The Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Day, Year B, 2015 – Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18
And where does our hope come from? Last night, at our Easter Vigil service, we heard the famous word of God to Ezekiel concerning the Valley of Dry Bones (Ez. 37). There, as we sat in the darkness of the church, with only candles lighting our faces, we heard as Israel speaks for the world, when it complains to God saying, “our bones are dried up, and all our hope is lost”. Is all our hope in fact lost?
Let’s take our young people, as a partial answer to that question. Kids have all kinds of dreams about their future. Many of them burn brightly for a moment; but it is true that many fizzle out. Still, I know a number of young people who have a special goal in life, one that is filled with hope. It is to find a way to go out and give themselves away for someone they do not know, have never met, and who lives outside their life and their interests. I know, for instance, at least two young people who want to work in international relief – for the Red Cross or Catholic Relief Services or Amnesty International. I know people working in the Peace Corps, like George Sumner and Stephanie’s daughter Marta, who’s in Kosovo now. I know a young person who wants to teach reading in Indonesia and another in the far north. Someone who wants to be a missionary. Someone who wants to be a fireman. Someone who wants to help AIDs widows in Africa or help other young people in America learn to respect their bodies. Someone who wants to work for Sanctuary in downtown Toronto, and help street people. I have met these young people. And some – think of who will be drawn into our refugee ministry – are members of this church.
Now, you can call these young people idealists, perhaps. Still, most of us recognize that such young people are not bizarre; they simply want what is good, and we all know that we need more of them. But one thing I want you to realize is how strange a thing it is that there are people at all – young or old — for whom these goals are deeply felt. 2000 years ago, there were no such young people, or older people for that matter. No, not at all. What we heard was, “all our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost”. 1000 years ago, there were only some. 500 years ago, the number of them had grown a little, but grown it had. Give your life for the betterment of the lives of others? In the history of the world, it is a complete mystery as to why such a desire should ever arise in the first place, let alone become an accepted reality. It is the mystery of hope and love, joined together in a faith that transfixes the heart and transcends the world itself.
And where did it come from? What is its origin? We are here today to celebrate it: the Resurrection from the dead of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, God in the flesh. And this was the birth of hope and love, joined together in faith. It didn’t exist before the Resurrection, and it exists today only because of the Resurrection. That, I submit, is a historical fact.
For the Resurrection is not about a principle of life, that has always been drifting about, but needed a good religious name to pin on it. It’s not just the projection of the yearning everybody has to see a silver lining in every cloud. The Resurrection is something that happened, on a Sunday, the first day of the week in the month of Nisan, according to the Jewish calendar, almost 2000 years ago in Jerusalem. A man named Jesus, a teacher and healer, brave, compassionate, wise, strong-willed, gave himself over to die at the hands of Roman and Temple authorities. He claimed to be the Son of God, to be one with God, to be God in fact, come in human flesh to share the lives of men and women. Yet he was killed before the eyes of hundreds of people. Like many another prophet and charismatic leader, he was executed by a mob. Yet he was different. For in this case, he rose from the dead; his tomb was empty; and he showed himself alive, to over 500 people (we know the number), transfigured, but real and clearer than the sun, to his followers. In this case he was different. In this case, nothing like it had ever happened in the history of the world; and nothing like it has happened since. It happened, once; and all of history hinges upon it. It is like the Big Bang, but on another level or reality. The Big Bang of the Spirit and of Truth.
There are of course those who say, “yes, but ever since this supposed event, this hinge, this bang — , ‘all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation’” (2 Pet. 3:4). People are still born and grow old or sick and die. People still fight. People still struggle and lie and grieve and are abandoned. It’s the “same as it always was”. Ah yes, but that is because you and I did not live before the Resurrection. For before the first Easter, no one had ever thought of dying for a stranger, out of love. No one. “Our hope is dried up,” they said. No one told stories of the Good Samaritan, as an image of God. Search the annals of history, and you will find no evidence that anybody, any group, any culture cared about others, enough to give themselves for them, enough to die for them. “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners – still strangers, aliens to him, far from him, hating of him [Eph. 2:12] – while still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:6-8). And “if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:10). Only because God died for us, on that day almost 2000 years ago, did we learn what love is; and only because, three days later, God took his own dead human flesh and raised it up, can we in fact offer love in return, empowered by hope, that overflows into the world.
It’s not just about doing good; it’s about the power of God, and that is absolutely crucial to recognize. For the world is not dog eat dog. Until the Resurrection, however, this is what it seemed to be. And strangers are not enemies. Yet, until the Resurrection, this was how it always was. Life does not come down to survival, however well-ordered, or to “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you die”; yet until the Resurrection, this is what people all thought. Even the greatest of the Greek philosophers, even the greatest of Buddhist monks, even the greatest of Chinese sages could not see and did not know that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son for it” (Jn. 1:16), and so loving it, we too are swept into that love’s power for the sake of all people, and our hearts and expectations changed.
Something very strange happened after the Resurrection. Hope we found, for the first time.
The first Christians began to worry about the care of the poor; and not just their own. No one had done this before them. There could have been no Yonge St. Mission, Salvation Army, Goodwill, Samaritan Centre, Care 2000 years ago. They cared for the sick, and not just their own. There could have been no Princess Margaret, Sick Kids, or York General 2000 years ago. Who had such interests before this time? They worried over the gladiatorial games, and sought to halt the slaughter of humans and animals, even of babies – and not just their own. Unheard of. Torture as wrong? Infanticide as wrong? No, 2000 years ago, hope was lost. They imagined, for the first time in history, a world where there were peoples far away, never seen but only conceived, who were yet beloved by God, and worth His life, and therefore worth their own. They prayed for the unknown nations of the world. And soon, they began to travel, to meet them, to talk to them, to share their lives with them. No, the world had never seen such a thing before. Because God had not “demonstrated his love” and “broken the bonds of death” until that morning nearly 2000 years ago. And then, everything changed. And the change is still occurring, “God is working still” (Jn. 5:17). I am not talking about progress. I don’t know how the world will end. I am talking, rather, about the fact that the power of God’s life is something that has touched us directly; and it is grace we can now embrace.
We live on the far side of the resurrection. And thus, we assume that there is such a thing as love; and that there is such a thing as hope in love’s power to reach and transform all; and that it is possible to have faith in the power of God to bring this to pass mysteriously, yet truly. Can you imagine a world without this? To want the good of others is part of the air we breathe, at least in theory. We assume it, as if this is what people have always naturally thought. But they have not and – make no mistake – there are many who do not still. Faith, hope, and love – these three abide (1 Cor. 13:13): they are the seeds planted by a single Sower, on a single day, at a single hour in time, through a single act of making new what was dead, and behold, today, there is someone who can say, “why might I not go to serve the least of these, my brothers and sisters?” Is God’s arm to short to save? Is God’s heart too small to embrace?
Oh, my friends: do not assume it, lest you disdain it! As the world has begun to do again, alas. It took the whole of God’s own life to make it so for us. It took the sheer miracle of recreating life again within our midst, of raising it up again, of “calling into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom. 4:17) to give love its legs and to make hope open the world up to our hearts and to allow faith to stand every buffet and trembling, even into and beyond death itself. It took the Resurrection of Jesus Christ that we might no longer seek our ends in death, but find Life itself as the alpha and the omega of all things, that which is our destiny. Our young people have been given hope. So have we all. We dare not try to silence or turn away from this greatest of all gifts given to the world. For like the children in Jerusalem, the very stones must shout with us today; “The Lord is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!”.