Mar 18, 2016

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Anticipating the Resurrection of Christ

Anticipating the Resurrection of ChristThank you to Chaplain Jessica Margrave Schirm in Spiritual Services for sharing this message for Easter.

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The church I attended as a child had several graveyards. The historic graveyard sat across the road from the church and contained the tombstones and remains of the first church members most from the early 1800s. The newer graveyard was located behind the church on a rolling hillside where most of my family is buried and where my parents will be buried when their time comes. As a child I spent many Sunday afternoons strolling or running through the tombstones as I waited for my grandmother to finish socializing after church. My friends and I would search for the headstones with the oldest dates, or the strangest names, or the youngest or oldest person buried below. Many of the old tombstones were crumbly and faded and often toppled over from age or reckless children. I’ll never forget how the graveyard seemed different, more holy and sacred, after my grandparents were buried in it.

In anticipation of Easter, Scripture invites us to linger awhile in the graveyard – at least from a spiritual perspective. I’ve heard many a Lenten sermon preached from the book of Ezekiel, the Valley of Dry Bones passage. The prophet in Ezekiel describes a vision of a dusty, dry battlefield – the embodiment of hopelessness and despair. The remains of the fallen soldiers had been left for dead, destined to return to dust much like the hopes of the exiled Israelites. Upon God’s instruction, Ezekiel prophesied to the arid land below him and to the prophet’s surprise the Lord demonstrates that against all odds, in the face of the gravest desolation, the impossible isn’t always what it seems. Immediately the sounds of re-creation echoed from the valley. Bones and sinews snapped and popped as they reattached themselves. Gasps for breath could be heard as life animated the newly reconstructed bodies. Ezekiel watched as the spirit of the Lord displayed its power to rebuild even the most broken life. If this is what God could do to restore the dead, how much more could God do to restore Israel?!

The resurrection of Christ demonstrates this very same reconstructive power and shocking hope. For the followers of Jesus, his death not only symbolized the end of his mortality, but also the end of his vision for the kingdom of God on earth. Their faith, their hope and their purpose had been murdered. On the first day of the week after Jesus’ death the women came to the tomb in mourning. Their clothes, their oils and spices, their wailing cries, their hushed whispers gave away the story in their heart. Death was all around them. But, like Ezekiel, their time in the graveyard was not what they expected. Where they had anticipated finding a cold dead body instead they found the dazzling possibility of new life. The Christ that had been crucified was no longer in his tomb. The activities of mourning no longer seemed appropriate. Hope, it seems, was all around them.

For many of us the idea of the resurrection of the dead is an intangible, maybe even a laughable impossibility. I have never seen crunchy dry bones reconnect to form a living human. I have never seen a buried person come back to life. But I wonder if there is hope in these resurrection stories that goes beyond our physical life and death? What are some of the other graveyards that we travel through? Where are the dry, dusty, dead places in our lives? Graveyards may not always be full of dead bodies, but may be full of dead hopes, dreams, relationships, jobs and promises.

As we anticipate the resurrection of Christ this Easter, let us imagine ourselves as people who are also in the process of resurrection. Resurrection is not merely an event that occurs at the end of time, but rather it is God’s daily promise that it is possible for something new and creative and life-giving to stir within us. Resurrection may be the day you wake up after the death of a loved one and smile for the first time without faking it. Resurrection may be the decision to commit to a new relationship after recovering from the failure of a broken one. Resurrection may be your decision to give God or the Church another chance.

Resurrection is a process. We must walk through the graveyard to get to Easter. Let us be cautious not to rush toward new life. Can we allow ourselves to linger in and to allow God to work with us in the midst of the graveyard? Can we trust that the hope of new life exists even when we cannot see it, hear it, feel it or believe it? Can we believe that God has the power to recreate our lives in imaginative and exciting new ways, and that God has the power to sustain us, even in the process of resurrection?

The hope of new life is shocking and unexpected. May we find value in all of the stages of the journey – trusting that God has the power to inspire new life in the most despairing situation. May we be blessed as we prepare to celebrate the hope of Christ’s resurrection this coming Easter Sunday!

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