Have any of you ever lived through a construction project? If so, you’ll know all about the mess, the disruption, the excitement, the planning…the waiting…. the decisions to be made, the disruption… the waiting… and the satisfaction and happiness of finally seeing your plans come to fruition.
In mid-November, just as we all began to climb out of the hole that was Hurricane Sandy, All Saints’ started the construction phase of our new Parish House addition. You all saw it as you walked from your car to the Church this morning. The main feature of that project is the wheel-chair lift that will make that building handicapped-accessible on all levels, not just for us, but for all our community neighbors who use the Parish House in so many different ways.
And long about the third week in February, just after Lent started, I began to say to myself that the construction project was my Lenten discipline this year! It took time, energy and attention – as much as if I were taking on extra prayer time or exercise or giving up alcohol or sweets.
But all the aspects of this construction, including the parking lot re-paving that is still to come, are necessary if we as a parish, All Saints’ Church, are going to fulfill our mission to broaden and deepen our hospitality to the wider community; to provide a place where people can come together, connect with each other, serve their neighbors – all in the embrace of God’s love.
We started with a hope and a vision, and bit by bit it is becoming reality – thanks, of course, to all of our contributors, large and small, to both parts of the project. But once the building is finished, the wheel-chair lift is installed, the last coat of paint goes on and the parking lot is re-paved, we are not finished. Indeed, the real work will have only begun as we follow God’s lead in being a community of faith in Christ that serves our neighbors; as we deepen and develop the mission God has given us.
So far, so good. But has the preacher forgotten to look at the calendar? What does any of this have to do with Easter? You did come for Easter worship, right? Well let’s reflect together on the Easter story as Luke has told it to us this morning.
It’s the crack of dawn Sunday morning, the first workday of the week, first-light after the Passover Sabbath. The women who had been part of Jesus’ circle ever since the days of the ministry in Galilee, the women who had helped to support his work out of their own financial means, had gone to the place where Jesus’ body had been hastily laid in a borrowed grave. Everyone had left to be home in time for the beginning of Shabbat on Friday at sundown.
So at cockcrow on Sunday the women came back to finish the work – wrapping spices into the grave-clothes. It was the very least that they could do in the face of their world having been shattered by the horrific events of Good Friday, when the religious leaders colluded with the imperial authority, finding an opportunity in the offer of betrayal by one of Jesus’ own. Sometimes that’s all you can do in the face of tragedy – show up, be together, perform a simple and tangible task, take comfort in an age-old ritual.
The women went to the tomb, in a state of mourning, and they found the huge stone rolled away from the cave’s entrance and Jesus’ body missing. They must have been in shock; and then to make it worse, angels appeared to the women and chided them for looking for the living among the dead. Then the angels reminded them of what Jesus had said all along about his coming suffering and death and eventual resurrection.
Of course when the women, and the other disciples had heard these things originally, they must have puzzled over them, couldn’t make sense of them, couldn’t really take the words in. Can you blame them?
Resurrection in Judaism in the couple of centuries before Jesus was understood to be what God would do for all the righteous dead – a great big large-scale event at some point in the mystery of God’s own time. It meant that somehow, nothing of goodness that God had created would be lost to God. Nobody knew quite how, but God’s goodness and faithfulness would win out in the end. What the women and the other disciples did not expect, what no one expected, is that resurrection would start with one person – and so Jesus’ words fell into the abyss of incomprehension.
But once the women at the tomb heard the angels’ message, they remembered what Jesus had said, it started to dawn on them that something new and wonderful had happened, that not only had Jesus risen from the dead, but that maybe God had defeated death and that the new creation of resurrection had begun. I’m sure that Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women didn’t have the words for all of this – at least not right away. They must have had feelings, images, ideas, a powerful sense of God’s triumph and joy; and that was more than enough to send them running back to the inner circle with the news.
But Luke tells us the men thought it an “idle tale” – more like, “What are you, nuts?” Women in the ancient world were not legally considered reliable witnesses, so no one believed them – although Peter finally went to the grave and saw the empty tomb for himself. Once again, can you blame them?
God was doing a very new thing – or at least doing it in a very unexpected way. When Jesus rose from the dead it didn’t just mean that he had had a near-death experience, or had been resuscitated (like Lazarus). In Jesus, God acted to break the back of sin and death; it could no longer have ultimate hold over God’s people – the whole human race. Jesus had taken into himself – God’s very self – pain, violence, betrayal, suffering, fear, abandonment and death and come out the other side.
And the on the other side was a new creation, a whole new kind of body and existence that took the matter and the energy of Jesus’ earthly body and transformed it, made it completely new, full of the power of heaven. Of course it was hard for the disciples to take all this in. Of course it’s hard for us to take it all in. But faith in Christ is exactly that – faith, trust, giving our hearts – sometimes even before we give our minds.
Jesus rose from death and the grave on Easter so that we, too, might live in that place of new creation – not just for ourselves, but for the world God has made. Our most basic prayer is the one Jesus taught us, in which we pray “thy kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven;” and heaven – God’s realm – is to infuse and transform this world, as well as being the true reality of life after death.
God’s kingdom, God’s realm, the new creation, begins in the Resurrection of Jesus and spreads out from there, until in the mystery of God’s time it will be full and complete – God’s original vision and plan for all that he made. That first Easter was the start of something new, and as the disciples began to take it all in, and began to live in the power of God’s love, and began to allow themselves to be changed – God was able to use them – not just to carry the words of the Good News of Jesus to others, but to be themselves instruments and agents of God to heal, to teach, to witness to the power of God, (to paraphrase Gandhi) to be the change that God is making in the world.
And that’s what God calls us to, as well, each and every one of us. God has made us with love, and for love: love for God and love for our neighbor. It’s not that we can do these things on our own strength – or at least not very well. But with the power of God that has defeated the ultimate stranglehold of sin and death, we can do all things through Christ – who gives us new life and strength and courage and hope.
And so Easter is not just about us and our relationship with God – as important as that is. Easter is also about the way we live and work and pray to bring about hope and healing and change and goodness – God’s kingdom – in the world. New life and new creation!
Just like the Parish House project which began with a vision and a hope. It started becoming real when the first shovel went into the ground, even though we couldn’t really tell what the finished structure would look like; but it will only reach its true fulfillment once our community neighbors are being served by it.
In the same way, Jesus’ Resurrection was the beginning of God’s new creation, but we most often see it in fits and starts: forward movement here, a set-back there, seeming delays, and the waiting while new spiritual seeds germinate in the dark places of our culture. Usually we can only see the outlines of its true and final shape by faith, but it has started, and it is real - God’s kingdom, the new creation, God’s great construction project. And our faith in Christ and the Resurrection will only be fully realized once the whole world is renewed by God – and in part because of our prayer and action.
At the first Easter God pressed the re-set button on the history of human-kind. Every Easter is an opportunity for us to renew our relationship with him; to commit ourselves anew to live as followers of Jesus; to take up anew the mission to help, heal, restore God’s world; to live in faith and trust and joy and love in the power of God. May the Resurrection be true and real in your life, each and every day. Amen.
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church, Millington, NJ
Easter Day: The Sunday of the Resurrection
March 31, 2013