A New Birth of Hope

Easter Sunday B-24
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

‘…They fled from the tomb and said nothing to anyone for they were afraid’ (Mark 16:8). The end of Mark’s gospel is startling, perhaps most, for its honesty. There are no resurrection appearances. Jesus doesn’t show up on the road to Emmaus. He doesn’t appear beside the sea. He doesn’t visit them in the upper room. He doesn’t stay with them for forty days before ascending to heaven. This would not appear to be an effective way to begin the Jesus movement. Yet, all these years later, here we are.

Alleluia, Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed, alleluia.)

One of the more compelling proofs for the resurrection of Jesus is the simple fact that the church exists. Today we celebrate “the victory of seemingly powerless love over loveless power” (William Sloane Coffin) by reasoning backward from consequences to effects. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth sparked an unprecedented, egalitarian, and end-of-Empire movement that would reach the four corners of the Roman world within decades. A century later, the movement will reach southern India and into continental Africa.

Whatever we believe about the resurrection it is the only thing that explains what happened. Frightened disciples come out from hiding to preach the gospel of Jesus in the streets. Paul and the early band of Jesus people face hardships, risk arrest, family alienation and threats against their lives to gather and to serve in Jesus’ name as we are doing today.

A second startling fact is the resurrection happened in total darkness. The biblical account is silent. It provides no details. It happened in the dark. Bible scholar John Dominic Crossan has memorably described this the bible’s Great Omission. Apparently, there are no witnesses to the moment of Jesus’ resurrection. “Sometime in the predawn hours of that Sunday morning, a great mystery transpired in secret. No sunlight illuminated the event. No human being witnessed it. And even now, two thousand years later, no human narrative can contain it. It exceeds all of our attempts to pin it down, because it’s a mystery known only to God. Whatever the resurrection was and is — physical, literal, metaphorical, symbolic — its fullness lies in holy darkness, shielded from our eyes. All we can know is that somehow, in an ancient tomb on a starry night, God worked in secret to bring life out of death. Somehow, in the utter darkness, God saved the world.” (Debi Thomas, “It Happens in the Dark,” Journey with Jesus, 3/25/18)

We are here because this gospel has staked a claim on us. Through bread and wine, water, and the living Word, the Jesus story speaks to the truth that finds a deep echo in our soul. To be Christian is to have glimpsed the living God that is already, always, everywhere a part and partner to our inmost life, and to everything else that is, in the gospel of Jesus. It is to feel the pull of the divine lure and suddenly know God has a name and a face in Christ Jesus.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed. Alleluia.)

Easter is not a one-time event but an ongoing promise as well as a command. The empty tomb proclaims the promise of new life and the command to follow the one who is always going ahead of us. The angel said to the woman, “He is not here! But go, and tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you” (Mark 16:6b-7).

On that first Easter morning, the women were present at great risk to themselves. They were at the grave of a convicted political criminal who had just been crucified. Guards were posted at the tomb who could easily report the identities of any followers or supporters of this one whom they had killed and whose movement they now hoped to crush. The risk of the women is made even more dramatic by the realization that the rest of the disciples were all laying low. The men were hiding, paralyzed by grief and fear.

Jim Wallis of Sojourners Magazine said, “I think of the women at the tomb when I think of the Mothers of the Disappeared in Latin America, who in country after country were the ones who — when things were at their worst, when the violence of military-ruled countries was most grotesque, when the suffering was so horrible — came out time and time again and stood alone before the military and before the world, testifying for their loved ones, and for the truth.”

Wallis continues, “We have seen it in so many places — El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Argentina, as well as Northern Ireland. When things get rough, when things are at their worst, when everyone else flees or is in hiding, very often it is the women who stand up, offering themselves, becoming completely vulnerable as they submit to the risk of death. That is indeed their strength and their power.”

“These women, and many women who have come after them, can rightly be called history’s midwives of hope. And they become for us, on the resurrection morning of Easter, the primary example in the story of what we too are called to be — midwives of hope.”

“What does it mean to be a midwife of hope? Hope is not simply a feeling, or a mood, or a rhetorical flourish. Hope is the very dynamic of history. Hope is the engine of change. Hope is the energy of transformation. Hope is the door from one reality to another. Hope is another word for resurrection. Between impossibility and possibility there is a door — the door of hope. And the possibility of a transformation of history lies through that door.”

“Hope unbelieved is always considered nonsense. But hope believed is history in the process of being changed. The nonsense of the resurrection became the hope that shook the Roman Empire and established the Christian movement. The nonsense of slave songs in Egypt and Mississippi became the hope that let the oppressed go free.
…In each case the gains, the victories, the transformations seemed impossible at first, and only become possible by stepping through the door of hope.”

“And for us, for Christians, the resurrection of Jesus unlocks the door of hope and makes every kind of change possible. That’s why Christians and religious people have often been the first ones to walk through the door of hope. Because to walk through that door of hope, first you have to see it. And then you have to believe that there is something on the other side of the door.”

“Now, not everyone can see the door. And most people can’t imagine anything on the other side. And we know that those who walk through the door must also be prepared to suffer and even to die, because the door of hope always leads from one reality to another. History tells us again and again that we can’t move from one reality to another without cost. It’s never easy. It’s not without pain or suffering. And it’s always hardest for the first few who walk through the door.

The resurrection is a door of hope, and Jesus showed us that the resurrection comes by way of a cross. Suffering and hope are always joined in human history. The cost of moving from one reality to another — in our personal lives and in history — is always great. But it is the only way to walk through the door of hope. (Jim Wallis, “The Door of Hope,” An Easter Sermon, Sojourners Magazine)

On Easter morning we stand on the knowledge of the resurrection. We draw confidence in the Christian gospel from the persistent power of hope as witnessed by the woman at the tomb, by women throughout history, and by all who joined the struggle to build a better more loving world. The resurrection is not nonsense because hope is not nonsense. With this hope we can together build a new community of faith right here in Edgewater that will someday overcome the barriers of race and class and sex. And with this hope we can even look forward to a day when our nation no longer measures its security by its weapons, and its status by its wealth. “Spread the news: he’s not in the grave. He has arisen this world to save” (ELW #364).

Alleluia. Christ is risen. (He is risen indeed, Alleluia.)