HOPE BIG ENOUGH ...
This year at our family Christmas Eve services I was telling the Christmas story to a bunch of our children. (Now maybe it was because my own boys were getting to the age where we should be having “the talk,” but the story took on a new life this year.) I start the story by telling how the angel Gabriel comes to the Virgin Mary and tells her that she will conceive and bear a child, and she will call him Jesus because he will save his people from their sins. Then Mary asks, How will this be since I am a virgin? Gabriel explains that the Spirit of the Lord will overshadow you, and you will conceive and the child within you will be the child of most high God.
And I'm thinking that one good question from one of the children will change the course of this whole talk.
It’s really difficult to tell the Christmas story and leave out the part of about where babies come from. At the same time, the children’s sermon on Christmas Eve is probably not the right place or time to teach children where babies come from (or maybe it is, I don’t know ... but I want to at least check with the church council first.)
And so it’s assumed that we will come back to this story again and again after we know a little bit more about life and what its about. And the story will start to take on flesh and blood and look like real living people we know. But you know I think we mostly come to these high holy days with preconceived notions of what this thing is all about, and in doing so, we might simply miss the depth and breadth and height and width of what God has done in the actual event we remember and celebrate.
Simple truth — Jesus rose from the dead so now all who trust in him will also rise from the dead to eternal life. I believe it. It’s true. But it’s kind of flat. That simple truth lacks dimension and the stuff of real life. And if we stick to it and think that's all there is to it, it is kind of like going around with a baby book version of the Bible our whole life. The version where all the gritty human stuff is edited out and where all the people are drawn in soft, round friendly little shapes.
To tell the story of Easter, we have to talk about the reality of death. We have to know that death is final. We have to know what is expected and normal and always, always, always true: When a human body is nailed to a cross and then raised to a certain height on a pole that that human body will die. That person will expire and cease to exist. We have to know that watching that horrible death will be traumatic. We will have to also know that someone will have to take the body, prepare it for burial -- in those days that meant wrapping it in linen and spices and aromatics and laying it in a tomb. And then, as all humans do, those who remain alive must mourn and grieve. They must start to come to terms with who we they are and what life is all about now that this person is dead.
We all know that story. We can relate. We have seen death, and we have mourned. We might even be more afraid of the looming reality of death than of anything else in the world, or maybe, on the other hand, the grief and pain of our losses may be so overwhelming that they shape how we live to this very day. And it is from that experience and knowledge ... one that's so hard to tell the kids ... that we enter the Easter story we just read this morning. Early on the first day of the week, the mourning, grieving, traumatized women make their way to the tomb with the express purpose of finishing the body preparation they were unable to complete before sun down on the sabbath.
What they discover is that the tomb is empty and the body is gone.
The moment is shocking and confusing. All sorts of things -- terrible things -- must be racing through their minds -- as they would race through ours if found ourselves in a situation like this, and as we try to make sense of what’s happened. Even though these messengers are telling them good news -- "He is not here but risen." -- I do not think that the thought of resurrection from the dead would have crossed their mind any more than it would cross our mind.
So just like Christmas celebrates the miraculous birth of a unique baby in a way that no one who witnesses can yet truly comprehend, so our Easter celebrates the moment when we discovered that the tomb where they had placed this unique man was empty and no one who witnesses that event can yet truly comprehend it ... yet.
These Amazing Facts Have Implications for the Life of the World!
What this good news does to us first is drive us back to remember who Jesus was, what he taught, how he lived and what God was doing in and through him.
Because one of the first things we discover when we ask what this means is that Jesus’ rising from the dead proves him right and true. As St. Peter will say on Pentecost, by raising him from the dead God has proclaimed Jesus both Lord and Christ, which, of course, is what he was all along ... though we could not conceive of it at the time.
So, the first step of learning and living in the joy and good news of Easter is to come with our fear and our grief, our confusion and doubt, our frustrations and hopes and return to the fellowship of discipleship with Jesus, to discover that Jesus is alive. He is not dead, but alive and present and acting in this world.
The next step is to remain, to abide in this fellowship. In this fellowship, we learn Christ and his ways, by remembering what he said and did in light of the fact that he was crucified and raised from the dead. It is the redemption of the old. It is the event that marks the start of a new creation. The resurrection is a sign and promise that these human lives are good and redeemable. It’s a call to renewal of faith and reformation of life, and that’s what this community of Jesus people is about at its core.
Jesus' living presence invites the whole world into this fellowship we share. It is a strange invitation ... to join us in communion with the crucified and risen Jesus, the one we confess and proclaim as the Lord, the king. The one who has brought in God’s kingdom. The one who is the end and fulfillment of all that God has promised for the world. It's a strange invitation that you dedicate your life and loyalty, your whole heart and mind and soul to this crucified and risen one. But it is the only hope that is big enough for the whole creation.
Don’t let anyone fool you that we have it all figured out ... we walk as yet by faith. But Jesus is alive and we're still working out what that means. There’s more to this than I can say just right now. We have to live it; we have to do it; we have to be in it together ... like we’ll do when we eat together in a few minutes. You see, its in the confusion and terror of the doing that the risen Christ appears and says ... peace
But that’s a story for another week.
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