March 31, 2013
Luke 24: 1-12 and 1 Corinthians 15: 19-26
Welcome! Welcome to Spring! Welcome to the empty tomb! Welcome to the blessed chance of resurrection. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” ask those astonishing presences who scare the daylights out of those faithful women They have just come to do their final sorrowful duty to this One whom they had loved and sponsored and followed and trusted to save them and their country.
Anyone who has ever grieved the end of all their hope and joy can begin to imagine the burden these women bear. The last few days have rehearsed for us once again the mystery of why and how God’s love for us is demonstrated in events that rip open our hearts. We have seen Jesus say goodbye to his friends, tenderly washing their feet, and turning the remembrance of God’s salvation from slavery into a feast of celebration of the freedom from sin and fear. They don’t know yet how the night will turn from one that seems sad to one of horror. Jesus will be snatched from them, and their hope for all that he promised will be turned upside down as he is interrogated, brought to trial, and killed in the most horrendous and humiliated death. We listened to the story Friday night, and I was slammed up against all the the events in my life that have robbed me of hope and made me wonder where God was and how these things could possibly be happening to me.
All the conversations I’ve had in the last few weeks have been about death and grief and about dashed hopes and echoed those questions, “How could God…..?” “How will I ever…..?” “What CAN I count on?”
And I realize I have been holding my breath, waiting for the message of Easter to shine a light through the despair that seems to surround us. Maybe you came here this morning hoping for some light, too. Or maybe you just came because you just do for Easter, even if you don’t really believe that it makes much difference, one way or the other.
“Remember how he told you..that the Son of Man must be handed over….and crucified, and on the third day rise again?” The dazzling men tell the women. Then it begins to make sense to them, but when they go off to tell the other disciples, they are thought to be nuts. The Greek word is leros, the one translated “an idle tale.” We get our word delirious from it. No one in this story says, “Oh, yeah. (head slap) I remember what Jesus said. Oh, sure.” Resurrection, new life from old is not the way we think of things. And yet God always brings new life from death. Have you lost the person who meant the most to you in the world? Have you lost the relationship that grounded you? Have you suffered the imagined losses as you see parents grieve the tragic loss of their babies? Have you faced the reality of your own mortality? We don’t say (head slap), “Oh, yeah, God works through death and resurrection! I get it!” We grieve. We are stripped down to our most vulnerable, naked selves. And God gets it.
God totally get vulnerability. Jesus’s life begins as the most vulnerable, a human infant, homeless, a persecuted refugee, the cause of fear so vicious that all the babies in Bethlehem are murdered. His whole life was lived on the road, dependent on strangers and supporters as he taught. His teaching of God’s word was such a threat to the religious authorities of his day that they constantly hounded him, determined from the very beginning to silence him and his influence. In Jesus’ life, God experienced every vulnerability and injustice ever experienced by humans. In the final brutality inflicted on Jesus, God experienced the loss of an only child, ripped from his heart.
The story of Easter is once and for all time the answer to such vulnerability and injustice, because Jesus is the first fruits of God’s love for all humanity. That means that the power of God’s love that raised Jesus from death is the power of love that surrounds us and brings us beyond the power of death to write the end of our story. The promise offered to us in that Baby of Bethlehem is sealed in the resurrection of Jesus. We, too, will rise, just as Jesus rose. Certainly in the next life, we will rise with Jesus, but in this life, too, we become new through every exchange with loss, with every new beginning. In our tender newness, we remember that all our loves and joys and every breath is a gift. God’s love completes us, cleanses us of our failures and shortcomings and welcomes us, just as we are. We are not required to be or do anything to be lifted by that love and given the freedom to live out of it. The new life we share gives us eyes to see others through the love that has been offered to us. And that love is the power that makes it possible to be loving. If Christ is the first fruit of God’s love and new creation, then we are the fruit of it as well.
Whatever burden you brought with you today, you are invited to leave in that empty tomb, and to rise with Jesus into the new life that awaits you. Whatever joy you came to celebrate, you are invited to lift to heaven with gratitude. Welcome to your new life in Christ. Welcome to Easter. Christ is risen! Alleluia!
Now I pray that through God’s glorious riches you may be strengthened with power through the Holy Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. Amen.