Today is Easter—and thank God it is. Thank God it is because it has been a long season of Lent, of wilderness wandering. But even more so than just the season—of which it is supposed to be a long wilderness wandering of introspection and repentance—thank God today is Easter because it has been another hard week.
Belgium. Terrorists. Fear. Hatred. Judgment. Threats. Political diatribes reaching new lows. Flooding. Spring snow storms. I could go on.
During a week that is supposed to be tough, but still draws us ever closer to life—all that has happened just makes us want to once again throw up our hands and say, “We’re all gonna die.” And that’s sad. And hard. Because today we are supposed to be throwing up our hands, yes, but instead, shouting, “Halleluiah! He lives!!”
It’s as if we have had a week—or even months of “Good Fridays”, and it all can make us want to jump ship from this life raft we call Earth and go somewhere far, far away from all that has made this week so hard. We are left wanting a whole new world—after all that’s what we were promised; and that’s what we were assured on that first Easter morn. So where is it? Where is this new world we were told about!? Because it sure seems that God sold us a bill of goods and Jesus didn’t come through on his promises.
To look at this week, to look at pretty much any week lately—or even not so lately—we are left wanting desperately the whole new world we were promised. And while it seems that God hasn’t done much about making such so, at least the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has.
For as long as humans have been looking at the stars, we’ve wondered if there’s life on distant planets. And for a long time NASA has been looking for whole new worlds.
With new technology like the Kepler Space Telescope, astronomers have been looking deeper into space for potentially habitable, life-sustaining, planets like our own, and recently, they found one. It’s only about 500 light years away—and seeing as light travels roughly six trillion miles in one year, and given the state of affairs on our planet—that might just be far enough. NASA has named the planet Kepler-186F, and its discovery is “a significant step toward finding worlds like our planet Earth,” says Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division.
Kepler 186-F is in what scientists call the “habitable zone” which is relational to its closest star, or about the right distance to sustain life as we know it without frying or freezing it. Although the planet is about the size of Earth, its mass and composition aren’t known, and little has been learned about its atmosphere, however, previous research leads experts to believe that the surface is rocky, just like every other planetary body we know about, except Earth, whose surface area is 71 percent water— the basic building block of life.
Like with most of these discoveries, scientists don’t yet know if Kepler 186-F is suitable for life. So the reality is, the chances for life on Kepler 186-F is very slim, and so we keep looking for life among the stones and craters of distant worlds—because looking for life amongst dead rubble is kind of what we do.
Unlike scientists who are always hoping for new discoveries, the women who came to the tomb early on that first Easter Sunday morning had no illusions that they would find any life. They had seen death before, had returned to the tombs many times, and always they found the same thing because those who were laid among those rocks were always cold and lifeless—dead. To borrow a term from NASA, where these women were, was not a “habitable zone.”
That’s why they came with spices that morning. You didn’t bring those kinds of spices they had unless you were expecting to find death amid the stones. That morning they came to anoint the body of the one whom they had hoped would bring new life to a world desperately looking for it.
When Jesus of Nazareth had been alive, his followers felt like anything was possible. They had seen people healed from disease, had seen demons cast out with his word, and had even seen the dead brought back to life. They had heard him talk about the kingdom of God, which sounded to them like a whole new world, sustaining a different kind of life than the one they were used to. A world where the first become last and the last first; a world where violence and pain are no more; a world where brokenness is made whole and sins are forgiven; a world where everything is made new.
And this was not some distant world light years away—in fact, Jesus said that this alien sounding world was already here; breaking in among them through his own life and ministry. But now, that life had been cut short. Jesus had been nailed to a Roman cross as a criminal, a revolutionary who had threatened the world as those in power knew it. He had talked as if he was from somewhere else, not from this world, and his authority and wisdom seemed to be otherworldly. At the same time, however, he was fully human—fully like them…like us.
These women, like so many others, had their view of the world changed by this one. But now Jesus was dead. He was dead, and suddenly it all was back to how it used to be, and all that was left to do was the familiar burial work of the old world because they were certain of what they’d find when they arrived at the tomb that first Easter morn—they were certain they would not find signs of life among the stones, rocks and tombs.
When they arrived, however, spices in hand, they found that the stone covering the tomb had been rolled away. The lifeless body they expected to find inside was gone. What they did find, however, were “two men in dazzling white clothes” standing beside them, a sight so unexpected that the women turned their terrified faces to the ground, until finally they heard, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen!”
They had expected to find the same old thing— the dead among the dead, the stones undisturbed and yielding nothing but cold, dry, geophysical reality. What they discovered, instead, was life: the promise of the real, abundant, eternal life the world has always been looking for. Why do you seek the living among the dead? The empty tomb is itself, a sign of life. That it once harbored death but now is empty shows that a whole new world has been found! When Jesus rose from the dead and left the tomb, it signaled the ultimate defeat of death itself and, with it, the sin that caused it in the first place. God has left the tomb and the empty tomb sends us into a whole new world.
When Jesus left the tomb, we were assured that the kingdom of God is not a distant world but the reality of what happens when heaven and earth come together, renewing both— it is the reality we pray for when we say, “on earth as it is in Heaven.” When God left the tomb it signaled the beginning of a new creation, a new world. That’s what we have been called to believe. But today, this week, and other weeks, have made it hard to believe.
For this Lenten season we have been looking at and considering the film “When God Left The Building”—a pointed and convicting documentary about the church that is becoming, in a lot of ways, cold and lifeless and dead.
Now I have said it repeatedly, but want to say it again— I don’t think for a second that First Christian of Stow is such a church. Nor do I think that we are not doing good ministry. I believe we are. Myself and the Elders wanted all of us to see this film because of its truth—of “looking not at the past but at the future” as Thom Schultz writer of the documentary says when walking through a church that has closed—a scene in which we have tried to demonstrate with the display in the Gathering Area.
For many the Church has become a place of a cold, lifeless reality—the dead among the dead. And it’s hard to argue with those who feel such because too often the Church has been either inwardly focused or outwardly judgmental. Too often the church has forgotten or failed to feed the hungry, bless the poor, come to the aid of the oppressed, work for peace and justice, stand against sexism, racism, homophobia, and islamophobia. Too often the church has been a cold, lifeless, and dead body, because too often we forget, we fail to remember, that when God left the tomb everything changed. It is time to remember. And it is time for us to leave—not this world—it’s time for us to leave the tomb as well, and share the love that sent Jesus to the cross, and raised him from the dead. And we as a church, in the coming weeks, are going to talk about how we will do just that in new ways.
Today is Easter—and thank God it is.
Thank God today is Easter because not only do we get to remember clearly that God left the tomb, we get to live out—actively and vibrantly in this new world— the fact that God left the tomb. But, for this world to be discovered by the rest of the world, followers of Christ must engage the world, resist evil, serve the hurting, transform hatred and rage and fear of neighbor, and never ignore the hurting places by fixing our eyes on some distant, non-existent, unreachable, world. The world we want, the world we long for, the world we need, the world we search for is here, now, today. All because God left the tomb.
So let us, in the midst of the rocks and rubble—let us discover this world again, anew—for ourselves. Let us seek to show this world, and help others discover it anew too, through our word, our actions, our lives. Let us…like Jesus… leave the tomb and come to new life in this world.
Today is Easter—and thank God it is. Amen.
Pastoral Prayer, March 27, 2016, Easter Sunday
God of new life, on Friday the suffering of your Son culminated when nails were driven into his hands and feet and taunting jeers were hurled at his cross imprisoned body. Yet to those who mocked and abhorred him, he only forgave and offered compassion and mercy.
And now today, with the stone rolled away and the tomb found empty, we come to you on this joyous Easter morn, proclaiming to all, “He is risen! Risen indeed!”
The resurrection resounds in our community of faith, as out of death comes life, out of dimness comes light, and out of despair, hope. Because of this day, we know that everything changes.
In fact, your child Paul has said that Jesus’ resurrection was the “first fruits” of what will happen to us in this new world. We are now renewed people in a renewed heaven and earth where you dwell with us and make us whole.
No longer do we have to look for life “out there” because new life has come here and, indeed, is available for us right now.
The One who was dead is now alive, and, because he lives, we, too, can live without peering longingly into the distant universe, for today we have the light of life that makes all things new!
But we must ask that you make it that we don’t forget this Good News, which we fully admit we tend to do, and often quickly.
May you keep us ever mindful that as those who follow the living Christ, we are called to see life where others see death. We are called to show that the world is not a cold, lifeless, rocky place, but a world with a hope and future.
So make us steadfast, immovable, and always excelling in such work O God.
Make it that we know, always, that because of today, because your son left the tomb, we too are called to go forth and live as those who are fully aware that by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, we have been set free, that the new world you have promised has become a reality, and that it is now our call to make it visible.
We ask that you would hear now the prayers that come from our hearts, as we offer them in this time of Holy Silence.
All this we pray in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ, who taught us to pray saying, “Our…”