The Resurrection of Our Lord
Texts: Luke 24:1-12;
Isa. 65:17-25; Acts 10
DARING TO HOPE
In Guatemala, where fifty of our Prince of Peace disciples travel to this summer, many of the Amerindian mothers do not name their children until the age of three years. The marginalization and exploitation of Amerindian communities create an uncertainty of life for the young. Infant mortality rates are very high. So mothers resist naming their children, creating a shield of love against love itself. They know what the prophet Isaiah means when, in our first lesson today, he uses the phrase “bear children for calamity.”
Just imagine, then, these Amerindian women reading Isaiah: “No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days. . . . They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity” (vv. 20a, 23a). What would it take to dare to believe in such a hope? Would the Good News of someone raised from death to life be enough? Why would the promise of resurrection cause someone to dare to hope? And would that daring to hope change lives? Would Amerindian mothers begin daring to hope such that they would dare naming their newborn sons and daughters?
On this Easter morning, I invite us to reflect for a few moments on what we might dare to hope in response to news that Christ is risen indeed. The focus of our Christian hope has come to be hoping for a trip to heaven when we die. You’ve heard me say often enough before that I think we are meant to dare to hope for more. It’s not so much that this is a wrong hope. It is definitely part of our Christian hope that God holds us and our loved ones in God’s power of life when we die. It is especially when we lose a loved one that it becomes a comfort to dare to hope that hope, so that we can slowly begin to move on with our lives here on earth. When a gaping hole is opened up in our lives at the death of a loved one, we dare to hope in life after death, that this terrible separation we feel is only a temporary one. We dare to hope in the promise that there is absolutely nothing in all of creation, even death, that can ultimately separate us from God’s love and so from the love of our dearly departed loved ones.
No, it is not wrong to hope such things. It is vital that we do. But the more recently refreshed hope that many in the church are holding up is that life after death is too small of a hope compared to the hope we see in the Bible. Jesus and the apostles were good Jews who believed in a Creator God whose power of life is aimed at the whole creation, not just souls of faithfully departed. Our First Lesson from Isaiah this morning is a brilliant example of this daring to hope with an embrace for the whole creation. God’s creating isn’t finished yet, so it isn’t just a matter souls going to Paradise when we die. It’s the matter of having the whole creation renewed and completed such that we dare hope for “new heavens and a new earth”; and that the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. Notice that the scope of this hope embraces even the animal kingdom. Wolves and lambs will live in harmony. Dare we hope, then, that no mother would have to brace themselves against the calamity of losing a newborn child? Dare we hope that all mothers would dare to name and fully love their children from the moment they are conceived? What would it take to dare to hope such hopes?
I believe it would take the justice of God’s kingdom, God’s way, of ordering our lives to begin to come into this world now. And I propose to us all that this is the part of hope in the Christian West that has grown too small. Why were the first witnesses of the Resurrection so shocked, so slow to believe? Jesus had told them all along that he must die at the hands of human beings and then be raised to life on the third day. He told them! More than once! And yet they were slow to believe, slow to dare to hope. Their first reaction was to not believe the story of the women — which means that they still didn’t believe Jesus himself. Why? Was it because they didn’t believe at all in such things? Not quite. Belief in life after death had not been a basic part of the Jewish hope for much of their history. But by the time of Jesus it had become something added on to the hope of the prophets. If someday God promised to make new heavens and a new earth, then those righteous dead would need to be raised to enjoy it. Yes, the Jewish hope is so big that it dares to embrace the whole creation. So eventually it came to embrace the already dead, too. Belief in Resurrection was a very common aspect of the Jewish faith by the time of Jesus.
So then why were the first witnesses of Jesus’ Resurrection slow to believe? Because nothing else had seemed to change yet. There were no other signs of the new creation. They were still huddled in fear that the Jewish and Roman authorities might make them sacrificial victims, too. No, the hope for Resurrection was an end-time, a future, hope. It would be something that happened to all the faithful when God’s promises were coming true for the whole creation. And it was something that would happen to everyone. So God’s raising Jesus, one lonely person, apparently in the middle of history, instead of the completion of history, didn’t make any sense. They were slow to dare to hope because they were slow to understand what this all meant. Jesus would need to explain it all to them.
And here’s what I think the New Testament tries to show us about that understanding. The apostles, jolted by Jesus’ Resurrection in the middle of history, began to see that in Jesus God’s future had begun to come into the present. And that’s why the Gospel stories are more than just the story of Jesus’ death and Resurrection. Because the apostles began to understand that Jesus’ whole life was the beginning of God’s future into the present — or, the coming of God’s Kingdom, to use the New Testament language. Jesus had already begun to live as if God’s future is complete. And he promised his followers that filled with his resurrection presence and led by his Spirit, we can actually choose to live now as we will live then. We can choose to begin to live by such things as forgiveness instead of vengeance, unconditional grace instead of conditional laws, true justice and mercy instead of merely punishment. Most of all, we can begin to love, and not just the love we have grown accustomed to, a love that centers around flesh and blood family and friends. But if we truly begin to live now as it will be in the end, we will see every person on this earth, and this whole creation itself, as the Creator God’s household, God’s family. And so we are transformed in God’s Spirit to begin to love even our enemies in the present.
What does daring to hope a full Christian hope do? It changes the way we live now, here today. By the promise of God’s spirit in our baptisms, we begin to live now as we will in God’s future, because in the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus we have the inbreaking of God’s Kingdom, God’s future come into the present. And so we begin to live by God’s passion for justice and for family-type equality. This is a good place to bring in a quote from the faith section of yesterday’s Kalamazoo Gazette. The religion editor, Margaret DeRitter, quotes a pastor in Grand Rapids who says this: “The greatest evidence of the resurrection is when a Christ-follower prioritizes her (or his) life by putting worship, and self-sacrificing love over security, power and appetite. … Look again at Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ministry. Look again at Martin Luther King’s fight for justice. Apart from the Scriptures, these people and their lives are the greatest evidence of the resurrection we will ever find. And that same opportunity to live the resurrection is ours every day.” These are followers of Christ who have already begun to live with God’s coming justice in the present. In the face of this world’s injustice they lived with a sense of grace and love and justice that seemed ahead of their time — because it was! It was God’s future kingdom breaking into this world in their lives so that they began to live now as they would live then. It was a dare to hope that God’s new creation began on Easter is continuing to renew this creation, beginning with the lives of Christ’s followers.
So let’s finish where we began. Do you realize that in the developed Northern Hemishere of science and wealth that part of Isaiah’s prophesied future has nearly come true already? Infant mortality rates have shrunk to nearly zero, so it has become quite rare in our world that “an infant lives but a few days.” And when a child is born into calamity, we have Neo-natal Intensive Care Units that have high rates of success. That part of God’s future has already come into the present in a big way.
So why then do many Amerindian mothers of Guatemala still not dare to hope to name their children until age three? Because God’s justice, which begins as a mustard seed, has yet to take full bloom, and so there remains a terrible divide between rich and poor, North and South. There are no NICU’s yet in the communities of Amerindian mothers of Guatemala. Fifty of our Prince of Peace members travel to Guatemala this summer on a mission of God’s justice. I suppose we might say it is a mustard trip. But it is an important trip not just to the extent of what we accomplish on the ground those two weeks, but to the extent that it continues to change all of us, to the extent that we dare to hope in solidarity with all this world’s poor of a coming household of God in which none are left out. That is the full Easter hope! Dare we to hope?
Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Prince of Peace Lutheran,
Portage, MI, April 4, 2010