This is the ninth Easter that I have had the privilege of standing in a pulpit and offering a reflection on this incredible story, the story of the Resurrection, of God’s resurrection of Jesus from the dead. I am aware of what an awesome privilege it is, and I’m sure that I am quite unworthy of the task, of stewardship of the mystery that is at the heart of our faith—this story without which we would have no story.
When I say that I am unworthy of the task, this is not an attempt at false modesty: I am not apologizing in advance for the poor quality of my sermon. I say it with real humility which, it seems to me, is the most appropriate first response to this story. You find that right in the story, where the first response of the women to the sight of the angels is to bow their faces to the ground, to fall with their faces to the cave floor. Something unspeakably amazing has happened here. And it is of this unspeakably amazing thing that I am called to speak.
I am aware of course that for many of us this story is literally incredible, as in unbelievable. We live in an age, and in a culture, which tells us that things like this cannot really happen. Our time and our culture rules out the possibility of the reality of the Resurrection. The categories in which we live and think and express ourselves today make belief in the Resurrection impossible.
We are prepared to permit some interpretations of this story. We can accept it as a kind of myth, a legend, a story that points to the ultimate goodness of God. We are prepared to accept it as a metaphor, and we tell somewhat complicated stories about how Jesus’ followers somehow detected Jesus’ presence with them after his death, and they interpreted this to mean that God had raised Jesus from the dead in some fashion. Sometimes we tell this story from a kind of pagan perspective, as the story of the return of spring after the winter.
At times, over these past nine years, I’ve tried to work within these frameworks of what is plausible in our age and in our culture.
I’ve tried to help congregations to make sense of the story within the parameters that are given by our modern worldview. As though those categories were the ultimate reality, that needed to be respected and honored. I’ve attempted the impossible task that liberal theology has set for itself for the last hundred years or so, of making the Gospel—and the Resurrection story at its heart—of making this make sense to the modern world.
But not this year. This year, I’m just going to fall on my face before this story. Before the wonder and awe and unbelievability of it all.
Making sense of the resurrection is an impossible task because the whole point of the resurrection is to break open, blow apart, transcend the parameters of our time, and our culture, and our worldview. In the resurrection, God is shattering the confines of our rules about how the world is supposed to work. The women were shocked, they fell on their faces, because they came to the tomb that morning with the same kinds of expectations that we came here with this morning.
With those women, we share a whole lot of beliefs about how the world works. Like the women, we know the world to be an unequal place in which the rich get richer, and the poor are denied the means to a full life. Like them, we live in a world where the voices of women are often silenced or discounted, their testimony regarded as nothing but an idle tale. Like them, we live in a world in which illness, suffering and loss are steady companions, a world stalked by death, which seems to have the last word.
This is what we know about the world. But the Resurrection is meant to show us that God is not bound by what we believe about the world, and the way it works. God is not bound the rules that we make up, the rules that govern how we think, and what we see, and what it is possible for us to believe in. God is not bound by the rules we glean from the scientific observation of nature, that the passage from life to death is a one way street.
The Resurrection is God’s message that our God is bigger than all of that.
God’s raising of Jesus from the dead is a seal and a promise that there is a life beyond the life we believe in, and a world beyond the world we have made up in our minds.
The Resurrection invites us to believe in something more, something better, than the often tawdry parade that passes for real life. God’s raising of Jesus from the dead means that death does not have the final word: Hallelujah! But it also means that inequality doesn’t have the final word—that another way of living in the world is possible. It also means that sexism and gender discrimination doesn’t have the final word—that it’s possible to live in a world where the full dignity of women is respected and honored and celebrated, along with the dignity of men, and of those who identify differently in terms of gender.
God’s resurrection of Jesus from the dead also invites us into the deep mystery that somehow our lives, through times of suffering, illness, and loss are held within God’s care; that there is a life deeper and richer than even our suffering, and that God meets us there.
This Easter, this unbelievable story confronts us with its awe and wonder and mystery, and—let’s admit it—its deep promise that speaks to each of our hopes and longings. The rolled away stone, the empty tomb, the discarded grave clothes, the angelic messengers: these are all signs that our reality, and our world have been cracked open, to reveal a Truth beyond the truths we have known: Christ is risen! Alleluia! Amen.
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