St. David’s, Pepperell
Katherine Hancock Ragsdale
Today’s reading from Acts is an interesting choice for this most major of all the Feasts, Easter Sunday. You may have noticed that we’re halfway through that reading before we get to anything about the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus. The first half of the reading is about an argument. We’ve talked about that argument before. It was part of an on-going fight between Peter and Paul – two of the great leaders of the Church. It was an argument so intense that it threatened schism. Imagine that, schism within the Church!
Peter and Paul were fighting about rules. What were the rules for someone wanting to join this community of the followers of Jesus? Peter said that anyone could join, even those not born Jewish, as long as they were willing to become Jews – to convert and conform to Jewish law. Paul opined that maybe God was doing such an incredibly new thing that all the old rules were up for grabs. Paul thought that God was calling into this community even goyim as goyim. Even those who didn’t become circumcised or keep kosher could be welcomed. Peter was more than willing to let anyone become “one of us” as long as they were willing to become like one of us. Paul wanted to throw open the doors and welcome people in their own uniqueness. So they fought and one suspects that those around them at the time wondered if the community could withstand that fight.
So maybe this story does fit in with our Resurrection narrative of the day. Because this was a fight about who the Resurrection was for. Before we can decide if we care about what God is doing today it helps to know who God is doing it for. Does what we celebrate today matter to me? Is it for me? Am I included?
The fight told about in Acts ends with the words that start today’s reading. Peter has a dream – a vision from God – after which he says, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality.” Peter came to agree with Paul that the Good News of God in Christ, the gift and grace of the Resurrection, is for Jew and Greek, male and female, slave and free. It’s for circumcised and uncircumcised, gay and straight, kosher and tref eater, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, those who strive to know and follow the rules and those who fling themselves forward in faith – all of us.
This day is for all of us.
So, given that what we celebrate today is for us, matters to us – what is it that happened; what is it that we celebrate?
Today was the first day of the next week – the week after everything fell apart and hope died. Jesus had been executed.
It was inevitable. He had been standing up to the Empire and people were starting to listen. He was saying that Empire would not, could not, can not ever, survive. He said that starving the poor to fatten the wealthy, trampling the weak to protect the powerful, subordinating all things to the ambitions of Empire, was not only immoral, it was untenable. It could not work for long.
Rome couldn’t ignore that. He had to be stopped – he had to be crushed, as an example – so they executed him. Jesus’ friends and followers went into hiding. They locked themselves in, hoping to avoid the same fate that had befallen their leader. They sat out the Passover, the Sabbath, in hiding.
And on that first day, while the men still hid in fear, the women gathered their oils and perfumes and other supplies and set out to tend the body of their dead friend. Not prudent, perhaps, to be seen, in broad daylight, tending to the body of an executed insurrectionist, but sometimes we all need to let our hearts lead us places our heads know better than to go.
So, off they went to the tomb – and they found it empty. They must have been outraged as well as grief-stricken. The authorities had removed the body to keep it from becoming a rallying point. Without a by-your-leave or even a by-the-way to the family, they had taken even his corpse. All things, even common decency, had been made subservient to the needs, or fantasies, of the Empire.
Except they hadn’t.
He hadn’t been removed; he’d been resurrected. He had Risen.
Now, this is the point where I always expect to lose some of you. I’m sure there are at least a few folks in the room who are saying to yourselves right now, “Well, that’s a lovely story. Very sweet. But surely I’m not expected to actually believe in the Resurrection – that someone rose from the dead. It’s all a misunderstanding or a manipulative fiction.” So, should you be one of those people, let me say to you that you’re in excellent company. There are many people, respected scholars, faithful church-goers – bright people of strong faith and good conscience who don’t believe in a literal Resurrection – as there are bright, faithful people who do believe in it. Good, bright, faithful people who disagree. So, either way you go, you’re in good company.
And thinking about whether the Resurrection literally happened or not can make for an engaging academic exercise – but it’s not the point. There’s a danger of becoming so obsessed with the facts that we lose sight of the truth.
Here’s what’s true:
Out of dust and ashes – utter defeat – God created something new and beyond our imaging. And 2000 years later it still shapes our world. Those fear-filled men came out of hiding to proclaim what they had come to know – the power of Resurrection. And, as they had feared, some of them were killed for it. Some of them were killed horribly. And they did it anyway. Because the power of the Resurrection was too intense to be ignored.
Resurrection – those amazing times when things work out, not in spite of all that has gone wrong but somehow through, even because of, the very wrongness.
We know some of the times the Bible tells of. We know of times of living in happy complacency, occasionally wondering, perhaps, if there’s something missing, if there’s not more than this, but mostly just glad of our blessings and contented with our lives.
And we probably also know the times of yearning for more. Times of despair and hopelessness. Times of frustration. Times of loss and pain and bewilderment. And we know how those things pass and life goes on and gets better and all is, eventually, well again.
But, if we pay attention, we will also, every now and then, know the amazing miracle of Resurrection – when all our pain and loss are not erased, not negated, but transformed. When, against all reason, all logic, all possibility, our wounds become our strength, our loss becomes our victory, our pain becomes our triumph. We are re-born. Everything is new. We are new. It doesn’t just get better – heal with time. Our lives, and we, are transformed. Our trials are redeemed. We are Resurrected.
At Easter, we are called to celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection – and our own.
Christ is Risen and so are we. Risen to new life – new work, new responsibilities, new possibilities, new joy.
We are followers of the Risen Lord; how can we expect anything less than Resurrection for ourselves?
Alleluia, Christ is Risen.