Show Me A Risen Hope

I didn’t hear about the bombings in Sri Lanka until after our Easter service. I am the head pastor, and only person on staff in a little church on the edge of a big city. It was a really busy morning. I was ironing the banners, the brightly colored ones that replaced the dark contemplative ones we’d been using during Lent. I was touching up my sermon (and my lipstick), making sure everything spoke to the beauty and brightness of a Savior who defeated death. I was busy putting new shoes in bunny baskets, printing off bulletins, and making sure everyone’s hair was brushed. I didn’t notice that across the world, while my brothers and sisters were proclaiming that Christ was risen and death was defeated, an unspeakable violence had been enacted on our brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka.

Some years, Easter feels like the breath of fresh air I so desperately need. It feels like opening the windows and letting the winter stuffiness escape. In years past, Easter felt like walking around in the backyard for the first time of the season.

Then, after I heard the news, it felt a little bit like a cruel joke. On the day that we as Christians celebrate the defeating of death, over 200 people were killed in a terrorist act. How is that possible? What does this mean for them, those who will live in a world forever shaken by an attack in their most sacred place, on our most holy day?

This Easter, I preached out of the gospel of Luke. The women came to the grave, not because they were anticipating that Jesus had risen from the dead, but because they were mourning the only way they knew how. They brought oil and linen to the grave with the hopes to at least touch the body of Jesus one more time, honoring him the only way they knew how. They were attempting to make sense of a senseless act. They had been terrorized by the brutal killing of their friend; of their son. It was all so public, done to make a point. They were simply hoping for a moment to be with what was left of Jesus.

But there was nothing left. The tomb was empty. And at that empty tomb they were reminded of the words Jesus spoke, of the promises of their Messiah. They hadn’t really thought about these words before; it didn’t occur to the women they would need these words. But they did need them, and they did remember. And they ran to the disciples and told them how they had looked for the body of Jesus, but it wasn’t there. Jesus wasn’t there. Jesus wasn’t dead, he was alive.

Jesus had risen indeed.

And, to my own surprise, having read this text for years, I noticed for the first time this year that none of the men believed them. No one believed the women who were the first to know. No one believed that Jesus was risen. In fact, most of the men could not even be bothered to check and see if this were true. For them, it was too impossible to be true. They had seen Jesus die themselves. There was no way he wasn’t still in that grave. Only Peter found their account credible enough to even check for himself. He, too, found the tomb empty. The women were right, Jesus was alive. Jesus had defeated death.

On a day when the world seems incredibly hopeless, it feels impossible to believe that we worship a risen Savior. I wish I could align myself with the women, but I feel much closer to the men who could not even be bothered to check to see if the story were true. Defeat death? Have hope? Love wins? You have got to be kidding me. That is simply impossible. Everything is too sad. Everything is too horrible. The world is too traumatized. That we worship a risen Savior, that we, too, will one day defeat death could not possibly be true. It is simply too hard to believe.

Maybe, today I don’t have to believe it. Because it is true whether I believe it or not. There is hope, love does win, death does not have the final say … even when it seems like it.

The risen Christ later appears to those same men who earlier could not be bothered to see whether or not He had actually risen from the grave. In a garden, on a boat, in the same upper room they were hiding in, too traumatized to leave, Jesus shows them that he is, in fact, risen and every promise he had given them was true, whether or not they believed it.

This year, Easter Sunday felt so dark and scary (even though a preacher probably isn’t supposed to say that on Easter.) It feels like any hope is just a drop in the ocean of despair. Today I am comforted that even the people Jesus told with his own mouth didn’t quite believe that death could have been defeated. I am comforted that Jesus came and showed them how true it was, despite their unbelief. Today, that is enough for me. Today I will ask that tomorrow Jesus would show his risen Hope to the world, but also to me.