Worth Longing For

Cover image "Glory of Christ" by Stephen B Whatley

Scripture  |  Psalm 100  |  Mark 16:1-8

 

"Stunned". "Bewildered". "Afraid".

Those aren’t exactly the feelings we’re looking for on a bright Easter morning, are they? I don’t know about you, but I’m looking for happy, exuberant, joyful. This is Easter, after all. Of all the days in the year, this one shouldn’t be a downer.

Except that Easter begins at a tomb. The story may not end there, but that’s where it starts. With Jesus crucified. With grieving women. With absent, silent disciples. It begins with the very worst the world can offer, with the worst that we can feel, with the worst that humanity can do, and does. 

On a day when we’re looking for sunshine and flowers, Easter eggs and Easter bunnies and pretty Easter bonnets, it’s a heck of a way to start. 

Easter should be a day of laughter and brightness and light. That’s what we’re hoping for, isn’t it? For the promise of good news we’re dying to hear. We want to worship the Lord with gladness! To come into God’s presence with singing! It would be such a relief if just once we could leave the pain of the world outside, leave the sadness and grief and confusion out there, leave it at least for awhile and bask in the beauty of Easter.

I know how I want it to feel – I want it to feel like that first warm Spring day and the sun’s out and the daffodils are in bloom – like life is pulsing through your veins and you feel like a kid again. Like you’re waking from a long winter’s slumber and the sunshine almost hurts your eyes, the sky’s so bright and beautiful. 

That’s what I want to feel on Easter. Astounded at life. 

I’m grateful for how easy it is to feel that way when Easter comes on a Sunday like this, with the earth so full of beauty, with warm breezes and daffodils blooming and the trees beginning to bud. It’s like you can’t help but feeling full of life and joy and hope…. 

The only thing is, when it’s this pretty, it’s easy to forget that this new life springs up from the dust and dirt and ashes. That’s what it’s like with Easter joy. It’s easy to forget that the resurrection hope we find doesn’t come from easy, cheery optimism, from life at its best - but from the depth of a tomb. 

Honestly – and this may sound strange - but I’m kind of glad it starts at the tomb. That’s what makes it so real. All the feelings I feel about Easter – the gratitude, the glory, the joy – it’s because all the rest happened first. 

Like those women who went to the tomb, I know what it’s like to be afraid. I remember the bitter taste of grief. I’ve seen what goes on in the world, the evil, the terror, the hurt. It’s because of all that, I need Easter. 

Our lives are complicated. It’s never simple. There are layers and layers of feelings in us, piles of memories, a myriad of fears and hopes. Sometimes we’re full of bright sunshine, but some times are darker and bleak. If we worshiped a two-dimensional God, all sweetness and light, what good would it be? The minute the storms came we’d abandon all faith. Or we’d feel abandoned by God, which is worse.

But we worship a God who became flesh-and-blood, to live in this real world – God-with-us.

This Jesus we worship this morning? He’s not someone who only shows up when life’s pretty, like some fair-weather friend. He’s with us through all the highs and lows, joys and sorrows, even through death itself. His steadfast love endures forever, no matter what else may happen, no matter what we say or what we do, no matter how strong our faith or how potent our doubts. That’s the Jesus we worship. 

It wasn’t long ago I led a funeral for a friend. Her illness was terrible; it took away some of the most basic pleasures in life. Towards the end of her life we talked about death, and what happens next. 

It was easy to see God in her life – in her love and vitality and kindness – but we could both see God in her dying as well. Not that it was God’s will for her to suffer; that’s not what I mean. But the presence of God was bringing her peace – her trust that death is not the final word, that there’s something beyond death we believe in because of the empty tomb. She felt so much comfort and peace, you could feel it. And she shared her peace like a blessing.

Last summer when I had cancer, I glimpsed that peace, too. It may sound strange, but sometimes it was like I could see the bright presence of God, feel the sweep of God’s Spirit like a soft breeze, feel the warmth of Jesus’ touch. It’s hard to find words, but it was like everything that wasn’t beautiful was stripped away. 

It seems so strange to even say that out loud. Cancer isn’t ever pretty. But sick as I was I felt like I was filled with life. In spite of everything to the contrary, the Spirit of Jesus was greater than my illness, and I knew it with every ounce of my being. 

I heard another Christian put this way: “Anyone can find spirituality and see God in a sunset, but ‘because of my faith and faith community, I can see God in my deathbed and in my failures.’”

It’s because of Jesus that we see God not only in sunrises but also in storms. It’s because of our community of faith, worshiping Jesus who promises life. It’s because of our faith in a Savior who forgave the failures of others – even the ones who betrayed him. It’s because of Jesus, who was in the tomb, but left it empty. 

In a world where hurt and anger and hatred make headline news, we believe that there’s something more; not a make-believe world where nothing bad happens, but a world where our Savior endured the worst out of sheer love for us. Here we practice believing what resurrection promises – hope greater than our despair, love stronger than the power of hate, and life than even death cannot conquer. Here we embrace the mystery we find in an empty tomb.

Maybe the resurrection is still hard for you to believe in, even right now, even here on this gorgeous morning as we sing these hymns and proclaim our faith. So much in our world shouts it down – the ugliness, the sheer meanness. It’s easy to believe in the cross – that part makes perfect sense. But Easter? The resurrection? Sometimes it may seem like mere wishful thinking. 

But maybe we work too hard at ‘believing.’ Maybe we really should start with our own deepest longings. Instead of trying to ‘believe’ with our heads, we could pay more attention to our hearts, and what they long for…

… a life full of meaning and joy
… or a heart full of courage
… a community where we are known and loved
… or even a world that’s at peace. 

Inside us, we know how it could be, how it should be. Against all that confronts us, over all the world gives us, in spite of all the power of sin and of death, somehow we still know, and we hunger for it with every ounce of our souls. 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu says that’s what Easter really means: 

Easter means hope prevails over despair. Jesus reigns as Lord of Lords and King of Kings. ... Easter says to us that despite everything to the contrary, his will for us will prevail over hate, justice over injustice and oppression, peace over-exploitation and bitterness.

Isn’t that worth longing for? 
Isn’t that worth living for? 

When the sun rose the first Easter morning, sad, frightened women went to that closed, darkened tomb, only to find it wide open, and empty. 

This brightness we see all around us? This lightness we feel? It’s real. And it’s more than the sunshine and flowers. 

He is risen. 
He is risen, indeed.
And it’s astounding.