The Lord is my strength and my song, *
and he has become my salvation. (Psalm 118:14)
Happy Easter! In case you did not know, today is a big day. It is especially a big day for those of us who identify as Christians. We have walked six weeks in Lent remembering how God has been present in our lives and how we can continue to remember this love through the way we share love in the world. This week alone is intense. We began on Palm Sunday waving leaves and celebrating the man we see as the one who is God in the flesh and comes to us as a healer, a prophet, and a teacher. And yet as we move through the week, we are reminded that we kill our prophets. We somehow cannot abide the message that we are all loved and so we are to love each other as we have been loved.
On Good Friday, we remember an innocent man who spoke nothing but the truth, and yet was put to death for the reason that other innocents are put to death, the powers are jealous and do not take kindly to any challenge to their authority or any change in the status quo that upsets their privilege.
But today, we rejoice because we believe that even in the face of the worst that the world could do to Jesus, his life could not be contained by death and so the witnesses tell us that he has risen, he has escaped from the tomb, that death, hatred, violence does not have the final say. Jesus lives!
When I was a child, Easter was a day when I got to wear my new white shoes. There were flowers everywhere and everyone seemed to smile. This year, there are no white shoes, but there are beautiful flowers, gorgeous music, and everyone seems to smile.
But this year for me, is different from other years. I see Easter in a new way. I experience it in a more personal way. I invite you into this space and encourage you to bring your full self to resurrection.
Elaine Pagels, a scholar, teacher, and author tells of stepping into a church on a bright Sunday morning. She was not coming to be a part of church. In fact, she says she had not been in church for a very long time. She was out for a run while her husband and their two-year son slept. She had only stopped in to catch her breath and warm up. But standing at the entrance as she says, “with the soaring harmonies of the choir singing with the congregation and the priest, a woman in bright gold and white vestments, proclaiming prayers in a clear resonant voice” she was startled by her response. As she stood watching, a thought came to her “Here is a family that knows how to face death.”
Dr. Pagels goes on to say that she had not been sleeping because two days before, while performing a routine check-up on their son, the doctors had found something shocking. So disbelieving of their results, they conducted further tests. But tragically, the test results remained the same. Their two-year son had developed pulmonary hypertension, a rare lung disease that is fatal. Dr. Pagels asked the doctors, how much time? They responded that they did not know, but probably a few months or maybe a few years.
Elaine Pagels said she continued to come to that church, not looking for a set of beliefs or a faith set in doctrine, but because in the presence of this community and this worship, she was able to be fully herself. She says here, her “defenses fell away, exposing storms of grief and hope.” “In that church, she says, “I gathered new energy, and resolved over and over to face whatever awaited us as constructively as possible for Mark (her child) and for the rest of us.”
Resurrection is not just something mysterious that happened more than two thousand years ago. Resurrection is as real now as it was in the first century. Resurrection is our hope when life sends us into places where we do know the way, where old maps fail to help us orient, and we are forced to listen and wait and hope and cling, even in the darkest places, to what remains of the life and hope. Because God did not abandon Jesus to the grave. Because Jesus prevailed over death. Because Jesus lives, each of us, too, can live in the hope that our defeats, our disappointments, our heartbreaks, are not the final word. That even when all hope seems to be lost, hope is offered us again and again because God continues to call us beyond into new life.
Easter is my favorite day. Not because I am personally this year to resurrection. Life is not lived on a liturgical calendar. But because Easter reminds me that I can hope that resurrection will come and while I am where I am, that is where God is. And God is always tenderly caring for me with gifts of love—the presence of family and friends, grandchildren that help me remember joy, beautiful mountains and sunrises, poetry that opens my heart to possibilities, and the continuous call each morning to choose life.
And I love Easter because it reminds me that no matter where any of us are—rejoicing in the glory of life or experiencing the cross; on a certain path to joy or wandering in the wilderness unsure which way is forward; on the top of the mountain or in the tomb; or a combination of any of the above; this is where God is. God meets us where we are and offers to us each moment of each day, the possibility of life abundant. God speaks into our deepest longings, our hopes, our desire for wholeness and calls us to new life. New life found in the hope of resurrection.
And Resurrection is the ultimate antidote to death in all its faces. Resurrection leaves no one out. As Paul states in his first letter to the church in Corinth, “for as all died in Adam, all will be made alive in Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:22) And all means all means all!
Because Jesus lives we can face down the lie of racism, of one shade of skin being superior to another, of one life being superior to another. We proclaim that black lives matter. Because Jesus lives we can say, unlike the disciples and too many in our society—we believe the women. Because Jesus lives we weep and then are called to action when children seeking refuge are taken from their families and locked in cages or prisons. Because Jesus lives, a transgendered person can see themselves as truly beautiful and loved. Because Jesus lives Muslims and Jews can know that they are a valued member of the human community and do not need to be silent or polite in the face of hostility toward their faith. Because Jesus lives, a woman fleeing violence in her home is not alone. Because Jesus lives love is sacred and true whether between a man and a woman or between a man and a man or a woman and a woman. Resurrection touches us all, providing a pathway from death to life for everyone. Because Jesus lives, God is “all in all.”
I believe that Jesus was raised from the dead. I believe the witnesses who were with him after his resurrection. I believe that Jesus lives. I know that our doctrinal statements, developed centuries after Jesus’s death, can cause more confusion than clarity. So I believe with all my heart that the question of Easter is not can we give our heart to a doctrine or a stated creed about the resurrection, but whether we have seen the risen Christ in our own lives? How have we experienced resurrection?
The scriptures share stories of individual people having profoundly individual encounters with the risen Christ. The women in Luke’s Gospel that we read today do not see Jesus’ body. They encounter glowing images who ask them why they are looking for the living among the dead, reminding them that Jesus told them that death could not contain him. But because they were willing to stand witness at the cross, because they were willing to come in the darkness to the tomb to offer their care, they were the first witnesses to resurrection and were able to carry the message of new life to the disciples and then to the world.
Each of us will bring our own selves to the empty tomb. We will bring who we are and what we carry with us and it will shape what we see and what we feel. What matters is meeting the risen Christ right in the midst of our own messy lives. What matters is finding in the resurrection the hope we need for our own struggles, our own disappointments, our own heartbreaks. In my own life, I am finding it increasingly true, that clarity, hope, and healing comes when I endure the hard and barren places, where the usual simple clichés fall flat, and all easy answers prove inadequate. I am finding that whatever claims I make as a Christian must begin in the darkness where Jesus comes, often in a form that may be hard to recognize.
As Elaine Pagels found, we are a family that knows how to face death—because we believe that Jesus lives, because we believe that God loves us and meets us wherever we are, because we believe that death does not have the final word, we are to live as resurrection people—Easter people, who even in our hardest moments, we can hold onto and offer each other the love of God that passes all understanding.
Today, I want to offer you a blessing that speaks to me and I hope will offer you grace.
Blessing of Hope
By Jan Richardson
So we may know
that is not just someday
but for this day—
in this moment
that opens to us;
hope not made
but of substance,
hope made of sinew
hope that has breath
and a beating heart,
hope that will not
and be polite,
hope that knows
how to holler
when it is called for,
hope that knows
how to sing
when there seems
hope that raises us
from the dead—
but this day,
Blessings in this time of Easter. Amen