Monday, April 17, 2017

Death & Darkness – Easter 2017

Based on Matthew 28:1-10

It is still dark outside this morning.  Though as I look at the windows I can see just a hint of light and I know that it will not be long before the sun will rise in the sky and light will flood through these windows.  But inside we have our lights on and we are comfortable.  The candles we have lit are for symbolic use since they have no practical use anymore.  We do not need these candles to see!  I think that we take light for granted and that we really don’t take darkness seriously any more.  After all we are dependent and comfortable with our electricity, our lamps and industrial lighting and so forth.  The fact is that we can get up at any time of the night and turn on a lamp and essentially create day in order to do whatever we want at any time.
But, can you imagine a world where that is not the case.  A world where there are no artificial electric lights and instead the world is lit only by fire?  This is the world of antiquity: of the 1st century, the time of Jesus and actually continuing on for centuries afterwards.  Sure, they had oil lamps, maybe some candles, maybe some torches soaked in oil, but the oil and the wax were expensive, and besides they didn’t produce all that much light anyway.  Most folks simply surrendered to the darkness when it came.
This is why darkness is such a potent symbol in the Gospels – You are the light of the world! Teaches Jesus; Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven; No one would set a lamp under a bushel basket but on a lamp stand… those from Matthew; and from John: The light shines in the darkness and the darkness comprehends it not.  The people to whom Jesus ministered and the disciples were well acquainted with darkness!  And they also knew death! 
Matthew begins his Gospel in darkness and death with his account of Jesus’ birth.  A teenage girl who is betrothed turns up pregnant – this has the smell of death already; Joseph resolves to “put her away quietly” – more death; the infant Jesus is visited by odd strangers from the east who unwittingly alert the dictator, death-dealer Herod to the birth of a potentially rival King and the holy family only barely has enough time to escape before Herod’s troops swoop down on Bethlehem bringing murder and bloodshed and grief and intense sorrow - Bringing more darkness and death!  And throughout the Gospel, Jesus constantly encounters darkness and death and wherever he goes he reaches out to bring life and light into these dark encounters.  Jesus heals, Jesus feeds, Jesus loves, Jesus accepts the unacceptable, Jesus eats with the hated, Jesus cares for the stranger and the foreigner, Jesus offers forgiveness to the unforgivable.  “THIS” Jesus tells his disciples, “this is what the Messiah does: the Messiah Loves, the Messiah forgives, the Messiah dies!”
Impossible say the disciples!  Impossible & blasphemy say the Pharisees and the authorities.  A loving Messiah, a forgiving Messiah, a Messiah that showers grace and peace upon all? This can’t be!  The Messiah is supposed to be on OUR side; the Messiah is supposed to hate what we hate, and despises whom we despise, and rejects who and what we reject, and applaud our violence against those who we judge deserving of violence and as being less than human!
“No!” says Jesus: the Messiah Loves, the Messiah forgives, the Messiah dies!  The Messiah dies! Into this culture of darkness and death Jesus, God incarnate, enters into this very darkness and death himself.  Jesus enters into the illness and the grief and the suffering which he encounters; and Jesus finally on the cross enters into death.  And, that is that! Or so everyone thought!  Darkness and the death have won the day!  Jesus dies abandoned on the cross (except for a few women) and he is placed in a tomb and a stone is rolled in front of the entrance.  And not only that, but the authorities post a guard, in order to make sure that death would have the last word.  That is that!
But…. Early in the morning, when it is dark and the light is just beginning to dawn a group of women find their way to the tomb and according to Matthew they suddenly experience the ground shake and they see the stone rolling away from the tomb and they see a bright image which announces that death does NOT have the last word!  “He is not here, for he has been raised!!!  HE HAS BEEN RAISED!  And then as they run back away from the tomb they encounter Jesus themselves! Jesus = Emmanuel = God with us is there even in the midst of death and darkness! But Jesus has now transformed the darkness into blazing light and death has given way to life!  A world controlled by darkness and death is a hopeless world, a world of pain and struggle – but a world where light and life have overcomes darkness and death is a world of hope, and love and grace and peace!
He is Risen!  He has Risen indeed!
He is Risen!  He has Risen indeed!
He is Risen!  He has Risen indeed!
And when we say that – when we proclaim and shout that from the hilltops and in the valleys we are proclaiming that we stand with the powers of light and life and that we know and assert that ultimately the powers of darkness and death will have no power and be finally completely overcome!
This is why we are all here today; this is why some of us assembled in the dark this morning for the Vigil!  Even though it still appears as though the powers of darkness and death are winning the day in our own time. Today – Easter day 2017 - we proclaim that light and life will prevail in the end and darkness and death will be wholly defeated!  But yet we look around and what do we see?  Rampant hate; active racism and Anti-Semitism; death camps in Chechnya for gay men; gas attacks on innocent children in Syria; desperate refugees looking for a better life and finding the doors slammed in their faces; reckless destruction of our environment for the sake of profits; irrational bombings; both spontaneous and systemic violence; threats and intimidation; and a whole lot of fear!  Fear of course is the most effective tool in the quiver of the darkness and those who would manipulate others and maintain a world ruled over by death use it to great effect!
But when we proclaim that Christ is risen we proclaim that fear has no power and that we refuse to manipulated by fear!  As the darkness is dispelled by the light we can begin to see the faces of all of those others who we are being taught to fear, all those others who are different than us in any number of ways; and low and behold the light allows us to look into their eyes and shows us that they are in fact our brothers and sisters - they are our neighbors whom we are to love as we love ourselves; and even our so-called enemies we can begin recognize as brothers and sisters whom we are also called to love (Matthew 5!)!  To proclaim resurrection is to say NO to fear; NO to hate; NO to judgment; NO to violence of any kind!  To embrace resurrection is to accept God’s love and to start seeing with the eyes of Jesus, and to start walking with the feet of Jesus, and to start reaching out with the arms and hands of Jesus and to start loving with the heart of Jesus!
When we proclaim that Jesus is Risen we proclaim that Love has won and will win in the end!  And when we proclaim that Jesus is risen we affirm that there is always reason to hope.  For no matter how dark the darkness, the light will disperse it completely; and no matter how dead death appears it is not stronger than our risen Lord!
Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed!  Alleluia!