Every year at this time, the Bible starts talking a little crazy. Oh, it starts off believably enough:
In the first book, Genesis, God in utter delight creates everything out of nothing but chaos: Stars, galaxies and planets; Air, water and mountains; Fish that swim, and birds that fly, and those little fireflies that illuminate the summer night. God looks upon the earth and smiles. But something is still missing.
So God picks up a clump of red clay, and sculpts a couple of bodies- arms- legs- heads- eyes- nose. God pokes a little hole for our mouths, and blows into the hole, and we cough and give our first cry, and look around in wonder. And God looks upon us, and smiles the deep, wondrous smile of a parent gazing upon the tender fragility of their newborn. And God says, “My children. They look just like Me.”
Except then, of course, we children go off, and for no really good reason, we start lying and hiding the truth. And then we start the rivalry, and the bitterness. And then we start killing.
Like I say, the Bible starts off believably enough. We see it every day- a baby is born, alive and tender and hopeful.Years pass- and up rises dissent, bitterness, hatred… And we kill each other off in our hearts, unless we’re gay, or black, or a different religion, and then we just get killed outright. And this is sad, and this is tragic; but it’s how life is.
But then we start to get into what we heard in Scripture today- the unbelievable, crazy parts of Scripture: life from the grave; life out of the bowels of death.
I have to tell you something as a preacher: raising the dead is really hard to talk about reasonably. I can talk about butterflies coming from their cocoons, or the rising of the crocuses from the cold earth. But it’s not the same; it doesn’t even come close to the reality, the power of God’s miracle.
25 years ago, I was “great with child.” And then the waters of chaos broke, and for 13 hours, my husband Dick coached me. He sprained his knee he was pushing so hard with me; it was swollen the size of a basketball, but he didn’t feel it. He didn’t even notice it until the next day when he couldn’t walk!
When Cait’s dark, fuzzy head first crested, Dick cried out in wonder. When Dr. Feinburg handed him the wet, new child, his face was wet with tears of joy, and he could not speak. He could only hold her and weep.
That night when Dick left Cait and I in the hospital, he sat alone in our home, and wrote his newborn daughter a letter. All his thoughts and feelings and hopes and joy came tumbling out onto the page. A week later, he and I sat down to read it… and it was powerful and passionate and filled with love… but it was like reading notes about a dream the night after. It made no sense. There was too much of heaven to put into mortal words.
Children’s books we got describing birth either said, ‘And Daddy and Mommy loved her very much’, or they had pictures of bunnies and ducks and chicks in attractive pastel tones. But nowhere was there a knee the size of a basketball, or the weeping, or the fantastic utterings of one possessed of a miracle. A 9 pound, 21 inch miracle of God. And this is just for the miracle that happens every day, to each of us.
But that Easter day 2017 years ago, something utterly unbelievable happened. Three days dead in the tomb, the body must have started to decay. The corpse must have started to smell. The women came to the tomb to anoint the body with spices, to cover the smell of mortality.
But they got there, and the body wasn’t there. They got there, and all that was left was the burial sheet. Scripture never gives an account of how Jesus was raised from the dead; all we know is that when the women got there at dawn on Easter morning, death had given up its victim. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! (1 Cor 15:54-56)
The Bible doesn’t say much about the resurrection in the gospels; there is too much of heaven to put into mortal words. And 2000 years later, dry-eyed and rational, I am supposed to speak about the unspeakable.
O, Beloved Ones… Death is death. Jesus was not asleep. He was dead as dead could be. When we say ‘resurrection’, we Christians aren’t talking about some Greek philosophical ideas about ‘the immortality of the soul’, some eternal flame within a person that just goes on and on forever. Dead is dead.
But it’s the dead whom God loves to raise. Christ is most glorious, most alive where things are most deadly… Whether its in Iraq or Syria; Or in the bitter and deadly relationships between people who once held each other dear… Or in the physical death of those we most love…
Jesus is at His most creative, most lively, most powerful when everything is chaos, and there is no hope.
A woman sat by the bed of her mother, just dead. The pain seared her, and the loneliness inside her breast began to rise up as a force she would have to deal with for years to come. And she picked up a pen, and some paper, and she began to write out of the depths of her grief:
“The shelter which held her lies still:
The hearth grown cold, the wind chill.
Yet here in the shelter of these arms I knew
My mother’s strength, my mother’s comfort.
Here in the shelter of these eyes I knew
My mother’s spirit, my mother’s love.
Here in the shelter of this breast I knew
The place I would never be turned away.
Do indeed the dead die dead?
No immortal soul escape from this humility,
But spirit and body, one mortal end?
Surely indeed the dead die dead
Body and soul into the Bosom,
Arms, eyes, breast, very shelter of God.
Surely indeed the dead die dead
To glorify the One Who raises body, s
Spirit, the fullness of She Who Loved Me
To life without end.
In trust, dear Lord, I tender back
These arms, these eyes, these breasts,
This tender shelter…
In the sure and certain hope of the resurrection
-of the rising of this beloved dead-
Unto eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1)
And the woman laid down the pen, and laid her hand upon her mother’s arm. And she said, “Let it be true, God. Let it be true.”
Dear Friends, Resurrection is today, now, in your heart and in our world. Anywhere Jesus touches, the dead are raised. Anytime Jesus calls us forth out of our graves, the dead are raised. Anytime Jesus calls you and I to unbind the captive, to unwind the grave clothes which have closeted our sisters and brothers in tombs of denial and death. Any time Jesus calls, the hopeless are released into a world of hope, and we walk upright again among the living.
And this is God’s promise for you. What if it’s true? This is God’s promise for the person sitting next to you. What if it’s true? This is God’s promise for a world torn by hatred and violence and death. What if it’s true?
What if it’s true, dear Friends. Not bunnies. Not butterflies. But God’s promise of Life, unbounded and whole and divinely irrepressible, even in the face of death?
In the Name of the Lord of Life, even Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(1) This Tender Shelter by Nansi Hughes Hawkins
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and embalm Jesus’ body. And very early on the first day of the week, just as the sun was rising, they went to the tomb. They worried out loud to each other, “Who will roll back the stone from the tomb for us?” Then they looked up, saw that it had been rolled back- it was a huge stone. They walked into the tomb and saw a young man dressed all in white. They were taken aback- astonished! He said to them, “Don’t be afraid. I know you’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth, the One they nailed on the cross. But look: he’s been raised up. He’s no longer here. You can see for yourself that the place they laid Him is empty. “Now go and tell His disciples and Peter that He is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see Him, exactly as He said.” So the three women ran out of the tomb, their heads swimming with terror and amazement. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.