Easter is a Paradox
On March 27, 2013, Brother Curtis Almquist of the Society of St John the Evangelist posted this: There is something about our suffering in life – what we would not have chosen but cannot avoid – when we say “yes” to God, when we show ourselves ready to bear our suffering before God, that opens the door for transformation, for consecration. There is something about facing the dark night that allows us to see the dawning of joy.
It seems a little strange to start with suffering on the morning of Easter, that ultimate dawning of joy, but stay with me here. When we say “yes” to God, in all things, not just the good times, perhaps especially during the bad times, when we say “yes” to God then, it opens the door for transformation. If we want transformation, if we want the joy, perhaps we are not saying “yes,” perhaps we are saying: “but it should be different!”
It was Dag Hammarskjöld that said this most important prayer that I use frequently: “For all that has been, Thank you. For all that is to come, Yes!”
For all, all that has been, all that will be. All of the bad times, all of the suffering, all of the good times, all of the joy, all of it. How can we say thanks to all of it? For me, it comes down to recognizing and affirming that I am not God – I know this is not news to many of you – but what that means is that I cannot see a big enough picture. If I cannot see the big picture, and I know I cannot, then I have the choice to decide that there must be some good reason that I simply cannot see yet – and may never see in this lifetime.
When Sue was hunting for a church position, she got to the finalist stage in several searches, and each time got the call saying that although she was a very qualified candidate, yada yada, the answer was no. It was a very difficult time. However, we had decided before the first one came back that if the answer was no, that we would choose to believe that something better was out there for her. And it was. And, it took longer than we wanted to wait. God’s time is not our time, and we tend to forget that.
Jesus saw the bigger picture. He knew, without any question that no matter what happens, God wins. No matter what. God wins. It may not look like that to us, but remember about God’s time. In God’s time, God wins. It may take longer than we think is a good idea, but the basic theological affirmation of Easter is that God wins.
So there are two directions I want to take that thought, that God wins. First, Susan Russell, a priest down in southern CA says this: The main story line (for the first 1000 years of Christian faith) was not “Jesus died for our sins,” but “Jesus died to destroy the power of death.” After Jesus’ death and resurrection, humankind could live as if death did not happen. They could live healed from the fear of death.” At the end of our service, and throughout the Easter season, we will sing one of the ancient hymns of the church, which talks about trampling down death and restoring life.
This is the story of Easter. There is suffering in our world. We agree with our Buddhist friends on that one. But we go on to talk about transformation and life, the restoration of life. And that transformation and restoration has to do with the deepest fear of our biggest enemy, death. The risen Christ calls us to focus on life, not death. That gives us hope. And hope is what ultimately keeps us alive. When we lose hope, we start dying.
In many churches, you will hear the phrase “Jesus died for our sins.” But, the story of Easter, the story of the death and resurrection, was always placed within the larger story of the life of Jesus. The early church always understood that this was the culmination of the story of Jesus, not the whole of it. Jesus died like he lived, and that is the point. When you live like he did, and die like he did, you are resurrected like he was. And how did he live? He loved without reserve. He forgave without reserve. He lived like he knew that God wins.
OK, so the second direction I want to play with from the “God wins” thought is that if God has the winning ticket, and we know it, then we want to be on God’s side. Don’t we? We affirm that God wins, no matter what, so if God is going to win, even if it doesn’t look like it right now, then we want to be on God’s side. This is opposite to how it is usually presented, isn’t it? Usually, people affirm that God is on their side. But if you think about it, that is ridiculous. God is on all of our sides, because God is not against anyone. We cannot claim God is on our side against some other group, because we also affirm that God is the Lord of the entire universe, and therefore is the God of the other group as well! So we cannot claim God is on our side, and we also understand, when someone says, “God is not on your side, God is on my side,” that their God is too small, their God is not the God of heaven and earth. So want to make sure that we are on God’s side! How do we do that?
There is a concept called “the common good.” The concept can be used in a very small sense or in a very large one. A small sense might be one’s body. A doctor recently prescribed a medicine for my sister, who was coughing very badly. She looked at the prescription and said no, I cannot take that, it will lower my blood pressure. She already has very low blood pressure. There was nothing wrong with the medicine, but for the common good of the whole of her body, it was not a good idea. In England, and when this country was started, there were areas of land that were set aside as “the commons.” That meant that no one person was allowed to own that land, everyone could use it. However, you could only use it in a way that did not hurt other people’s use of the land. Normally it was used for grazing, or for a gathering place in the village. A city park is a commons. Everyone is allowed to use the park, but it is owned by the collective, not an individual. When we think about the common good in a large sense, the idea of ecology is obvious. Everything we do affects the environment in a good or bad way, and since we all live in this environment, if we are to pay attention to the common good, we must try to live more ecologically.
Religious institutions are only now beginning to understand how important our contribution to the ecological discussion is – but it is. We understand that being on God’s side means caring for the environment, and calling out those who do not, because caring for the environment is caring for the common good. Devastation is the alternative.
So here is the sermon, distilled into a few lines:
For all that has been, Thank you.
For all that is to come, Yes!
Because God wins, always