Carla J. Bailey, Senior Pastor
April 12, 2009
Yesterday, my daughter asked if now that Easter has come, I might finally get our family Christmas cards out. I suppose it’s time, though I can still see a few mounds of icy, dirty snow peeking out from shaded areas along our road. I think people who live where there is still snow on the ground on Easter get a little dispensation when it comes to bringing the Christmas season to an end. Actually, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to preach the Easter message year after year in a place like Australia, where the season now is more like our November – the beginning of the winter’s cold and dark. How would that impact the Easter message, do you think - if it were accompanied not by the beginning of nature’s life but by end of it? These are the things about which one gives considerable thought when gazing onto a blank computer screen on the 29th consecutive Easter Eve.
You know of course, that the four gospel writers disagree on some significant aspects of the Christ-story. For example, there are four different opinions on when, exactly, God and humanity merged in Christ our Savior. Luke was of a mind that the conception of Jesus was that perfect moment, when the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and she conceived in her womb the child Jesus. Matthew, concerned with demonstrating Jesus’ Jewish credentials and his direct link to the mighty King David, made the moment something of a genealogical map illumined by the star, lighting the way of the kings from the east. Mark, the most spare of the four, began his story with Jesus as an adult, his baptism in the Jordan that ordaining moment when the heavens opened and the Spirit descended like a dove. And the most elusive and enigmatic of the four of them, John, described a pre-existing Word, that was formed in the beginning with God – the Word that was God and became flesh for a while. Does it matter, which one is true? Not to me, but it certainly has to others.
In the same way, the Easter story has dissimilar emphases from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Mark is the writer whose story we’ve been reading in recent weeks but Mark is silent on the resurrection – absolutely mum which makes the Gospel reading on Easter morning something of a challenge if we were to stick to his version of things. So it’s John whose Resurrection story we hear today, John whose sacred Word has been in existence forever, ancient, even older than ancient, of God, by God, for God, and, in fact, the Word is God.
For many Christians, the powerful story of Jesus’ courageous life, including its heart-breaking end, begins today, this Easter Day, when God’s ultimate, redeeming power was demonstrated. It is a looking back through the lenses of human experience that makes this day meaningful. I understand that perspective. When life is hard, when injustice and violence and sheer stupidity appear to be in ascendancy, demonstrations of God’s ultimate, wise, gentle, loving, peace-filled brilliance are desperately needed. I just have to know that God is greater than anything human life can throw at us with all its garish gratification, don’t you? Still, believing that God has more power than worldly powers and principalities is only momentarily reassuring. It is, after all, the world in which we live, the world that believes vengeance is satisfying, war a sufficient solution to international aggression, metal detectors a deterrent to violence. It is difficult, isn’t it, to believe that an empty tomb and an enigmatic conversation between Mary and the Resurrected Christ can provide enough strength, enough compassion, and empathy, and moral decency to counteract the world’s harshness. But that is exactly what Christians are asked to believe, because of today.
A recent article out of Blacksburg, Virginia described the opening of a new Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention at Virginia Tech, housed in the very building where, two years ago, thirty students and instructors were shot and killed in one of the random but increasingly frequent mass murders and suicides plaguing our nation. The director of the new center for peace studies and violence prevention will walk into that building every day, the very place where his own wife was murdered. The question could be asked, when was the moment when God and humanity merged to make the west wing of Norris Hall on the Virginia Tech campus, a place of Resurrection. Was it when the sister of gunman Seung-Hui Cho apologized on behalf of her family for her brother’s violent actions? Or was it when Jerzy Nowak, the former head of the Department of Horticulture, decided the best way to honor his wife’s memory was to work for peace and nonviolence? Or was this resurrection moment inevitable, an eternal possibility, existing before the victims were ever born or before there ever was a Virginia Tech? Is this particular empty tomb just one of millions of empty tombs where violence has been turned into redemption, heartbreak into healing, sorrow into redemption, bloodshed into the fertile soil of peace?
All of us experience beginnings and endings all the time, unexpected and unrecognized moments of death and resurrection. Some of us here today have cancers growing in our bodies, as yet undetected. Others of us will not live to see another Easter morning. Some of us have had the delightful surprise of having met a new love when just a year ago, last Easter to be exact, we wondered if we would ever love again. Some of us are ready to embark on new adventures. Others of us are ready to relinquish adventures in favor of some predictable mornings, evenings, and hours between. Before we gather again to celebrate God’s power and love, accompanied by brass music and the scent of lilies, we will encounter tragedies and heartbreak, strangers and friends. We will eat great food, catch colds, make love, read books, argue, disagree, laugh, break some bones, take naps, worry over our children, plant vegetables and flowers, rake and shovel and walk and cry and shake our heads and gossip just a little and encourage the frightened and welcome guests.
In other words, we will live and that will be the moment when God and humanity merge, that will be the genesis, that will be the resurrection and the alleluia and the thanks be to God. It will be the moment when we know that death, even at its worst, is not, never has been and never will be greater than life. Hosanna, alleluia, amen.