If the resurrection happened, if both Marys, and the disciples, and the whole lot of them were telling the truth - that Jesus our friend and brother lives – then death has no permanent power over us.
While we do suffer and die, death will not be able to hold us – for God has chosen a path of life and freedom for Jesus, and through Jesus, for the whole world.
In other words, death will not have the last word.
The Iraq war will not be the last world. The AIDS crisis the Africa will not be the last word. The atrocities in Sudan will not have the last word.
Your cancer will not have the last word. Your failed marriage will not have the last word. Your grief will not have the last word. That bottle will not have the last word.
Jesus’ resurrection will have the last word.
How do we grasp the truth of that?
One small child asked another, “Aren’t you afraid to walk through the cemetery on your way home?”
“No,” the other replied, “I simply cross it to get home.”
Death is like that. You can still be afraid – and we are all often afraid – but death and the grave is not the final destination for us. Home is.
The 2 Marys knew all about this. These two women, along with the other women who followed Jesus were the only of his disciples not to scatter when Jesus was arrested. They stayed with him through the flogging. They watched in a horrified stupor as Jesus was nailed to the cross. They hung their heads in grief when Jesus hung his in death. They washed his body. They placed it in the tomb.
They saw through tear-stained eyes that God does not make the crucifixion disappear. The resurrection is not simply a show of God’s power and wonder and majesty. They saw that Jesus wasn’t simply raised with an earthquake, bright lights, with a burst of the halleluiah chorus, to wow us with God’s ultimate cosmic power. God wasn’t looking for the Oscar for best special effects.
Instead, Jesus was raised without anyone watching. The 2 Mary’s didn’t see it. The big news isn’t the special effects, the awesome power of God. The big news is that the tomb was empty. Probably the most subtle miracle in the bible.
Crucifixion – suffering – isn’t explained away, done away with – instead it’s left there to trouble us. Jesus rose from the dead but his wounds didn’t disappear.
We given instead the gift of hope – yes, there will be death, but there will be new life. Why not the big gift right here, right now, the one where God deletes it from the human experience? I don’t know. We’re not told.
But life cannot be found in a grave yard, and there is no life in an empty tomb. Like the 2 Mary’s at the tomb, we do not need to walk through the cemeteries looking for life – instead we can find Life all around us.
What does this look like, Life all around us?
Well, it doesn’t mean that all is sweetness and light, but there is a sweetness to life, and a gentle beauty and hope that is present and always coming to birth.
Her art is full of astonishingly joyful scenes, brightly coloured, of her life and the people around her; scenes of life on the water, farm life, of oxen, of child playing beside the railroad tracks, a drive in the country. Her artwork has excellent compositional form and line, despite her crippled up body and scrunched up hands due to a bout with polio as a child. She lived in a tiny one-room house – about the size of my office - with no electricity or running water. She was poor, even by fishing village standards.
Yet, despite these difficulties, Nova Scotian folk artist Maude Lewis graced the world with the gift of her art. Her pieces are burst with the joy of life: “just to be alive is a blessing. Just to live is holy.”
They hadn’t said a civil word to each other in weeks. Each grunt, each snore, the way she picked at her food, the way he didn’t really take her needs seriously, all pointed in one direction: divorce. Early one evening after a typically tense and silent dinner, she was doing the dishes and he was taking out the trash. They caught a glance of each other in the corners of their eyes, smiled, and asked each other what happened to the fulfilling, joy-drenched relationship they once shared. They put the kids to bed and stayed up all night talking, for the first time in months if not years, and over a glass of wine, they shared the concerns of their hearts, their pains, their frustrations, with an honesty that hadn’t been felt since before they were married. They prayed. They cried. Little by little a new relationship sprouted. They knew the future was going to be hard work, but now they were ready to fight for their marriage. Their crucifixion had not disappeared, but together, their marriage found New Life.
She survived, terribly scarred, but her brothers did not. You probably know her picture more than her name. Phan Thi Kim Phuc is the woman whose picture came to represent the horrors of the Vietnam war: a 9 year old victim running naked through the streets, her clothes burned off by napalm.
Vietnam veteran pilot John Plummer had been part of the bombing raid on the village of Trang Bang in 1972. He since became a Methodist minister, but the horrors of what he did during the war did not leave him.
In 1997, Kim Phuc was asked to speak at the Vietnam Memorial on Veteran’s Day. Unaware that John Plummer was in the crowd, Kim spoke and said that if she met the pilot who bombed their village she would tell him that she forgave him; for they could not change the past, but they hoped they could work together to build the future.
Hesitatingly, John Plummer approached her after her speech. He writes about their meeting, “She saw my grief, my pain, and my sorrow. She held out her arms to me and embraced me. All I could say was ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry.’ over and over again. At the same time she was saying, ‘It’s all right, it’s all right; I forgive, I forgive.”
Eventually, they spent more time together, and as a Christian herself, she invited Plummer to join with her in a joint ministry.
Their reconciliation didn’t make Kim’s crucifixion disappear – but Life was present.
We are given a resurrection hope. We are a resurrection people. Not just a people who believe in the resurrection, but a resurrection people.
In the words of poet Denise Levertov:
We have only begun to love the earth.
We have only begun to imagine the fullness of life.
How could we tire of hope?
So much is in bud. How can desire fail?
We have only just begun to imagine justice and mercy,
Only begun to envision how it might be to live as siblings with beast and flower,
Not as oppressors…There is too much broken that must be mended,
Too much hurt we have done to each other that cannot yet be forgiven.
We have only begun to know the power that is in us if we would join our solitudes in the communion of struggle.
So much is unfolding that must complete its gesture,
So much is in bud.
That’s the gift of Easter – life in the bud and the promise that it will bloom to the full. Jesus’ resurrection gives us back to ourselves: claimed by God’s love, promised new and everlasting life, blessed with forgiveness, we are given back to the world and to each other, free from death, free from fear. We have been re-born as a resurrection people. That is our news – our good news – so today we rejoice, because Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen, indeed! Alleluia! Amen!