April 8, 2012
The Rev. Brian C. Taylor
What a mysterious, richly textured story: Three women in a cemetery at dawn, the smell of burial spices in the air, a calm young stranger in a white robe, and the inexplicably empty tomb. The women were struck with amazement, terror, and silence.
The Easter mystery continues. Jesus appeared in a locked room, seemingly having passed through the wall. He ate fish by the lakeside. He walked along a road, talking to friends who didn’t recognize him until he broke bread with them, and then suddenly disappeared.
The stories are nuanced with symbolism and suggestion. As was the custom in religious storytelling back then, details and even events were added to bring depth and urgency to the meaning they were trying to convey. This was before the time when fact and fiction were neatly separated.
As a seminary professor said to our startled class in the first week of our first year, “All we really know is that Jesus attracted a following during his lifetime; was executed as a criminal by the Romans in the usual manner; and that something happened after his death that transformed his followers from a small, confused, fearful band into an electric and unstoppable movement. All the rest - well, there is just no way of knowing for sure.”
I have never doubted that supernatural things do happen in this world. And so I have no problem with believing that that “something” that happened after Jesus’ death could have been very much like what is described in the gospels. But my seminary professor’s point was that the specifics of that “something” are less important than its effect. What matters is that Jesus’ followers experienced him as still alive, within and among them, even more powerfully than during his physical life. And this presence transformed them.
After Easter, there was a supernatural, divine force at work that was beyond the human capacity of the disciples. In the same way, Jesus did not raise himself from the dead inside the tomb. He was raised up by God. The disciples were raised up spiritually as well, by a force both within and beyond them. They didn’t self-actualize. They God-actualized. We call this “grace.”
God’s grace is a force that flows throughout everything, all the time, birthing, dying, renewing, guiding everything towards new forms, new possibilities. This is why there is such a strong link between Easter and springtime, when the earth bursts out of its winter hibernation into color and bugs and green succulence. God’s amazing grace, or the life-force of nature, if you prefer, is a force working invisibly within the dirt and the dry twigs, bubbling up into fresh and tender life.
The whole earth, the whole cosmos pulses with this divine energy of resurrection, and we are an integral part of it. And so we join the whole creation in singing God’s praises, standing in worship before the Source of all. As it says in the great Song of Creation in our Prayer Book,
<em>Glorify the Lord, every shower of rain and fall of dew, all winds and fire and heat.
Winter and summer, give to God your thanks and praise!
O nights and days, O shining light and enfolding dark,
O springs of water, seas, and streams,
O whales and all that move in the waters,
All birds of the air and beasts of the wild,
O women and men everywhere, glorify the Lord!</em>
Jesus’ resurrection is but one occurrence of what is taking place everywhere, all the time. As the entire creation births and dies and renews and evolves, it is a living song of praise to our Creator. And we humans, gifted with self-awareness, are privileged to see this, to know it, and to marvel in this energy of life, this grace, that infuses and directs the whole show.
But don’t stop here. There is more to resurrection than worship and praise. It becomes personal, if we let it, if we seek it out. For this same force of life, this transforming grace, is available to us. When we are at our lowest - when we can do no more, like Jesus lying in the tomb, unable to resurrect himself - when we surrender and open our hearts to some other possibility within and beyond us, it creeps in. When we’re not looking, we find ourselves affected.
In the midst of a serious illness, a spaciousness and trust can appear, and we know that no matter what happens, we shall be well. An empty, blank time of gestation gives birth to new interest and vigor. After the disappointment of a closed door, we turn and see another one open to a vista we had never considered before. A failed marriage can make one like the winter earth - cold, hard, and lifeless; but then spring comes, making life fruitful again. Parts of oneself sprout up that were long-forgotten, or never even known before.
The point of a life of prayer, the point of faith, is to face intentionally into this renewing grace in trust and hope, waiting like a cat in front of a mouse-hole. God will appear, and we will be ready. Without specific expectations, we are nevertheless expectant. When grace stirs within our tomb, we do what we can to cooperate with it, and in its power, we rise and become new people.
But don’t stop here, either. There is yet even more to resurrection than personal transformation. We are empowered by this same life-force of grace to be resurrectors with God. We are invited into God’s glorious work of raising up the world around us. We are co-creators of the kingdom of God on earth.
It’s tempting to think of the world as going to hell in a hand-basket. In a world of nearly 7 billion souls, we hear the endlessly repeated story of one murderous soldier, one paranoid vigilante, and we shake our heads saying “What is this world coming to?” The most pressing problems seem unsolvable - global warming, population growth, healthcare, economic crises, deadlock between political parties. And we despair, becoming cynical.
And yet, here’s an interesting thing that doesn’t sell air time on the nightly news. Compared to 50 years ago, far more countries are democracies, now free from oppressive dictatorships. In the same period of time, the rate of poverty has dramatically lowered around the globe, with a huge rise in the middle class. The number of women who are now educated is much higher than any time in history. And the number of deaths from the violence of war is far lower than generations before.
How did all this happen? And how have we moved beyond slavery, segregation, and inevitably, homophobia? It has happened because people like you and me have participated with God in the resurrection of the world. We can’t help it. We are made in the image of our Creator, stamped with God’s own character. And so we, too, are resurrectors, never ceasing to breathe life into those places where there seems to be only death.
You give to a charity and people are fed and vaccines distributed. You work in a profession that searches out effective ways of improving the lives of the most vulnerable among us. You vote, and occasionally help people get elected who inch this resistant state and country forward into new life. You may be creative, bringing beauty and truth that enlivens those who see or hear what you do.
All of us are made in the image of God. We are filled with the same life-force that fills the universe, the same grace that enters your own dark places. And it is our responsibility to use this power. We are gifted with this precious life in order to give life to others. We are born to resurrect the world where it lies dormant, broken, or lifeless.
We are vehicles of God’s grace - of that power that is within and beyond us, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, the same power that transforms our personal lives, the power of springtime. When we open our hearts to the needs of the world around us, when we call upon this grace, and when we join together and act, this grace multiplies exponentially. And the world is made new.
Today is a special feast day, obviously. But it is like any other day. Every day is filled with grace and glory. So take Easter forth from this place. Allow yourself to be made new, and help God to resurrect the world.