I am going to be presumptuous this morning and share a hope that I have for you. It is presumptuous because it is partially dependent on how well we pull this Easter celebration together, how I do with this sermon, and how open you are to keep listening after I share my hope! My hope is that we all walk out of church this morning believing in a story of the resurrection. Now I have already increased my odds by saying ‘believing in A story’ not ‘THE’ story. And I am going to increase my odds even more by saying that I am expressing this hope because the world needs you to tell a story – a story about love wins, a story about hope lives, a story about joy abounds.
Each of the four Gospels of course describes their story of the resurrection. Each version highlights different details, uses different encounters with the Risen Christ, but each version shares a common thread that even those closest to Jesus during his earthly ministry expressed doubt – even as some of them stood face to face with the resurrected Jesus. In Mark, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome after first encountering Christ fled and didn’t say anything to anyone. And when they did share what they had seen, the disciples did not believe. In Luke the women go and tell the apostles, but as it says, “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” We hear from Thomas in the Gospel of John, “Unless I put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” And today we hear the story from the Gospel of Matthew. When the two Marys go ahead and tell the disciples, and the eleven disciples go to Galilee, and “When they saw Jesus, they worshipped him; but some doubted.”
So how I am helping my desire of having each of you walk out of here believing in the resurrection by telling you stories of doubt? Because it expresses that even when there is doubt – and there has been doubt from the very beginning – there is room for faith. There is room for the story of God’s love for God’s creation and God’s beloved community is big enough for everyone wherever we are on our journey. And there are people in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our offices, in our world who need to hear that there is room. Too many people have been hurt by a church that has limited God’s love, that has created a structure that has kept some people in and some people out, that has narrowed God’s grace and mercy and reserved Jesus as their own for those who believe exactly as the church has determined they have to believe. As a person of the church, I am sorry. I am sorry for any pain of exclusion, any pain of marginalization, any pain of disbelief caused by a church that was not big enough to hold your doubt. Because the Gospel truth is that the very first communities of faith that formed in Jesus’ name – the communities that spread the good news that God defeated death by raising Jesus, the people that told the stories of Jesus ministry among them – were communities of people that had both faith and doubt, but told a story of hope and light and love because that was what they had experienced of God in Jesus Christ.
God became incarnate in this world to give us an example of what it could look like if we reordered society in the way that God dreams for us. To give power and voice to the oppressed, to overturn the systems of violence and fear, to love and care for one another as beloved children of God. Jesus went to the cross during a violent and chaotic time. In the days leading up to what he knew would be the day of his death, he called for us to love one another, to serve one another. He bent down and washed the feet of his disciples, the disciples who would deny and betray him. He broke bread and shared wine and asked us to remember. When he died on the cross, the rulers of that world believed that they had won. But God’s redeeming work was not complete. Walter Brueggemann writes in A Way Other Than Our Own, “There is no discussion here about whether it is a physical or spiritual resurrection, about historical realism or metaphor. Simply the lean claim that the executioners did not and could not keep him dead. Because God, that deep power for life, has shattered the system of death and made all things new.”
God gave us a transformative truth that darkness will not be the last word. Fear and hatred will not be the last word. Violence and injustice will not be the last word. The way we exist…the way we resist…the way we persist is knowing that a new day is breaking. It is what makes us show up at the Detention Centers and demand justice. It is what makes us light candles in vigil when darkness is trying to overcome us. It is what makes us sing Hallelujah when we feel that God is near to us and we are near to God. A story of resurrection for me is when I got to go and marry same-sex couples the day it became legal in Oregon. The day we flooded the courtroom in support of a church member facing deportation. The day we hung the pictures and stories of every person killed in the shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando and sang and prayed together. The night the Vestry approved our green initiative to work toward having solar panels. The Women’s March in the pouring rain that took over the city of Portland and cities across the country. The morning my son ran around chasing the cherry blossom petals falling from the trees in the courtyard. There are stories of resurrection all around us. What is a story that you want to share? What is a story that the people you will sit around the dinner table with tonight need to hear? Go and tell a story of resurrection. Go and tell a story of hope and love and light. We have a good story. Let’s go proclaim it. Amen.