To stand on the side of love

Easter B

In the name of Christ.  Amen.

Every year, when I encounter again these stories that we read through Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter, the thing that stands out to me most of all is that in this holiest season in all the year, how unholy their action seems to be.

It starts with this strange praise on Palm Sunday, that’s borne of a place from people not really understanding what’s happening.  They get swept up in the energy of the crowd and in their hope for the future.  Then, as the events of the week progress, there are stories of betrayal, denial, torture, and death.  And again, the people get swept up in something they can’t really understand.  Again, they get swept up in the energy of the crowd, but this time in their fear for the future.  It’s all very unholy.

At a church I served once before, there was a parish administrator, and she and I used to get into regular arguments with one another.  She would say, “I come to church to feel good – don’t give me all that stuff that isn’t fun.  I just want to feel good.”  And I would argue, yes, of course we all want to feel good, but life is more than that.  Life is also in the messiness and the discomfort.  And our faith is a part of those ugly times, too.  But she would brush me off – “No.  There’s plenty of that other stuff in the world.  I just need the church to make me feel good.”

I think that’s part of why Easter is one of everyone’s favorite days – because it is a “feel good day”.  But the truth is, the stories of our lives are more than just the “feel good” moments.  There are plenty of unholy moments in all of our lives.  I imagine if we did a survey of this room, we would find some incredible stories to tell – stories of resilience and strength, but through that, stories of some of the unholiness that each of us has seen in our lives.  We all have them.

And there is unholiness all around the world.  Just this week we heard about the bridge collapse in Baltimore.  These workers were just going about their lives, like they probably did most every day.  But suddenly, their world literally collapsed.  They didn’t do anything to make it happen.  They didn’t “deserve” it.  It just happened.  And in Israel and Gaza, for more than six months now, people’s worlds have been consumed with war and fear.  If we’re honest, it’s been a region defined by war and fear for a lot longer than that.  Destruction of buildings and lives, and moral injury all around.  And even here, where things are on a relatively even keel, we have the rancorous political climate brewing itself up again, and careening us toward another contentious election season.  Friendships and familial ties will bend, and many will even break.

There is more than enough unholiness for all of us.

But on Easter we stand at a crossroads.  Jesus stands on the edge of the violent, sinful world, and also on the edge of the divine.  He stands there, stretching out his arms into both kingdoms.  Drawing them together.  Reconciling them.

We can turn and face our own path – looking away from the grace of Christ, or we can move toward Christ.  We can choose to turn away from all that is unholy in this world – even though its pull can be powerful.  We can choose not to let the crowds sweep us up and carry us away from our intended goals.

Recently I encountered again a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.  He was talking about participating in the Civil Rights and social justice movements, and how he faced the personal violence and threats and attacks that he faced.  He explained why he went on and kept doing all that he did, even in the midst of such trouble and insecurity.  He said, “I’ve decided to stand on the side of love.  Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

“I’ve decided to stand on the side of love.  Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

That’s what we hear in the Easter message.  That’s what we find when we dare to peer into that empty tomb.

Throughout our history, God has been reaching out to us, but still, we fall short.  Finally, though, in the person of Christ, God has chosen to teach us – to show us – that hate is too great a burden to bear.  God has shown us how to stand on the side of love.  And we have been called to stand there, too.  Right next to Christ.  Enveloped in God’s glory and love.

It’s challenging to live in a world so filled with hate and violence and uncertainty and fear.  It is challenging to experience all of that, and even through it, to decide to live as people of hope.  But that’s who we are.  We are people who have looked into the tomb and seen life there, instead of death.  And on this day, that’s what we celebrate: that hope has won.

Christ is Risen in the grand, gothic cathedrals with their formal liturgies and casts of thousands and roaring music.  And Christ is Risen in the smallest, dirtiest, quiet places that offer their own humble prayers.  Christ is Risen through the rubble of war.  Christ is Risen through the tears of loss.  Christ is Risen in both prison cells and penthouses.  Christ is Risen in the homeless and the hungry, and Christ is Risen in those with wealth we can’t even imagine.

And Christ is Risen here.  Christ is Risen in you and Christ is Risen in me.  Christ is Risen in our enemies and in our friends.

When we leave here - when the flowers fade and the silver tarnishes, when the hymns no longer ring out, but only decay in the recesses of memory; when we are frustrated by the rude drivers on the highways and when we are dispirited in meetings; when we remember AND when we forget, Christ is still Risen.  Love has still won.  Hope still lives.

So cling to this day.  Remember it when it’s not a “feel good day”.  Choose to stand on the side of hope.  Choose to stand on the side of love.  Anything else is too great a burden to bear.  Amen.