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 20, 2014

The Promise and the responsibility

Easter Day
Matthew 28:1-10


In the name of Christ.  Amen.

It’s almost hard, surrounded by the bright buds of spring, to remember that winter has only just passed.  It wasn’t that long ago that the world was dark and cold, and the trees were spindly and bare.  It wasn’t that long ago that the birds sang their songs somewhere else, in retreat from the harsh winter we stayed behind to endure.  It wasn’t that long ago that most of our days were entombed in an icy shroud of white that we seemed to fear might never melt into spring.

But this morning, the daffodils are standing tall.  The tips of the trees are glowing with the pale, unhardened green of new growth.  The sun is shining warmer and longer than we earlier remembered was even possible.

Once-dormant life is transitioning back.  We knew it would, but for a while there, we wondered.  The encroaching warmth is still more a promise at this point, than an expectation - we can’t quite rely on it just yet - but we’re starting to see the cycle take shape.

For centuries - basically since the beginning of Christianity - comparisons have been made between the renewed life of springtime and the renewed life of Christ in the Resurrection.  It’s a confluence that would be hard to miss.  Even nature seems to be speaking Resurrection - however dull her whisper may yet be.

But on that first Easter morning, the women who would be the first of Jesus’ followers to learn of the Resurrection didn’t know that yet.  For them, the budding wildflowers they passed on their early morning walk must have felt like some sort of cruel joke.  Day was breaking, but it didn’t feel like the light of dawning hope.  For them, the sun must have felt like it was highlighting their pain and their community’s now-brokenness.  The sun was shining light where they might have been more comfortable hidden away in the dark.  The world was growing warmer and brighter and bursting with life, but their lives were imperiled.  Their hope had been snuffed.

I’ll admit that my image of the angel we hear about this morning is probably shaped more than anything by the late-90s movie Dogma, in which Matt Damon and Ben Affleck play the roles of disgruntled angels.  Having seen God with their own eyes, they’re denied the innocence of faith.  Instead, they have facts and knowledge.  In the absence of faith, they miss the chance to wonder at God’s work.  And in the absence of wonder, they second-guess God’s choices.

They’re smart-mouthed and blasphemous; brilliant, and yet playful.  Yet, even they sometimes stand back in awe when they learn that God has done some new thing.

That’s how I imagine the angel that met the women on that Easter morning.  I imagine him almost smirking as he sat on that stone.  Perhaps he was a little jealous about what the women are about to learn - jealous of the wonder and relief that they would experience - but he was also surely in awe of the new thing that God had done.

“Do not be afraid,” he said, “I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.”

That’s when we hear the promise of Easter: it’s not just that Jesus had been raised.  You’d think that would be promise enough, but even so, there’s more.  The real promise of Easter is that we will see Christ again.  He’s not just gone from the tomb, but back in the world.

That Easter promise is still being realized in the world around us.  If we look - if we train ourselves to notice - we will see that Christ still walks among us.  The world is bursting with renewed life, and not just in the flowers and in the trees.  Whenever we see suffering and act with compassion, life is renewed.  Whenever we see shame and despair and respond with blessing, life is renewed.  When the hungry are fed, when the lonely are comforted, when the cold and vulnerable are clothed, life is renewed.  Christ is renewed.

And with the promise of Easter, there also is the responsibility of Easter.  The angel told those women who went planning to mourn: He has been raised; you will see him again; now go and spread the word!

That’s the responsibility of Easter - to spread the word of the risen Christ to the rest of the world.

St. Teresa of Avila, a 16th century Christian mystic and nun, said it, perhaps better than anyone.  She said:

            Christ has no body but yours.

            No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
            Yours are the eyes with which he looks
            Compassion on this world,
            Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
            Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

            Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
            Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

            Christ has no body now but yours.

The Easter promise is that we will see Christ again.  And the Easter responsibility is to ensure that others see Christ, too.

On a beautiful morning in the early spring, it’s hard to remember the winter that’s only just passed.  In the midst of Easter’s beauty and joy, it’s hard to remember that Good Friday was just the other day.

But there are still people around us who haven’t passed through Good Friday.

Easter came first to the women.  Then it was their responsibility to spread the promise.  Now it’s ours.

Christ has no body now but yours.  Yours are the hands.  Yours are the feet.  Yours are the eyes.

That’s what we get for Easter - the promise, but also the responsibility.  Spread the joy.  Spread the relief.  Spread the salvation.

The Good News is that Christ has been raised, and we will see him again.  Now we’re called to go out and show the world!  Amen.

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