RCL Year A The Church of the Holy Cross
Easter Day April 20, 2014
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
Do you have the same thought I do, reading the story of that first Easter morning? Does it flash through your mind: This is impossible! This couldn’t happen! This is science fiction.
It’s a peaceful, quiet morning at dawn on the first day of the week. The women going to the tomb were not expecting anything unusual. All of a sudden there’s a great earthquake; an angel appears like lightning, his clothing white as snow; he descends from heaven and rolls back the giant stone in front of the tomb, and then he sits on it and begins to speak. We can only imagine the fearsome sound of his voice. The guards are scared silly, trembling and speechless. Sometimes I wonder if movies like Star Wars and all the animated movies they make today didn’t get their ideas for special effects from the Easter story. We don’t take the effects of those movies seriously; they’re pure entertainment. Why should we take seriously the story of the Resurrection?
It can’t be true. But it is, in some way that was so real to those women that morning, and to the people they ran, with fear and great joy, to tell the good news to, that those who heard the story from them believed it, and people down the centuries since that day, have believed it. Many people have staked their very lives on this story; many have suffered torture and death for the truth of this story; we stake our faith on it.
Scripture tells us nothing is impossible with God. We believe the truth of Jesus’ teaching and resurrection is too real to be defeated. We believe God won over evil and death and the impossible happened that morning because God brought it to be.
But if the impossible ends there, where does it leave us? Just with a story to tell that will wow people and keep a church alive? If that were so, the story and the church would have faded a long time ago. The miracle God is able to work skeep happening, whether we always recognize it as God’s work or not. Resurrection has to happen over and over in people’s lives for the story to live. Resurrection has to be so clear and so compelling that it can’t be denied, even though we sometimes fail to name it resurrection and give the credit to God.
Resurrection has to take hold of the hearts of people and convince them that this story is real and that new life can come in their lives.
What are we talking about? The latest stories I know of resurrection are coming from Hope House.
There are plenty of people in town who think this neighborhood is dead. How can it live, with mostly homeless people inhabiting the neighborhood, a few little churches and a few businesses that don’t look too attractive staring at a great number of empty, falling down buildings? What hope is there in a place like this for any kind of new life? Everything and everyone looks dead. What reasons are there to hope for a resurrection? Hope House certainly has the right name.
When I used to go to Hope House it did not seem like a happy place. The truth is, it was being run well by the people we’d hired to manage it, but there was no soul there. There were services given that were badly needed, but the people coming there were coming just for services, not for hope.
In February this year Holy Cross took over the management, and we hired Tim Davis and Donna Earnest to be the managers. Tim has been homeless, and he spends his spare time visiting the homeless camps with the Common Ground ministry. Donna has several years of experience teaching and ministering with people who are homeless. Tim and Donna are there because they want to be there. Their hearts are with our neighbors who come to Hope House.
Now I when I go there see peaceful faces, hopeful eyes, grateful smiles. I see caring hands and listening ears. The place has changed completely. Every time I go to Hope House at least one of our neighbors tells me it’s so much better since the church took over managing. But that’s just the beginning.
Donna and Tim are praying with the people and listening to their stories. I believe they’re touching their souls and offering hope where there was none before. Why should anyone think there’s any reason for homeless people to hope their lives can be changed? Many think they might as well be dead. Well, they’re human beings, beloved of God, worthy of hope. Instead of jostling around with sad, sour faces, they talk and joke with one another. They make their way there because they find love and warmth and friendship.
The ground of hope is being prepared for other fruit. Three men have gone into treatment for addiction. One is in a three quarter way house, finding employment and doing well. That’s resurrection. He came by the church the other day to thank us. We pray the other two men will do as well.
I’m not saying I expect the circumstances of everyone’s life to change or everyone suddenly not to be homeless anymore. I’m saying souls are being touched and opened up. God’s redeeming love is being accepted. The impossible is coming to pass. God is making it possible for people to touch people and light that fire of hope. In individual lives resurrection is beginning; no less a resurrection than at the tomb in the garden that first Easter Day.
I want to be part of that resurrection. I want to see people walk out of the tombs of defeat and despair and failure and addiction and a life of being cast away and smile with hope. I thank God that Holy Cross is able to give the ministry of Hope House that is the vehicle for changing lives.
It’s funny, about us human beings. Usually we have to see a miracle to believe it. And only after seeing it can we say with confidence that the impossible is not impossible with God. But to see it, we have to be there, and we have to be looking for it. I encourage you go into Hope House and see for yourself; to watch Crossings for opportunities to lay your hands on that ministry and put yourself there to see the hope that’s being born in people’s lives.
The prayer tree and the cross wall I wrote about in Crossings a couple of weeks ago are a start. Something we can contribute, a part of ourselves we can invest. We may need mentors for the people coming out of recovery; we may call for people to visit and pray with people. Volunteering with St. Luke’s is a good way to put yourself in the place where hope is growing and let it touch you.
Remember, for the story not to remain just a story, it has to touch a heart. We often have to see hope for ourselves and then to take that leap and become part of the resurrection. Let’s bring resurrection closer to home.
Forgiving. Something we often see as impossible. We can be so badly hurt, or so deeply angry, that we think to forgive will be impossible. We pray and ask God to take that resentment from us so we can forgive. God lifts that burden and gives us the heart to forgive. That’s resurrection.
Grief. Something we think we can never overcome. And truth told, deep grieving is not something we “get over.” But we put ourselves in God’s hands and ask God to accomplish the impossible. In time, grief is transformed into something that stops killing us and begins to transform us. That’s resurrection.
Hope. Terrible events in our lives, or in the lives of those we love, can leave us without hope. And without hope we die, slowly. We think it’s impossible that anything will change to give us hope again, and we finally, desperately, ask God to give us something to renew that hope. Nothing in the circumstances of our lives may change, but God does touch us in some way, in some deep place where hope is remembered, and we begin to see the places in our lives where we can find gratitude. God accomplishes the impossible. Our lives are changed only as they are turned to see God’s presence. That’s resurrection.
Underneath the story of that first Easter morning, whatever the facts are without the special effects, had to be the foundation of hope Jesus’ disciples had found. The experience with the risen Christ that convinced them that death is not the end and that the Creator of the world has won the battle with evil. The awe that brought the echo of our psalm: This is God’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. It’s impossible, and God brought it to be.
This is what I see at Hope House and in the lives of people I know. Death and addiction and disappointment and failure and being cast out are not the end. The love of God will have the last word. I don’t want to miss that story.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
The Rev. Mary B. Richard