April 21 - “Resuscitating Hope"

Readings: 1 Chronicles 29:10-13 and Luke 24:1-12

To resuscitate someone is to bring them back to life when they have slipped into unconsciousness, or their heart has stopped. Merriam-Webster says that it is “to revive from apparent death or from unconsciousness”[1]

Now I don't know how many of you know this, but Grey's Anatomy is now the longest running TV medical drama. In the Hill household, we have been watching with the doctors of Seattle Grace Hospital for every season, journeying with them and have seen first-hand so many people being resuscitated after flat-lining, or coming into the hospital apparently dead. Of course I understand that this may be different from the real thing, but it looks real, and it’s pretty remarkable to see someone who is apparently dead become resuscitated into new life. However, in order for them to be resuscitated, they have to have crossed that line. They have to have experienced apparent death. They have to have experienced a Good Friday moment.

The death of Jesus wasn’t just apparent. He was dead dead. When the Roman guard went to take down the criminals from their crosses, they broke the legs of the other two to make sure they were dead, dead. Jesus was already completely dead, thus they simply pierced his side and his fluids drained. It’s like a medical drama unfolding before our eyes. And not just ours – in front of all those who dared to stick around to see. It must have been unbelievably painful for the disciples to stick around, not to mention terrifying, humiliating, and disappointing. I’m sure they hid off to the side, around corners and behind trees, to watch as their leader, the one they thought was the Messiah be executed. They were probably very afraid that the crowds or the guards might decide to erect another cross and hang this band of followers too.

They probably stood by hoping Jesus was going to perform another of his miracles that they had see time after time…and he’d finally demonstrate to all exactly who he was. And then, he was beaten, and he didn’t resist. He was convicted, he was mocked and laughed at, he was nailed to the cross, he breathed his last. And he died. As the fluids poured from his limp body, I imagine the last little flame of hope was extinguished. It was over. Jesus said it is finished, and I’m sure that’s exactly what the disciples thought too – okay, this is finished. Our dreams, our hopes, our expectations, the possibilities…finished.

So now what were they to do? Where were there to go? Was there any hope? There would likely be more investigation to come after them. Was there any reason the disciples should stay together anyway? After all, they had no leader, and the one who had inspired them had just died, and not just died, he’d been shamed and killed, as an example to them all. Why’d they get their hopes up? How had they managed to be SO wrong?

Yes, in order for resuscitation to occur, there must be a Good Friday moment. A death.

We have all been there. Well, while we haven’t actually witnessed an execution, much less of our Savior, we know Good Friday. Those of us who were here on Friday experienced the movement of our souls through the voices of our choir. We have experienced Good Friday moments, when our hope was extinguished. Those moments come when we personally experience tragedy – news that wrecks our worlds. A job ends. A loved one betrays. A diagnosis arrives. And even beyond that, we look at buildings like Notre Dame engulfed in flame and see correlations with the state of world. It feels like judgment on humanity. A young woman in Bangladesh was burned to death because she had the courage to come forward and report sexual assault. A 9 year old child in Wauconda drowns in a lake when he thought he was just having a good time. Churches in Louisiana are burned to ruins because racism still exists and fear of the “other” induces some people to violence. Our planet is crying out and yet we enjoy the convenience of disposable products are literally filling up the ocean with garbage. The list goes on and on…oh yeah, we know what it is to feel hopeless. But wait…

Then a few days later, when it potentially more safe to anoint the body, when some of the tension had dissipated, when the Passover was over and ritual defilement wouldn’t have been an issue so the Pharisees wouldn’t be on the lookout to catch someone breaking the law, the women sneak out. They went to tend to the body of their friend, their Savior, their inspiration. The men could have done this, but they were still…stuck. Defeated. They had likely still been asleep after all the last few days had been exhausting. The women arrive at the tomb with fears and devastation. They were not hopeful. They did not expect to experience Resurrection on that Easter morning. They expected to be confronted yet again with death. They have anointed other bodies. They’d seen death before, but this was worse.

But, when they arrive, something was off. The stone was rolled to the side, which was actually helpful, but their warning bells started to sound. When they looked inside, Jesus’ body wasn’t there. In the flash of a second, a million scenarios must have played across their minds. And then two angels appeared. At least, we assume they were angels. Luke’s version says “Men in dazzling clothes” appeared. And with joy and dismay they announce to the women that Jesus is alive, just as he said. Like receiving the current from a defibrillator, the women are jolted to life.

RIGHT! We know good and well what he said…we just figured he was wrong. But these two – they were not grave robbers, they were not Roman soldiers or Pharisees…and the women took off, running like they’d never before run in their lives! They went to tell the others, who also were disbelieving. In fact, they thought the women were telling an “idle tale.” This isn’t the first time women’s stories have been discounted. However, beginning to receive some of the energy and the electricity in the room, they too run to the tomb to find it empty. And to find their hope fully resuscitated. Jesus did it. He HAD demonstrated who he was. Death and evil forces of this power could NOT stop him. Their hope and faith wasn’t misplaced.

As St. Augustine says, “We are Easter people and Alleluia is our song.” On Easter morning, we somewhat bleary-eyed, squint in the light, haunted by the mess of the world, and hear the good news that God is not dead. Evil has not defeated good – as least not conclusively. It’s not over yet!

I don’t know how many of you are into Marvel’s Avengers movies. The last one was called Infinity War, and in it, all of the Avengers work together to try to take down the bad guy, Thanos who has acquired all of the magical stones that allow him to shift reality, travel through time, and more. Spoiler alert to those who haven’t seen it…At the end of Infinity War, Thanos wins. And the movie ends. With many of our beloved Avengers turning to dust. In an Ash Wednesday meets Good Friday kind of moment, many of us left the theater stunned. There’s no way…but friends, the next movie comes out this Thursday. Trailers that have been dropped have insinuated that perhaps there some kind of time travel possible, which to this pastor feels a little bit like resurrection – going back in time to say just a few more things and hope that those left behind can get it right this time. It’s not over!

In fact, resurrection, the resuscitation of hope and faith in the disciples and in us signals a new beginning. Today is a day when we celebrate that God is only getting started!! In the words of Justo L. González, "The resurrection is not the continuation of the story. Nor is it just its happy ending. It is the beginning of a new story, of a new age in history….What now remain are no more than skirmishes in a battle that has already been won" (Luke, Belief Series).

Isn’t that good news? That’s Good news worth getting up early to hear, worth getting the kids all dressed up and going to church to realize. That isn’t to say that all those things that make us feel like Good Friday is still upon us aren’t real. Faith in a Resurrected Lord doesn’t diminish the very real pain we experience, nor the very real mess the world appears to be in…faith in a resurrected Lord means that we don’t believe those things will have the last word. The disciples on that Easter day found a resuscitated hope, resuscitated purpose. What was lost and apparently dead, was found or discovered anew.

We have been studying the Lord’s Prayer, and today is the day when we consider the last lines of the Lord’s Prayer. “For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever” is prayed in many Protestant Churches, but not the Catholic Church. I mess that up 100% of the time. These words are not in either Luke or Matthew’s versions of Jesus’ teaching. The Doxology sounds very much like the verses from Chronicles read earlier, as David was almost finished with his rule, he was drawing up plans for the construction of the Temple. He had invited folks to contribute and this was David’s song of praise. That’s all fine and dandy, but the thing that gets me is that the Lord’s prayer that was being taught to the early church was revolutionary. They were trying to live into the faith exemplified in Jesus…and they were persecuted for it. And yet, when they prayed, they decided to tack on the end of the prayer a little word of celebration – an articulation of resuscitated hope in the God whose Kingdom and Power and Glory would have the last word.

This is a statement of faith in the midst of the mess. “Christians were persecuted as heretics by the synagogue, denied the privileges of citizenship, boycotted in the marketplace, and in many instances put to death by the same empire that killed their Lord. Yet when they prayed the Prayer Jesus had taught them, they added as ascription like celestial trumpets.”[2] This is an exclamation at the end of our prayer that says – yes, Lord we are praying for daily bread, for your kingdom to come, for us to not fall into temptation and not get lost in evil…and at the end of the day – we know you got this!

Archbishop Oscar Romero, before his assassination by the powers that be over thirty years ago: "I have often been threatened with death. If they kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people. If the threats come to be fulfilled, from this moment I offer my blood to God for the redemption and resurrection of El Salvador. Let my blood be a seed of freedom and the sign that hope will soon be reality."

Jesus knew that his death would not be the end of the story; he knew that his blood would be "a seed of freedom and the sign that hope will soon be a reality." May this be a day, not only of resurrection but resuscitation, as we find new hope and bear the seeds of freedom and hope that our world…and we…so desperately need. For thine is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory Forever. Amen.

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/resuscitate

[2] Buttrick, George A. So We Believe, So We Pray. New York: Abingdon Press, p 224.

Resources: Bulletin Sermon PDF Audio

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