New Life Stories
Acts 10:34-43 John 20:1-18
Easter Sunday April 4, 2010
What does a new life look like? And how do you get one if you need it? The Easter story is all about new life. It’s about life that comes when all that reasonably seems to be possible is death. This kind of new life is a surprise. It comes when you don’t expect it. Mary showed up in the garden to visit Jesus’ tomb and anoint his body with the ritual spices; she does not expect to be encountered with life, but that is exactly what happens. It is so surprising, that she doesn’t even recognize the signs for awhile. She doesn’t recognize Jesus himself when he stands in front of her. Jesus’ death had been so final, so very real - more real than anything else she had ever been through. She isn’t even done grieving yet, and now Jesus shows himself to her - alive. This experience had to change Mary in some way. You can’t go through what she went through - watching her friend go through all of that agony, seeing him die up on that cross - and not come out of the experience a different person. But now she has even more to process. Now she discovers that maybe death is not as final as it had seemed only yesterday. Maybe there is something stronger than death after all? Everything she knew about the world and how it worked yesterday, has to be totally re-thought today.
For me, one of the most intriguing aspects of this story is what happens afterward, and yet we don’t really hear as much about that as we might wish to hear. What was it like for Mary and for the others, to go on with their lives holding onto the knowledge that Jesus had overcome death? That must have changed them in some pretty powerful ways, I imagine. How could it not? It is powerful enough to deal with the consequences of the death of a loved one, but to deal with him coming back alive after his ordeal had to have changed his followers in so many different ways. It so profoundly changed their faith, that now more than 2000 years later, we are still trying to come up with ways of understanding all of the implications. For us, Jesus’ resurrection is the norm, it is what we know, and yet what does that really mean to us? How does this knowledge, this information, shape and inform us, our faith and our lives?
What is “new life” when put into this context? New life, according to Jesus’ experience, seems to be a life that is made all the more valuable because it is plucked from the hand of death. There are so many examples of people who have experienced this kind of new life - folks who face cancer or some other supposedly-terminal illness, those whose beloved spouse dies after many years of a shared life, parents who lose a child. All of the people who deal with these situations are in effect forced into beginning a new life. There is always the option of choosing not to embrace the future, when the losses are so deep and difficult, but if a person in such painful situation dares to choose to live on in spite of their losses, then they do become a new person. Their life takes on a new shape and form, perhaps uncomfortable at first, but new nonetheless. It can take courage to step out into that new life, but those who do so, often discover that the effort is well rewarded.
A new life comes and invites you to re-think how you have been spending your time, how you have been concentrating your efforts and energies. When you have a new chance at life, it can be a really good time to examine your values. What is essential to you and what do you want to let go of? When Jesus died, his friends and followers probably thought of all the conversations they meant to have with him over the years, the activities they wish they had done with him. When any of us loses a loved one, we go through some of the same emotions. If the relationship was a little shaky, we might wish we had tried to make amends before they died; if we had been close, there might be any number of thoughts we wish we could have shared with them.
When we come face to face with death, whether our own or that of a loved one, our values shift and change - often for the better, as we consider what the person means to us and how we want to spend our last bit of time with them. (If the person is ourselves, then this is just as fitting - how do I want to spend this last bit of time with myself?) When we go beyond death though, to consider what it might mean to have a new chance at life, the situation changes yet again.
When Jesus came back from the dead, my guess is that no one re-visited the thoughts they had had in the past few days between his death and Easter morning. When he came back to life, all of a sudden everything shifted - including the concerns they thought were important just a few days or even hours previously. Even the things they thought they wanted to tell him were different. Those old things didn’t matter so much anymore.
Last summer my dog got pretty sick, not once but twice. Each time we brought him to the vet, hoping and praying that the vet would have some kind of answer for us, that he would be able to bring Dusty back to a place of health and liveliness. Each time, the vet gave us “the speech” - you know, the one about the fact that our dog has had a nice long life, and that at some point, probably soon, given the signs, we would have to say “goodbye” and let him go. It was painful to even consider our life without Dusty, and so I numbly smiled and nodded at the vet, and bent my efforts toward helping my dog heal from his latest setback. Well, here it is 9 months later, and Dusty is still with us. He still goes for walks with me every day, he still has that sparkle in his eye and he still gets excited when it’s time for a treat. Last summer, I thought there was no way he would still be with us this far out into the future, but here he is - alive and not doing too badly for a 112 year-old. (In dog years, of course.)
Dusty’s brushes with death and his subsequent recuperations are the closest I can come, in my personal life, to understanding what a new life might look like and what kind of opportunities it might present. Every day I am aware that it is a gift that Dusty is able to walk with me, that he is here to say “goodnight” to each evening before going to bed, that he gets up on his stiff, arthritic legs to welcome me home from work. I don’t take him for granted as I have to admit I used to. I notice even the little things about having him in my life, and am very, very grateful. The threat of loss changed my relationship with him, and I am so glad this shift happened before it was too late. But I think it also gave me pause in reflecting on my other relationships, both with four-footed friends as well as with my two-footed ones. It is so important that we not take any one of these relationships for granted.
In our life of faith, it can be very easy to take God for granted. We know that God will always be there for us, and that is reassuring, of course, but are we really letting this truth make a difference in our lives? Are we living as if Jesus is alive within us? - because that is what really matters when you come right down to it. Is Jesus alive in you? - in me? How does the fact that we ask God to live in us and work through us make a difference in our lives every day?
You and I know people who live out God’s presence in tangible ways - by spending quality time with folks who are stuck at home and helping them out with their shopping and the running of their homes, by caring for children with love and tenderness, and by making donations to good causes out of the little bit of money they have. God can be seen in the small acts of kindness that happen through people all around us. Jesus’ love and compassion live on right in our church and in our community. New life happens in the smallest, most insignificant ways as well as in the attention-getting ones. What is most important, is that new life happens in you and in me, here and now, today and every day.
God of our lives, may we embrace the new gift offered to us each and every dawn. May we be the people you have called us to be in our families, our communities and the world. May we live in such a way that Christ can be seen living in us and through us always. Amen.