Easter Day 2017 – April 16
Jeremiah 31:1-6; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 28:1-10
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
About 2600 years ago the prophet Jeremiah spoke of the horrors that were coming to the nation of Israel. He told of the great and powerful Babylonians who were to sweep into Israel and take the people into exile, how the people would lose their homes, how many of the families would be split up and forced to live in different places, how the temple that they revered would be destroyed, and how most everything that Israel held dear would be lost. The book of Jeremiah is long – 52 chapters – and full of harsh news about what is to befall the people who had already suffered a great deal.
Almost hidden away in the Book of Jeremiah, about midway through all the harsh prophesies, in the words we read this Easter Day, the prophet Jeremiah shares a sense of hope. After all the suffering takes place, Jeremiah says, the Lord will once again build up the people of Israel. The very worst thing imaginable is going to happen, Jeremiah says, but when all that is over, the people will come to know a goodness they have never known before. Evil will prevail for a time, Jeremiah says, but goodness will triumph. The darkest powers of the world will not and cannot keep goodness itself from doing its work. Jeremiah, whose words are so dark and so hard to bear, looks ahead and sees hope.
Time will bear out both the evil that Jeremiah foretells and the goodness that eventually emerges, the goodness that never dies. The suffering of Israel under the hands of the Babylonians covers 70 long years, two and almost three generations. But when that long suffering is over, the people come to know goodness in a way they never did before. Jeremiah proclaimed hope, words the people virtually forgot in the midst of their sufferings, but words that eventually are revealed to be truth. Goodness cannot be destroyed.
600 years before the world knew Jesus, Jeremiah spoke words of resurrection. The nation would die but the people would be raised up again. The truth that we proclaim this Easter Day, the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is not a truth that began with Jesus of Nazareth. If something is true, it has always been true and it will always be true. The truth of the resurrection can be seen looking as far back into history as we can look, and further still. The truth of the resurrection will be revealed to be true as far into the future as any of us will see, and further still. The truth of the resurrection, a truth that has always been and will always be, is that goodness will not and cannot be destroyed. The truth of the resurrection is that after whatever we are suffering this day is past, we will come to know goodness in a way we never imagined possible.
What if we could know that sense of hope as we face whatever trials we are going through? What if we could trust that, whatever befalls us, goodness is coming to us in ways far beyond our deepest desire?
I have a friend who says he is an atheist. I tell him he’s not an atheist; he’s just an Episcopalian that doesn’t go to church. His mind is full of all the questions you and I have about who God is and how God works but he just asks those questions out there instead of in here. He has a saying that I really love. “Statistically speaking,” my atheist friend says, “things have a way of working out a lot better than they have a right to.” That’s a faith statement if ever there was one. Bad things happen but they turn out better than we think they will. That’s a statement of hope built on experience.
Today we proclaim the great hope of the resurrection: nothing you face will defeat the great goodness of life itself. As your trials and sufferings abate, goodness as you never imagined it emerges. And, as we proclaim that message of the resurrection, we ask not that you just believe it because we read about it in scripture. We ask that you look at your own life and test the message. Look at your past sufferings. Look at the very worst that has happened to you. And take in the goodness that emerged when that suffering abated. That goodness doesn’t take away your suffering. That goodness redeems your suffering. That goodness shows us that it is larger and more true to life than even the pain we go through.
We see the hope of the resurrection as we look at our past sufferings. What if we could project that hope into the future? What if I could live into the sufferings of today with the hope that in time goodness like I have never imagined will emerge?
Maybe one of our problems is that we keep hoping to find something that will allow us to avoid pain and suffering altogether. We’re basically lazy and self-absorbed and we want a way to stay out of pain. To stay out of pain and suffering would be to stay out of life itself. Why did Jesus die on the cross? Because pain and suffering and even death is part of life. Jesus embraced death, went through it, because that is the way of the world. And after the world had its way, goodness emerged, the same goodness that has always been and will always be.
When we say that God sent his son to die for our sins, we don’t mean that God thought his son’s death was a nifty idea or even necessary. We mean God consciously chose to send us his son knowing full well what we would do – kill him – and what he would do in response – raise him from the dead and send us a clear message of forgiveness. The death of Jesus is not some cruel price that has to be paid in order for God to do something good. The death of Jesus is the pain you and I face ultimately, and in smaller ways day-in and day-out. And when pain and suffering and death all have their way, something remains, something eternal emerges: the very goodness of God, the very goodness of life itself. Why does a good God allow suffering? Life doesn’t give us the answer to that question but life does reveal that the very worst suffering gives way to goodness because goodness is larger and more real.
The hope of the resurrection is as old as the world and even older. It is the truth of how life holds together. Goodness cannot be destroyed. The resurrection of Jesus Christ bears that out. Your own experience bears that out. Goodness cannot be destroyed.