Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Sunday

“Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.”

What else could they have done? Who would have believed them? If they told their friends that Jesus’ grave was empty, I’m not sure that would have been welcome news.

Let them grieve their friend. It had only been a couple days since he died. Silly stories about empty tombs and folded grave clothes didn’t help. They needed time to remember Jesus. Not to indulge in fanciful stories about him not being dead. That was childish at best. Ghoulish and insensitive at worst.

So it must have been hard both to say and to hear that Jesus was alive. The other disciple believed what he saw but had no clue what it meant. It was probably the same for everyone that day.

News of Jesus’ resurrection couldn’t have been welcomed by everyone because, if it was true, then that meant everything Jesus said became real. It meant that his message was real, the healings were real, stories about God’s judgement were real, and promises of God’s mercy were real. It meant that they hadn’t wasted those years following Jesus.

But it also meant that they encountered a God they couldn’t control. A God whose power is unchained. A God whose Spirit flows freely wherever the Spirit wants. A God who was much more than what they could ask or imagine or believe.

So, I would assume that news of Jesus’ resurrection was met with both fear and awe, as well as joy and celebration. It was all jumbled together. The disciples probably didn’t know what to feel, let alone what to think, or even what to do. They didn’t know what to say to the other believers.

I often think that’s the same for us. When we talk about our faith we do so with some hesitation. That’s not because we’re embarrassed or ashamed by what we believe. But because, like the disciples who believed but didn’t understand, we know that our stories sound crazy to unbelieving ears - or even to believing ears.

Like in the story we just heard, we’d rather go home than to tell others what we have seen. We know that our words don’t do justice to what we say God has done with and among us.

We don’t often talk about our faith stories as Lutherans, and I think we’re poorer for it. Like the disciples sharing the good news to each other by telling what they have seen, we too can grow by sharing what we see through our God-given resurrection eyes.

And by telling our resurrection stories we can reflect on how we live as people who believe in a God that raised Jesus from the dead.

How DO we live if we believe that Christ is risen from the dead? What does Jesus’ resurrection mean for us as a church - as the risen body of Christ, as people of God? 

How DO we live if we confess that the tomb is actually empty? What does this mean for us as individual believers? As enlightened skeptics? As critical thinkers? As a people still searching, not having yet fully arrived? As people wondering who God is?

These are not new questions. These are questions that Matthew is wrestling with all through his gospel. The same could probably be said of the other three as well. If not the whole of scripture.

The gospel writers tell Jesus’ story as if he has already risen from the dead. That’s their basic assumption. In their minds they start at the end and work their way backwards. In fact, some say that the gospel stories are just extended prologues to the resurrection story.

I’m tempted to say the same thing about us and our lives, that we begin with the end in mind, that we can see our lives as extended prologues to our own resurrection stories.

I’m tempted to say that but I worry you might get the wrong idea. It could sound like I’m saying that THIS life is just a prologue to the NEXT one, and God’s REAL life is waiting for us for after we die. It could sound like I’m saying that THIS life doesn’t matter, and that the NEXT one is what we should be preparing for.

But that’s not even close to being true. And today proves that. Jesus didn’t fly up to heaven to a disembodied celestial existence when he died.  But Jesus burst from the tomb, living and breathing, scarred and wounded, but making THIS day, and ALL our days holy.

That’s what the gospel writers saw and tried to teach us. The gospel writers saw the world with resurrection eyes. And they ask that we do the same.

The gospel writers saw a world were God was everywhere; where justice, compassion, peace, healing, mercy, and forgiveness was in the air they breathed. Where mercy was their daily food, and love was the wine they drank.

They didn’t see this world as Heaven’s waiting room. They saw Heaven come to earth in Jesus.

They didn’t live their lives looking forward to some disembodied heavenly existence, way up in the cloud somewhere.

They saw God HERE, all over the place. And they saw the possibility of God where others didn’t think to look. 

They trusted in a new and better tomorrow because they saw it with their own eyes.

They believed that the worst of human behaviour cannot stop the God who is committed to giving life, because they saw Jesus alive three days after his death. 

They knew that the most devastating human impulses to destruction cannot destroy what God has so lovingly made, that the God of creation is still creating and re-creating everything, until, one day, the New Creation that God has promised will rise among us in its fullest, because that New Creation began when Jesus walked out the tomb by the power of God.

That’s the life we live as believers. That’s who we are as Christians. We tell God’s story beginning at the end. We start at the final chapter and work our way backwards.

Through the gift of faith, given to us in the waters of baptism, where we are joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are given new eyes through which to see the world, and a vocation to participate in God’s healing work, taking part in God’s on-going resurrection of everything God has created.

We still see suffering, but we know that healing is possible.
We still see sadness, but we are called to comfort.

We still see injustice, but we are asked to act justly, and speak words of challenge and truth to those tyrannizing  others.

We still say good-bye to loved ones in death, but we trust that one day we shall all be gathered together, raised from our tombs, to new life in Jesus.

That’s why, in the meantime, we live the resurrection life that came in Jesus, and that is coming to greet us, one day, in its fullness.

That’s why...

...instead of cruelty we see and we seek justice.
...instead of division and separation we see and we seek reconciliation.
...instead of judgment we see and we seek mercy
...instead of indifference to suffering we see and we seek, and we bring compassion.
...instead of selfishness we see and we seek opportunities to serve others.
...instead of sin we see and we seek forgiveness.
...instead of death we see and we seek life.

Seeing the world through resurrection eyes means seeing hope where others only see futility, it means seeing healing where others see only pain, it means seeing miracles where others see mere events, it means seeing new possibilities and fresh opportunities where others see failure and defeat.

Seeing the world through resurrection eyes means believing that God has not given up on us or the world, that a NEW world is possible, and is indeed coming.

Seeing the world through resurrection eyes means knowing that our lives matter, and that we are making a difference, an impact, no matter how small, because God can take the tiny fragments of our lives, those moments of setback and shortfall, and mould them into something new and beautiful.

Seeing the world through resurrection eyes opens our mouths to declare what God has done for us, it’s about bearing witness to the God who has raised US from the dead, who has planted in OUR hearts the gift of faith, so that we can fill the world with God’s love.

I’m glad that the first disciples found the courage to tell each other what they had seen. It’s my hope that we’ll have the same strength to tell what WE have seen. 

Because it’s in telling our stories as a people that we begin to see divine patterns emerge, and together we can live God’s story with the confidence that Jesus has truly risen among us!

Christ is risen!
Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia!


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