31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
April 21, 2019
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer, once wrote, “Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.” “Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.”
It’s true. It is hope and only hope that brought Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to the tomb early on the first day of the week. Their teacher, their friend, was dead, killed in a most painful and humiliating way. His body laid in a tomb with a heavy rock rolled across the entrance. A guard of soldiers positioned in front of the tomb so Jesus’ disciples could not steal his body and deceive people by saying he rose from the dead.
The women would not be able to see Jesus; they would not be able to anoint his body for burial; likely, they would not even be allowed close to the tomb.
So why did they go? Hope. They went because of hope, because Jesus had told them three times, three times, that he would be handed over to the chief priests and scribes and condemned to death; then, he would be handed over to the Romans to be mocked and flogged and crucified “and on the third day he will be raised.” (Matthew 20:19)
The first part of Jesus’ words had come true, so why not expect, why not hope, that Jesus would rise from the dead?
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb early on the first day of the week because they had hope. And because they went, they witnessed the most amazing, awe-some sight. “Suddenly, there was a great earthquake” and an angel of the Lord, descended from heaven, his appearance like lightning and his clothing white as snow, and the angel rolled back the stone and sat on it! (Matthew 28:2-3)
It makes me think of the hymn “We Sing Your Mighty Power, O God…that made the mountains rise” (Isaac Watts, Chalice Hymnal 64). However in this case, God is making the mountains to tremble, shake. No wonder the guards shook as well and became like dead men. If I were ever in an earthquake, I imagine that I, too, would be paralyzed by fear. And then you add the cosmic phenomenon of an angel descending from heaven, his appearance powerful as lightning! Oh my!
We sing the mighty power of God on this Easter Sunday; the women witnessed the mighty power of God on that first Easter Sunday; however the power of God is not like the power of humans. It is not even like the power of the superheroes we are so fond of reading about and watching.
God’s mighty power is love, a love that has no bounds, a love that can do anything, even raise people from the dead, a love that creates, that creates possibilities, a love that gives life and makes all things new.
In her commentary on this passage, Professor Elisabeth Johnson writes, “In Jesus, the reign of God breaks open everything that seemed fixed and immovable — even death and stone-cold tombs.” (workingpreacher.org, April 21, 2019) The unconditional love of God, made known to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, shows us that what we thought was over, what we thought was impossible, what we thought was forever dead and buried, is possible, is alive, is being made new.
Just as the prophet Isaiah said to the captive Israelites thousands of years before Jesus was born, “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
Those who hope in the Lord will discover that it is never over; anything is possible. While we may feel like it, we are never captive to fear, illness, systems of oppression and injustice, captive to situations that diminish and hurt us, robbing us of God’s joy.
God’s mighty power was on display that first Easter morning; however it was not the power of the earthquake; it was not the power of the lightning; it was the power of unconditional love. It was the power of hope.
God loves us, and we have been made new, and new life is always hope. The newborn child, the seed, the spark of a new idea, a new beginning.
New life is always hope, and hope is powerful because hope gives us strength. Hope gives us faith. Hope keeps us walking through the dark valley because we trust God is guiding us to the other side. Hope focuses our eyes on the flicker of light in the darkness because we trust God’s words that the darkness will never overcome it. Hope sustained Nelson Mandela for all of those years in prison as he fought to overturn an unjust apartheid system. Hope sustained Mother Theresa as she walked through the darkness of Calcutta and her own personal darkness, bringing God’s light and love to the poor.
Hope is what motivates Sister Joan Chittister to speak up for the reign of God’s love despite the negativity and discrimination that seem to be on the rise in our world. Hope gives Sister Joan the strength to say, “If not for me, than because of me; if not for us, because of us.”
And hope is what inspires us to give of our time, energy, and money here at the First Congregational Church. Hope that we can help one family move out of homelessness. Hope that we can bring joy to just one – or twenty-five children with Easter baskets. Hope that one less person will go to bed hungry tonight. Hope that all will know they have community and love – that they are never alone. Hope is the strength that keeps us and countless others moving forward in our ministry as bearers of God’s love and bringers of God’s reign of peace and justice.
Hope invites us early in the morning on the first day of the week to the tomb to witness the earth-shaking news of the resurrection. Hope gives us eyes to see the countless ways God is working in our world, in our lives, making all things new, making all things better.
On this Easter Sunday, we celebrate the amazing, awe-some news of Christ’s resurrection. We celebrate that just as death and the tomb could not hold Jesus captive, neither can they hold us captive. On this Easter Sunday, we celebrate new life. We celebrate new possibilities. We celebrate the power of hope – that anything and everything is possible with God.