Monday, May 17, 2021

Looking Ahead to May 23, 2021 -- Pentecost Sunday

The Scripture Reading for this Sunday is Acts 2:1-21

The Sermon title is In Your Own Language

For some of the thoughts that are going into this weeks sermon see also this column I wrote for the May 21 paper.

Early Thoughts: Language matters. If you have ever been in a place where you do not understand the language you know how much it matters. If people have tried to explain something to you using terms that you do not understand you know that language matters. We all want a chance to hear important things in language that we understand, in words that mean something to us.

One of the beautiful parts of the Pentecost story, in my opinion, is that everybody is able to hear the Gospel in their own language. I am not going to get into a discussion of how (or if) it actually happened. I am going to accept that it did, and that this is a beautiful statement about God caring for the needs of God's people.

A story/memory...
In my first year at seminary a fellow student was recalling a discussion she had in a University English class. The instructor asked who spoke with an accent. The student named that she did, which confused everyone else because she didn't appear to. But the student explained that they all spoke (and wrote and heard and read) with an accent. Even if the words were are pronounced the same they may carry different meanings based on our own personal accent, how we have been shaped by the world.

When we refuse to use language that the other can understand we are making a statement. Same thing happens in reverse. When we refuse to allow others to use language with which they are comfortable we make a statement. Same thing is true in reverse. More than once I have heard people complain about folk talking amongst themselves and the person overhearing is upset because they don't understand the language. Most often in that situation the complainer has been someone from the dominant culture insisting that "they" must speak "properly" (usually this has to do with English vs. non-English in my experience, but I have also seen it in a cross-generational context and different slang/idioms).

Language matters. Being allowed to hear and speak the form of language that brings you comfort matters. 

Another example comes to mind. How many adults have grown impatient because a child in their care did something that "they knew better"? I suspect almost all of us have done that. How many times have we asked why and found out that while we thought we were clear, the message did not get across for some reason? Maybe we used the wrong words. Maybe we used concepts the other did not understand.  Maybe we used shorthand of some sort and assumed the other knew what we meant. Language matters.

Acts 2 tells us that God knows how much language matters. Acts 2 reminds us that to actually communicate we need to take time to translate -- sometimes into a whole other language, sometimes into a different form of the same language.

What language do we need to use to spread the Good News today?

Monday, May 10, 2021

What Language Do We Use? (A piece for the May 21st newspaper)

 By now you should all have filled out your census. Did you get the short form or the long form? Like most others, our house got the short form. Even with 6 of us to list it only took 5-10 minutes to fill out. I was struck by how little information the short form asked for this year. I may be mistaken but I am sure that it has asked about more than names, ages and languages in the past. That being said, as one Facebook contact opined after filling it out: “how many different ways are there to ask what language I speak?”. At the same time, that made me start to think about language.

As people who are called to share our faith language matters. As people who are called to be communicators language matters. If we use language that only insiders recognize (jargon or acronyms for example) than we are not communicating clearly. If we use language that nobody uses anymore we are not communicating clearly. Language matters. What language do we use to share our faith?

Language matters, it matters a great deal. This is why more and more government documents are made available in a variety of languages – an e-mail from Alberta Health Services recently included a document in 9 languages. If we can not share a language our ability to communicate largely disappears. We know this when we are obviously speaking different languages (English or French or Cree or Tagalog for example). We miss it when we think we are speaking the same language but have different assumptions, because language changes with time. Are we sharing what is important to us in language that connects with the people we are talking to?

A story comes to mind. About 14 years ago I was at a conference. The speaker was talking about the history of hymn singing in the United Church. This was just after our new hymn resource More Voices had been released and there had been complaints that too many songs asked folk to sing in a “foreign” language. People really only wanted to sing in English because it was where they were comfortable. A friend of mine, who is a few years younger than me, said that she had been singing in a foreign language all her life. She is a native English speaker but was referring to the fact that many “classic hymns” use language that would be perfectly at home in the King James Bible or a Shakespearean play. They did not use language that was automatic to her. Could she understand them? Yes. But it was not her natural language.

This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday. I have always called Pentecost the second most important event in the whole Christian Year. The story of Pentecost is told in Acts chapter 2. It tells of how the Holy Spirit came upon and into the disciples and moved them to start proclaiming the story of Jesus; his teachings, his death, his resurrection, to anyone who would listen. Without this event the church would never have spread far and wide, it would have been limited to a small group of insiders. One of the best elements of the story is that whoever heard the disciples proclamation heard it in their own language.

I have always imagined that God was acting like the Universal Translator in the Star Trek franchise in the Pentecost story. The Universal Translator is what allows all the different races in Star Trek to communicate freely. As such it is a big piece of helping keep peace in the galaxy. In the Pentecost story the Holy Spirit seems to do this for the people gathered in Jerusalem that day. Alas, that is not what happens in our everyday life. There is no Universal Translator. It is on us to make sure we are communicating clearly.

Thankfully the story of faith is easy to translate. The story of faith, the story of the God who created and loves us, the story of a God who seeks relationship with us can be told in many different ways. We can tell it in Shakespearean English, in beatnik poetry, or in hip-hop rhymes. We can tell it in any of the many languages on the face of the earth. I am sure it has even been told in Klingon! What we can NOT do, and claim to be interested in communicating, is insist that it can only be told in one language or in one way. We can not be so selfish as to insist that our language or our way of speaking is the way others have to speak.

What language have you been using to tell your story? What language might you need to use instead?

Monday, May 3, 2021

Looking Ahead to May 9, 2021 -- Easter 6B

We remain in on-line only worship until the end of May. Hopefully another month of vaccinations will help create the right conditions where it is time to move to in-person AND on-line worship in June. You can find us Sunday mornings at 10:00 on our You Tube channel.

The Scripture Reading this week is Acts 10:9-16, 34-48.

The Sermon title is Breaking Boundaries

Early Thoughts: Humans, as a species, are good at drawing line. We are really good at determining who is in and who is out, or who is and who is not acceptable/holy/righteous/____________. 

To a degree this is helpful. If you are forming a specific community, with specific goals, with a specific identity, it is important to name what marks someone as a member of that community. Where it goes wrong is when that setting the limits of a community is used to pass judgement on others, or when the limits are created specifically to ensure some "undesirable" group or person can not join.

Religious communities are not immune from this tendency. As far back as the Nicene Creed in the 4th century the Christian Church has used statements of faith not only to define what Christian faith is but also to define what is unacceptable within the church. In more modern terms, many a Ministerial Association has written a faith statement within their structure to specifically exclude groups like the Church of Latter-Day Saints or the Jehovah Witnesses. And the reality is that in those discussions the language moves from "this is what we believe" to "we have the truth and those others are heretics" (or pagans or misled or flawed...). When that happens we have a problem.

The Gospel, as I understand it, is not about setting limits and building fences. So from the beginning of the Jesus movement, even before they were called Christians, there has been tension about who belongs. This week's reading from Acts speaks to the first major source of that tension.

The earliest church was, essentially, a Jewish sect. The members were Jewish, they followed Jewish law. But there were increasing numbers of Gentiles, non-Jews, attracted to the community. Did they have to become Jewish to follow Jesus? Did they have to follow Jewish law (circumcision and dietary laws being two key sticking points)?

The book of Acts has a few stories about how the Gospel of Christ breaks down the wall of a Jewish sect. The stories also talk about how previous assumptions about what makes one clean/acceptable/holy and what makes one unclean/unacceptable/profane need to be questioned. From the beginning to follow Jesus means to question and break down boundaries. Following Jesus is about openig ourselves to the wideness of God's grace and love.

Peter's dream helps him come to a new understanding of who belongs on the community. Paul's work around the Eastern end of the Mediterranean will expand the sense of who is part of the community, extending to his letter to the Galatians where he will proclaim that  "There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)

I saw this one on Twitter

Christians communities are still busy setting up fences and defining who is unacceptable. God is still in the business of challenging those fences, sometimes in the business of breaking them down and erasing the lines we draw. We still need to hear the words from Peter's dream: "What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 

What boundaries is God breaking down in our midst? Are we helping in that or are we busy trying to repair the breach?

Monday, April 26, 2021

Looking Ahead to May 2, 2021 -- Easter 5B

This being the first Sunday of the month we will be celebrating the sacrament of Communion.

Christ the Vine (Source)
The Scripture Reading for this week is John 15:1-11

The Time for the Young at Heart is called The Many-Branched Vine

The Sermon title is Roots and Connections Keep Us Healthy

Early Thoughts: what does it mean to see ourselves as branches growing from the True Vine? How does being connected to Christ, rooted in God, empower, sustain, feed us? 

Or maybe more importantly, what happens if we let ourselves be cut off from the vine? What happens if we stubbornly insist on starting our own roots?

Being linked to the vine, linked to something bigger, older, stronger than ourselves is a mixed blessing. The branch can not simply decide to be a piece of ivy instead of a grape. But the branch tied to the vine is tied to a source of energy and nutrition that it does not have by itself. Being part of the vine, attached to the same root system limits what we can be (that could be a plus or a minus I suppose). But, as the old saying tells us, there is strength in numbers.

This passage of John is from what is called the Farewell Discourse. This a a long section where Jesus is talking to his disciples before his arrest and death. In part the Farewell Discourse is Jesus preparing his friends for how to be his followers after he is gone. How will the keep up the drive when Jesus is not there in person anymore?

In part the answer is that we continue to abide in Jesus, and in God, and in Love. WE continue to live and thrive because we continue to be connected to the vine.

One of the concerns that has arisen as we live through this (seemingly never-ending) season of Covid-tide has been for mental and emotional health. Mental and emotional health rarely get as much press as physical health as it is. But how do we maintain them when we are separated from each other? The answer (or one of the answers) is still the same. Connection. Knowing where we are rooted. Keeping the connection to the Source of life keeps our souls healthy. 

A branch that gets cut off from the vine might, depending on the type of plant and the soil and the conditions, develop new roots of its own. Or it might simply dry up, wither away, and die

I am fairly sure withering away is not high on our list of things to do this year. SO let us remain connected to the vine, to the root, so that we can have life in abundance, so that we can be fruitful.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Looking Ahead to April 25, 2021 -- Easter 4B, Good Shepherd Sunday

Picture Source

In all three years of the cycle the Revised Common Lectionary has us read a piece from John 10 where Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd on the 4th Sunday of Easter. The Psalm suggested for those Sundays is also Psalm 23 "The Lord is my shepherd...". For this reason the 4th Sunday of the Easter Season is commonly known as Good Shepherd Sunday.

This Sunday we will hear these Scripture Readings:

  • 1 John 3:16-24
  • John 10:11-18

The Sermon title is Shepherd Love

Early Thoughts: What does it mean to say we follow the shepherd? What does it mean to say that the shepherd  loves us?

To read the whole of Scripture you could honestly come to believe that God has a fondness for herders of flocks. Abel is a herdsman and his offering is, Genesis tells us, more pleasing to God than the offering of the plant tender Cain. Jacob grows wealthy as a tender of the flocks. Moses is out tending the flocks of his father-in-law when he encounters the burning bush. David is a shepherd boy anointed to be king. The birth of Christ is announced to shepherds out in the fields. Jesus uses the image of the shepherd searching for the one lost sheep as a metaphor for the Kingdom of God. And then Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd.

Probably as a result of this imagery in Scripture, certainly because of John 10, images of Jesus as a shepherd abound in Western art history. The traditional Bishop's staff strongly resembles a Shepherd's Crook. The title Pastor for Christian clergy is related to pasture, to tending herds. Shepherds and sheep are a clear piece of the Christian story.

The Scripture stories about Shepherds remind us that being a shepherd can be a risky business. David claims he is able to fight Goliath because his skills have been honed fighting off predators who come to take the sheep. In this week's piece from John 10 Jesus talks about the shepherd sticking around and being willing to put health and life on the line for the sheep.

The shepherd, Jesus says, loves the sheep and they love the shepherd. The shepherd loves the sheep so much they are willing to take harm in protection of the sheep. The writer of 1 John (probably not the same person as the Gospel writer, and also probably not the same person who wrote Revelation -- there are a lot of John's in our story) calls us to love in truth and action. This may in fact mean putting ourselves in the line of fire, risking harm to reputation, physical health, or mental health.

But if Christ is our model, can we make a different choice but to love fully, in word and in deed?

Monday, April 12, 2021

Looking Ahead to April 18, 2021 -- 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year B

 The Scripture Reading this week is Luke 24:36-48

The Sermon title is Proof?

Early Thoughts: How do you prove Resurrection? Is that really what we need to do anyway?

I have heard more than one Easter Sunday sermon trying to "prove" the historic reality of a bodily resurrection. At times I have wondered if that is somehow what I am supposed to do on Easter Sunday. I have a strong sense that trying to provide some form of rational scientific proof of the Resurrection is missing the point.

That being said, the Gospels, particularly the Gospels of Luke and John (the last 2 Gospels put into written form) spend a bit of space showing how the resurrection was proved to the earliest disciples. In John's Gospel we have the famous story of "Doubting Thomas" and in Luke we have this story, which seems to have more than a few similarities.

Among the arguments used to cast doubt on the reality of Easter have been: Jesus was not really dead, someone stole his body so they could spread "fake news", people were having hysterical visions born of trauma and grief,it is all some grand ghost story. None of these attempts to explain away the Resurrection end up matching the evidence. First off, if an Empire wants you dead and has you in custody, you are not going to survive. Jesus was surely dead. In fact the few non-Biblical sources from that era to mention Jesus mention that he was put to death. The prevalence of the second argument is shown by the fact that Matthew includes a reference to it in his Gospel. However, even though the last few years have shown us that fake or alternative news can indeed have real power to shape attitudes, the stolen body hypothesis does not account for the ongoing power of the movement, the transformation of its followers from folk huddled in hiding to evangelists spreading across the Empire and risking their own lives. 

Both Doubting Thomas and this week's story from Luke (which I really think have a common memory source since there are such clear similarities) deal more with objections 3 and 4, especially with the 4th, the whole ghost story thing. Mass hysteria and collective visions have never made much sense to me. What are the odds of it happening? In 1 Corinthians 15, his magisterial chapter on Resurrection, Paul claims Christ appeared to 500 people at once (1 Cor 15:6). IN this week's passage the heavy emphasis on body also speaks against a vision of some sort. (On the other hand I would say that the experience of Paul himself as described in Acts is more like a mystical vision than anything else--but that is a single person, the odds of a room full of people having the same mystical experience at the same time are long. That emphasis on the body, on this is someone you can touch, someone who eats, someone who hears and speaks also are a direct counter to the "it is only a ghost" or "only the spirit" arguments as well. Here is the body of Jesus interacting with his friends. 

Is Luke offering this as proof of a bodily resurrection?  I think he is.

To be totally honest I wrestle with the empty tomb stories. In the last couple of decades my wrestling has largely been focused to the fact I doubt the existence of a tomb at all -- executed prisoners were often left on the cross as a warning to other possible trouble-makers, and even if they were to be buried it is likely in a mass unmarked grave of some sort. When I was younger I wrestled with the stories on the basis that they made little logical scientific sense. But the mystic that resides (sometimes deeply buried) inside me has come to appreciate the truth of the line from Hamlet "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy". Or in more traditional faith language "all things are possible with God". Over time I have pretty much dropped a desire to know for certain, to have Easter proved as a historic reality. 

From the very beginning people have struggled with the Easter story. People have struggle with "what really happened". The very fact that we have stories such as this week's reading show that to be true. If everyone automatically accepted the truth of the empty tomb narrative there would have been no need for this story.

In the end I think we can never prove what really happened at Easter. We can never really prove if there was a tomb, or a giant rock blocking the entryway. We can never prove a bodily resurrection, we can never disprove it either. All we can do is hear the witness of the ages. 

For almost 2000 years people have had mystical and mysterious experiences of the real presence of the Risen Christ. And they have passed those stories down to us. Those experiences, some of which were focused on a body, some of which have been described more  like visions, changed those who had them and changed those who were told about them. That, to me, is the proof that Easter, that resurrection is real. It made a difference, it changed people, it still changes people. Maybe that is all the proof we need? (I am pretty sure it is all the proof we are going to get.)

Monday, April 5, 2021

Looking Ahead to April 11, 2021 -- Easter 2B

 The Scripture Reading this week is not the Lectionary suggestion for Easter 2B, instead we will read John 21:1-19

The Sermon title is New Normal?

Early Thoughts: What do you do when the world has changed and doesn't make much sense anymore? Peter goes fishing. Peter tries to go back to what he knows best.

John 21 is an odd chapter. The Gospel seems to end quite well at the end of chapter 20, after the appearance stories and the discussion with Thomas. Then suddenly we have this other story, almost like a postscript, or an add on.  Or maybe it is like Detective Columbo and "...just one more thing...".

The friends have returned to Galilee, gone back to where it all began. This also means they have gone back home. And Peter goes fishing. This is who he is. This is what he knows. Is he trying to erase the memory of the trauma that he has just experienced?

I think many of us, in the face of life-altering events, have those moments of wishing we could go back to the way things used to be. All the more so if those life-altering events have been traumatic, have included a great loss. Can you really blame Peter? Yes he has encountered the Risen Christ. Yes he has experienced Easter. But to be honest the events of that last week in Jerusalem have to have left him more than a little bit shaken. Life was probably much simpler when he was a fisherman.

Add to that the fact that he is likely carrying guilt over his denial of Jesus. When it really counted Peter turned his back. Peter, who swore he would never do that, turned his back. His understanding of himself has also been challenged. He used to know who he was. Maybe he can get back there again.

But then Jesus shows up.

Resurrection refuses to let us sink back into our old patterns. Normal is just a setting on a dryer, so the saying goes. Sometimes New Life means we can never go back again. Coming through death and into life changes us in ways that can not be undone.

The phrase "new normal" has been terribly over-used in the last 20 years. It has been used as a way to push people to accept changes that, in their hearts, they knew were dangerous -- a prime example being the way it was used by the Bush administration in the aftermath of 9/11. It often gets used as a way to quell disagreement in this constantly changing world.

And yet there is a reality to the phrase. Because the world is constantly changing those things we consider ordinary or normal also change. And when the changes are big, in response to life-altering events, the disconnect between what was, what is, and what yet may be is equally large. Still, there are always those voices calling us to go back to what is known, and comfortable, and familiar.

COVID-19 has challenged many of us for the past year. For 12 months+ people have been longing to go "back to normal". It can even been argued that this longing to go back to normal is responsible for some of the behaviours we have witnessed that fly in the face of advice from public health experts.

What if "normal" is not what awaits us. What if the New Life post-COVID means we have been transformed as individuals and as a society?

Peter tried to go back. Jesus showed up and pushed him into a different place. Jesus showed up and released him from the guilt and fear that was holding him back. Jesus showed up and Peter moved forward into his new normal.

Will we go fishing or will we explore what might lay ahead for us in our own experience of Easter?

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Looking Ahead to April 4, 2021 -- Easter Sunday

We are still holding worship in virtual space only for another couple of weeks at least (Council will re-evaluate at our meeting on April 19).  You can join us on our You Tube Channel.

This year, as Easter Sunday is also the first Sunday of the month, we will be celebrating Communion as part of the service. You are invited to have bread and juice (or something similar) available so we can eat and drink together.

The Scripture Readings for this Easter Sunday are:

  • Isaiah 25:6-9 
  • John 20:1-18

The Sermon title is Why Are You Weeping?

Early Thoughts: At first glance it seems like a ridiculous question. A woman is standing by a tomb and weeping -- why do think she is weeping!?! But just maybe it is in fact the question we really need to open our souls for the Good News of resurrection.

Maybe, in fact, Jesus is simply meeting Mary where she is at, opening the door for here to express her grief. Maybe until she does that she will not be able to see the reality of Resurrection -- even though it is standing right in front of her. [As a side note maybe this also explains the strange question Jesus asks of the travelers along the Emmaus Road in Luke 24:17] And maybe that is true for us as well. Maybe we can not see the transformation happening in front of us until we have been given the chance to name our grief and our trauma and our fear. New life means death. Resurrection means death first and life after. When we want to jump right to the new life, to new hope without naming the reality of death we might never fully live into the transformation.

So why are you weeping this Easter? What grief and trauma has the world brought you? Can you name that for yourself? Can you give room for others to name their griefs and traumas even as we look for the joy that comes with the dawn, with the rising of the Son?

Once Mary has named her grief and her fear Jesus, the Risen Christ, calls her by name. Only then does Mary see what has happened.  Only then can she recognize the New Life of Resurrection. In many of our Ester stories people have trouble recognizing the Risen Christ for who he is. But when they are made ready their eyes (and souls) are opened and transformation occurs. What will be our moment of being called by name? What will lead us to recognize the Resurrected One in our midst?

Maybe when we do that, when we recognize the Resurrected One, when we too have been transformed, we enter into the time of celebration described in this passage from Isaiah. The shroud will be torn. Death will be destroyed. The tears will be wiped from the faces. And the feast will begin.

But first we may need to weep, and name why we are weeping.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Looking Ahead to April 2, 2021 -- Good Friday

Our Good Friday service this year will be live streamed on our You Tube channel at 7:00

The Scripture for this service will be the Passion Story as told in John 18:28-19:37

The Sermon title is So You Are a King?

Early Thoughts:  Good Friday is always a bit of a conundrum. Do we simply tell the story and let it be? Do we try to do some sort of annotated telling of the story and touch on all the parts? How do you preach the Passion narrative?

My approach has been to ask what jumps out of the story in any particular year and focus on that part of the story. Other parts of the story can be explored in other years.

The piece about John's account of the Passion that has always  caught my attention is the discussion between Jesus and Pilate. It has a note of philosophy about it as they discuss kingship and truth and authority. And that is how it raises up the different worldviews we see in the Passion narrative. 

Jesus is not a king as Pilate and the Jewish leadership use the word in this story. Despite what Jesus says, Pilate has authority (in his worldview) that allows him to pronounce life or death over Jesus of Nazareth. And, as Pilate notes, truth is a bit of a fuzzy idea at times -- or as Andrew Lloyd Webber has Pilate say:

What is truth?
Is truth unchanging law?
We both have truths
Are mine the same as yours? [Source]

At the same time....
Jesus is a king. Authority belongs to God. Truth is a real thing, something Jesus calls people to see, something God calls people to live by. How we see the world greatly impacts the way we live in the world.

What kind of king gets enthroned on a cross? What kind of coronation procession is accompanied by jeers and taunts? What kind of power or authority exists in the sight of a broken beaten man?

A few days ago one crowd cheered and celebrated as Jesus came into the city. Now another crowd calls for his death. Does that mean that people are fickle? Possibly, there may be some overlap between the two crowds. But I think it points to the clash that happens when "the way the world is" is challenged by "the way the world could be". Which viewpoint will we choose?

Is Jesus the king we have been looking for? Who has real authority? What truth guides our lives?

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

In life, in Death, In Life Beyond Death... (Newsletter Piece)

We have come to the pinnacle of the Christian Year. This is the time when we tell again the story that lies at the center of what it means to be Christian. Easter, the story of the world’s powers doing their best to shut down the hope and the story of a God who still plays the trump card. It is a story of hope beyond hope, of life beyond death. It is a time to remember that somehow life still wins.

There is a mystery at the heart of Christian faith. There is an unanswerable question. How, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, can we proclaim that life wins? After all, everything we see tells us that death is the final step in our lives. But faith tells us there is something more. Faith tells us of the God who shatters the power of death – as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”. Faith tells us of the God who prepares a place for us. Faith promises us that there is life, and death, and life beyond death.

Followers of Jesus have been trying to understand what life beyond death might mean since the first reports of a stone being rolled away and an empty tomb. Almost 2000 years later we continue to ponder what it means. We continue to try to trust in the reality of that promise. We continue to ask ‘but what will it be like?” and have discussions about whether our hearing will return or what our bodies will look like,

When I ponder questions like these my mind is almost always drawn to 1 Corinthians 15. There is so much in that chapter of Paul trying to process and explain the Resurrection of Christ and what it means for us. Some year I might take the whole 7 weeks of the Easter Season and preach through that chapter. As I re-read it today I was drawn particularly to some verses near the end:

51Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, 52in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

For Paul, the resurrection of Christ was the first fruits, it pointed to a more general resurrection that was to come. The resurrection of Christ showed that God had more power than death. It showed that God was in the business of life.

Our hope is in the promise that life wins. Somehow, even if it does not seem to make sense, life will always win in the end. If it looks like the end and life has not yet won then it must not be the end.

Consider our Core Christian story. On Friday and Saturday it sure looks like the great Messianic experiment has come crashing to a tragic end. Jesus is dead and buried. The powers of death have won. But again – if it looks like the end and life has not yet won then it must not be the end. Sunday morning comes and we hear the words “why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5). The story continues with the promise of life. It is the promise of life, the reality of life, the encounter with life that opens the grave and rolls the stone away, that gives us the hope and strength to keep calm and carry on.

There has been a lot of grief this past year of pandemic. There have been lots of deaths – some small, some large. At various points in the year it has seemed easy to lose hope, to give up, to believe that death was winning. But we are called to be people of hope. We are children of God who is “God not of the dead, but of the living” (Luke 20:38). Life still wins. Life finds a way to fight back. There is sure to be grief and struggle along the way, just as there has been thus far but beyond the grief and the pain and the struggle and the deaths (big and small) there is life.

God is with us in life, and in death and in life beyond death. Yes there is life beyond death. That is our promise. We don’t know a lot more than that, maybe we know nothing more than that. But we are people of life. Easter reminds us of that every single year.

Life wins. In the end life will win. Thanks be to God!

Blessed Easter friends,