John’s Easter story begins, “While it was still dark Magdalene came to Jesus’ tomb.” Do you think Magdalene made her way while stars still filled the night sky? When did you last stand far enough away from electric lights to see the Milky Way’s star-dusty tail? Thousands of years ago, Abraham and Sarah gazed at that star filled sky. Looking up, they heard God whisper, “count the stars.” Maybe Sarah laughed with playful banter at God’s impossible command, “one, two thousand, three trillion.” Pondering the infinite light, God beckoned them on an adventure, “Leave this land, your kinfolks, your hometown and go to a place I will show you (only once you start to travel). Do not be afraid, just go and the blessings will be like these stars in the heavens.” (adapted Genesis 12, 15, 17) The Biblical story is one of restarting, restoring, and resurrecting lives.
Consider Moses, a fugitive turned farmer, who while looking for a lost sheep saw smoke on the mountain. Moses turned aside and saw God’s presence within a burning bush that somehow remained unharmed- smoke, crackling flames, and still green leaves. Taking off his sandals, Moses felt the holy ground under his feet as God called, “Moses, Moses, I’ve seen my people oppressed in Egypt. I’ve heard the cry of injustice. I know about their pain. I have come down to save them. So, get going. I’m sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of slavery.” The Biblical story has always been one of releasing bonds, restoring dignity, and resurrecting lives.
In 587 BC, Nebuchadnezzar knocked over Jerusalem’s walls, pillaged David’s palace, and desecrated Solomon’s temple leaving the holy city a smoldering wreck. The Babylonians took promising young people back east as slaves. Amid the devastation and grief, Isaiah prophesied resurrection, “But now, says the Lord — the one who created you, don’t fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine I will be with you; when you walk through this fire, you won’t be scorched. You are precious, honored, and I love you. Don’t fear, I am with you. From the east, west, north, and south, I’ll bring you home. Don’t dwell in the way things were; don’t ponder ancient history. Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up (from the stump); don’t you recognize it? I AM making a way.” The Biblical story has always been one of rebuilding dreams, restoring hope, and resurrecting deadened spirits.
God is always redeeming, reconciling, restoring, reviving, restarting, rebuilding, and resurrecting. Love always heals, restores, and brings life. God’s nature is resurrection.
Last weekend, I walked down our rough old farm lane. Daffodils line the lane from the old bean patch to the abandoned home site. The welded wire fence that once defended the yard from cows and critters has succumbed to rust and honeysuckle, leaving only a few valiant cedar posts as sentinels. The lilies, buttercups, and hyacinths my grandparents planted 75 years ago come back each spring. They advance their flowery pink and purple line, despite the many Kroger sacks of bulbs we grandchildren have carried off to beautify our own yards. God always regrows, restores, and recreates. God’s very nature is resurrection.
Jesus’ whole life comes to us as a resurrection song. Heaven came down to earth to heal the sick, feed the hungry, seek the lost, welcome the strange ones, teach peace, resist injustice, and create a kin-dom on earth full of the faith, hope, and love that fills heaven. Love always restores, rebuilds, reconciles. Love’s very nature is resurrection and life.
On Easter morning, while it was still dark Mary, Magdalene, Joanna, and Salome came to the tomb. These female followers came like priests carrying a spice offering for all of us. Luke tells us that by sunset on Good Friday the whole crowd understood the injustice of Jesus’ crucifixion and went home wailing and beating their breasts. Magdalene, Mary, and the others come not only to grieve but also in a small way undo a cosmic injustice. Amid their grief, and even rage, they choose to embody restoration, solidarity, and love. Whenever we place flowers, candles, portraits, or protest signs around makeshift memorials, we proclaim solidarity and hope for our resurrection into a better world.
Arriving at the tomb, they saw an angel, whose face was like lightning and whose clothes shone as white as snow. The guards were so terrified of God’s shimmering presence they shook with fear and fell over as if dead. Perhaps we should not miss that God’s Easter messenger paralyzed these defenders of systemic injustice, oppression, and capital punishment. But let us also remember that on Good Friday it is a Roman guard who declared, “The Crucified One as God’s child.”
God’s shimmering messenger proclaims, “Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. Jesus isn’t here; Christ has been raised from the dead, just as Jesus said. Now, come, see the place where they laid Christ’s body. Now hurry, go and tell the disciples, ‘Christ has been raised from the dead. Christ is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see Jesus there.’”
“Christ is going ahead of you” might be my favorite Easter promise. Jesus is already well ahead of us. God is not behind us, but ahead of us leading. We follow Jesus. We try to catch the Spirit. Indeed, we may not even see Jesus until we get moving. Easter’s promise that Christ is going on ahead of us resonates with God’s word to Abraham and Sarah, “Do not be afraid to leave here and to go to the place I will show you.” What will the post pandemic church, post schism denomination, post break-up relationship, or post-graduation life look like? Who knows? Do not be afraid to move on to the place God is showing you. You will see Jesus there. Carry those spices, serve one more time, do the right thing, lean into grace, catch the Spirit! Follow those holy whispers trusting that we will catch up with the Risen Christ. Do you hear Easter’s promise in God’s message to Moses? “Do not be afraid, I will be with you, I have heard the cries of injustice, I have come down to save my people, so get going, liberate my people. Stand before Pharaoh. Speak up and out. I will guide you.” Do you hear Easter’s melody in Isaiah’s song to the captives, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine I will be with you. Don’t fear, I am with you. From the east, west, north, and south, I’ll bring you home.… Don’t dwell in the way things were. Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up. I am making a way.” God always restores, rebuilds, reconciles. Love’s work is resurrection and life.
So, with great fear and excitement, the recently ordained Easter preachers hurried away from the tomb and ran to tell Jesus’ scattered disciples. But Jesus met Mary and Magdalene and greeted them. They fell on Jesus’ feet grabbing hold of him and worshiped. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Go and tell my family that I am going into Galilee. They will see me there.” They held onto the holy moment. God’s Love comes to us within the human touch. God embraces, accepts and holds us.
On this Easter 2022, the first Easter really back in this sanctuary for some of us, we rejoice with great excitement. Grab hold of the holy moments- savor them. See the flowers, hear the music, embrace one another, but let us not not miss Easter’s deeper message. “Don’t be afraid, Jesus is going ahead of you… You will see Christ out there ahead.” Jesus is always out ahead of the church, pulling us along. (Matthew 23) Remember, Christ comes to Saul along the Damascus Road changing his path. Remember how Christ speaks to Peter as Peter enters Cornelius’ house, dropping the old judgy rules to accept Cornelius as a sibling in Christ. Sometimes the Spirit must pull the church along for centuries before we catch up and see Jesus clearly. In 1956, the Methodist church finally progressed beyond the literalism of 1 Timothy 2 and recognized women as full clergy members. Jesus and a lighting faced angel had ordained them as preachers on that first Easter, “Now hurry, go and tell the disciples, ‘Christ has been raised from the dead. And is going ahead of you’” Let us not grow weary when the church lags behind Jesus nor forget that the Spirit is still speaking. Christ is going on ahead of us!
Oh, friends, I do not know what you are looking for this Easter. Maybe you are empty, angry, or crushed under a crucifixion. Hear the Good News: Love is always rebuilding, realigning, reconciling, restoring, reviving, and resurrecting life from death. God brings resurrection and new life. Don’t be afraid. Christ has been raised from the dead. Christ is going on ahead of us; you will see Jesus along the way. Do not be afraid to leave the places of death even when you can’t see exactly where you are going; God will be with you. And do not be afraid to face down Pharoah; God will give you the words and strength. Do not be afraid; Get going-Christ is already ahead of us.
Love’s nature is to bring life from death. Rejoice! Christ is risen; Christ is risen indeed! Hold onto the holy moments around you, but then get going because Christ is already ahead of us. Do not be afraid. God is with us. Amen.