Clare L. Hickman
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Ferndale
April 21, 2019—Easter Sunday
Isaiah 25:6-9; Luke 24:1-12
Last Good Friday, unbeknownst to me, I preached the sermon that I would need THIS Good Friday. Because the song I chose last year to guide our contemplation of the cross was written from the perspective of a couple deep in the midst of a cancer diagnosis.
The story of a couple going through hell. Confronted with the terror and the loss, the hugeness of it all: the massive, unimaginable terror. The unbearable loss. And as the song goes on, you can feel the aching and the howling, the fear and the anger … What place is there, I asked; what place is there in this world for a pain that deep? For a rage that huge? For a fear that terrible?
The only place I know of, is the cross.
The cross is the only place raw enough to hold all that pain and grief, without attempting to pretty it up or minimize it. It is the only place brave enough to take it all and not shy away. The cross is the place where everything sheds its pretense. Where we can acknowledge and place the worst of things.
Our deepest pain, our greatest shame, our abject despair. All those things that make us afraid that we are not fit for human company, let alone communion with God. Who would want us like THIS? Where is home, when we are like this?
The cross. The cross is the place we can bring the worst of our pain. There is nothing it cannot hold in its stark embrace.
The cross is the place we can bring our deepest shame: It is the only place brave enough to hear it all. To hear it over and over, and not say, You haven’t fixed that yet? You haven’t quit that yet? The cross knows the frailty of humanity, and still proclaims: Father, forgive them. We can bring our deepest shame.
The cross is the place we can come to in our despair. It is the only place strong enough to bear it; the only place buoyant enough to bear us up and carry us through and out into new waters. Because the cross is a raft, a raft we can cling to through the storms of our life.
The cross is a raft that will not sink. It is also a raft whose destination is always, eternally, this place right here: Easter morning. The cross points us here, to the end of the pain. The end of the despair. The end of the shame. Because it brings us (always, eternally) to the empty tomb.
The cross is what brings us here, if we can set aside our impulse to pretend we have nothing to lay at its feet. If we can admit our need, then the cross will hold it all in its stark, strong arms. Hold it for as long as we need. And point us, for as long as we need, toward the new day.
Easter is the celebration of our ability to believe in that new day. Easter is God’s promise that He will bring that new day about. That no matter what destruction has occurred, that God will redeem it all and raise it up and bring about a whole new world of possibility.
As the gospel writer suggests: this is no idle tale told by women. This is God writing a new chapter in what we thought was the ending to the story. This is God gathering up the most unforgiveable story you could possibly imagine, and proclaiming that it leads to our forgiveness. This is God promising that no matter how long the winter has been, that new life (Life with a capital L) will eventually find a way.
The ground has frozen, and no spade can break the soil. Leaves have fallen, grass has died, and the source of life and warmth seems to have fled. Because it is winter, again. He has died (again). And everything you were ever afraid of has been locked in that tomb with him. All your shame, all your hurt, all your loss and all your anger. All that you have ever done that you would prefer to forget, and all that has been done to you that you just can’t seem to let go of. All of it, carried by the cross into the tomb, and a big old stone rolled in front of it.
But then God will blast the stone away. God will fill the tomb with Her presence. God will blow divine breath into things that we thought could never ever be brought back to life. God will gather up everything that we have lost, everything we have betrayed, everything that we have ever tried to hide or destroy, and God will bring it into the light and makes something new of it. God will give it life!
We think death and sin are the end, are the final answer. God knows better. God knows that there is a larger story, the story that lives in Jesus and can live in us. He is risen, my friends. Despite all the pain and betrayal, despite the suffering and death … he is risen! And so are we, when we let Christ dwell within us. No matter what it may look like at any given moment, life and possibility and hope are the deepest truth and the final word. He is risen. We are rising. I swear. I promise. I trust.
Let us baptize Violet into that truth. Let us vow to nurture it in her, so that she too may be the promise of resurrection in this world. May it be so. Alleluia. Amen.