On Imagining the Impossible
April 9, 2023
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Today’s sermon is titled On
Easter was my favorite holiday as I was growing up. Each and every Easter, an Easter basket would magically appear outside by the front door of my house. Through the brightly colored cellophane I could see fruit, plastic eggs that were invariably filled with candy, and small toys (one of which was usually a bunny rabbit). All of it was nestled in that stringy plastic grass. There was something very special about having that one basket, so full of goodness.
Easter is still my favorite holiday, and the resurrection is certainly one of my favorite events to contemplate, but it is not my favorite topic to preach about and the reason is this: the resurrection is a loaded topic. For some, the resurrection is at the very heart of their faith and it is not to be questioned. For others, the resurrection is an obstacle. I have the seemingly impossible task of pulling some meaning that may speak to you, wherever you may be on that spectrum. What I would like you to know is, wherever you are, I have probably been there.
I was raised in a very warm, embracing faith community of Christians from birth until the late years of highschool. In my late teens, my childhood church hired a minister who preached from the pulpit about not even talking to your neighbor if they were “homosexuals.” That message was totally incongruent with the teachings and life examples of Jesus I was familiar with. My childhood church was no longer a home for me. Off to college I went and the study of science became my new religion. I wanted nothing to do with God or Jesus; I would not even say those words for over a decade of my life. And now I have devoted my life, my all, to being a follower of Christ; so trust me when I say, wherever you are in your journey of faith, I have been there.
Here is the great news: wherever you are in life, this story of the resurrection holds profound insights that are available to us if we can leave our baggage at the door and come, unencumbered by what we think we know. If we can avoid, long enough, our human tendency to judge between truth and fiction, if we can step out of the line we have placed ourselves in, the lines of believers and nonbelievers, and if we can step over the landmines of critical thinking that threaten to completely destroy our sense of wonder when faced with deep mystery, then we might just be able to glimpse something that will free us to live our lives more fully, in love.
The story of the resurrection is about a love so deep and wide that not even death can hold it. Our teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, went willingly to his death to prove that ultimately, life prevails. We look around us this time of year and we see that nature is resounding with the same message of the resurgence of life that can not be held back. We see daffodils springing forth from the depths of darkness; we see, against all odds, birds of all sizes returning from their winter homes, many thousands of miles away. This morning, as I was walking, I saw a red eft salamander on the roadside. 4 inches long and seemingly so fragile, that little salamander spent all winter under a rock or log. The daffodils and the birds and the salamanders all seem to me to be miracles of survival and ones that I can see with my very own eyes. The miracles in the natural world give me the courage to consider things that are not so easily explained and they fuel my imagination for what the future could hold for humanity.
I have a notebook where I keep my research notes. On one page this past week scrawled across the page the following statements: “If resurrection is possible, then anything is possible; live like it!” This is perhaps the most precious gift of the resurrection story. Dare to live like anything is possible. Do not let fear hold us back.
Imagine ourselves as the people we want to be. Imagine our society as the society we want to be, a society where people can love whom they wish to love without fear of judgment and condemnation. Imagine a world where the children are safe in school, a world where security is not found in weapons and defenses, but within alliances between nations and relationships within communities. Imagine a culture that upholds integrity, honesty and civility. Imagine how our society would be transformed if everyone had access to medical care, child care, and a living wage. We can not work to create what we can not yet imagine.
The resurrection story calls us to imagine that all things are possible. It was not that long ago when humankind could only look at the birds and dream of flying; now we travel to the moon and back again. It was not that long ago that there were no laws at all to protect us from violence and wrongdoing; now, in this country, we are realizing the ideal that no one is above the law. It was not that long ago when women were denied the right to vote and now the numbers of women outvoting men are tallied around ten million.*
Jesus imagined changes he was willing to die for. Jesus said, in John 10:10, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” That is his hope for his community, living then under the oppression of the Roman Empire, and that is his hope for humanity today… abundant life and abundant love. How do we do it? We heard advice from the prophet Micah, who wrote, “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly.” Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly. I would add to that list, with all due respect for the prophet, “imagine the impossible.”
In closing, Friends, I pray that in these trying times we are living in, we will not lose our sense of wonder and our ability to imagine a better world. If the world was an Easter basket and you could fill it with whatever you wished for, gifts for the entire world, what would be in there? Food, clean water, shelter, medical care, kindness, equality, justice for all…those would be a very good start. If we can imagine it, we can create it; the resurrection story reminds us to imagine what may now seem impossible and live with the confidence that there is nothing to fear, not even death itself. So be it. Amen.
Beloved God, we are gifted with the ability to feel so many different emotions and it can, at times, be overwhelming. Empathy for our brothers and sisters and the struggles they face can be painful to bear, Lord, and yet through this deep feeling, we become more alive, we become more humane, and we come closer to the place within where you reside. Help us to remember the life and example of Jesus Christ, that we may grow more secure in our hearts, secure in what we know to be of the greatest value in our lives. This I ask in Christ’s name. Amen
I leave you with these words from Philipians, chapter 4:
“May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ.” Amen