Resurrection. It happens all the time. Every day.
How many of us catch our breath when the first yellow and purple crocuses pop their heads out of the soil, sometimes even through the snow? The laughing daffodils, the elegant tulips, the black branches swelling with pink and white and purple? Resurrection.
Have you ever seen a nurse log? That big old, ancient tree falls, its roots torn from the ground. By the spring following the catastrophe, the broken overstory is letting in light. New growth is popping up all around the old tree. Come back again in a couple of seasons and the bark is beginning to decompose. Mushrooms are feeding themselves. A few more years and new plants are emerging from the old trunk. Whether brought there by squirrels or sparrows or spirit, they have found nourishment in this ancient trunk, and are finding their way through death to verdant life. Resurrection.
Last Monday an iconic, 850-year-old cathedral caught fire, and the world wept. But within hours Notre Dame’s resurrection was at hand. People sang vigil outside, lending aid to fire fighters. People cried, screamed, chanted, lit candles, prayed and sang for her. Life-giving funds poured out from the French people and from the world. She is not dead. Already her life rises from the ashes. Resurrection. Life from death.
Even our bodies give life through death. The atoms of our bodies continue to spin into the next thing that needs them. Every bit of energy and stardust of which we are made takes on life for its next assignment in this creation. Life from death.
Okay, you say. I get what you are saying. I understand and accept all these things. Life does come from death. But these are not quite what we are talking about on Easter, are they? On Easter we are talking about one particular man, dying and coming out of the tomb alive. People don’t walk out of the grave. It has never been documented. No scientific studies confirm it. It cannot be reproduced in a lab. All these other miracles of nature and the human spirit? We have seen these. But resurrection?
Yet here we are. Sitting in this beautiful old church, hearing about stuff that doesn’t make much sense. Today is the day we celebrate the most hard to believe part of Christianity. Jesus was born. Sure! Jesus was among the greatest teachers the world has ever known. Yup! Following Jesus’ teaching would lead us to much healthier and gentler lives. Most of us say, absolutely! Jesus healed people. Now it is getting a little more difficult. It depends of just what you mean by healing, but yes, he was an ancient healer. Jesus did miracles. Well, again, how do you define a miracle? Jesus walked out of the tomb three days after he died – alive and well. Now, THAT’s a stretch. It is a great story. But to really believe that it happened? Some of us are not so sure.
Yet today we come, even with these doubts. Why? Well, first there is the easy answer. It is tradition. It is what we do.
Some of us come to church on Easter because it has become a family holiday. Easter as a festival took a while to catch on in America. In the Puritan eyes, it was too tainted with non-Christian influences, drinking and merrymaking. But today, the egg hunts, Easter parades, new clothes in pastel colors, candy, chocolate, spiral cut ham are everywhere at Easter.
So, in part, we come to church on Easter because it is part of the festival observance, part of a family tradition. As with Christmas, we go home or out to a restaurant and enjoy a big family dinner. We do and say the things that are important to our elder generations. We go to church for mom and dad or for grandma and grandpa. They get to show us off to their friends, and we get to enjoy an annual reunion of sorts.
Whether we believe the story or not, we gather on Easter.
This day is not about what we believe. Unless it is the ants in the pants kind of belief – belief which makes us uncomfortable, squirmy. There is something to this story, or at least in the telling of it. We know it. Not by science. Not by experience or documentation or photographs. We know it in our bones. Somehow our bones know that life wins. Always. Every time. Life wins. We have no idea how it happens. But all of this (wave an arm) is about life from death.
Old dead timbers line our roof. The stained glass has come through fire to be here today. Some of the carpet under out feet came from sheep who used to live in a field generations ago. The trunks of grand old oaks hold you in your pew. And today they hold life. Life from death. We are counting on it.
I suppose I am more interested in hope that belief. And that is why I come on Easter. Hope gives life. Hope transforms, gives us a reason to live and love and laugh. If I have hope, I will run in to save the treasure of burning Notre Dame. If I have hope I will give cans of food to the food pantry. If I have hope I will vote in every election, write letters to my politicians, maybe even run for office. If I have hope, I will pastor a church when churches everywhere are dying. For it is only in hope that we have life from death.
Easter is not so much about what we believe. It is about gathering with a community who will together suspend disbelief for a moment and live in hope that life wins. We taste and see for a moment that there is more life in store than we could ever imagine in our gray lives. Or maybe we just take delight in the beauty of the day – eggs, candy, color, spring – and that gives us life.
Today resurrection becomes a verb rather than a noun. Something we do, rather than something we believe. We learn again to live resurrection with each other.
Megan McKenna, shares a story in her book Not Counting Women and Children: Neglected Stories from the Bible. One day she was leading a Bible study on Luke 7:11-17, where Jesus resurrects a widow’s son as he is being carried out of the city to be buried. Here is what happened:
… Someone called out harshly, “Have you ever brought someone back from the dead?” I had been saying that life happens when we are interrupted, and that some of the most powerful acts of resurrection happen to the least likely people; that we are the people of resurrection and hope, called to live passionately and compassionately with others, to defy death, to forgive, and to bring others back into the community, to do something that is life-giving, that fights death and needless suffering. And then this challenge from the back of the church: “Have you ever brought someone back from the dead?”
My response was “Yes…. Every time I bring hope into a situation, every time I bring joy that shatters despair, every time I forgive others and give them back dignity and the possibility of a future with me and others in the community, every time I listen to others and affirm them and their life, every time I speak the truth in public, every time I confront injustice — yes — I bring people back from the dead.”
This may sound crazy, but today I don’t care so much about whether you believe the resurrection of Jesus is a fact. What I do care about is whether you will go out from this room today and practice resurrection. Will you give life, respect, hope? You have been given life today and every day. And you have the chance to pass it on, today and every day.
Among us, Christ is Risen! Christ is risen, indeed!