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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Seeing in the Dark

We come to the tomb expecting death and find Christ is alive, and fills us with resurrection life. With Christ's life in us, we can now see in the dark, even in a world of darkness and death.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Resurrection of Our Lord, year A
   Texts: Matthew 28:1-10; Colossians 3:1-4

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

They expected he would be cold. His body would be heavy, too.

It hadn’t been 40 hours since he was buried, so they didn’t expect too much of a smell. And some spices and ointments were put on at his burial.

But they dreaded facing how cold and heavy he would be. They feared not recognizing his face, because everyone looks so different after death. They knew this well. They dreaded seeing his body as a body, a thing, not the beloved, warm, friend and master they’d known and loved.

We know what they knew, too. Many of us have experienced how surprisingly quickly our loved one becomes cold when they die, how heavy their limbs become. How they look so different without their breath in them. We know that when someone dies, they look dead. Not asleep. That’s what these women faced that Sunday morning.

They didn’t expect to find life. But an angel told them Jesus was raised. Then they met Jesus himself. Alive. Warm. Beautiful. Unexpected.

No wonder they fell on their faces and grabbed onto his feet, not wanting to let go.

We know what they felt as they walked that stony path at dawn.

We expect, we know, that death is permanent. No one comes back from the dead in this world. Not that we see, anyway.

And we know for certain this is true of pain and evil in this world. Systems are corrupt and crush people, but how do you change systems? Illness comes without warning, and science constantly seeks answers, but people still die, or suffer chronically, and that’s not going to change. Governments all become entrenched, self-serving, unwieldy, and don’t serve the people, and how do you change that? People die of hunger by the thousands every day, and that won’t really change; how do you get the whole world to redistribute resources, wealth, food? Relationships break apart, people are unkind, people feel lonely and afraid, people do evil without thinking, and how do you change people? We can’t even change ourselves sometimes, when we do things wrong.

We know this. This is what we expect, things will always be the same. The world is the way the world is.

We don’t expect life. That life, and healing, and wholeness for all people is possible. That this is God’s dream and plan.

If we could believe this were true, we’d be grabbing on to this life and not letting go ourselves.

And the angel says, “Don’t be afraid. Death isn’t as strong as you think.”

But if that’s true, if death isn’t permanent, what else isn’t?

Christ’s resurrection powerfully changes everything we thought we knew. Not because God could reverse death. God made the universe, invented life. God can do anything with death God wants. Including end its power over mortal things.

But we say Christ destroyed death’s power in rising, and part of that is death’s power to frighten us. Death’s power to make us certain nothing can be changed. Death’s power to make us believe things are the way things are, and always will be.

Death has no power over us, we say in the light of Easter. What if we really lived that?

What if we finally understood today that the Triune God actually is moving, acting, bringing life into a world where we’re walking afraid in the dark woods? Where so many things threaten so much? Where we feel there is little we can do to change anything?

If death isn’t strong enough to be final, can anything resist God’s resurrection life?

Listen, the hard part, what keeps us from really getting this, is the world still looks like death is in charge.

We open our newspapers, turn on our TVs, look at our lives, and see daily evidence of death’s power. We have good reason to believe so many evil, hurtful, oppressive things can’t be changed.

But these women saw the same world. They left that empty tomb just as threatened by existence, by the authorities, by death, as when they came. All the disciples, as they came to believe in Christ’s resurrection, faced the same world we do. Where it seems death is in control.

But this is what they knew, and it couldn’t be taken from them: Christ is alive, and God’s life is flowing through the world, and death and evil and hatred and violence and war and oppression and abuse have no ultimate power.

They walked in a dark, frightening world, too. But they could see in the dark. They saw God’s life and light and love shining everywhere, and they knew they couldn’t be stopped.

Here’s our good news: we can see in the dark, too.

Paul tells us we have been raised with Christ. In our baptism we became part of Christ’s risen body in the world that spans 2,000 years and embraces the world in love. But Paul says our risen life in Christ is hidden with Christ in God. The life and light and love of God that is changing the world, the life and light and love of God that were planted in us at baptism, all this is hidden with Christ in the life of the Triune God.

So we don’t always see it. We sometimes fear it might be gone. But Christ is risen, and our own risen life is always with Christ in God. If we’re in the dark, afraid, alone, struggling with our evil, overwhelmed by some power, and think “no life will break this,” we can remember our risen life is always there, hidden with Christ in God. Always moving, always working. Not always visible.

And then we start to see in the dark. We find the path ahead, step by step. We find hope when we only saw despair. We find love growing out of the ground of hatred. Lives change and are healed. People change and are healed. Systems even change and are healed. Light shines in the darkness, and life arises out of death.

Reality still looks like it did. But our resurrection life is hidden in Christ, and nothing can stop it. Not even death. Not at the end of our lives. And not now, either. Death has no more power over us.

This is why the women left the tomb in fear and joy.

Fear, because the world still looked threatening, death looked to be in charge. But joy came with them, too, because Christ destroyed death’s power to terrify them, lead them to despair. Christ’s life was in them, no matter what they saw.

We walk with them today with Christ eyes that see in the dark. Eyes that see light in the dark. Eyes that see love in the dark. Eyes that see life in the dark. The more we see Christ’s life and light and love change even small things, the more we see Christ. And the more we see our own resurrection life, too. And though the darkness remains, our eyes get stronger and stronger.

It’s not what we expected to find, but it’s wondrous good news. And now we are sent to bear this light into the darkness, this love, this life, so that others, too, can learn to see, and believe.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

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