April 18, 2021
Third Sunday of Easter, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
Alleluia! Christ is risen.
Christ is risen, indeed. Alleluia!
We’re going to say the Nicene Creed today. We don’t always use the creed because it’s one of those parts of the service where we have some flexibility. Some people really love creeds. Others really don’t like them because they hear it as a legalistic, literal check-list of the things you have to believe to be considered orthodox. For baptisms and for confirmation next week, we use the Apostle’s Creed. It’s the oldest and is usually considered the baptismal creed. The Nicene creed, the one that’s a bit longer and more complex, is appointed for the Easter Season, maybe because it’s a bit more mysterious and poetic: God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, Begotten Not Made, of One Being with the Father.
The very last sentence in creed, one that I’ve hardly noticed before, leaps out at me this morning: We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
It doesn’t really say that we understand what resurrection the is–or are even willing to be too concrete about it. We just sort of covenant with each other that we’re willing to spend the rest of the week looking for it.
I think I’m going to need this last sentence for the next couple of weeks.
It seemed easier to trust the faith a few weeks ago when Easter Sunday was 80 degrees, and you could practically see the tulips growing. It seemed easier to look for think that something may come of George Floyd’s death as the prosecution was making its case in downtown Minneapolis.
By the third week of Easter: Not so easy. Gray days with snow. Virus rates surging again. One vaccine taken out of circulation. The defense in the Chauvin trial now making its case that the officer’s actions were justified. And by tomorrow afternoon, we’ll be holding our breath for the verdict. And with all that, we say yet another name: Daunte Wright. Twenty years old, pulled over for a traffic violation. No trial, no second chance, just an execution; one more in a list of names so long we can’t say them all out loud any more.
How many of us have said that this is just too much? Too much trauma spilling onto the street and into the nation’s discourse. Too much of the same. Too much talk and no action. Forget looking for the life that is yet to come. We keep getting wrenched back to lives that WERE; lives that will NOT BE.
It takes going to take some courage and a little daring to utter the last line of the Nicene Creed. Maybe we can only trust it if we keep saying it together, rather than as a collection of individuals who are stuck, in pain, at a loss, traumatized. It’s part of the Nicene Creed’s wisdom that it starts with “we” rather than “I.” It’s only as a group–all of us together—that we can mysteriously hold on to Easter even when death seems so much more powerful.
This morning, Luke gives us another of Jesus’ big resurrection reveal moments. They never seem big enough to make the resurrection certain, even to the ones right there in the room. It’s this confusing mix of fear and wonder, doubt and joy. The gospel writers keep telling us that coming into contact with Easter isn’t like having a Hollywood ending to the story but more like a dawning realization that is another force at work. Easter isn’t so much a “We win” moment, but a “We’re going to go on” moment because, while hate and death try to end the story, Jesus keeps showing up. You just can’t ever rule him out. Even when you lock the door.
How do you access this life of the world to come? Jesus gives us a two-pronged strategy. He could do a Ted Talk. Touch the wounds and to have a snack.
Somehow the key to Easter life—of knowing the real living presence of Jesus–is making contact with the wounds of God. Jesus’ body bears the marks of his trauma. The marks of brutality and suffering. The marks abuse and torture. The marks of weapons used against him.
Easter doesn’t erase those marks, but it does say that they are now laid upon the body of God. No one holds them alone. That gives us the frightful possibility of touching the wound without being undone by the wound. When all of creation’s trauma is held by God, there is the possibility for us to stand close enough to be healed. For the African American man who re-experiences his own trauma at being pulled over, God holds this moment. When a crowd experiences the rage of injustice, God holds the moment. When a mother cries out in lament, God holds the moment. When a nation sees yet again what it must see if it is to change, God holds the moment.
Martin Luther was convinced that the way to look for the resurrection of the dead was to go find the suffering of the world. Sometimes that’s within or on our own bodies. Sometimes that’s in Brooklyn Center or in Canada’s boreal forests. In those places, in the tears, the pain, the loss, in the anguished and angry cry, the stripping of the land, Jesus appears. Luther called it the theology of the cross. Most people want a theology of glory that glosses over the pain, turning Easter into nothing more than the musical, “Annie.” “The Sun will come out tomorrow.”
Black Lives can’t afford more naïve and white-washed sentimentality from American Christianity. Easter has to begin with the wound. It did for Jesus, and it must for all the baptized. In risking the painful and vulnerable reality of human life, letting it be heart-breaking and devastating–pain that leaves a mark—can lead us into a life that is yet to come. Experiencing the stuckness, the lack of good words, that so many of us feel right now is, from the perspective of resurrection, part of the process of coming to life and making a new world.
When God holds the wound along with us, touching it, allowing it, recognizing it, becomes an act of justice and hope. The wound, the trauma, even the death of the innocent, will not finally have the last word. It didn’t for Jesus, and it will not for any of us. Jesus’ brutalized and resurrected body is the sign that there is yet a life to come.
Jesus also says, “While you’re doing your trauma work, your justice work, your healing work, your Easter work, have something to eat.” He asks the disciples to bring him some grilled fish. Maybe he was starving after three days of fighting his way through hell, violence and death. He knew his friends had something that his body needed. Or maybe he just needed to show them that he would make a space in their fear and uncertainty for them to be renewed. Stopping to eat, taking a break, caring for the body, getting away from the pain, turning off the news for a time, taking a walk, having some lovely grilled fish, is as essential in looking for resurrection as “touching the wounds.”
Can we hear that side of Easter, too?
Years ago, when Darin and I were the subject of discipline charges from the ELCA because we told our bishops that we were together—living, as we were, into the life of the world to come. We were both trying to navigate the pain of it all. We were on the news almost every night during the church trial. Darin worked in a hospice program far out in the Atlanta suburbs. The administrator carried a handgun in her purse. He didn’t know who knew what, or what they would think of it all. Each day was filled with anxiety and uncertainty. One day, one of the cooks pulled him aside. After expressing one gorgeous expletive about what she’d seen on TV, she said, “Here, have some cake.”
He didn’t even have to look for the resurrection the dead that day. He could taste it.
Easter was a chocolate cake. She, no doubt with her own wounds of living as an African American woman from New York, now living in rural-suburban Georgia, saw his wounds, recognized it immediately as the mark of sin, death, and oppression, and served up cake.
I suspect that both of them were fed, and healed a bit more, and raised into the life of the world to come.
Christ is risen.
Touch the wounds.
Christ is risen.
Have some cake.
Christ is risen.
Christ is risen, indeed. Alleluia!