Isaiah 65:17-25; Psalm 118:1-2,14-24; 1 Cor. 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12
If you’re a parent, maybe you remember a time when you took your kids on a long trip—maybe a vacation, maybe a family visit. There might have been a time once, or even many times, when the child said, “Are we there yet?” Or, maybe you were the child who asked the question: “Are we there yet?”
On this Easter Sunday we hear this promise from the prophet Isaiah:
I am about to create new heavens & a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad & rejoice forever in what I am creating; [My people] shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; The wolf & the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
What do you think– Are we there yet? Is our world a place where the wolf & the lamb feed together, & the lion eats straw like the ox? No, not yet—we’re not there yet! We do not live in such a world.
Newspaper headlines & our own experience remind us that we’re not there yet. Violence, mistrust, fear & despair remind us that we’re not there yet. The events of Holy Week remind us that we’re not there yet.
What stories in your own life remind you that we’re not there yet? Where in your life does it still seem like Good Friday?
The new thing that God has promised to do in & through us is not complete. It’s not clear. Even in the Easter story itself we discover that not all questions are answered. When the women went into the tomb, Luke tells us, they found no body & were perplexed about this. And then they find two men in dazzling clothes. Luke writes that the women were terrified. Well, how would you have felt? But they told their story to Jesus’ friends, whom Luke reports considered this an “idle tale”—in other words, they expressed disbelief. And listen to how today’s Easter story ends: Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
Did Peter have it all figured out? Perplexed. Terrified. Amazed. Disbelief. These words that Luke uses describe a normal human response. When we expect death but find signs of resurrection, we are likely to experience these feelings. Even when we think we know what to expect, what actually happens takes us so completely off guard that “perplexed, terrified, amazed, unbelieving” at first are likely to be our only response.
When has your experience of God caught you off guard? When in your life have you felt amazed & even unbelieving in response to signs of new life?
I had such an experience just this past week. I heard a resurrection story.
I have a pastor friend who is gay. He & his partner traveled to the Middle East last year on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Their travel group went first to Egypt. Later, they traveled to Israel where they joined another group, a conservative group of Baptists & evangelicals.
Now, over the course of the trip it began to dawn on at least some of the travelers that my friend & his partner were a couple.
One day, the whole group arrived at the Jordan River. The plan was that anyone who wanted to would participate in a re-enactment of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, which is what many pilgrim groups do. Those who were to do the baptism were Baptist pastors.
When my friend approached the water to be baptized the pastor said, “Um, I can’t baptize you because…you’re not from my tradition.” It was an awkward moment because it was clear that the real reason was because my friend is gay. As my friend put it, he was “censored” from being baptized.
Later in the trip, the group arrived at the Garden of Gethsemane, where they planned to celebrate Holy Communion. And there, that same Baptist pastor who had denied my friend baptism approached him & said: I don’t do inclusion well. I need your help. Three other pastors in the group approached him & apologized for excluding them.
What possible human responses might there be to such a story? Perplexing? Terrifying? Amazing? Unbelievable? Certainly—unexpected. (On the other hand, it is the Holy Land, a place where miracles happen!) In that moment of repentance, there was a glimpse of God’s kingdom, a hint of Isaiah’s vision: the wolf & the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The gay & the straight shall celebrate communion together as equals.
What would our churches look like if we followed the example of those conservative pastors in the story? What if, to those who have traditionally been discriminated against & excluded, we said, We don’t do inclusion well. We need your help. Would our numbers be small? Would our people be frightened? Yes, at first—like those first disciples, small in number, & frightened. At first.
Are we there yet? Has the kingdom of God come to earth in all its glory yet? No. Has Easter answered all our questions & erased all doubts? No. And yet, in the Easter story we catch glimpses of God’s Kingdom. In the Easter stories of the weeks ahead, we catch more glimpses. And encouraged by these stories, we look for glimpses in our own lives. We look for signs of God’s power & activity, a new heaven & a new earth.
Chances are good that where God is at work, we will feel perplexed, terrified, amazed that human expectations today don’t match the reality of God’s new world, any more than they did at Jesus’ resurrection. Like those early disciples who at first found the women’s story of Jesus’ resurrection impossible to believe–we might gradually discover that by God’s amazing grace our hearts & our minds are being transformed. It’s not just Jesus who is resurrected. We may find that we ourselves—the Body of Christ–have died, & are being raised to new life.
May God’s love tempt you away from what seems certain. May God give you courage to be still enough to listen to what might seem like “idle tales.” May the Holy Spirit fill you with amazement at the new thing that God is doing in & through you. May that amazement eventually give way to a confidence in what is life-giving & new, & may that confidence bless you with the joy of resurrection.