April 17, Easter
Scripture: Luke 24:1-12
I have to say that I don’t get why Luke, the author of the gospel with the most words of the four, devotes only a little over 1% of those words to describe the most important event in the whole book – the resurrection of Jesus!
I have so many questions! Who were these women, that at dawn on the first day of the week, went to treat the body of Jesus with spices? And what were they thinking?
They prepare, get together, walk to the tomb where they saw them put the body of Jesus, roll a stone over it and when they get there, the stone (huge size) is rolled away and there’s nobody in there and all they are is PERPLEXED or PUZZLED? Really?
And then, when they see two men in dazzling clothes sitting on the place where Jesus’ body should have been, THEN they are terrified! So the men finally say:
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, – and went back to tell the 11 men what they had seen and the men heard it as an “idle tale” that they did not believe.
Who could ever fault them? What would you have been like if it had happened to you? Of all the imaginable things, a dead man moving from one place to another is one of the most bizarre ever! A thousand other scenarios are more likely!
But, what nobody quite gets (then or now) is what it means to stand in the very presence of God in action. What nobody quite gets (then or now) is what is likely to happen in the presence of God! We can anticipate so many different possible scenarios, BUT NOT THIS ONE! In spite of how often we talk about God and in spite of how often we say words about what we believe about God, we still cannot tell what could happen in the very presence of God!
AND YET —, we have spent our whole lives in the presence of God. Why are we still surprised at the wonders of God? How many Springtimes do you have to go through to no longer be surprised? How many births do you have to witness to no longer be surprised by God’s habits? How many rainbows and sunsets and transformed lives and sunrises do you have to see to know that God is in the business of bringing life out of death?
Mary Ann and I walked the Garbry Woods Sanctuary again this Spring as we do every Spring! It is one wonder-filled surprise after another – just like it has been every year! Are we surprised? I don’t know if that’s the word or not! We expect that this year will be just like last, but every foot on the pathway is another moment of wonder as we see the very nature of our God exploding in front of our eyes just like always!
A few years ago now, on one of our visits to LA to see Mary Ann’s family, we made our way up the California coast to the redwood forests. There was something holy about those grand giants. I will never forget, however, the experience of standing by one of those fallen giants which had been alive when Jesus was born and was struck down by lightning. Its diameter was twice my height! You fall silent in its presence as if you are standing in a funeral parlor witnessing the loss of greatness. You sense the great tragedy and finality of death.
And then you begin to notice something. This fallen tree becomes a host to hundreds or even thousands of species of living insects, lichens, and algae. And when it falls, it opens up a huge space for sunlight to come coursing down and providing life-giving energy to any number of trees and plants that would otherwise never experience life and growth! THIS IS A LIVING, CONTINUING DEMONSTRATION OF THE NATURE OF GOD! A God who brings life out of death!
It is no easy place to come to, but it may be possible in your grief over the loss of one giant in your life that in time you can begin to take in the amazing life-giving and life-nurturing space that loss opens up for the world. I never would ever diminish anyone’s grief or assume to tell you that the promise of life out of death is a get-out-of-jail-free card or that it somehow cuts short your time of anguish. But on the other hand, neither would I withhold from you the promise that one day you hopefully can see the stunning growth that arises in the space left by the death of your giant.
Perhaps that is something of what Bill Gaither was trying to say when he penned the words and music to “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.” And that old hymn “He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today. He lives within my heart!”
I’ll be the first to tell you that these truths are a mystery and they are not easy ones to grasp or to embrace. I just know that all around me is the witness to the fact that somehow, beyond my limited mind to comprehend or explain, God’s very nature is to bring life out of death – not one death but every death!
It is the message of Easter. He Lives! And so shall we!