Alleluia! Christ is risen
Christ is risen, indeed. Alleluia!
Well, that’s saying something! Risen from the dead, eh? Astonishing. Dazzling. Head-spinningly-fantastic.
But, for my money, it’s not enough. I mean, it’s impressive, to be sure, but, what’s it good for? What’s it got to do with us? What’s it got to do with you? What’s it got to do with our brother Duane? After 88 years on this earth. War veteran. Community activist. Recipient of the Thousand Points of Light Award. Self-taught pilot. Father of six children. Husband to Janice for 70 years …
What’s Christ’s resurrection got to do with Duane, who breathed his last breath a week ago today?
Christ is risen, we proclaim. That’s pretty impressive. Amazing. Astounding. Astonishing. Dazzling really … head-spinning, heart-stopping, mind-bending stuff. But, it’s not enough. Not for me. Not for you. Not for our brother Duane.
If the raising of Christ were the end of it, it would be a pretty slick trick … greater even than the Greatest Show on Earth.
But, here’s the thing: God doesn’t do tricks. People begged Jesus to do tricks. “Do it again,” Jesus. “Show us again,” Jesus. “Heal somebody,” Jesus. “Turn this basket into a frog,” Jesus. Jesus refused. God doesn’t do tricks. Jesus doesn’t do tricks.
This whole resurrection thing—this unnatural, dazzling, almost-too-good-to-believe resurrection thing—it’s not a trick. It’s not razzle-dazzle.
On Easter God proclaims this: that life is precious … each life is precious. Easter is the day God proclaims that our lives are so precious in God’s eyes, that they cannot and will not be extinguished. Not by death. Not by anything. Ever.
This wasn’t always so.
In the ancient world … in the time of Christ … not all human lives were counted as precious. Indeed, most humans were considered expendable. Commoners were expendable: peasants, women, children, the infirm … expendable.
Masters had the right to kill slaves…or simply to use them up, wear them out … wear their fingers to the bone.
In the ancient world fathers were permitted to kill their own children.
Without blinking the Roman Empire practiced exposition … leaving unwanted infants outside, exposed … to be taken in by some kind stranger if they were lucky, or die of exposure, or …
Ancient arenas swelled with crowds who thrilled to watch the spectacle, the sport, of prisoners fighting lions, or each other, to the death … their lives worth no more than the price of admission.
Front-line soldiers were military fodder …expendable …disposable … use them up and replace them. There were always more to be found … an endless supply. For an Empire such as Rome, conscription was uncomplicated.
In the ancient world, life wasn’t worth very much … not most lives.
Easter changed that. It was the early Christians, the followers of Jesus, who finally turned the tide against infanticide and exposition and gladiatorial contest.
This is one of Christianity’s contributions—one of God’s contributions—to human civilization: the presumption that every life—prince and pauper, good and bad, kind and cruel, strong and weak, male and female, slave and free—is precious in God’s sight.
On Friday … on Good Friday… an expendable peasant was humiliated and summarily executed. It was yawningly routine. His was merely one of thousands of crucifixions … each like the other.
The Roman Empire was good at execution and death. The Empire was expert at dehumanizing, humiliating and obliterating personhood. They were smart about engaging the crowds to join in the fun. Egged on by the authorities the crowds made sport of choosing Jesus over another … over Barabbas. But really, it didn’t matter … either would do. For all intents and purposes they were interchangeable … two worthless, no-accounts.
Today, on Easter, God raises from the dead, from humiliation and obliteration, this peasant. Today, on Easter, God professes God’s love and care for each human life … for each of the departed … for the Rwandan refugee, the Afghani soldier, the Boston bag lady who expired in her filthy clothes, crumpled in a heap by her cart full of rags. It is on Easter that God professes God’s undying love for the young man born into poverty in Mattapan, neglected and abused as a child, who grows into a gang-banger and bleeds out on the streets of this city. It is on Easter that God professes that the disappeared of El Salvador, and those burned in the ovens of Auschwitz were all, each and all, every-single-solitary-soul precious in God’s sight.
Today on Easter God proclaims God’s love for Duane. God says to Duane: Duane: you are precious in my sight. Well done, Duane, thou good and faithful servant. I’ve got you. I won’t let you go. I love you too much to let anything, even death, separate you from my love.
You see, if Jesus was the first and only … then Easter would be no more than divine razzle-dazzle … perhaps the greatest show on earth … but no more than that … no more than a display of heavenly hoopla, a sacred sensation, a miasma of magic, mystery and marvel.
The reason Easter matters—the reason we are here these 2,000 years later—the reason for timpani and trumpet, for organ fanfare and alleluias, for cymbal-smashing and soaring sopranos is that Jesus was the first … not the last … not the one-and-only.
Resurrection is no isolated incident … no aberration. Resurrection from the dead is the new normal. Death is dead. Life won.
Hard to believe? I know. After all, you are reasonable and educated people. You know that what we proclaim on Easter Sunday isn’t rational … isn’t natural … that resurrection isn’t humanly possible.
I know who you are: PhDs and MDs, JDs and MBAs, scientists and linguists, teachers and graduate students, librarians and engineers, computer programmers … accountants, managers of money and people … Why would you believe this? You don’t believe in Creationism!
It is hard to believe. I know.
But believe this: God loves you too much to let you go. (If you can’t believe it, this is my pledge to you: I will believe it for you.) You are so precious in God’s sight, so fearfully and wonderfully made, that God can’t let you go. God’s got your back. There is nothing to fear.
Which, by the way, were among Duane Day’s last words on this earth. He was ready and able and unafraid. Lying in bed, too weak to move, he gave witness to his Easter faith: “There is nothing to fear,” he said.
That’s Easter. That’s saying something.
Alleluia! Christ is risen.
He is risen, indeed. Alleluia!