I have been talking this week about the story of our lives, a story that is also the story of Jesus, and I talked about these stories as having three acts - in Act One, we build up ourselves and our lives, growing and accomplishing new things. In Act Two, we are confronted with the inevitability of death. Our progress halts, our dreams disappear, the things we have worked so hard for come to naught, life turns to death. We can’t avoid it, we can’t go around it, we can’t hide from it or run from it. When death comes, whether it is the death of a cherished dream, the death of a secure financial future, the death of a marriage or a friendship, or even the death of health or a life of independent living, there is nothing we can do but succumb to it. We’ve all experienced this. Every story has an Act Two - a Good Friday.
But we are here this morning because we hope, we believe, we trust, and still need to hear the reminder that there is more. And thank God, there is. The curtain fell on Good Friday, on the scene of Jesus’ body in the tomb, unquestionably dead. But the curtain rises again this morning, just as the sun does in the East. There is more to the story! God has written a third act, one in which, as inevitable as death is, it is not the end. Death is not the end of Jesus’ story. Death is not the end of our story. New life is. The story of our lives is life––death––new life.
This is the story of Jesus. If we looked at only part of his story, it would be amazing, but taken together, it is more brilliant than the sun. In his life, this man who was God-with-us entered into the human condition, opening himself to others, making himself vulnerable to them in love, taking on their pains and their misery. He proclaimed love and forgiveness when hatred and vengeance were easier, he reminded those he encountered that God loved them more than they could imagine, and that they, too could love others. This was the first part of Jesus’ story, and the first part of ours. Taking part in life, establishing relationships, being vulnerable to others, growing in body, mind, and spirit.
Then there is the next part of Jesus’ story, and of ours, when all of that comes to an end, either through betrayal or negligence, and it closes in death. And we die, just as Jesus did. Really, physically, literally, Jesus did die. There is no question of that, although the early life of the church had doubters who couldn’t accept the reality of Jesus’ death - they thought instead that he only appeared to die, or that it wasn’t really him on the cross. But it really was Jesus and he really did die. Which, on its own, is also remarkable, that this person who told everyone to choose the path of love over hate, and the lives of others over his own, actually did what he said. He walked the talk, his death was consistent with his life, he didn’t back down at the last minute.
But there is even more, because, finally, we have his resurrection - the act that makes sense of everything that came before it. Jesus’ story did not end with death - the tomb was empty on Sunday morning. He was no longer there, in the place where the dead remained. Death was not the end of him. His story continues even now, because in God the story has no end.
The significance of the story of Jesus goes beyond just being a good tale. It lies in the fact that his story is our story. His Act Three is our Act Three. As Paul writes in our reading from 1 Corinthians today, “In fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. ... All will be made alive in Christ.” New life is ours, as well. God did not leave Jesus in the tomb, and God does not leave us in our tombs, either.
Where you experience the end of something, God promises something new. Not the same that you had before, to be sure - that is just the old life renewed, that is not new life. God offers something new, something better, and so,
- If you are experiencing the death of a relationship, take heart. God is going to offer you something new in place of it. It might not be another relationship in its place - it might be a new life where you are on your own, but it will be from God, and it will fill you with light. Remember the story of Jacob and Esau, the twins born to Rebekah and Isaac? Jacob took advantage of Esau and played a mean trick on him and took his birthright, and then his blessing from their father, and Esau was so outraged he wanted to kill Jacob. Because of the hurt they caused one another, their relationship died and Jacob fled his home forever. But God brought Jacob to the land of Laban where he met Rachel, whom he loved dearly, and who bore him Joseph, who went on to save the land of Egypt and Jacob’s family from famine. If the relationship between Jacob and his brother had not come to such a bitter end, Jacob would never have fled his home, never have met Rachel, and never have fathered Joseph, who brought life to so many people. When Jacob was going through the death of his relationship with is brother, God was bringing new life to not only Jacob but to a whole country of people. After a relationship has died, God brings new life.
- If you are experiencing the loss of a home - the end of your time there with all of the wonderful moments and memories, take heart that God is preparing a new home for you. It will be unfamiliar at first, but God is already waiting there for you with love and light and new memories to be made. When Abraham and Sara were called to leave their home in Ur behind, to say goodbye to all of the family and friends they had ever known, God brought them to a new home in Israel, where he and Sara had Isaac, the son of their old age, new life for them, where they created a family that became the chosen people Israel, from whom Jesus came and created a new family of brothers and sisters in Christ, beyond what Abraham and Sara could possibly have imagined when they left their home in Ur. After we lose our homes, God brings new life.
- If you are experiencing the loss of health - mobility, or memory, or strength - take heart that God is bringing new life here, too. To live more in the moment, to do nothing but experience the air and the light and the sounds of the day as they come to you minute by minute - this is a death to those who have spent their lives doing and accomplishing and being busy, but it is also a gift of grace from God - a new life of sabbath rest that many in the world yearn for, a chance to be still and hear the voice of God. Think of Job, who lost all of his children, and his home, and his health, whose friends turned on him and blamed him for his own misery, who wished he had been born dead, who said, “I loathe my life.” But as he sat in darkness, everything gone from him, God spoke to Job. Who hasn’t yearned to hear the voice of God - direct and unmistakable? Job, who experienced the loss of everything that made him who he was, received new life in the moment that God’s voice spoke to him - the same voice that at Creation said, “Light” and there was light - a voice Job would not have heard if he had been as busy living his life as he was before. After our good health is lost, God brings new life.
- If you are experiencing the death of a dream or a long-held expectation of how something should turn out, take heart that as that dream dies, God is waiting to offer you something new. A new dream, or a new reality that you couldn’t possibly have imagined or expected. And if you are experiencing the loss of happiness, or even a loss of faith, do not despair. If you are struggling through depression, let me tell you from experience that God turns this loss and death into new life, too. You may be in your own dark tomb, but God will raise you just as God raised Jesus, and you will find that light and life is more brilliant than you ever experienced before, and your capacity to share in the pain of others is made deeper, so that you might be with others in their own tombs and walk with them into the new life that God offers them, too. After the sun has gone down, God brings new life.
Many forces in our lives will try to convince us that death is the end. That we will not make it through the loss of our .... whatever it is we face losing. We are told, or we tell ourselves, that we can’t handle it, that we don’t know how to get through it, that it’s too much. That our stories have only two acts - life, and death. But those are lies. Not because we’re strong, or because there’s no such thing as death, or because God will magically rescue us and make everything the way it used to be. It doesn’t work that way. The truth is two-fold - we will not make it through. We will die. We will go through Good Friday. These are true. But the second half of that truth is that God is walking with us through to the other side, where God will offer us new life, as we have been promised. As inevitable as death is, so, too, is the new life that follows. God, who raised Jesus Christ from death will raise us too, and our new life will be as glorious as his. This is the story of Easter.
The story of our lives is the story of Jesus. The story of Jesus is the story of our lives, individually, and as a community, and as the world. From Palm Sunday and the triumph of achieving new things, to Holy Week and the betrayal and abandonment of all that supports us, to Good Friday and death, to Holy Saturday and the existence after loss that can’t truly be called life. We all know this story - we live it every day. And now we come to the end of the story, which isn’t really an end - to the part that God has written - to the cross that is bare, to the tomb that is empty, to Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, raised from the dead, to Easter and new life for all of God’s children. The curtain fell on Good Friday, Act Two, the day of death, but God raises it again, nevermore to fall, the beginning of our Act Three that has no ending because it is written by the God of life, in the name of Christ, who never fails to bring new life after death, who is our joy, and our life, and our hope! Thanks be to God! Amen!