Sunday, April 20, 2014

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

It almost seems like the cross would have been enough.
If Good Friday were the end of the story, we would have ended with a message of profound hope, consolation, and sympathy. Because the passion is all about com-passion, suffering with, about God becoming flesh and dwelling among us and being with us in the midst of our most profound sorrow and pain. The message of the cross is this: whatever burdens you bear, you do not bear them alone. Whatever demons torment you, you are not alone in your torment. Your God loves you so deeply, so profoundly, that God took human form to join us in facing whatever demons plague us. Oppression by empire? Imprisonment? Hunger? Pain? Abandonment? Being misunderstood? Rejection by society? Rejection by our closest friends? Guilt for the wrongs we have done? Failure to communicate with those closest to us? Loss of faith? Whatever we suffer, the message of the cross is that we do not suffer alone. God says, "I am with you, and I will stay with you to the end, even if it kills me." Which it did. What wondrous love is this, o my soul?
The crucifix, a cross with the statue of the tormented suffering body of Jesus on it, became a symbol of popular devotion as Europe suffered from the great plague. As large numbers of people endured a painful death by disease, they found solace in the image of the suffering Christ, for they knew that they had a God who could meet them in their suffering. The crucifix told them that they did not suffer alone, that God knew what it meant to suffer and loved them and was with them.
If Friday were the end of the story, this would still be a story that hope is stronger than fear, that companionship is stronger than Empire, that solidarity and community and love cannot be vanquished by torture and death. If Friday were the end of the story, we would be left with the gift of the crucifix, the gift of com-passion, the gift of God's boundless love. If Friday were the end of the story, we would be left with the knowledge of the wondrous love by which we know that whatever demons we face, we face them in the companionship of a God that loves us and stays with us even unto death.
And so they laid Jesus in the tomb. But Friday was not the end of the story. So we move from a glorious gift of grace to an even more glorious gift of grace.
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. They wanted to see it. Jesus had been taken away from them, but they still longed for whatever connection they could still experience. But when they got there, suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.
For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid."
God's great reversals continue. The armed Roman soldiers guarding the tomb faint in fear, but the unarmed women coming to mourn their friend and teacher who was just tortured to death are still standing. The mighty are cast down from their thrones and the lowly are lifted up.
The angel continues, "I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.' This is my message for you."
Do not be afraid. Jesus is risen. Believe, and spread the good news.
So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
But before they got to the others, these apostles to the apostles met Jesus himself.
Suddenly Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."
In the face of profound evil, Jesus did not succumb to hate or fear or the desire to avoid pain. He let the profound inhumanity of empire run its full course without summoning the hosts of heaven to his aid. But as if that itself were not enough of a miracle, we now have this: evil did its worst, but he lives. He lives, and now there is nothing that we need to fear.
He lives, and whatever demons torment us, God is stronger. He lives, and however long our pain lasts, God's love lasts longer. He lives, and however much death we encounter, there is more resurrection.
Because evil tried to encompass Jesus, but it could not contain Jesus. Death tried to take in Christ, but it could not hold Christ, and now it is a broken container. Like a bottle full of water that bursts when the water freezes, death is forever cracked. Like a sweater stretched over a person several sizes too large for it, death is forever misshapen. Death can no longer hold us, because it tried to contain Christ, and now it is broken. Death can try to take us in, but we can see through the light shining through the cracks, and now we too have the promise of the resurrection. Christ is the firstborn from the dead. But we all, as we die with Christ, so too shall we be raised with Christ.
And because of this, our story does not end with the solace of the cross. In our Eucharistic prayer, we pray that God might deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. And so the resurrection empowers us. We move from being comforted to being both comforted and comforters. We move from being merely the recipients of God's abundant grace to also being agents who share that grace in the world. Like Mary Magdalene, we are told first Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples. Solace, then strength for mission.
For Christ has been raised from the dead, and we who live in Christ are empowered to love and serve without fear because nothing — neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore, do not be afraid. Proclaim God's love to the world. Alleluia! Christ is risen!