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  • Dr. Bruce Havens

Portal to a New Life

a message by Dr. Bruce Havens

Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.

April 12, 2020

Matthew 28:1-10

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he[a] lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead,[b] and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Pure Joy! That’s what most of us think about when we think of Easter, right? All our prayers answered. Life eternal, see all our favorite kin in the afterlife, ignore the ones we didn’t like, maybe? If we take a second look at Scripture, the truth is much more bipolar. We imagine the first Easter as the highest high of joys, and we remember all the Easters past as if they were pure joy. It might seem even more so this year as the Coronavirus/Covid-19 Easter of 2020 has left us feeling joyless and we are pining even more for perfect Easters past. The truth is maybe this Easter can teach us more about Easter than any one before has.

This Easter is tinged with fear, anxiety over the future, social isolation, and even death. The truth is that this may be closer to what the first Easter really was than we have ever thought. But the joy that we associate with that first Easter became a reality. That pure joy just wasn’t immediate – if we read the texts. And this Easter may not be pure joy, heck, it might not be much joy, but I believe real joy can emerge – even if it is not pure joy.

But think back honestly, can you remember a time when you experienced “pure joy” past about the age of 5? I wonder if that is because, most of us, at that age we have never known that pain that comes with a broken heart? I can’t remember a specific time of pure joy out of my own childhood to be honest- sad to say - but I can remember watching my children at that age and watching other children and seeing what seemed to me to be their pure joy moments: first taste of ice cream, first day at the beach after a long winter, first snow – ever! Seems like firsts seem to define pure joy, at least in my thinking. So why do I say that first Easter wasn’t “pure joy?”

Like I said, read the stories. None of the Gospels report “pure joy.” They report confusion, fear, disbelief, and yes a few moments of what sound like pure faith – but those were few and not “perfect.” Mary falls at Jesus feet, after thinking he was the gardener in John’s Gospel and shouts “Rabbi!” Which to John’s mind means she was still thinking he was in his old human form, not in a new resurrected form. The men, Peter, John, were mostly running back and forth from where they were hiding to the tomb, going – “What the heck?” That’s my official translation of the Greek there, by the way.

But think about their situation and see if you can understand why they weren’t exactly bowled over with immediate, pure joy. They were in hiding, in fear for their lives. The man they had given up everything to follow was dead. Executed as an enemy of the state and a blasphemer of God. They were at risk too, because the Governor, Pilate, wasn’t one to show compassion for anyone who put his power or his position at risk, or questioned his authority, expertise, and all-knowing intellect. Their hopes for a new kingdom had been shattered. They still didn’t seem to grasp that Jesus never meant a Kingdom like David.

You can remember times when you have grieved loved ones, I am sure. But I doubt many of us have ever feared that our lives were at risk because of political and religious persecution, but many have. You and I may be worried now about our health, or the health of loved ones, friends, Facebook acquaintances, but despite the numbers few of us are really at risk – not to downplay either the seriousness or the risk of this virus. But all of us know the pain of grief, of hopes dashed, of fears about health or safety. So when we imagine Easter as pure joy, the reality is we are mostly imagining hope.

And that is the challenge of Easter: hope. For all of our brave declarations that “Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed!” I venture to say, we may claim to believe it but few of us live as if it were real. But my point isn’t criticism. My point is Easter lives in that place we call hope. It lives in the future. It is that reality our imagination holds for a better day. To get there we must pass through this time to a new time. We must look past the present time to a time yet to come. Our faith proclaims it as “already here.” If we can do that we can find real joy, if not pure joy. I think to truly believe and live that we must go through something almost like a door or a gate.

I am brought to this thought by something I read this week I want to share with you:

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. OR we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

I believe that Easter is a portal, a gateway to a new world. It isn’t just for when I die. It is there right now. The challenge for me is to believe I can go through that gate, through that portal and live that way now. Despite all the negativity, evil, death, and fear around me this writer challenges me to “walk through” that gate leaving behind “the carcasses of [my] prejudice and hatred, [my] avarice, [my] dead ideas.” I have to admit I am not sure I know how to or “can walk through lightly, with little luggage.” Part of me is ready to “imagine another world,” and part of me is “ready to fight for it,” but I often give up hope for despair, faith for inaction, readiness for new life for clinging to what is. I believe the statement in the Bible was put this way: “Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief!”

Maybe you are there too. Maybe you want to believe. Maybe you want to find that real Easter joy beyond this COVID-19- “safer-at-home”- desperate- about –the- future- time. Maybe you, like me, realize how broken our world is. Maybe you, like me, aren’t sure how much fight you have left in you for a new world, for a new life. Maybe you want to have God wave a magic wand and say, “Presto, change-o, Easter!” Boom! Easter proclaims God has done God’s part. God has done the new life/transformation/resurrection thing. So I suspect it really comes back to us to fight for it, to work for it.

What kind of work is it? Perhaps it is helpful to think of it this way. One of the great Biblical images for God is that of the Potter. God takes the clay and creates us, in the Biblical metaphor. The prophet reminds us that God gathers up the broken shards of the shattered pot to remake it. The Apostle Paul says we our lives are like having the Sacred Presence – treasure - in clay pots. Rev. Cameron Trimble offered this reflection in her online devotional this week.

She wrote, “My friend Dana is a sculptor. She creates beautiful bronzed statues, many of which are on display at some of our national museums and public parks. When she isn't working with bronze, she enjoys working with clay. She makes stunning glazed bowls, plates, and cups, each with their own unique shapes and colors. Her work is breathtaking to behold.

“The last time I was in her home, she handed me a bowl that had gold streaks running through what looked to be old cracks. When she saw me looking more closely, she said, ‘This bowl has been through a lot over the years, and it finally broke apart a while ago. But I felt like I could do more with it. So I melted gold and put it back together.’ But then she said something that I will never forget. She said, ‘You know, I can now see that it’s more beautiful for having been broken.’

“As we head into … Easter, we can see brokenness everywhere we look. We see gaping cracks in our institutions, our social order, our treatment of the vulnerable among us. We have cracks in our economies, our food supplies and clean water sources. The brokenness can feel overwhelming and hopeless.

“This is what I know about God. Our God, the Ultimate Potter, looks upon this broken-down world and, just like my friend Dana, sees how it can be more beautiful because of its brokenness, not in spite of it. God never causes the breaks, mind you. But once there, God uses them to bring forth new and even more beautiful creations. Easter is a story of how God took the brokenness of crucifixion and transformed it into new life through resurrection. God made something new, something even more beautiful in the Risen Christ. We can trust God to do this with us. This season, where everything is off and you may feel broken to your core, consider that God is creating within you someone more beautiful for having been broken.”

I like to think that this is why the Gospel writers reported that hardly anyone recognized the Risen Christ at first. The Risen Christ was so much more beautiful than they remembered him in the flesh. I pray that our new life, beyond – whenever, whatever beyond is – viruses and brokenness will be more beautiful. But maybe it will be because we remember the brokenness, maybe even feel it in our bodies and our lives. And I pray that remembering how broken we are will keep us from walking backwards out of the portal of possibility that Easter offers.

Easter is now. New life is here. The portal awaits. Let us pass through it now. AMEN.

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