(This is the sermon I gave yesterday for Easter, live streamed)
Who are we? We are quarantined. We are uncertain of what the future looks like. We want to gather for special days, like Easter, birthdays, weddings, funerals, and just come together for meals, to be with people we have grown to love over the years. We want to sing loudly with the organ in the company of so many others. We want some sense of normalcy.
Who are we? We are lost. We are clinging on to anything familiar. We are desiring to fill the sanctuary again. We are desiring to take communion. We are desiring to share the peace.
Who are we? We are feeling alone, anxious, down. We are mourning the loss of what was normal. We are starting to see how truly uncomfortable so many of our fellow citizens are – and we don’t like it. The band aid has been ripped off and the wound is open.
Who are we? We are starting to see for the first time the fuller picture of our society – not the sugar-coated version that has been sold to us for so very long. While many have done well for themselves, or at least put up a façade to show that, there are plenty who are just one paycheck away from disaster – we see them now. They may be us in fact. While many have easy and adequate access to health care, there are plenty who do not. That may be us in fact. While many have a job that continues to provide for us, there are plenty who are not able to work right now. That may be us in fact.
Who are we? We are a people of paradox. How fitting that we would be celebrating Easter in the midst of paradox. Easter itself is a paradox. The whole story of the passion, death, and resurrection is a paradox. Jesus is both fully human and fully God. Jesus, fully God, succumbs to death. And Jesus, fully human, is raised by God from the dead.
Who are we? Who are we in this Gospel story? We want to be Mary. But is that all we are? We are a people of paradox.
Who are we? On the one hand we are the guards. Oh, we don’t want to think of ourselves as the guards. Let’s just be clear about that. They are bad guys, right? And we don’t want to think of ourselves as the bad guys. But who are they? They are doing their job. They are making sure that tomb stays closed – that Jesus stays in the tomb. Can’t have a raised dead man walking about now can we? That would change everything.
So we guard the tomb to make sure that Jesus stays in the tomb – stays away from changing anything. We guard the established ways – ways that provide certainty and tell us that we are in control. We guard ways and systsms that we personally benefit from, but may be unjust – ways and systems that turn a blind eye to abuse, racism, sexism, poverty, homelessness, fear, hatred, power, unjust gain, oppression, and exploitation of people and the planet.
We guard systems and ways that protect us from seeing how we willingly and unwilling participate in unjust and abusive systems, whether that be scapegoating, blame, pointing fingers at the sins of others, not listening, arguing because we believe we are right always, valuing violence as a solution to our problems, and more. Those things are just too painful to think about, or even look directly at and so we guard the tomb to make sure that Jesus doesn’t come out and expose all these things for what they are. We stand our guard. Unwilling to let Jesus out of the tomb and change these systems. We guard the tomb because we believe that if those systems change, then we will lose out. And we don’t have the imagination to consider that there may be another way.
Who are we? We are the guards who keep watch to ensure that the power structures stay the same. We stand guard protecting our idols of money, partisan loyalty, power, and comfort.
The Good News is that we are more than just the guards. Not because of anything we have done though. But because of how Good God is. Who are we? We are also Mary. We go to the tomb, not sure what to expect. Coming in fear when we find the tomb empty. What does this mean? What has been unleashed in the opening of the tomb – the raising of Jesus from death? Nothing is going to be the same. Nothing. And we don’t know what it means.
Who are we? We are called into a new way of being, of living. The resurrection of Jesus isn’t about some event that happened 2000 years ago and that was it. It’s not about going to heaven after I die. No, rather, it unleashes something that continues to impact our world today. The raising of Jesus from the dead is the beginning of the New Creation, the Kingdom of God being unleashed in our midst – and all that God’s kingdom is about. It boldly declares that nothing will get in the way of God’s kingdom and what it stands for and what it is about. No empire, no idol, no loyalty, no hatred, no fear, no unjust system, no scapegoating, no authority, nothing can get in the way of Jesus. Nothing is powerful enough to keep the tomb sealed. Nothing can hold Jesus in the tomb. That means that nothing can stop Jesus and the Kingdom of God. That’s what the resurrection is about. It’s the unleashing of God.
Who are we? We are Mary. Just as Mary was afraid, so are we. What does an unleashed God mean for our lives? For our world that desperately tries to hang on with every ounce of strength to ungodly ways? And in the midst of that fear, we hear these words – Do not be afraid.
Who are we? We are called and sent. Just like Mary. Not sure of what is going to happen or what the unleashing of the New Creation will mean exactly. Not sure of how the world will resist God and God’s ways. But regardless, we are called and sent by Jesus.
Who are we? We are sent to proclaim good news – Good news to the poor. And what is that good news? That God isn’t settling for poverty any more, for oppressive systems, for unjust gains, for greed, for ignoring the needs of the poor. But we are also sent to proclaim good news to those who are poor in other ways too. And what is that good news? To the rich, it is good news to hear that you have value not because of your financial balance, but because you are also loved children of God. To those struggling with loneliness, it is good news to hear that you are not alone – ever. To those held captive by addictions, it is good news to hear that you will be set free – you are more than what holds you captive. You have more worth and value. To those put up a front that makes it look like you have your life all in order, it is good news to hear that God doesn’t expect you to be perfect, or to get it all right – you can’t. Salvation isn’t about how good you are – it’s about how good God is.
Who are we? We are sent to live in alignment with the values of the Kingdom of God – to love our neighbor as, because to love our neighbor is to love God, no matter who our neighbor is – whether they be a foreigner, a different gender, rich, poor, intelligent, lacking in intelligence, strong, weak, Republican, Democrat, or anything else. We are sent to love our enemies, not seek revenge or redemptive violence on them. But to love them. And no, that’s not easy. But if God can love us, then we can take that love, and turn and love our enemies.
Who are we? We are sent to see the image of God in all around us so that we can live into Jesus’ command to love our neighbor and our enemies.
Who are we? We are sent to be stewards of creation – caring for the earth, not exploiting it – for it is not ours. We are sent to be stewards of all that God has given us – whether it be money, relationships, health, property, and more. We are sent to use these things to build up the Kingdom of God, to participate in the unfolding of the new creation.
Who are we? We are sent to live in the way of peace, recognizing that peace is a way of living, not a destination. The way of peace involves offering forgiveness, while also seeking it. The way of peace involves letting go of unrealistic expectations of others, of giving mercy and grace to others and being open to receiving them as well. The way of peace doesn’t seek redemptive violence, but instead changes the course of events. The way of peace is Jesus’ way.
Who are we? We are the guard and we are Mary. We protect the sinful established order and we are called to go and proclaim that there is a new order. We are sinner and saint.
Maybe a better question than who we are is this – who is Jesus? Jesus is God. Jesus overcomes sin and death. Jesus puts an end to unjust systems and ways. Jesus unleashes the new creation and the kingdom of God. Jesus brings peace. Jesus acts. Jesus brings all of the things and more. Jesus does them to us and for us first. And because Jesus acts first, we can respond – joyfully. And Jesus calls us and sends us.
That’s who we are. Because that’s who God is. Christ is alive – let us rejoice!