April 20, 2014
Here we are. It’s been a long year for me. Friends fighting cancer. Marriages begun in such hope and love ending in the wilderness of failure. A longed-for child lost before she’s even begun. The world is full of shadows and sorrows and deaths. I know you have your list, too. All day yesterday, while I was looking at pictures of Easter egg hunts and little girls in their frills, I was thinking of Jesus in the dark, all alone, waiting, waiting, waiting for the dark to end.
And here we are. Lamon Fuller, newly anointed as a child of God, filling the world of all these people with hope and joy. Your children, done up in their Sunday clothes, writing a new story of the life of the world. In a world in which sorrow and pain is a constant companion, God comes to us with the promise of new life, life which can never be taken from us, life that has no end.
Just when we are realizing that life is so fragile and hope often seems so hopeless, we get this story of life bursting forth. I think this telling of the resurrection story from Matthew’s Gospel is my favorite. Can’t you just see it? I grew up in earthquake country, so I know what it sounds like: a deep rumble and crack like a truck slamming into the side of your building. This earthquake is like a bookend to the earthquake that happened when Jesus died in Matthew’s version of the story. Then shazammm! Lightning strikes in the form of an angel who rolls away the giant stone in front of the tomb. I can see the guards cover their ears, grab at their hearts, fall like stones scattered on the ground. And the sweet ladies who have come to sit vigil with their adored son and master holding onto each other in terror. “Don’t be afraid,” says the angel. As if it were possible. But the angel brings good news. Jesus is not in this tomb any longer. Just like he told everyone, he has been raised. They are free to come and look for themselves, but if they want to see him in person, he’ll meet them in Galilee. They are to tell all the other disciples.
As they head away from the empty tomb, Jesus meets them himself. It’s hard to imagine how overwhelmed these women must be. The privilege of seeing him before anyone else, the evidence that the unbelievable is really true, the relief that he is still the same Jesus, must have been another shock that they will talk about for the rest of their lives. And then there’s the promise that he will see them all together again.
More than most years, this year I have really been in tune with Jesus’ suffering. I have come to understand more and more that people walk around with so much hurt and sorrow inside. And so I have had to wrestle this year with how Jesus’ resurrection is good news for that pain that we all carry somewhere in our hearts and souls. You can’t be human without it. And that’s the thing that makes this all make sense to me. God knows what it feels like to be human. God knows what betrayal and rejection and abandonment feel like. God knows that our deepest longing is to be known and to be loved. God knows that for humans suffering can be borne if there is love and life still to be gained. Our deepest sorrows are connected to our deepest loves. Our greatest fear is separation from all that brings life.
In Jesus’ rising from death, our greatest fear is overcome. God will never abandon us, no matter what we do or don’t do. Our God is not some far away, cosmic mystery, but someone who lived and died among us. But our God is also a God who is not confined by the death that is our lot. In the great power of God’s love – a love stronger than death – Jesus overcomes death. In coming back from the grave, Jesus is God’s promise to be present with us always. And the joy is that this is God’s gift. All your worry, all your fear, all your dashed hopes and delayed dreams are held in God’s hands, simply because God loves you. The good news is that God knows you and hears your whispered sighs and shouted cries because God loves you. The revolutionary change in the world because God came into it as Jesus is because God loves you. It’s all because God loves sinners, and will never abandon even one.
How can you live with such a love? How can you ever repay such a gift? It takes a whole lifetime. The new life that is your gift is meant to be given to the world. The love that has been lavished on you is meant to change you, to open your heart to see and hear the sorrow and pain of the world as God sees it. The love you share because you are loved is God’s way of changing the world you live in. And because you can trust that God’s love can even overcome death itself, you never have to be afraid that you will be left without it.
The good news today is not only that Jesus came back to life two thousand years ago. It is that Jesus lives among us now. In the words we hear from Scripture, in the water of baptism, in the love that invites us into this community and supports our commitment to be Jesus for each other, we meet Jesus today. You are invited to dip into the baptismal water to remember your own anointing, you are invited to share Jesus’ promised presence with us at the meal of bread and wine. You are invited to live in God’s love. We have all been invited to rise to new life. Alleluia! Christ is Risen!