The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Christians behaving strangely

 The Easter Altar at St. Paul's Church in Bergen, Jersey City, NJ

Easter Day A
Matthew 28:1-10


In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

This time of year must seem sort of strange to most people: we Christians gathering; spending lots of money on flowers; spending lots of time to make sure everything is as beautiful as it can be; eating good food; going to church - even at times when we might not normally.

But the strangest thing of all isn’t what we do, but why we do it.

It’s been said that the only sure things in life are death and taxes, and we, in the church, are saying that we’re not even sure about that.

Don’t get me wrong. Death is real. You only needed to be at church on Good Friday to realize that the church doesn’t doubt death. We take it seriously. We believe in it. And how could we not? We all encounter death out there, in the real world, every day. Whether it’s in its more literal forms - the physical death of loved ones, or world tragedies with mass casualties, or our own gradual awakenings to the reality that our bodies simply won’t last forever; or whether it’s more metaphorical - the death of relationships, or the death of once-held hopes or dreams - either way we can’t escape the reality of death.

And the Bible doesn’t ask us to.

Just listen to the words of the angel who greeted the women at the tomb: he descended from heaven, rolled away the stone, and SAT on it. I imagine him almost smirking as he sat there, perhaps reclining, relishing in the shock they must have felt at that first Easter.

Through the kind of grin that barely holds back a giggle he said, “I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified…”

The angel didn’t deny the crucifixion. The power of God didn’t undo the crucifixion. It was still as horrible and traumatic as the women had witnessed and could still remember. Their pain as mourners was still very real. But it wasn’t all there was.

That’s why today is so strange. We know that death is real. But we believe there’s something more.

It reminds me of the story of the old preacher from down South. He was preaching an Easter sermon and trying to talk about the difference between knowledge and belief. Lost in the moment of his sermon he suddenly pointed down to his wife and five children who were seated dutifully in the front row just under the pulpit. He pointed to them and called out, “See all those children gathered up on the front row? My wife, she KNOWS they’re all hers. I BELIEVE they’re all mine!”

Yes, we know that death is real. But our faith pushes us to believe that there’s something more.

It’s a hard truth.

One of the most persistent questions in any faith is why bad things happen to good people. I’ve thought a lot about that question. I’ve studied the great thinkers, who have wrestled with it. I’ve prayed about it and wrestled with it, myself. But, the truth is, I’ve never found an answer - at least not a satisfying one. When I’m confronted with suffering - either my own or the suffering of those I love and care for - I still don’t know why.

And the truth is, in the agony of the moment it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter why we suffer. It doesn’t even matter that we won’t be suffering forever.

But we WON’T be suffering forever.

That’s what Easter is about. It’s about putting aside - even if only for a moment - the suffering, and the pain, and the agony of the moment - whatever that moment may be in our own lives - so that we can remember that it’s not the end of the story. So that we can remember that, despite whatever we may think we know, we can believe something more.

Earlier this week, while I was getting my hair cut here in the neighborhood, the man cutting my hair asked me, “So why do they call it ‘Good’ Friday, anyway? It seems to me like it was pretty bad.”

Well, he was right. It was a pretty bad day. But today is why Friday was “Good”.

You can’t get to Easter without passing through Good Friday. You can’t get to Resurrection without enduring death.

I don’t know why. But it is the way it is.

You may have come in here thinking the world has somehow passed you by. Perhaps you’re still stuck on Good Friday. But that’s okay. In here, things are strange. It’s okay if you’re strange, and it’s okay if we are.

Those women at the tomb - the first witnesses of Easter - they probably weren’t ready either.

You don’t have to fully embrace Easter before you’re ready. We’ll be celebrating here for fifty days. And even after that, we still have some Easter every Sunday. So take your time. Come to your own Easter when you’re ready. And in the meantime, take this day as a foretaste of the promise: Easter is coming; new life is breaking through. Alleluia!

2 comments:

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I get more and more proud of you. Happy Easter, Jon.

Jon M. Richardson said...

You're very kind :)

You should have been a fly on the wall when I was with Tim today. There were some guffaws involved :)