Grace blooms from unholy beginnings

Easter Day

Mark 16:1-8


Christ is risen!  Alleluia!

On this, the holiest day of Christian observance – the day of Resurrection – I always find myself pausing for a moment to look back at the seemingly unholy things that brought us here.  This past week – the one we call “Holy Week” – is such a rollercoaster.  From the high on Palm Sunday and the shouts of “Hosanna!” as Jesus made his way into Jerusalem – from there we fall so far.  From there, with Christ, we are raised.

On Wednesday, the Holy Week drama deepens, as the church sometimes commemorates “spy day” – a remembrance of that unholy act of betrayal from one of Jesus’ most trusted disciples: Judas, the one who was entrusted with the treasury.  It’s called “spy day” because it recalls the moment that Judas sold himself out to be a spy for the ones who would have Jesus arrested, and ultimately killed.  A deal he made, not on the basis of some principle or some firmly held belief, but in exchange for money – for temporary satisfaction.  So it was a betrayal not only of the friendship, but of everything that Jesus had been teaching.

But the ride starts to get really bumpy on Thursday.  On its surface, the message of Maundy Thursday should be one of joy and celebration for the church.  It’s the day when the church gets the gift of the Holy Eucharist – one of our most significant expressions of the faith that has been feeding us, literally and spiritually, for millennia.  It’s the day when Jesus gives us one of the clearest models of servant-leadership, as he humbles himself to wash the disciples’ feet.  It’s the day when we are given the new commandment – that we love one another.  That’s the teaching that will come to be one of the most defining teachings of Jesus’ ministry – one that will help to shape the Christian message when we’re at our best, and call us to task when we fall short.

It should be a beautiful day of great joy!  But we experience it in the context of all else that is happening.  It’s the night when Judas’ betrayal takes flesh.  It’s the night when Jesus prays for us and for his disciples and they fail to heed his simple request to stay awake with him.  It’s the night when Jesus foretells that one of them will deny him.  And it’s the night that he is arrested, and the whole gruesome end comes into focus.  In our liturgy, we mark it by the stripping of the altar, by its washing and anointing – a subtle nod toward preparing his body for burial.

At last, we fall into Good Friday.  The crowds of people swept up in their mob mentality – the same crowds who praised his entry into Jerusalem on Sunday, now cry, “Crucify him!”  He is beaten and humiliated, and finally hung on a cross to die.  And, then, on Saturday, we remember his descent into the dead.  His very real death that seemed as final as any death we’ve ever known.

I recount all of this – not to try to bring down the mood of this day, but to remember how we got here.  This, the holiest and most joy-filled day our faith community experiences all year, stands on a chain of events that seems decidedly unholy – a chain of events that would be the exact opposite of what we or any other follower of Jesus might have laid out and imagined if we were trying to set up the reign of Christ.  And, at the crux of all the pain and betrayal, and the hope of Resurrection – there stands Jesus, with his arms outstretched, perfectly fitted between all that has been unholy and all the joy that is to come.

As we experience our second Easter apart – following a year of pandemic, a year of nearly 600,000 COVID-related deaths here in our country and tens of millions of infections, a year that brought us the unjust deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and hate-filled attacks on Asian people, and financial uncertainty, and unemployment, and turbulent politics – as we experience all of this undeniable un-holiness, it’s helpful to remember that God can work even in that.  It’s helpful to remember that even our human failings can’t be enough to stop God from bringing God’s will into the world – even as pronounced as our failings have been throughout this extended period of uncertainty.

And even in our own lives – there are ways that we’ve all fallen short.  There are ways that we have failed to love one another as Christ told us to.  There are ways that we have failed to see God’s goodness living in the people around us.  There are ways that we have failed to live into all that God has been calling us toward.  None of us is perfect.  But God doesn’t need perfection to bring joy, salvation, peace, and goodness into the world.  God doesn’t need us to do the work alone.  God is working with us and through us to achieve greater ends than we can imagine.

All that is asked of us is faithfulness.  To have faith that some new thing is being worked out, even in the midst of despair.  To have faith that emboldens us to dare to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world – not for everyone, but at least for those in our paths.  To have faith to recognize that even when we fail at this, God will still be beside us, showing us the way.

Holy Week – for all of its ups and downs – shows us that God doesn’t need human perfection to bring about all that God plans.  And Easter shows us that God is still faithful to us – even when we fall.  Thank God for that grace.  Amen.