Resurrection - So What?
In the name of the One who rose victorious from death so that we might know everlasting life – the Son of God – Jesus Christ – Amen.
Rose victorious - Raise the strain - Triumphant gladness!
Victory – triumph! Our prayers and songs are all of the “winning” variety! And why wouldn’t they be? When we celebrate the highpoint of our faith – resurrection. The whole salvation story leads up to this event. Or does it? Is resurrection the conclusion?
That winning feeling – is not the feeling that overtook – those women – or those guards – at the tomb.
Have you been in an actual earthquake? I’ve been in two – they were mild. That one we had on the east coast back in 2011 – remember that one? I was in North Carolina at the time – enjoying BBQ for lunch. And even though it was a small earthquake – but it was most unsettling.
In our gospel we hear that there was a great earthquake – and no one felt victorious or merely unsettled – they were downright scared. Of course they were.
During the seconds of my mild earthquake that felt much longer – no one moved. We just sat there staring at each other. And then we breathed – nervously – because something completely unexpected had happened – which meant we had no idea of what could happen next.
And that feeling - not knowing what to expect – not knowing what will happen next – that’s the unsettling point of resurrection. “Don’t be afraid – he isn’t here – and he is going ahead of you – that is my message for you” the angel tells Mary and the women. “Don’t be afraid” is exactly what the angel said when Jesus was born into the world.
Because birth – resurrection – they are always about something new coming to life. Something we can’t control or orchestrate – that relies on a power greater than ourselves. Birth and resurrection – never conform to our expectations – they take on a life of their own.
Which is why the salvation story most definitely does not reach it’s peak in this event – this event isn’t the end of the story – it is only the beginning.
You know something we share that conforms to our expectations? Church. This – right here. Even the buildings themselves – most of us prefer worshipping in spaces that match our idea of what a church should look like. And most of us (myself) included – want what we do together as church to be what we expect. There is an order to the service – an order to the service.
We know our hymns – the ones we like – and the ones we don’t. We know what to say and when to stand and when to kneel – especially in the Episcopal denomination – and that’s the way we like it. It feels good we know what is going to happen next. It’s safe, its secure – it meets our expectations.
Life – on the other hand – is anything but safe. It’s a risk – every single day. And its only when the earthquakes happen – literally and metaphorically – that we realize how powerless we are. That we don’t orchestrate our lives the way we think we do. We aren’t ultimately the author of our narrative.
Last Tuesday – I was at the Cathedral of the Incarnation – for a service we do each year in Holy Week. The clergy of the diocese comes together to renew the vows we made at our ordination. Our preacher was Francis Wade who served as rector of St. Alban’s church in DC (very prominent church) for over 20 years – and he’s a professor now and well know. Anyway – in his remarks – he reminded us how easily our faith can become meaningless platitudes (talking to clergy but applies to anyone). We say things like – God loves you – God is with you – Christ is risen. All of them are true – that is why they’re platitudes. But what is the active truth in our lives that they hold.*
God is with you – so what? So is your dog – so is your sciatica – so what? How does the evidence of the answer play out in your life? Christ is risen – so what? We all be risen tomorrow morning and all the same “to-dos” will still greet us. All that triumph and victory that we sing of – so what? We still have Easter brunches with family – problems on our plates – decisions to decide. Resurrection – so what?
Mary Magdalene was looking for the answer to that question. Nothing had happened the way she or anyone else expected – that’s why she went to the tomb. And the answer wasn’t in the earthquake – although that was certainly a portent of something (isn’t that true of all earthquakes, literal or not?). The answer wasn’t with the guards – who we would assume had the power.
The answer wasn’t even with the angel. The angel gives the command – Do not be afraid. Go and see. In other words, if you want to know why resurrection matters you have to find out for yourself. It isn’t what you expect – it’s what your hoping for – so go, find it, seek it, be it.
So they left the tomb quickly with fear and joy. How is that? Aren’t those opposite emotions – how can you have fear and joy? Ever held a baby? Ever started college? Ever sat across from someone on the cusp of saying, “I love you”? When we feel both fear AND joy – faith AND doubt – vulnerability AND strength – like an earthquake that is a sign that we are on the verge of new life – a shifting point in our journey where things probably won’t happen exactly as we expect.
On this resurrection morning – do you know where that is in your life? Where you are seeking it? Where is the fear and joy tangled together – where is your hope?
God – so what? Resurrection – so what? We can go and see every day the answer to that question. All of us can allow our faith to become a series of sentiments – clichés and rote practices. Spiritual community – seeking together - was what Mary and those earliest followers formed to spend the rest of their lives – answering the question – so what.
And at its best – Christian community – the church – is about that same purpose - “action – about doing something specific, generous, risky, and right with our minds, hands, money, time, and energy. And in that doing we meet the living and loving God.” (the Rev. Francis Wade)
You did something good this morning – something that matters – in taking time to be in a community to open yourself to a reality that is bigger than us. A story that includes and encompasses your story and so many others. And you acted on the sure and certain hope – that God is alive and active in your life, saying do not be afraid – but go and see – and trust that when you do – it will exceed your expectations. Amen.
*Many thanks to the Rev. Francis Wade for his inspiring sermon on this topic at the Cathedral of the Incarnation, 4/11/17)