Easter Sermon, March 27, 2016
Alfredo, Zacharias, and David stood in the cold the night before Easter, grieving Moises Locon, their brother, who died a year ago in the East Village gas explosion in New York. Moises worked at Sushi Park, and sent most of his paycheck home to Guatemala.
Nicholas Figueroa also died. His parents, Anna and Nick, come downtown every Thursday to tend to the empty lot. To keep the photos fresh and laminated. Some 70 or so friends and family stood in the chilly air to grieve, to cry, and to light candles.
They wrote on white bags with black sharpies offering messages to the deceased: "Rest in peace." "We won't forget you." "You are loved." The bags with candles were arranged in the shape of a cross so that those in the buildings surrounding the site would see the lights. Death can't snuff out the light of the lives of those we love.
Anna spoke of the gifts Nicholas gave them. Laughter. Hope. Joy. Love. She said she feels guilty in the moments in between the strong pangs of missing him, until the pangs come again. She worries that the space between them is too long.
Sometimes, we need our faith in the resurrection. Praying, I said that the resurrection is not about ghosts. It is about the hope that we will meet the ones we love on the other side. And that, in the meantime, those who have died live in us as memory, as experience.
Sometimes, I need my faith in the resurrection. To comfort myself. My mom is sick. I wonder, how long will she live? How I cherish the belief that one day she will be strong and free, dancing the boogie-woogie all around heaven. Sitting on a porch swing with her mother, my grandmother, Ma' dear, who will have a spittoon near her for her snuff. Mommy will be shelling peas, like she did when she was a little girl. And the smell of magnolias will waft around them, while a pot of greens on the stove sends puffs of steam into the air. No pain, no Jim Crow. Just love. Joy. Peace.
How do we think about the resurrection in times like these? When explosions caused by hatred and fear happen all around the globe, because we forget how interconnected we are, and that our actions cause reactions in others' lives. How do we talk about resurrection, when in cities all over the nation, the "haves" have so much more than "have-nots"? When the discourse in the presidential race has descended into hell?
I need to believe in a God who can make dead things live again. Relationships. Hope. Love. I have no doubt that God can do miraculous things.
I don't doubt the power of the God who loves us. God can change hearts to make us free. God is able to make dead wombs give life to creativity. God is able to heal blind eyes so we can see our way to a healed world. God is able to use our resources to feed hungry masses. God can fix atrophied muscles so they can dance again, and march toward justice.
But I am skeptical. About people. About whether we can get it right. About whether, in the midst of a global epidemic of violence and vitriol, God's intent for us can be our intent.
Does the Easter story make a difference to us? Maybe the gospel writers were wondering the same. They don't agree on all the details, but they agree that Jesus' body is not in the tomb; he is not there.
He is risen. God raised him.
And they agree that faith does not come from the empty tomb. It is grounded in the presence of the Risen One in our human experience. Mary heard his voice, remembered him, and recognized him. He appeared to the disciples and they remembered and recognized him as he breathed the Holy Spirit on them. It is our human experience that leads to faith. We believe because we experience the Risen One in our lived experience.
And we will not experience the living Christ among the dead; he is among the living.
So, the question is, where are we looking for the Living One? He is not on the cross. He is not in a tomb, closed up in a cave behind some rock. He is not there.
He is here. Living. Breathing. Speaking. Teaching. Writing. Healing. Singing. Praying. Bathing babies. Bandaging knees. Soothing hot foreheads with cool hands. He is right here. Dancing. Rehearsing the reign of God. Marching. Protesting. Die-ing in. Rising up.
He is standing in line, registering to vote, planning to impact history. He is tweeting hope-filled words, he is writing prayers on Facebook. He is confronting his friends who think it is just fine to deliver racist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic hate-speech. He is saying, "No, not on my watch."
The Living Christ is busy campaigning to open minds in North Carolina about trans-people; they too, he is saying, are beloved children of God. He is registering people to vote. He is mourning Brussels, Paris, San Bernardino, and Charleston. He grieves when religion is used as a weapon.
He is resurrected, embodied, and living in a man named Jorge, whom we know as Pope Frances, who on Maundy Thursday washed the feet of Muslim, Hindu, and Christian refugees, declaring them all children of the same God. Knelt before them. Poured holy water over their feet. Wiped them dry. Then kissed them! He was there, breaking the "Christian men only" rules--washing the feet of men and women.
The Risen One lives in the Nuns on the Bus, who call attention to legislation that wounds women. He has not forgotten the fallen and will not rest until there are no more Trayvons, Ramalis, Erics, and Sandys.
He is everywhere. Meeting with the grieving. Holding up the stumbling. Redeeming the lost. Giving new insight to those blinded by fear. Transforming the worst bigot into a justice-loving ally. Working for a living wage.
He is in a trans man's wedding vows. In the struggling family trying to keep their apartment. In the teacher looking for a new vocation. In the grieving best friend planning a memorial.
He is everywhere, in the compassionate agnostic, the super-sure believer, the underemployed actor, the lonely senior, the child full of wonder, the couple whose love is lost and the couple who reconcile. He is present in the breaking of bread, in the making of sandwiches, in the folding of clothing, in the giving of time, in the sacrificial donation. He is present in songs sung. Prayers uttered. In the curve of an arm, in arms holding an infant, in hands held tight, in grief and in joy.
You are proof of the resurrection. Thanks be to God, you are proof of life. You answer my skepticism with your amazing grace, with your fabulous ordinariness, and with your humanity, because God is rising up in you. Love is alive in you.
Oh yeah, I believe in the Risen One. He lives in YOU!