Monday, March 24, 2008
This Easter was different than ones of the past. In many ways, it had a whole lot more meaning. I think this was because I really identified with the stories and with the whole season.
The Holy Week is all about the tension of the worldly and the divine. The disciples are forced to view the trials of life and to deal with these trials without the support systems they thought would be there. There are troubles and trials of life and but also there are the promises that are made in the death and resurrection of Christ.
So, I guess that going through the trials of life that seem to be quite abundant right now, Holy Week seemed to be especially meaningful.
You might say that this is just another example of an "opiate of the people" and you may be right, but in many ways, our views of life are just exactly that, our VIEWS. Life may truly be going down the tubes, but if we have a positive attitude, we can usually make it through.
If you are interested, here is the sermon I preached on Easter morning. The service was an Easter Vigil which involves moving from darkness into light.
Easter Vigil Year A, March 23, 2008 Matthew 28:1-10 Rev. Benton Quest
It must have been a hard time for the disciples. Everything they had given their lives for was gone. Their leader was killed on a cross and was now laid in a tomb. They didn’t know what they were going to do. They were afraid of the people around them and afraid that they may be the next to be searched out and killed. There was no light to guide them. The world looked pretty dark and ugly.
Every good Jew would have known the stories of redemption we have heard this morning. They would have known how God had upheld and sustained them, the Chosen people, throughout history. They would have heard these stories since childhood. But with all the events that have happened over the past week, things looked like they may be too dire for even God to be able to handle. So the disciples sat, locked way, and waited.
I just love the irony we find in the Bible. But what I find unfortunate is that we often hear the stories so many times that we lose the irony and the lessons we can be taught by the irony. I am kind of embarrassed to say that one of the big, glowing, ironies of the whole Easter story had totally eluded me: That would be the irony of the tomb.
If you have never heard of the irony of the tomb, that is ok. I am not even sure if it is an official designation. Actually, it is something that came to me while I was thinking of how the whole message of the Easter Vigil could be applied to my life. It was then that I realized that we have two opposite and unexpected things happening almost simultaneously. In one part of Jerusalem we have a closed tomb. We have a man who was bound by death and the grave being released from these bonds. We have the stone being rolled back and the one who was previously bound emerging into total freedom. On the other side of Jerusalem, we have that group of disciples gathered together. They are locked in a room and are bound by fear. We don’t know if they had forgotten what they were told, or if they doubted that they were taught. It seems impossible they could have forgotten what they saw with their own eyes when Lazarus emerged from the tomb. All that we know is that the ones who had been assured of the freedom that Christ’s death and resurrection would bring were choosing to remain trapped and bound by their fear and doubt. Such an ironic situation: freedom had come to the disciples and they were choosing to remain bound in their fear.
Now it would be easy to say that the disciples lacked faith, but that is unfair. We have the gift of perspective. But even though thousands of years have passed, and with all of our perspective, we still find ourselves in the same ironic position. We still find ourselves locked away in fear. And I think in some ways the irony is even intensified; we have all the stories the disciples had plus we have the story of the resurrection, which was just something that was hinted at for the disciples. And yet, we still find ourselves choosing bondage over freedom and darkness over light.
Why do we do this? Why should we choose to remain in a tomb or darkness when the risen Christ is just waiting for us? I think in many ways, the promise of the resurrection is just too much for us to believe. The gift of unearned forgiveness and eternal life is often just too much for us to consider. We live in the world of that which is seen and that which is predictable. The whole concept of resurrection is beyond what we can readily experience. So instead of going out in faith, we often default to our fear and remain bound.
But we can learn from what may be the biggest irony of the whole Bible: The history of our salvation does not travel through the biggest or the strongest. The salvation of Israel and our salvation travels through those who were small, weak, or in the eyes of the world, damaged. Moses had a problem with speaking and killed a man. Jacob steals the birthright from his brother. David was the youngest of his family and was an adulterer.
And if we look at the disciples it was not much better. These people were simple towns folk. Fishers, tax collectors, no one of fame or status. It seems ironic that Jesus would not have picked people who were well known and would have immediately commanded respect. It seems ironic that Jesus would have picked simple people, even people whom society disdained. But this is part of the whole chain of irony we see: Jesus spreads his message through those who often seem to be the least likely candidates.
We even see the irony in Christ’s choice of who first sees him in his resurrected state. We need to remember that women did not have much status in the world of Biblical times, so for a woman to be the first to see the risen Christ and to tell of the resurrection would be similar to having a complete nobody trying to see a product. In biblical times, such a fantastic story as the resurrection coming from a woman would not be believed. It would have been better to have a man report back that he had seen the risen Lord instead of a woman. Jesus should have used someone with social clout to tell of the resurrection. It reminds me of those Geico commercials we have been seeing lately. In the Geico ads, the company makes sure there is a famous spokesperson along with the unknown person because supposedly we won’t believe the unknown person but we will believe the famous person with him or her. But Jesus isn’t Geico. Jesus didn’t use the famous or the powerful to spread his message. The risen Christ sends his message into the world through Mary, the one person whom society would have the easiest time discrediting. It is total irony that the one person who could be most discredited is the one person who truly did spread the message.
And the irony continues. Christ appears to those who have locked themselves away. He calls them out and uses them to spread his love and his message. Even though the disciples may have forgotten the promises that were made, Christ still follows through on those promises.
Christ changes Paul; the one who persecuted the Christians became the one who would bring the message of Christ to the gentile communities.
And Christ can even use us! We can see that Jesus reaches out to all kinds of people. We can see that Jesus can perform great miracles with just us fallible sinners. Even in the midst of darkness that may be in our lives, Christ can bring light.
Our day is moving from darkness into light. And with that light comes the promise of another day. Mary went to the tomb in the dark of the morning, but encountered the light of Christ which blessed her and sent her to spread the word. The disciples were closed away in darkness, but the light of the risen Christ would search them out and release them from the bonds they placed upon themselves. We may feel lost in the dark but the light of Christ is always there for us, begging us to come and follow.
It is irony that Christ, God incarnate would come to save us. It is irony that Christ would not search out the great and powerful but look to the average person to spread his message. And it is a glorious irony that even while we were still in sin, while we still doubt, what we still hide ourselves away, Christ would shine his light into our lives.