From Death and Decay to Hope and Life: A reflection for Easter Dawn

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Luke 24:1-12
“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. while they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground. but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. remember how he told you, while he was still in galilee, that the son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all the to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seem to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.”

About a year ago, my family put two raised beds in our backyard for a vegetable garden. In order to give our new and growing veggies the best nutrients in which to grow, we also bought a compost bin and set to work filling it. If you don’t know how a compost bin works: you take all the leftover parts of your life: the grass clippings and brown leaves, apple cores and banana peels, and of course, especially this week – piles and piles of egg shells, and heap them together and let them be. Slowly, the scraps decompose, and the decay becomes converted to rich, nutrient-filled, compost, springing with life.

Now, it is amazing how much decay a family of four can produce: It took us only a few months to fill our bin clear up to overflowing and we had to begin putting it all back in the trash. But this is what feeds our plants best – decaying matter, dying stuff. In fact, this dying stuff is what brings us life: rope tomatoes and cucumbers, squash and peas.

“Why do you seek the living among the dead?” those men asked the women who stood gaping in shock and confusion at the empty tomb in the still light of dawn.

Certainly they had not come seeking the living, but the dead. They were there to perform ritual, to weep over the body of their Lord, to join in community with their sisters, to honor their beloved friend and teacher.

They were doing what we always do: We focus on the decay and look right past the life springing forth… It is so much easier to focus on the tombs that surround us – because they are omni-present. We need only to think of our son still looking for work after a year, our brother still in and out of rehab, our neighbor still grieving the loss of her husband. Open the papers and we read about Sandy and Newtown, more violence in Syria, more suffering in Africa, more division in Israel. What can possibly speak to these our deepest sorrows?

Our bodies need resurrection. Our world needs resurrection. These real and fleshy, dirty messy lives need resurrection.

Those dazzling, terrifying men reminded the women, “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” and the women remembered and were amazed. They left the scene to spread the news, they could not keep it inside. But that was only the beginning.

As the great Episcopalian scholar and preacher Barbara Brown Taylor wrote that after Christ was risen, the disciples would still have God’s word, but that word was going to need some new flesh… that word was going to need something so real they could not intellectualize it, it was going to need something so essentially untidy that there was no way to control it. The risen Word was going to need bread broken and wine spilled to give it flesh. It was going to need gritty, grimy feet cleansed with real water.

We saw something like this last week from Pope Frances I, when he washed the feet of those female inmates at the prison in Rome. His words ring true: “It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter The Lord… We need to go out to the outskirts where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters…”

We who have gathered in this morning light, like those women on that day so long ago, we are here because we believe that death is not the final word. We believe that somehow, when those women rose in darkness and found the tomb empty – everything changed. We believe that incomprehensibly, God has taken the decaying scraps of our lives and transformed them into life.

We who have gathered in this morning light do so because we believe that there is a power loose in the universe that overcomes even death. That power is sometimes incomprehensible and illogical. It can be terrifying, it can be painful. But it is pure beauty and light. It is deep and profound love.

You who have gathered in this morning light do so in the hope of that love. May that love fill you to overflowing this morning, and move you to live in that love. Amen.

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