Every year on the Tuesday before Easter, the clergy of the Diocese of Atlanta gather at the Cathedral to renew our ordination vows.
At that service we are asked this question: “Will you continue as faithful stewards of the mysteries of God?” Our answer is, “By the help of God, I will.”
We are here in this beautiful church this glorious morning to celebrate one of God’s greatest mysteries – that Jesus, who succumbed to the power of death on the cross, has been resurrected to new life by our loving and powerful God.
And we rejoice that God’s power to overcome death will also bring new life to each and every one of us when our earthly lives are ended.
People in our day are uncomfortable with mysteries. We prefer answers and solutions. We want to verify and quantify things. We want tangible proof. We want to know how and why.
I would wager that each of us have tried to figure out the mystery of the resurrection. We long for tangible proof, to be able to explain how it happened, to know it for sure as a verifiable fact.
But this is not a mystery that can be solved in that way. There were no eye witnesses to the resurrection, no web cam stationed outside the cave where Jesus’ dead body was laid. We can not scientifically quantify or verify what happened.
One of my favorite authors, Barbara Kingsolver, writes about mystery in her novel Prodigal Summer. One of her characters was, as a child, entranced by butterflies. She thought of them as ballerinas as they danced around her yard.
One day she caught one, delighted to be able to examine it up close. As she clutched it tightly in her hand, she saw that it was no ballerina.
“Its body was a fat, furry cone flattened on one end into a ferocious face like a tiny, angry owl’s. It glared at her, seeming disdainful.
“She hadn’t given up her love for butterflies after that,” Kingsolver writes, “but she’d never forgotten, either, how a mystery caught in the hand could lose its grace.”
Ironically, the butterfly is a symbol of resurrection.
I suggest this morning that as we celebrate the mystery of the resurrection that we not clutch it too tightly, that we resist the futile temptation to try to solve it.
That does not mean that we do not see proof of resurrection, of new life, all around us.
Clarence Jordan, a 20th century Christian saint from Georgia, who founded Koinonia Farms, a Christian community near Americus that still practices radical inclusion and equality, said this about the resurrection:
“The proof that God raised Jesus from the dead is not the empty tomb, but the full hearts of his transformed disciples. The crowning evidence that he lives is not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship. Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church.”
In other words, we should worry less about what people say they believed happened 2,000 years ago and more about whether we are living as if resurrection is still a reality in our lives today.
Writer Carl Gregg says, “The question is: How are we partnering with God today in transforming despair into hope, apathy into compassion, hate into love, and death into new life?”
How are we, to use a phrase coined by poet Wendell Berry, “practicing resurrection?”
Irish writer and performer Peter Rollins has a powerful monologue about what it looks like to practice resurrection, or to fail to do so.
“Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ,” he begins. “This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people think.”
Rollins pauses, then continues:
“I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system.
“However,” he adds, “there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak out for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.”
I am blessed to see Christ’s resurrection affirmed in this congregation over and over again.
I see it when we open the doors of this church to be a home for families who have no other place to lay their heads, as we will do again next week.
I see it in the efforts spent to turn our Sunday School classrooms into temporary homes. I see it in the meals prepared and served with love. I see it in the delight with which some of you entertain children whose parents are weary from long days of working or looking for work. I see it in your willingness to exchange your own comfortable beds for a night spent on a cot in the parish hall.
I saw resurrection being practiced last fall when this congregation helped fill and assemble more than 300 backpacks to give to immigrants who had been released from the horrors of ICE detention camps.
I see it every year as we collect money to provide mosquito nets and the medical needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ in Msalata, Tanzania.
I saw it on a Saturday not too long ago when many of you came out to honor the memory of a black man lynched in this county 70 years ago.
I’ve seen it countless times in the love and support that pours out from this congregation when illness or difficulties or death strikes among us.
All of these are affirmations of Christ’s resurrection, proof that Christ is still raised and dwells among us.
To quote Carl Gregg once more, “this Easter, may you open your whole self – heart, soul, mind, and strength – to God’s inspiring call to new life and renewed love.
“May you feel God luring you, prompting you, and encouraging you – each day and in each new present moment – to practice resurrection.”
This day we celebrate again the great mystery of the resurrection. We proclaim with St. Paul, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
And once more we loudly rejoice and say
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!