There You Will See Him

[special_heading title=”There You Will See Him” subtitle=”By Rev. Dr. Louise Westfall ” separator=”yes”]Matthew 28:1-10

The Easter proclamation from Matthew in the 28th chapter at the first verse.  Listen for God’s word to you!  [Matthew 28:1-10]

Do you believe in miracles?

Isn’t that the meaning of Easter? There were no eyewitnesses to the resurrection event, but give the gospel writer credit for trying. Earthquake!  Lightning! Angel!  And suddenly:  the once-dead Jesus, in the flesh!  It’s a miracle!   Do you believe?

. . . but actually, the bar for belief in miracles is much, much lower.  We speak of the miracle of blooming nature, the annual greening of the earth; the miracle of birth, the miracle of the Internet, the long-sought miracle of a Rockies winning season.  I know some staff members who will rejoice in the miracle of an Easter service in which no fire alarms go off, no children are injured in the parade of lilies, and everyone goes home a little happier and more hopeful than they were when they arrived.

Do you believe in miracles?   Recently, a Central family gave me a book called Miracles We Have Seen.  It’s an extraordinary collection of stories shared by doctors about experiences of healing for which there is no medical explanation.  Impossible cures, stunning awakenings, and breathtaking resuscitations are described with unmistakable awe.  We thought this might be a useful book for preaching, Sherry said with a smile.  [Miracles We Have Seen:  America’s Leading Physicians Share Stories They Can’t Forget, edited by Harley Rotbart, MD]

Jackpot!  Right?   What better way to illustrate the miracle of Easter than with an inspiring contemporary example of victory over death?!

Except. . . .  no.  A flood of faces came to mind.  The friend with a  sudden cancer diagnosis. . . .the couple whose newborn died. . . . the church member in a former congregation paralyzed through medical error. . . . a recent widow for whom the “alleluias” today stick in her throat. . . . friends whose 21-year-old daughter took her life…a couple whose marriage is on shaky footing. . . . an elderly woman who lives with chronic, unrelenting pain. . . an extended family member arrested this week in possession of meth paraphernalia. . . . my mind’s eye view widened to encompass the photograph of the Syrian man clutching his two dead children, victims of poison gas dealt by their own government. . . .

I put the book down.  What do these miracles mean to people without one of their own?   Or to any of us, really, navigating the complexities of daily life, facing transitions whether chosen or thrust upon us, seeking to balance full plates served at breakneck speed?   Because frankly, miracles are far too random to count on.  What kind of capricious God doles out a healing here, but not there; Or brings this one back to life, but not this one?   All too often we attribute miracles to great faith, with the unintended message that if you don’t receive one, it’s because you didn’t have enough.

Friends, the good news of Easter is not about miracles, not even the mega-miracle of all time.  If it were, our celebration would mostly be an annual commemoration of a past event; Jesus of Nazareth crucified, dead, buried and on the third day, raised.  We would pour over the texts, imagine the scene, marvel at the women, the disciples, even “doubting Thomas” getting to see and touch their risen friend.  We would memorialize it (as the Church has) in a creed, affirming what we believe about Jesus.

But where is the power in that?  What difference does it make to succeeding generations who followed down the millennia even to this time, and for us?  What saving grace does it offer at graveside, or hospital or courtroom, classroom, business center or battlefield?  Frankly the grand sweep of human history right up to the present offers too much evidence of evil’s sway to pin our hope on a memory, miraculous though it be.    I’m not one to dispute miracles of all kinds described by individuals, even those biblical folk so long ago.  I just want to know what it changes for us, here and now.

And I think that is to be found in the text, in a phrase uttered by both angel messenger and risen Jesus:  Go to Galilee; there you will see him.  Galilee:  the place where Jesus had embodied the rule of God, by healing the sick, showing compassion to the suffering, offering the weary rest, welcoming outcasts, feeding the multitudes, blessing children, and gathering a community of people to do the same.    Go to the places of his once and future ministry and there you will see him.    [Feasting on the Word, commentary by D. Cameron Murchison, p. 350]

Friends, our Easter hope is found not simply in the account of an empty tomb, but as we experience Jesus alive in the great, life-giving mission he is pursuing now.    The Easter proclamation is not Christ WAS risen, but Christ IS risen [Christ is risen indeed].    Here in this place, among people like you and me.  What changes everything is that God acted in the boundary of life we call death to do something completely new.  Not just a miracle frozen in time, but something that shatters the permanence and power of death once and for all.   Christ is alive, and can be seen in places where hurt and harm and despair are being changed into healing and hope; where people are finding a whole new life.

Recently I saw the latest version of Beauty and the Beast.  You know the story. (And if you don’t. . . spoiler alert!)   An enchantress has turned a selfish prince into a large, terrifying animal and will remain one unless he can learn to give and receive love.   Through many dangers, toils, and snares he comes to love the beautiful, saintly Belle.    When Gaston and the villagers arrive to rid the world of this fearsome threat, the Beast is dealt a mortal wound.  As he is dying in Belle’s arms, she tells him she loves him.  The curse is broken, the Beast awakens to life again as a kind and handsome prince.   A wonderful tale, sometimes unfortunately reduced to mere romantic attachment, but actually, one that resounds with Easter hope in the power of love to resurrect and transform the beast that lies in each one of us.

If death is not a final end, then we are free to do more with our lives than just preserve them.  We can use them to join the living One in death-defying, grace-filled actions. We can love with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength.    Like the family who gave me the book.  They don’t build their lives on the hope of experiencing miracles more frequently.  Instead, as they have faced health challenges, the death of loved ones, and daily anxieties, they have felt the presence of a living Christ and discovered new strength and courage and peace.   Their faith is growing because they have participated in church ministries that reunite broken families, help people regain lives of dignity and purpose, build houses with and for homeless persons, and have seen dead ends and dying hope rise up before them.   It’s changed the way they look at everything.  So much so that they have even re-ordered their financial priorities to include generous giving now and in their future plans.  Andy, Sherry, and Lauren Kenney help me believe in resurrection, about living without fear through their witness to a living Lord Jesus Christ.  When I asked the Kenney’s permission to share this with you, it was important to them that they weren’t portrayed as otherworldly saints.  “We’re just ordinary people.”

Maybe it’s a miracle after all.   Not a miracle that happens when God does what we want, but the miracle that happens when we do what God wants. . . and life is the outcome.   Alleluia!   Amen.