Preached today for the memorial service of Devonne Crick.
We live in the light of a promise. And the promise is not just that we get to see loved ones again. The promise is that we get to see all creation set free from the hand of death, set free from tears, set free from frailty, set free from the aches of spirit and body, set free from shame and regret, set free from everything that alienates us from the love, the life, the grace of God.
We live in the light of a promise. A promise that swords will be beaten into plowshares. A promise that the lion will lie down with the lamb. A promise that the city of God will be a city of peace. A promise that creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay.
We live in the light of a promise that we were fashioned in the heart of God and we are destined for the heart of God. We are children born of love and destined for love. We are children born of the dust of the earth and the breath of God and we are destined for the breath of life that cannot perish.
We live in the light of a promise that Cain and Abel will be restored to one another, that Jacob and Esau will live in peace, that the violent hatreds that rend the Middle East and the streets of our own cities will be transfigured, redeemed, transformed.
We live in the light of the promise that God’s perfect peace has already come. God’s reign has begun, grace is present, life has come to us, forgiveness is before us in this Jesus of Nazareth.
Our world has been invaded. We have been invaded. Love has reached out to touch us. Through Christ. Through the community of the church. Through the love of a mother and the love of a father. Through the breath of the Holy Spirit. Through grace made visible in water, bread and wine. Our world has been and is being invaded.
We are not alone. We are not alone to face the world’s sorrows. We are not alone to face our daily struggles. The child has been born in Bethlehem. The voice, the message, the self-expression of God, has become incarnate and laid in a manger. The light of the world shines. We are not alone.
He has walked these roads. He has eaten at our tables. He has healed our diseases. He has driven out our demons. He has tasted our bitterness. He has suffered our sorrows. He has even died our death. But the grave is empty.
And he is present, still.
We are not alone. The risen one is among us. He breathes upon us anew the Spirit, the breath of God. He abides with us and invites us to abide in him – like branches to the vine. He is our way and our truth, our light and our life.
We live in the light of a promise – a promise made flesh, a promise we have seen.
The tomb is empty. Mary Magdalene saw it. Mary the mother of Joses saw it. Joanna saw it. Peter and the beloved disciple saw it. Thomas saw the wounds in his hands. Cleopas saw him on the road to Emmaus. Nathanael and the sons of Zebedee saw him on the banks of the Sea of Galilee. Paul saw him on the road to Damascus. Five hundred brothers and sisters saw him at the same time.
There are witnesses. Zacchaeus. Simon of Cyrene. Nicodemus. Joseph of Arimathea. Simon the Pharisee. Lazarus. Mary and Martha. The woman at the well. The widow of Nain. The lame man lowered through the roof by his friends. Blind Bartimaeus. There are witnesses.
We live in the light of a promise, a promise made flesh. And there are witnesses.
There is nothing in Easter that denies death. The Easter story is about a real grave and a real death and a real sorrow. It is about weeping women and frightened men and brutal sufferings. The death Jesus died was real. But God is more real.
The darkness cannot put out the light. Torture could not extinguish the love of God in Christ. Taunting and mocking couldn’t keep him from loving even his tormentors. Hate and vitriol couldn’t keep him from forgiving his crucifiers. The death Jesus died was real. But the life of God is more real.
Our sorrow is real. The light that twinkled in Devonne’s eyes has been extinguished. Her laugh is heard no more. Her stories are silenced. Our sorrow is real, but the joy of God is more real.
Our distress is real, but the peace of God is more real. Our ache is real but the embrace of God is more real. Our emptiness is real but the abundance of God is more real. Our desolate spirits are real, but the Spirit of God is more real. Her death is real, but the life God gives is more real.
We live by a promise made flesh. We live in the witness of those who saw. We live by the testimony of what we ourselves have tasted. The grave cannot stop the creative and life-giving power of God. The desert shall bloom.
In those great words of the prophet Isaiah that we hear during Advent:
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus 2it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.
3Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
4Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God…
He will come and save you.”
5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
7the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
8A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way…
10And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35)
The God who creates. The God who opens the Red Sea. The God who opens the road to bring exiles home. The God who opens the grave. We live in the light of his promise. We live in the light of the risen Christ. We live in the light of an eternal love that opens the grave and gathers all creation for the wedding feast without end.
Our grief is real. But we go forward in hope, sustained by the Spirit, trusting the promise that healing awaits us now and in the age to come.