photo © 2007 fester_franz | more info (via: Wylio)
Last Sunday when we were leaving church Karoline, my 5 year old daughter, was walking in front of me, a little too close in front of me. She has this habit of walking right in front of me, and it's sort of cute and sort of annoying. I try to remember it's cute when I'm feeling mostly annoyed by it. It's like she wants to be independent and walk not right next to me, but at the same time there's some kind of tether that pulls her to walk closer because she also doesn't want to get too far. She ends up walking right in front of me, criss-crossing across my path really just about 3/4 of a step in front of me. See the annoying part?
Well, she was doing it last Sunday as we were walking across the parking lot of the church to our car, but not only was she walking annoying closely in front of me, she was also bopping her head up and down, starting and stopping, and generally just driving me nuts with it. With the baby in my arms and simply trying not to fall over her, the cute part had definitely left a while ago. I begged her to stop and just walk when she told me, "But we have two heads! I want us to just have one head!”
Uhhhhh…what? I didn’t get it. “We have one body, but two heads!!!” she insisted, pointing to the parking lot pavement in front of us. She was right. On our combined shadow in front of us we had one body, as my shadow engulfed hers, but we had two heads. “I want to hide my shadow in yours,” she said.
I wonder if that’s what the women were trying to do when they went to the tomb early in the morning on the day after the Sabbath. It wouldn’t have been right for them to go any earlier. They couldn’t travel, especially not to the place where the dead are buried, on the Sabbath. But as soon as there was light on the next day, they made their way to the tomb, not in Matthew’s gospel to take care of his body, but just to see, to know with their own eyes, their own minds, their own experiences where Jesus’ body lay, just to lose themselves in him.
But on the way there, the earth shook, the stone rolled, and everything in the world, everything they had ever known or believed or trusted was changed. “He is not here; for he has been raised,” they were told by the angel they saw instead of Jesus. “He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” Go, the angel told the women. Go and tell the rest of the disciples. Go, all of you, to Galilee and be with him. Hide your shadow in his.
Eugene Peterson, a Presbyterian pastor and author of the Bible version called The Message, likes to tell how this passage, these words from the angel, helped him get over his anxiety whenever he was thrust into a difficult situation. It reminded him that no matter how fast he could get to the hospital when word came that a church member was ill, Christ was already there. When I worked as a chaplain in an Atlanta hospital we talked about how even as ministers it wasn’t up to us to bring God into a patient’s room. God was already there. Our job was just to seek where God was already working in the room and join God in the ministry taking place.
Jesus went ahead of them to Galilee. He was alive and already there. They just had to join him. They just had to find him, what he was doing, and hide themselves in him.
This is what Easter is about. Or at least this is what the resurrection is about according to Paul’s letter to the Colossians, and the resurrection is what Easter is about. We all know it’s not about bunnies and eggs and chocolate and jelly beans, although, who was sad to get any of those this morning? We know that Easter isn’t about all of those things, and we probably even know it’s about the resurrection, but then that’s where we get tripped up sometimes.
We get caught up in thinking that the resurrection is a story to believe (or even disbelieve). We get caught up in trying to work out the historical details, so that we can know what really did (or didn’t) happen. We debate whether it was physical or spiritual, whether it was literal or metaphorical. We get stuck in the details of the resurrection event itself, of Easter day itself, and completely forget or never even realize that even more than one event on one day, the resurrection is about life.
It is about a life-altering, transformative way of life. It’s not just something that happened to Jesus. According to Matthew’s telling, according to Paul’s letter, it’s a whole new way of being, a way of being with Jesus who is alive and in the world and calling us to join him. Resurrection is for us even today!
When we gathered for worship with First Baptist Church on Good Friday the scriptures we heard and the word I was called to preach reminded us that in Jesus of Nazareth God became human. Willingly and loving, Jesus emptied himself, gave up some of what it meant to be God to also be human. He submitted himself to the limitations of our life even to the point of death, death on a cross. By joining us on earth, by taking on our flesh and living our bodily life, Jesus joined himself to us.
What Paul tells the Colossians and even tells us is that just as Jesus joined himself to us, made himself more like us and brought us closer to him, by dying like we will die, at the same time he also lifted us up with him when he was raised again to new life. Our lives are tied to his life, so as he died we will die and as he lives again, so do we. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, Jesus’ new life after the grave is our assurance that death does not win, that hope is not lost, that God’s promises are not forgotten. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the fulfillment of the promise that God is still active. God is still here. God will not abandon us, not in the life to come and not in the life we live today.
Yet it doesn’t always seem that way. It’s no secret, and it’s not unfaithful to talk about it. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like God is still here. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like God is transforming life. Sometimes it feels like we have been abandoned. The earth that quaked when Jesus rose from the dead, quakes again, bringing death, distruction, and fear. Bodies that have been well cared for and healthy for years are suddenly stuck with disease and illness. Nations are at odds with nations; innocent people are caught in the middle. Health care is unattainable and those on the margins are left suffering. Human beings are caught in the bondage of slavery, and God’s creation is at the mercy of irresponsible and devastating hands. No, it doesn’t always feel like the resurrection has made any bit of a difference. It doesn’t always feel like anything has changed at all.
And it probably didn’t for the women at the tomb either, or the disciples when they first heard the news. Simply hearing about what had happened wasn’t what they all needed; simply believing it is true doesn’t change the world. They had to step out and do something about what they heard. They had to go and see Jesus, meet him where he was waiting for them in the world. They had to go out and get involved in his resurrection life.
The resurrection becomes real when we set our minds on the things from above, the things that are from God. The resurrection becomes real when look for the signs of new life where God is active in the world and then we join God in that resurrection life. Resurrection life is happening wherever the old is being made new again, wherever people are rebuilding what had been knocked down, wherever vineyards that had been trampled are being replanted. Resurrection life is happening wherever God is bringing life out of death, and THERE we must join in and be a part of Christ’s new life in the world.
Seek the things that are above, Paul writes, where Christ is. Seek out what God desires, what Christ is already doing, where Christ is already going ahead of us. Seek out the places in this world where God is already active, waiting like Jesus waited in Galilee for the disciples to come and join him. Seek out the places in our community where Jesus is blessing others, serving the poor, tending to the sick, bringing comfort to the lonely, and go, hide your life in his. Join his resurrection life bringing hope into a world over-shadowed by death. Join him in revealing God’s glory!
The resurrection isn’t an incident to be remembered, it’s a life to be lived.