Seek the Living: Easter 2015
I make the same mistake about this time every year. I start thinking about Springtime and growing things, and I look at my disheveled eyesore of a front yard and think I’d better get to work on it. It starts with removing the old dead stuff. I have to pull out all the dead stuff so that new life has room to grow. How Lenten is that?
Well, back to my annual mistake. There are some plants that look really dead, by which I mean they look really really really dead. Like brittle and brown and crackly and half-rotted. They literally could not look more dead than they do. So I do the obvious thing and start breaking them off and throwing them away. And then, usually after I’ve ripped out most of it, I find a fresh green growth on the end of one of those dry, utterly-dead-looking stems. And I realize that all of that plant would have greened, if I’d given it the chance. I’d thought that nothing that dead could ever come to life again, but I was wrong.
It reminds me of a visit when I was young to Yellowstone National Park. There had been a devastating wildfire there that burnt almost a million acres down to black char on the ground. Looking out over that devastation was almost a physical weight, foothills and valleys stretching as far as you could see of char and ash. You could look far and wide and see nothing but death.
But far and wide isn’t the only way to look. Before getting back in the car to go somewhere less depressing, I happened to look more closely at what was right at my feet. Just the smallest little sapling, just starting to poke through the black and grey death. It was my own little version of Ezekiel’s vision: can these dry bones live? Can new life ever come from such utter destruction? Watch, Son of Man.
My gardening mistake of thinking no life could come from those dead branches, and that little Yellowstone pine taking its stand in the devastation, even Ezekiel’s vision… these are but signposts for the real story of the world. The real story of the world, and of my life and yours, is the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ, Who died and rose again, Who is alive. That Easter light shines into every dark place, the Easter life buds in all that is dead. What is dark within you? What is dead? One of the tasks of Lent each year is to expose all that is touched by sin and death, like debriding a wound, so that when Easter dawns and the stone is rolled away, new life can begin where once there was death.
Jesus’ first words when he began his public ministry, after emerging from forty days in the desert, were “the time has come, and the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” We began our forty days in the desert with the same words, signing ourselves with ash. Forty days in the desert can seem long, but the repentance is necessary, and not to be rushed over to get to the happy ending. Only then can we know just how absolute and encompassing is the victory of Easter. It’s not just that things can get pretty bad but still turn out okay. It’s not that things can get mostly dead but still manage to pull through.
It’s that the full fury of Hell, and every demonic power, and every sin you’ve ever committed, and every sin you ever could, and everything that hurts you, all the darkness and death there ever was or ever could be in the world and within you - all of that together is nothing next to the mercy and love of God.
“Repent and believe in the Gospel,” the first Christian sermon. We have repented, not for the last time. Now: believe in the Gospel. Let it fill every dead dark corner of our souls with a blazing “Alleluia!” For there is nothing so dead that Christ cannot make it live again.
Believe in the Gospel. Believe that what is dead inside you can live, that Christ has the power, that it can happen, and it will. Your way of the Cross is not yet over, but one day it will be, and until then even now the life of Easter fills your soul. Believe the Gospel, that compared with the power of Christ’s sacrifice, all the sin and darkness in your life is less than nothing. Believe the Gospel, that the Kingdom of God is at hand, and the time has come, and His grace is with you in every moment. You are not alone, and you are not abandoned, and you are never without His grace.
I pray with all my heart that everyone here will take this very personally, that the “Alleluia” will fill each soul bringing new life where once there was death. But it can’t be taken only personally; the Gospel calls us together even as it heals us within. The world needs Jesus Christ, and we are His witnesses. How many new martyrs just on Good Friday? How many this Lent? How many more to come, this year, and next? The world continues on the Way of the Cross, as everyone can see. We are witnesses to the Resurrection, which not everyone can see. It’s our job to show them. It’s our job to shine the light into the darkest corners, to plant the seed where only death can be found. Can these dry bones live? Watch, Son of Man.
Christ is alive. But how will the world know He is alive, except by seeing Him alive in us? Let the Church rise, from the tomb wherein we are sealed by the world’s hatred and by our own faults, let the Church rise and witness to a world that so desperately needs Jesus Christ: He is Risen. He is Alive.
How will the world know He is alive? Rise, Church. Let His life shine in us, lest they be seeking the living among the dead.