I Know That Jesus Lives

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This sermon was preached at the Great Vigil of Easter, after the first four readings, the Creation, the Exodus, a New Heart, and the Valley of Dry Bones.

Easter Vigil — April 15th, 2017 — the Rev. James Joiner from Christopher Craun on Vimeo.

The stories we tell on this night are all miraculous. We sit here in the dark and try to remind ourselves of who God is and what God does and our language for doing this is the language of miracles. In a miracle, something which was nonexistent may now exist. The impossible can happen. Laws of nature break. For most of human history when something inexplicable happens we have tried to explain it by naming what is beyond ourselves. If the inexplicable happens in our favor we name a god and praise him. If the inexplicable happens to our detriment we name a demon and try to drive him out. And sometimes we realize that the god we have been praising is made of straw. Sometimes we realize that the demon we’ve been hating is ourselves. God’s people, people of the One God, have been defined by walking this line throughout the centuries, past a string of enticing false idols on one side, and a pile of impossible moral responsibilities on the other. Sometimes we have walked it carefully. Sometimes we have not. Who knows what really happened to Pharaoh’s finest, the Egyptians certainly didn’t record that story in their history. All we know is that a people who once were slaves found themselves miraculously free. In their liberation they saw God, and to remember that they told the gruesome story to their children about how their oppressors were drowned in a sea which parted just for them. Who knows what happened at the beginning of time. The answer which science brings us shares some things with the story God’s people tell. There was nothing, darkness, then, miraculously, a bright shining something burst onto the scene. But who was there to see it? A miracle is sometimes something which we simply cannot fathom, which we cannot understand or even imagine, and the stories we tell about God in the dark speak of someone who delights in playing at the edge of our comprehension. This is a God who tells Ezekiel: look at these bones. Look at this valley of rot and decay and death. Prophesy to the bones: they will live! Who knows what the prophet was facing in his life and work, an obstinate people who refused to listen to him, more than that, who violently derided him and drove him out of town, and here is God telling him to look at death and speak of life, here is God with miracles again. Do you know what that is like? For me it was failing out of college the first time through because I was a boy-crazed pot-head who couldn’t turn in a paper on time to save his life. For me it took friends who could look into the blank stare of the nobody I was determined to be and see someone who was worthy of being held up in a greater light. For the heros of our faith the miracles are even greater. For Sojourner Truth it was the nothingness of misogyny and white supremacy and slavery and the new life of freedom. For Desmond Tutu is was the nothingness of apartheid and the new life of God’s dream. For Oscar Romero it was the nothingness of poverty and the new life of giving voice to the impoverished. Fredrick Douglas. Florence Nightingale. Absalom Jones. Li Tim-Oi. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Martin Luther King. What it means to be God’s people is to look at death and live instead for the life we trust springs up from the grave.

We know this isn’t easy. We know it doesn’t just happen on our own. Of all the stories we tell on this night the one I find the most miraculous and unbelievable is the one where God says he will take the human heart of stone and make it one of living flesh again. I find it miraculous because I know how cold my own heart can be. Sure, God can speak above chaotic darkness and say let there be light and the light will appear, but when God speaks above the chaos of my own resentment and stubbornness and judgement and says let there be love, I still refuse to listen. To learn to do otherwise, to receive a living heart and let God write a new story there requires the courage to face death, and a faith that sees our new beginning there. I could not begin to have this faith in God if I did not have you. I would not know how to trust the miraculous work of God in the world if I did not know the Church. When I see you wash each other’s feet so tenderly I see that Jesus lives and my cold heart of stone melts into something which can be alive again. When I lose my voice in the middle of a liturgy and don’t even bat an eye because you’re there to give me a glass of water and pick up where I can’t carry on and because I know that you don’t think any less of me even when I mess something up I know that Jesus lives and is here to get me through. When I see you at the protest I know that Jesus lives. When I see you give a stranger a plate of chili mac I know that Jesus lives. When I hear about what you’ve been through and what you’re going through now and how much you trust in God to get you to the other side I know that Jesus lives. I know that Jesus lives because when we stand up here and say that Christ whom the world crucified and tried to silence cannot stay dead but has risen from the grave you answer back with the faith which has been handed down to us throughout the generations. The faith of Martin and Florence and Oscar and Absalom and Sojourner. The faith of Kathy Bang, and Vera Lund, and Marcile Wallace and Sandi Lien. The faith of John and Peter and Martha and Mary and Jesus. So. Are you ready to proclaim it?

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