Inspired by Luke 24:1-12
It’s been quite a week! If you have journeyed with us through the events of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, to Easter, you have been inundated with images, metaphors, sounds, smells, tastes, feelings; all of which help to tell the old story which brings us here today. It has been quite a week, a very holy week. However, only one of those things that we have experienced this past week is necessary for today. We could take out Maundy Thursday with its Last Supper, foot washing, and stripping of the altar, and still come today and experience Easter. We could take out the darkness of Good Friday and campfire and candles at the Vigil of Easter and still come today and experience Easter. What we can’t do away with is the crucifixion, the death of Christ.
It is unrealistic to eliminate death and still expect resurrection. If there is one thing that I am going to continue to hammer out as pastor of this church, it is this pairing of death and resurrection, and how we live that out as followers of Christ, on this side of the empty tomb. We Christians have a tendency to put the cross behind us and the empty tomb in front of us. We call ourselves Easter people, right? And I get the sentiment but the reality is that if we are going to take the Easter Resurrection seriously, then we have to take Good Friday’s death seriously. Rather than just being Easter people, we are people of death and resurrection. Both the cross and the empty tomb are in front of us.
So what does that mean for our everyday lives. Well, it’s simple really. It can be boiled down to a question. What needs to die in order for new life come? You can personalize this question by asking what needs to die in me in order for new life to come to me? Or, a more communal question would be to ask, what needs to die in us, for new life to come to us? We see this in our Gospel story that I read a moment ago. Something needed to die in that group of women at the tomb, in order for them to come to the realization that Christ had indeed risen, in order for them to experience the resurrection in order for them to experience new life. What might that have been? We can only speculate.
Maybe it was the despair that they had allowed to seep into their soul. They came to that tomb looking for death, and because they were looking for death that is exactly what they found! An empty tomb that led them to hopelessness and despair; until, they were reminded of the Jesus words that they had forgotten. How do you forget someone telling you that they are going to rise from the dead! Grief, is a powerful force to be reckoned with, as I’m sure many of you know. And how about the men! The apostles who dismissed the women’s report of what they had seen! What needed to die in them in order for them to experience the resurrection of Easter? We can only speculate.
Was it their deep seeded misogyny, having been raised in a male-dominated society that taught them that women had nothing to contribute, especially to their spiritual lives? Was it their doubts or their outright unbelief in Jesus words? Notice it doesn’t say that they forgot what Jesus said rising after three days! What needed to die in them in order for them to experience the resurrection, in order for new life to come to them? We can only speculate about them. But, what about when it comes to ourselves? How honest are we with ourselves when we ask, What needs to die in order for new life to come?
It hasn’t taken long for me to hear your yearnings for new life. I heard them loud and clear when I interviewed with the call committee. And I’ve continued to hear those yearnings ever since. Yearnings for new life. Yearnings for better attendance at worship. Yearnings for more children and youth. Yearnings for more diversity. Yearnings for the way things used to be. Yearnings for new life. But maybe we are asking the wrong questions. If the empty tomb teaches us anything, it is that death most come first, in order for new life to come. What we rarely hear people ask are questions like, “What do we need to let go of, in order for new life to come?” What do we need to allow to die, in order for new life to come?
The possibilities are endless and only you can answer for yourselves. What needs to die? Since I have just met you really I can only speculate. What are the things that are holding you back from experiencing the new life that Jesus promised? Is it letting go of the way things used to be? The way things used to operate? Is letting go of past hurts? Anger? Fear? Is it allowing to die the societal pressures of racism, sexism, homophobia, or stereotypes regarding class, age, or religion? I don’t know, only you can answer these tough questions. What I do know is human nature, and human nature doesn’t like death. We like to mask it by saying we just don’t like change but what we’re really talking about is death.
Here’s the good news in all of this. The new life that Christ promised us, can be enjoyed now! We don’t have to wait until we die and enter heaven! In fact, that was Jesus point! Every time he talked about salvation he was talking about the here and now, not some heavenly far off place in some far off future! Christ wants you to have it now! Which places us back to the original question, What needs to die, in order for new life to come, here, now, in Auburn, California, through Bethlehem Lutheran Church? It’s going to take courage, strength, boldness, and a willingness to face death head on.