Alleluia, Christ is Risen! I’m glad you’re here today.
If you’re new to religion and religious practice, or if you’ve had some time off and you’re considering a return, then not only are we particularly glad that you’re here, but you may very well have a head start understanding the story we hear this morning of resurrection and new life. Because for some of us over the years religion has been reduced to ideas in our head. It’s been reduced to getting our ideas about God right. If church for you is mainly about getting ideas right, then I bet God calls you to something bigger: to new life aligned with God’s love, to the path of transformation that God has opened for us in Jesus Christ.
And I’m going to tell you my main point right here at the beginning of this sermon: the story of Jesus’ resurrection is the story – the promise – that God opens new life for us aligned with the deep call of love and unfolding new possibility. Participating in this new life – living aligned with this love – is the path of transformation for us, the path opened by God that we celebrate today.
I bet that you’ve experienced both joy and pain. If you think back over your life, I bet you can think of times that were really joyful and times that were significantly painful. Jesus’ story – the one that we’ve heard over the last few weeks – has been both: we’ve seen Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, what is the height of his public ministry’s reach and popularity; then we heard the tender stories of the last supper where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples in humble service; we read of Jesus’ arrest and his sham trial, his crucifixion as a criminal and his death. All throughout these stories are punctuated with very human moments: when Jesus asks God to take this fate away from him, when Jesus calls out to his mother and asks her to be a mother to his friend once he’s gone. This suffering makes today’s celebration of Jesus’ resurrected appearance to the disciples, it makes it so much more joyful.
You know, these stories we’ve read, the sweep of salvation…they’re so powerful, but I get to add one more story to these that we’ve heard. I get to add one more story to complete the arc of salvation history. I get to add our story.
We’ve been talking about temptation for 40 days during Lent, and we have one last temptation to talk about today. We have a religious temptation to read these wonderful stories of Jesus, and then to leave them right here – and if we leave them locked in a book, even one that’s fancy, and if we leave them locked in a church, even a church that we love – if we leave them here then they won’t extend to us the transformation that God promises. And the mystery of Christ, the mystery of faith, it’s God’s promise of new life to us.
This story of new life is the story of every person who walks into this building for a 12-step meeting and who says addiction won’t define my life. It’s every person who suffers abuse and rejection and somehow finds the strength to say that with help this experience will not define the totality of who I am. It’s every person who wants to help others and so she stares down the overwhelming problems of homelessness or hunger, and who somehow remains convinced that with our work and God’s help we can make a meaningful difference. It’s the story of every person who loses a loved one, and who decides to keep putting one foot in front of the other even through sorrow. It’s every person who faces the humiliation and degradation of racism or sexism or homophobia and who says I won’t let this make me think less of myself. Ultimately it’s the story that we’ll all share, as we approach our death – with so many good things that will come to an end – but with quiet confidence of new life in the heart of God.
It would be easier if this were a story only of good times. But there’s no avoidance on the cross. Transformation comes right through the middle of difficulty.
In our baptism, we say that we are joined with Christ in his death and resurrection, Paul writes that we put on Christ, that we live and move and have our being in Christ, that we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection. That the path for us has been opened: to find in both the joy and the pain of life, to find in the fullness of our humanity, to find the connection to God that is Christ’s promise to us.
Some good things have to die so that we can experience this promise. The voice of safety, it will serve you really well. It will keep you from making decisions that might hurt you. But ultimately that voice of safety it has to die so that you can fully love someone else, with all of the risk and the new life that love will bring. The voice of success will tell you how to position yourself to do well in your career, it will give you motivation and drive, it can be so good, but ultimately it can tell you that your whole worth is bound up in your compensation and position, and this can make life pretty small. The customs we learn, they can be so good – they help us know how to relate to each other, they teach us how to show respect. But they can make us think that only people like us are valuable; their importance has to die so that we can join the human family from every race, and language, and people and nation.
Jesus wasn’t bad either – that’s an understatement – but he was limited, finite; he died to become the Christ, the one whom Paul would write created the Body of Christ, the infinitely larger Body that includes all of us.
One priest writes that — his words – “we can affirm [our] belief[s] in ritual and song…but until people have lost their foundation and ground, and then experienced God upholding them so that they come out even more alive on the other side,” then the Easter mystery “is little understood and not essentially transformative.”
That’s why we can’t keep this story locked in a book, not even one we respect as much as the Bible. And we can’t keep it locked in a church, not even one we love. We are united with Christ in his death and resurrection, and this is the story of our lives too.
The path of centering ourselves more and more in the Holy; it’s the path of suffering transformed, the path of participating in new life extended to us in God; it will let us love ourselves and it will compel us to reach out in love to others; it will give us a place to stand – solid ground to stand on, even when the outward circumstances of our lives change around us.
And that’s very good news. Alleluia, Christ is Risen!