“Now the Green Blade Rises”

April 20, 2014


Isaiah 25:6-9

Matthew 28:1-10


After the genuine springtime warmth of yesterday and with the promise of more to come, does anybody still remember all of those below zero mornings of recent months?

Of course we do.

But they are now only memories.

 In spite of all the cold, in spite of all the pain and sorrow we have borne in recent months, we made it through. And, yes, some difficult memories are still very fresh; some pain very much with us even today.

But in God’s great mercy we are here together on this glorious Easter morning. And we can be thankful for that.

Outside the front doors of our church building the daffodils are sprouting once more. I saw them the first time this past week and I remembered that wonderful Easter hymn, “Now the Green Blade Rises”:

Love lives again, that with the dead has been,

Love is come again like wheat that rises green.

The process theologian Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki tells us: “The depths of God are joy, beauty, resurrection, and life.”[i] So the beauty of spring informs our Easter joy; the life of spring tells us something of Easter resurrection. And both spring and Easter will lead us into the depths of God.

Spring is something of a holy symbol, a visual sign each year of an ultimate reality: that life does conquer death; that our wintry hearts can thaw; that God can bring something new out of barren circumstances. In these days we stop and look—even the trees and ground are telling the good news of God’s “Yes” to all creation.

As you know, our celebration of Easter is connected to the spring. And the date for Easter changes from year to year because the date is the first Sunday after the first full moon falling on or after the vernal equinox.

And just as both Easter and the arrival of spring—real spring—cannot be pinned to any single day, Resurrection cannot—and will not—be confined to any one season. Because there is no set date, we are reminded each year that Resurrection can happen any time.

Resurrection happens anytime you discover God’s power working in you to bring you out of death and into life.

When you discover the grace to forgive, even though you’ve been hurt…

When you discover the strength to live by your deepest values instead of selling out to the highest bidder…

When you discover the hope that allows you to continue after disappointment or tragedy…

When you discover the courage to stand up for yourself, for others, to seek justice, to do the right thing rather than what’s convenient…

When you discover an abundance moving you to unexpected generosity…

Resurrection is happening regardless of the time of year or the day of the week.

Resurrection can happen at any time.

So while our celebration of Easter is connected to the spring, it is not spring that we announce in the church. Especially this Sunday, but, really, every Sunday of the year we proclaim the resurrection of Christ.

Easter speaks to us of something greater than spring. It tells us something we want to hear, something we need to hear, because it speaks to us as adults who know the weariness, the pain, the profound loneliness, the confusion, and the fear of living. As one person put it: “In the midst of our desolation, we find the risen Christ, triumphant over death and still shockingly alive, present to us in ways we cannot understand much less explain. In Christ we find vibrancy of life and a firm compassion that does not deny our suffering but transforms and illumines it.”[ii]

Resurrection invites us to look beyond the beauty of spring.

When Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph arrive at the tomb, their sorrow and confusion are met with a simple message: “He is not here; he has been raised.”

They come, Matthew tells us, simply to look at the tomb. They expect to find a place of death, not life. Even so, we can see their arrival at the tomb as an act of faith.

Faith that sustains does not overlook the harsh realities of our lives. Life doesn’t always go as we would want it to go. Friends betray, relationships collapse, children get ill. Violence is all too common.

Many people want to ignore the shadow side of life. Many of us would skip over the events of Good Friday. But recognizing that we, too, walk in the valley of deep darkness, we come closer to the power of the resurrection.

The words the women hear sink in and finally it dawns on them that they are in the wrong place.

All the explanation that the women get is “He is risen; he is not here.”

This is all the Easter explanation we ever get as well. “He is risen…” We aren’t told how. We aren’t told when. Nobody ever knew exactly what happened. Nobody was there to see it. But it hardly matters how the body of Jesus came to be missing because in the last analysis what convinced the people he had risen from the dead was not the absence of his corpse but his living presence.

And that has been the case ever since.

“He is risen; he is not here.”

Yes, it is easier to say and believe simply that spring has come again.

Resurrection tells us to look at the beautiful truth of spring—and then to look beyond it to something greater.

Look at the tomb: Jesus is not there.

Now, listen to a new language—the language of possibility. Resurrection begins, not with a body, but with a message of possibility.

We hear the good news: “Jesus has been raised from the dead and is going on before you.”

            Not where we once were

                        Not where we now are

                                    But before us—farther down the road

                                                We might yet encounter the risen Christ.

Listen to the message. Let it speak to your heart.

The message is this: Christ lives on. If we seek him in the realm of the dead we are told: “He is going on before you.”

We are invited to journey out of the predictable, dying world of anger, resentment, and bitterness. We are invited to journey toward possibility, miracle, and wonder, knowing that Christ is going on before us.

The cross speaks of God standing with us in the flux of events—and God is a sure presence in difficult times.

The resurrection speaks of God's being always ahead of events and is therefore the great ground of hope for the world, bringing forth the new and the unexpected, transforming life in ways we might never imagine.

Christ is alive in the world, leading us with the good news of a new power unleashed on the earth.

The risen Christ is always going ahead of us.

When we refuse to give in to evil,

When we will not give in to the cycle of violence,

When we seek to love one another,

then we discover that the risen Christ is always going ahead of us.

The resurrection of Jesus means that each of our days is filled with possibility.

At every turn there is wonder and miracle if we live with our eyes open.

The women hear the resurrection message, run from the tomb, and find Jesus standing in their path.

The two Marys, who were there when Jesus died on a cross, now confront the risen Christ who says: “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” The sisters, or course were already encountering the risen Christ.

In their age, the testimony of women wasn’t even allowed in a court.

And yet, here are women, the first to see the risen Christ, sent as the first to bring good news to others. The women are witnesses to the resurrection. They are apostles equal to the men in their experience and their calling.

They go with a message that Jesus will be found in unexpected places, among unexpected people.

Jesus is not in the tomb where they put him. God is not confined in the places where we try to put God. The celebration of Easter is never meant to be merely the celebration that we are Easter people, as if the circle drawn around us sets the limits of God’s purposes and God’s concerns.

Easter welcomes outsiders. It announces to everyone standing out on the edges of life that God’s love is for them as well.

Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning, not the culmination of the Christian hope. The victory of Easter is not yet complete, but it is promised.

The edges of God show much that is tragic. We cannot be callous toward the suffering around us. Our response to a world in pain is neither a flippant optimism that things must be fine if Christ is risen nor a dejected pessimism that evil has been victorious.

The hope of the resurrection is the hope that Christ is the first of many, the hope that God is still at work in us and through us transforming the world, bringing life out of death.

Our task is to carry that hope into the world.[iii]

Always he goes ahead of us; we never know where or when we shall see him; we only know we cannot escape him.[iv]

Resurrection answers crucifixion.

Life answers death.

This is the good news we find in the first and fading beauty of spring.

And in the unfading promise of God’s new creation we find the lasting joy of Easter.

[i] Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki, God, Christ, Church: A Practical Approach to Process Theology, quoted in Bearing Our Sorrows, pg. 166.

[iii] See discussion by Mary Ann Tolbert in her commentary on Mark in The Women's Bible Commentary, 1992, Westminster Press, pg. 274.

[iv] See Lamar Williamson, Mark, Interpretation Commentary Series.