Idle Tales of Ultimate Truth

Rev. Sarah Buteux
Easter Sunday
March 31, 2013
Luke 24:1-12  

Let us not mock God with metaphor,  
analogy, sidestepping transcendence
making of the event a parable,  
a sign painted in thefaded credulity of earlier ages:  
let us walk through the door.  

- From Seven Stanzas at Easter by John Updike

 

No one expected the resurrection.

It was a bit like the Spanish Inquisition in that respect -the Monty Python version, not the real one – for you see no one expected it at all.

When the women went to the tomb on the third day, it was to anoint a dead body, not greet a living one. Although Jesus had promised his disciples repeatedly that he would remember them, that he would return for them, that he would not abandon them: when they laid him in the tomb on Good Friday they laid their hopes down beside him as well.

After all, a dead messiah was no messiah. Everyone knew that. It had been a good run, but the jig was up, a noble effort but the game was over. There would be a time to mourn and then it would be time to move on.

No one expected the resurrection…

…at least not the first time around. The first time around it was a really big deal. The trouble nowadays is that resurrection is exactly what you expect. On this day when we gather together in our prettiest pastels to sing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” resurrection is precisely what you have come for.

Resurrection is why we are here. Unlike those first disciples, we all know how the story ends. Even the children, when I told them last Sunday how Jesus would go to the cross, even the children knew the cross was not the end, because we all know this story.

You might say we know it, at least here in the West, on an almost cellular level. This story of resurrection is not just central to our faith - the culmination of all four gospels - this grand reversal, this understanding that sometimes you have to die to live, this idea that it isn’t over till it’s over and who’s to say when it’s really, truly over, this story of resurrection is central to our culture, our understanding, our very being.

In the words of Rob Bell: “it’s why we cheer for underdogs, misfits, and black sheep…why we love to hear stories about people who were rejected and forgotten and abandoned only to rise up and do something grand and daring and magnificent.”[1]

It’s why we love Rudolph and Hermie, Harry and Hermione, Bilbo and Frodo and Sam. Why we’re way more into Han Solo then Luke Skywalker… can I get an amen!  And why you stayed loyal for 86 long years, between 1918-2004 to a little team called the what? The Sox!

The what? THE SOX!

That’s right. You stayed loyal because there is something in you, in me, in all of us that believes in the story of resurrection, in vindication, and redemption.

There is something in us that believes so deeply and completely in the power of this story that we’re in danger of dismissing it… dismissing resurrection,

The Resurrection,

CHRIST’S RESURRECTION

- as just that… a story…. a trope, an archetype, an idle tale designed to entertain and inspire, but not one any rational person could ever truly believe actually happened.

And truth be told, I can’t prove that it did.

I cannot prove Christ’s resurrection, but I can still tell you why I dare to believe in it all the same and why I don’t think you’d be crazy if you dared to believe in it too.

And when I say “believe,” I mean really and truly believe. I’m not talking about believing in the resurrection as some grand metaphor for living. I’m not talking about butterflies and tulip bulbs. I’m talking about believing in the resurrection for what it was - a complete subversion of the natural order- as something miraculous that actually happened to Jesus and as something miraculous that will actually happen to you and to me.

I believe in the resurrection. I believe because there is only one thing more certain in this life than taxes, and that’s death right? Right. But death -as certain, as natural, and as expected as it is – still strikes me as fundamentally unnatural. Or maybe I should say it offends something fundamental in my very nature. Even the very best ones- and I’ve seen a lot of them, but I’ve got to tell you even the very best deaths, those that come quietly and peacefully after a good long life in the midst of family and friends, even the very best ones, at least on some level, still strike me as wrong.

There is something in me, and I dare say something in you, that rages against death; that dares to believe there must be something more than this, that we were made for something better, that death, as expected and explainable as it is, simply does not make sense. Can I get an amen?

That death, however final it might seem, does not get the last word.

***

Here in our congregation we lost a dear friend this week, our sexton Ed Chmura. Some of you knew Ed well. Most of you barely knew Ed at all. He was a sweet, lovely man who went about his business here with such effortless grace that no one had to think twice about what was or wasn’t getting done. Ever faithful, always willing, at the ready to help in whatever way he could: Ed was a gift to our church.

But Ed died this week. He died very suddenly and unexpectedly this past Monday at the age of 56. He leaves behind a wife and two beautiful children, his mother, brothers and sisters and friends too numerous to count.

Losing Ed for a time is hard, unbearably hard for those who knew him and loved him, but losing Ed forever, how does that even make sense? How could that ever make sense? Even if Ed was the only person we ever had to lose it would still be too much, but you and I, we have lost so many good and beautiful people over the years, people we loved, people we held dear, people we didn’t know how we could go on living without.

We can talk about what is rational or natural till we’re blue in the face, but if death is the end forever and always, if death gets the last word for real and for certain, if every last soul is simply snuffed out, then I’m sorry but none of this makes any sense, any rational sense, to me at all.

“If,” in the words of Frederick Beuchner:

the victims and the victimizers, the wise and the foolish, the good-hearted and the heartless all end up alike in the grave and that is the end of it, then life would be a black comedy, and to me, (says Beuchner) even at its worst life doesn’t feel like a black comedy. It feels (he says) like a mystery. It feels as though, at the innermost heart of it, there is holiness…”

a holiness I believe we belong to, a holiness we were made for, a holiness we can scarce contain. 

Friends I can’t speak for you. I can only speak for myself. But I believe that. I believe in that holiness because I brush up against it everyday.

There was something holy, truly holy, about the quiet integrity with which Ed went about his work here at the church. He never needed any recognition. He never stuck around for so much as a “thank you.” He just did what he came to do and he did it well because Ed was a good guy.

There is something holy, truly holy, in this congregation, in the many ways that you care for one another and the community we have forged here: the prayer shawls and the meals, the meetings and the minutes, the fellowship, the music, your many acts of service and your countless gifts of love. There is something holy here.

There is holiness in the warmth of every baby we’ve baptized, in the face of every young person we’ve confirmed, in the well worn hands of every loved one we’ve held as they lay dying.

There is holiness here, in this very life, in the mundane, quotidian, every day acts of even the most ordinary person. There is holiness in you. And if there is holiness in you, than surely there must be a holiness at the center of it all; a holiness from which we have come, and a holiness to which we will all eventually return.

I believe in the resurrection because I believe in that holiness. I believe we were created by and for something more. In the life and death and resurrection of Jesus I believe we see the love at the heart of that holiness, a love that will put up with us at our very worst and still come back for us in the end, a love that come what may will not let us go.

And I believe in the resurrection, I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ as a literal, historical - albeit miraculous – event, because it gives me the courage to live into that holiness the way Jesus did: the capacity to love in the face of hate, forgive in the midst of hurt, and find hope in the face of tragedy, even a tragedy as seemingly final as death.

I believe in the resurrection because I believe it is love that has the last word…Love…not death.

I believe in an emptied cross and an empty tomb.

I believe that Christ is not here for he has risen.

RISEN INDEED!

….and so, someday, shall you.

Let us pray:

Holy God,

O Ancient of Days,

Long before the earth had form,

Before the stars burned in the sky,

Before there was a universe to shout your praise,

You loved this world –

Every one of our names was inscribed on your heart.

Beloved, we thank you –

For, in your goodness,

You sang creation into being

And made covenant with the universe, with the earth, with every creature.

And you came to us, Lord;

You kept faith with your creation and hid your infinity in human form.

You allowed us to walk with you that we might love you,

follow you that we might become like you:

knowing the unknowable, seeing the invisible, touching the transcendent.

Too easily, Lord, we forget why you lived and died among us;

We forget that you mean us for heaven.

We forget, in the darkness that sometimes dims our days, that you are with us, within us,

And that we are carried safely in the great kingdom of your heart.

O God, your mercy is so infinite, so unshakeable, so everlasting,

That you put off the fetters of death and rise again;

You remind us of our freedom,

Of our preciousness,

Of the power you have instilled within each of us to make heaven here on earth.

May the light of resurrection kindle a new fire within us

that we might live and love

with all the hope and courage of Christ,

Our Dayspring and Morning Star,

Amen and Amen.

 

[1] “What we Talk About When We Talk About God” p 145