininnoculate us against the resurrection virus that could transform our lives. It would be so healthy for us if once again we could be startled, shocked by this news! Weâ€™d sure be in good company. Did you hear what Renate just read? The women who witnessed it ran away from the tomb, beside themselves in terror. They said nothing to anybody for they were afraid!
Even though the messenger told them not to be afraid, even though he had told them that Christ had risen, even though they were told to tell the other disciples that he was going before them into Galilee, they ran away terrified. Thatâ€™s probably where the gospel of Mark ended until later additions were made. One is left asking the question, if the women do not carry the message, is there anyone else who can? Obviously, their silence did not last forever, or we would not have the story.
People inside and outside of the Christian church have struggled to make sense of resurrection for 2000 years. Some have accepted it completely on belief and faith, unlike the early disciples it seems, who in our scriptural accounts show disbelief, and think the women are crazy! Come to think of it, maybe thatâ€™s one reason at first they keep silent! Weâ€™ve heard the reaction of the women: They are terrified, perplexed, frightened out of their wits! The risen Christ in none of the stories is easily recognized at first, so it seems the form they experienced was not quite the same as the Jesus they had known before the crucifixion.
Some scholars speak of the metaphor of the resurrection comparing it to myths in other religions who have tried to grapple with the great questions of life and death and life after death. Episcopal bishop Jon Spong talks of it in terms of Midrash, Jewish unfolding story with layers and layers of meaning. Others have tried to explain it in terms of grief psychosis, or in terms of a passover plot, as one 20th century writer has called it. One archeologist even claims to have found the Jesus family tomb in Israel. What are we to make of that? And would it affect our faith if it were true? It wouldnâ€™t for me. For me, resurrection is a about a whole lot more than what happened to Jesusâ€™ body. For me, resurrection is not about a single event that happened almost two thousand years ago. The truth of the resurrection message will never become evident in the scientific laboratory of the scholars, but in the laboratory of life.
All of the stories about resurrection have one key thing in common- that we miss if we just write them off as superstitious 1st century miracle stories. They are not so much about what was going on with Jesus, as they are about what was going on with the people who encountered him. Remember the people who first encountered the presence of Jesus have just been through hell. Theyâ€™ve watched their beloved leader betrayed, arrested, falsely charged. Theyâ€™ve watched him go through mock trials, humiliated and beaten; Theyâ€™ve witnessed him fall between rival power groups, passed from one court to another, and finally executed on a cross. Theyâ€™d witnessed horrendous violence. They were traumatized. They could be forgiven for just trying to save their own hides, It was hard to stand up and be counted in that kind of tense atmosphere. They could be forgiven for not even trying to go to the tomb where he had been laid for it could put them at risk and mean their arrest as well.
But the women face their fear; they go to the tombâ€¦.and are shocked with life. One by one, as each person encounters the presence of Jesus, in these resurrectin stories something changes in them. The terror, the despair, the disillusionment is changed. They risk resurrection. They dare to find the power to take on life anew. They are transformed. People move beyond their fear and are able to begin again. It didnâ€™t happen all at once. The experience that came to be called Easter, unfolded over a period of time, some think, several years. Resurrection seems to have been an emerging awareness that the same power and spirit that was present in the living Jesus, was still alive in them, challenging them to continue his ministry. It energized them to form community in a radical new way, a movement that changed the world, Rather than being terrified by the Roman Empire, they continued to create communities of Jesus followers in spite of it.. Instead of being the end, it was just the beginning.
Easter challenges us to dare to trust death and letting go; to trust that death is not the end and that some things need to be let go in order for new life to arise. What would our lives be like if we were not so terrified of letting things die? We would be more willing to risk transformation I think. Easter begins with angels and the women in a tomb watch. Easter is about love that keeps vigil and waits and believes in life, no matter how dark and empty and cold the inner space feels. Easter is about hope that is willing to sit in the tomb while it trusts in transformation. Easter is about faithful companions who keep watch with us and cheer us on as we wait for our inner resurrection and about willing to sit by others waiting for life to come again to themâ€ It is precisely in the places of crucifixion and tomb places of our lives that we need to watch for the glimmers of new life emerging, for glimmers of resurrection.
Easter challenges us to risk resurrection: to open to the possibility that God can make new life even in and through us, disheartened and cynical though we may have become. Easter challenges us to come out of the tombs in which we have been buried, to dare to live life in all its fullness; to come out of the tombs of our apathy and act and to engage with life; to come out of the tombs of our guilt and dare to make a fresh start; to come out of the tombs of our uncaring and dare to risk compassion; to come out of the tombs of our self-absorption and dare to engage life with generosity; and especially to come out of the tombs of our fear that paralyzes and shrivels our living to face life full on, to radically live in the faith that God makes all things new. And to do that in the face of a world that seems to look as if the opposite were true, as if poverty, and violence, and militarism and death have the the final word.
Resurection is about the transforming power God continues to make available to us all. It is about resistant, resilient hope that arises when we least expect it and enables you to find a way throughâ€¦ And it continues to happen! Even here in this very church community. Even here in our very lives! It is the power to act anyway, when we feel afraid, It is the power to begin again when it feels that life is over. It is the resistant hope that comes into places of despair, that gives courage, and empowerment. Usually it is shocking. It is startling. It is unexpected. As unexpected as flowers in a desert, or living water from a rock. or dry bones rising to dance to use some other biblcal imagery.
Resurrection is about Godâ€™s yes to LIFE in spite of the devastation of the cross, in spite of all that the world can throw our way. It is the resistant power to carry on with hope. It is the transforming new life that comes when the seed falls in the ground and dies to one way of being to find a whole new unexpected transformed life.
An Easter faith asks us to believe the outrageous- that our own life stories are not fixed; determined. The road that we think is mapped out for us, the one that fate has dealt us is not the only option. Our God is a new-making God.
We are an Easter people, when we refuse to become embittered, and totally disempowered by fear, and the stupidity and unfairness of life. We are an Easter people when we dare to create communities of loving resistance in the middle of the chaos. We are an Easter people when we refuse to give up on life, when we refuse to give up on love, when we refuse to give up on compassion, when we refuse to give up on hope, when we refuse to give up on Godâ€™s vision of justice and peace in spite of the Afghanistans, and the Iraqs. And Aids in Africa. We are an Easter people when we make the resurrection true-when we embody community to the lonely, bread to the hungry, living water to the thirsty, comfort to the sick, strength and hope to the discouraged, compassion to the grieving, liberation to the oppressed, peace to the wartorn world, justice and solidarity to those treated unjustly by the structures of our society.
On this, of all days, we are challenged to live beyond the fear that paralyzes us. We are challenged to live as if all things are possible with God. We are challenged to live in the possibility that God can make new life in and through our world, and even in us.