Some thing are factual. Gravity exists. Water is wet and is made up of hydrogen and oxygen. Two plus two equals four. Some things are straight forward and not up for debate and don’t stretch our imaginations much to believe them. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead into eternal life, is not one of those things. It has stretched our collective human imagination for thousands of years. We, human beings, have kept this incredible story alive.
You will see debates throughout Christian History—“No, no,” church fathers will say, “his full, physical body, has ascended into heaven, after descending into hell, and he sits at the Father’s right hand, past the pearly gates.” “No, no,” others will say,
“it is more of a metaphor, like spring time, that life comes back after a long winter.”
The Bible itself is not unified with one correct version of the resurrection- there are four different gospels, that each hold a slightly different account of what exactly happened. Was there an earthquake, was it a guard, or a gardener, or an angel who was at the tomb? Did they tell others, or run away in silence? Who was the first to witness the resurrection—(the gospels are actually pretty unified on that one- it was the women). But when we try to get literal or factual with the resurrection, we end up chasing our tails and missing the point.
The wisest thing I’ve heard about the historical accuracy of the resurrection was from Biblical Scholar Celene Lillie, after dedicating her life to these texts—she said to me with a twinkle in her eye, “We don’t know exactly what happened, but we know that something happened.” And this something has been making ripples in the hearts of human communities, for centuries. This something, that we call the resurrection, has been enchanting hearts, bringing hope, reminding people of the power of love and life.
And this is not small thing, because Jesus endured the shadows of humanity. The shadows of betrayal, of desertion, of accusation, of humiliation, of murder and crucifixion; we named some of the shadows here on Friday Night at our service together- you offered the shadows you feel and see now, of dehumanization, misogyny, racism, cancer, grief, heart-break, poverty, war, loneliness, division. Jesus took our shadows with him. Our homeless, Palestinian-Jewish, brown-skinned Jesus’ lay broken, and dead, in the tomb, and the disciples fled, devastated. Their hope, our hope, for the way we thought the direction of the world was going, was shattered. The powers, the shadows of the world had won. How could this be?
When the women, Mary and Mary, went to attend to Jesus at the tomb through their tears, an earth quake shook the foundation and the stone rolled away from the tomb. The were shocked, and the angelic looking presence said to them, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.” Fear is mention three times in these short ten verses.
“So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.” Let’s not so quickly pass over the combination of great joy and fear that the women held in their hearts. We see here that joy and fear can co-exist and motivate- they booked it to tell the other disciples.
Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
There it is again- fear. Do not be afraid, Jesus said. Our hearts are so regularly gripped by fear. When we, like the disciples, have been hurt, disillusioned, wounded by the world, it is hard to trust that something might be true, that something might bring hope. And not just temporary hope, but eternal hope. It takes great bravery to believe that hope springs eternal, that God’s love does not abandon us, but renews our souls again and again.
I have seen so much hope and resilience in our local community. I have heard this community say, “let’s take care of one another,” “let’s do the most we can here, in our corner of the earth, to infuse our local community with all the good we can muster.” I have seen a racial justice coalition develop in Middletown, I have seen two refugee families resettle here in Middletown. I have seen important dialogue across religious differences that educate and dissolve prejudices. I have seen people battle with depression and shadows with such grace and vulnerability and resilience. I have seen people love each other, like Jesus taught us. I have seen this community proclaim that no one is beyond the power of redemption, no one is out of the realm of God’s love.
Do not be afraid, Jesus says. We have lost loved ones, we have been depressed, we have gotten scary health diagnoses, we have lost jobs, endured financial difficulty, had conflict with the people closest to us. As a country and even world, we have experienced so much anxiety and division, so much fear and violence. Do not be afraid, Jesus says.
Jesus rose from the dead. His body is no longer there. Every gospel account has something a little bit different. We don’t have all the facts clear, but we know this much is true, that the power of God’s love is greater than the power of senseless death. Love pierces through all of our shadows and despair.
Today we have a word of resilience, that more life awaits. And the resurrection, while impossible to get the facts straight, is the truest thing I know. We behold the mystery today that Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again.
This does not mean that we sprinkle fairy dust over everything that is horrible and it miraculously goes away. Theologian and Pastor Rev. Dr. Mary Luti writes, “If the Easter message promises, and I believe it does, that all will be well beyond our wildest dreams, it does so only through the medium of scars and tears, dust and ashes. The Easter miracle is the power of God’s love and life in the human condition, not in spite of it, or against it, or above it, or beyond it.”
She goes on, “Easter is instead the gift of power — power to live fully- free, fully-open, fully-vulnerable, and fully-engaged human lives in the bad winters, in the unthinkable disasters, in the terrifying destruction, on the brutal cross of shame, in each and every human grief and sorrow, in the painful groaning of the whole created cosmos for liberation and new life.”
This white cloth on our communion table today is hand crafted by a women from this church. She crafted it out of the old wedding dress of another women from this church, who lost her husband. The wedding dress was used once, as wedding dresses are, and sat in a closet for years, long after her beloved spouse passed away. Out of grief and death, a table is set for all of us, for a meal of bounty, beauty, and great love.
The greatest act of resistance is shining light into darkness, is shining love into hate, is forgiving our enemies, is embracing second chances, is allowing hope to blossom anew in our hearts. The world we want to see is on its way. No worldly powers or leaders, in Jesus time or our time, can control the narrative of love. And beyond this world, we have a promise of eternal life, that the life-source of our souls and all of creation live forever.
We, human beings, have kept this incredible story of the resurrection alive for thousands of years. Or is it the case that this incredible story has kept us alive?
This mystery of the resurrection means, that out of the horror of the world, somehow, God, brings the promise of Love. Out of grief and sadness, somehow, God brings abundant Life. Out of evil and hatred, somehow, God brings true wisdom of the Good. Out of oppression and suffering, somehow, God, brings freedom and Liberation. When we thought we were alone, God sent God’s sweet spirit among us. Let us praise this source of life and love and renewal. Amen.