April 21, 2019 - Sermon - Rev. Hamilton Throckmorton

Scripture:  Luke 24:1-12                 

     Several years ago, when Mary and I celebrated our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, we took our two sons to Europe for ten days or so.  We spent most of that time in a wonderful flat in London.  And we took the Chunnel from London to Paris for three days.  We climbed the Eiffel Tower at night, virtually running up the stairs to the top observation deck.  We visited Versailles and a bistro nearby that had the best hot chocolate and chocolate cake I had ever had in my life.  We visited the Arc de Triomphe and were awed by the beauties of the Sacre Coeur Basilica and the astounding stained-glass windows in Sainte-Chappelle.

     And we of course made our way to the Ile de la Cite where Notre Dame so grandly sits.  The line to climb the tower was prohibitive, but we stood in the courtyard, and we marveled inside at the stunning rose windows, and took in the splendor of that space.  What an astounding place!

     As were so many of you, I was stunned speechless by the inferno that did such terrible damage to that architectural gem this week.  How disheartening it was to watch flames engulf that magnificent structure!  Nor was it, by any means, alone in its destructiveness.  It joins other painful tragedies that discouragingly claw away daily at our happiness and equilibrium.  A boy is thrown off a mall balcony.  A Fordham University student falls to her death just before her graduation.  War and hunger and poverty are ever-present.  Women continue to be assaulted.  People of color continue to be shunted to the side.  There’s somebody here who has recently been betrayed, someone else whose moods can’t be soothed or calmed or regulated, yet another person who has lost someone they’re not sure they can live without.  The despair and death of Good Friday are ever-present, aren’t they.  They sometimes dominate daily life.

     And then we come to this day.  Lilies beautify.  Banners adorn.  Trumpets celebrate.  And it doesn’t always do the trick, does it.  Likely some of us think, ‘Well, I know we’re supposed to feel happy, but I still feel lousy.  My business is tanking.  My boss is a jerk.  School is too hard.  I’m lonely and frightened.  Just try to convince me that Easter is going to turn all that around.’

     And who can blame you for folding your arms in a silent challenge, as if to say: ‘Prove it, God!  Show me a sign!  Convince me you’re making things beautiful and healed and whole.’  There’s so much evidence to the contrary that life can seem wearying and faith can seem irrelevant.  ‘Resurrection?  Come on—show me!’

     That’s the age-old question, isn’t it.  It’s what we’d all like—some tangible, personal, undeniable demonstration of God’s awesome power.  Yes, the Bible talks about Jesus long ago receiving new life.  But what about now?  It’s great that Jesus was raised.  But what about me?  What do you say, God?  Some proof would be nice.

     The cold truth, though, is that there is no proof, is there.  Resurrection is something we accept on faith, or we decide not to accept.  Some will insist they cannot affirm resurrection without irrefutable proof.  They will rule it out simply because there is no incontrovertible evidence.  This is why people look for some remnant of Noah’s ark or a piece of the one true cross or the crown of thorns.  They think if they can just find the proper relic they will never doubt again.

     And maybe for some people, that’s the way it works.  If you could find a lock of Jesus’ hair, or better yet, some undoctored video of the events in that long-ago tomb—a security camera that caught all the action—you’d finally be able to rest secure in the knowledge that God really is there, that God really has raised Jesus from the dead, and that God really will do the same for you.

     The bad news, of course, is that no one will ever be able to provide that sort of evidence—a proof of the resurrection sufficient to remove all doubt.  And for some people, that’s a deal-breaker.  Of course, the opposite is also true: neither will anyone ever prove that resurrection didn’t happen.  Either stance is a matter of faith.  It’s impossible to prove it one way or the other.

     So given that, the question really is: where do you want to place your bets?  In which camp do you want to pitch your tent—with the unprovable conviction that there’s no real meaning to the universe, and that evil and despair may well have the last word?  Or with the equally unprovable conviction that goodness and love will finally win out?

     As for me, I’ll take that second bet—that beauty and care and compassion will win out.  I’ll place my wager together with people of faith throughout the ages, that death is never the end.  And this is why: the Easter gift is alive in this world!  No matter how bad things may seem, I live in a world in which lilies adorn and babies coo and the Hallelujah chorus electrifies.  I live in a world in which guacamole and cheesecake make my mouth water and Mozart and Van Gogh bring tears to my eyes and a spring breeze and a walk in the Metroparks gives a lilt to my step.  I live in a world in which a mother is still glad to see me and a spouse makes my heart sing and two sons, a daughter-in-law and a granddaughter make me dance with delight.  And I believe that none of that is an accident.  It is, to me, pure gift.  For me, it is the gift of a God whose goodness knows no ending, whose grace is new every morning, whose richness and beauty enlivens every moment. 

     I believe in resurrection not because of scientific measurements or video evidence of that first Easter, but because I experience it every day.  Every day my life is made new.  Every day there is something that makes me come alive.  Every day something sings to me of beauty and grace and love.  If I have eyes to see and ears to hear and a heart to receive.  And I cannot imagine such gifts apart from a donor who makes them possible.  How else would such blessing come to me if not at the hands of a magnanimous benefactor.  And so I say: God has done this.  And God will keep doing it.  If God can make a world in which Notre Dame could be conceived and built, God can make a world in which Notre Dame can be rebuilt.  Out of the ashes will come fresh new mercies.  Easter is God’s gift of new life even when all seems lost.

     Easter isn’t just a gift, though.  It’s not just something we receive.  It also asks something of us.  It asks us to see; and it asks us to participate.  It asks that we open our eyes and hearts to take in the richness and grace that are all around us.  It asks us to trust that God is continually doing a new thing.  Easter asks us to set up camp in that spiritual place in which we trust that what is now dead will come alive again—to see a mahjongg game offering a spark to a dreary afternoon, to notice the flowers arriving at our doorstep when we’re down and dispirited, to gratefully appreciate the friend who looks our discouragement in the eye and gives us a hug to lift the burden.  You want to see resurrection?  Open your eyes.  And your heart.  God is making all things new.

     Easter asks not just that we open our eyes and hearts, but that we join in the marvelous work God is doing in our midst.  Once you’ve taken in what a difference a hug makes in your dreary mood, how can you not offer them in return?  Once you have absorbed the grace and beauty of Notre Dame, how can you not also take in and respond to the plight of the countless poor and captive and blind and oppressed people with whom Christ identified and for whom Christ died (Luke 4:18).  Once you’ve taken in your own privilege, how can you not extend it to others?  Grace feeds us.  And then it lives itself out through us.  We join God in that renewing, holy work.

     This renewing and rebirth happens in all sorts of ways.  Some of you will remember the basketball player Kyle Korver, who played for a time with the Cleveland Cavs and now plays for the Utah Jazz.  I happen to have his bobble-head doll here with me because I was at the Q on the right night several years ago.  Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald.  As an African American man, he writes eloquently about a racial disparity I only dimly grasp.  And a week or so ago, he wrote about Korver.

     Pitts says that Korver recently wrote an essay called “Privileged,” in which “he grapples forthrightly with what it means to be a white man in America and a white player in the mostly black NBA.

     “Korver zeroes in on the night in 2015 when a black teammate, Thabo Sefolosha, was arrested outside a nightclub by New York City police, who broke his leg in the process.  Writes Korver: ‘Want to know what my first thought was?  About my friend and teammate?  My first thought was: What was Thabo doing out at a club on back-to-back??  Not, how’s he doing?  Not, what happened during the arrest??  Not, something seems off with this story.  Nothing like that.  Before I knew the full story, and before I’d even had the chance to talk to Thabo . . . I sort of blamed Thabo.’”

     Sefolosha was acquitted of the charge by a jury in less than an hour.  “But Korver’s reflexive response told him something about how we are programmed to assume the worst of black people—and about his own privilege.”

     And Pitts says, “It has been my experience that there are few things harder than to get some white people to wrestle with—or even concede—their own racial assumptions and privilege.  There is no asininity they will not embrace, no rationalization they will not employ, no illogic they will not apply, to avoid confronting how racist America was—and is. . . .

     “So if one is black, it is refreshing—it is downright redemptive—to encounter a white brother or sister unafraid to be honest, to confirm that no, it’s not just your imagination.”  And Pitts goes on to say how crucial it is that white people say such things.  “Counterintuitive as it may seem,” he says, “their voices carry a weight on matters of race that a black person’s will not, if only because white people can’t dismiss their advocacy as self-interest.  They will be heard in ways and places black people never will.  Similarly, men can [sometimes] be more effective advocates for women and straights for gays.”  And Pitts says how heartening it is to him “to be reminded that such courage still exists.  In an era of progress under assault, African Americans have every reason to feel anxious, angry and betrayed.  Nice to see we have a few reasons to feel hopeful, too” (The Plain Dealer, April 13, 2019, p. A19).

     Easter leaps out at us sometimes when we least expect it.  Kindness blooms.  Justice takes shape.  Love opens up a whole new world.  And such love can bloom right in your world and in mine.  The other day, I ran into an acquaintance from our neighborhood.  I asked Hannah how she was, and she said, “OK.”  And I said, “Or not.”  Right away she teared up, and she told me she had just lost her very best friend to cancer.  Soon after she had moved to Chagrin, she met this friend, and they had become as close as two friends could be.  And Hannah, through her tears, said her friend’s death was absolutely devastating.  But then all-of-a-sudden, Hannah’s face changed, and she said, “But my friend gave me an unbelievable gift.  She let me be with her as she died.  And I will always treasure that.”  And then Hannah brightened a little more, and she said, “And after she died, I went back to look up every friend I could find in my life, from kindergarten on.  And I contacted them all, and told them what they had meant to them.  And I’m so glad I did it.”

     Into that death, for Hannah, came resurrection.  Into all our deaths comes resurrection.  God is bringing life from death.  I can’t prove it.  But I see it.  And I feel it.  And I experience it.  And it’s as real and compelling and life-giving as anything in all the world.  And that’s where I want to live my life.  In the midst of death, God makes all things new.  To which we say, “Christ is risen.  Hallelujah!”