This sermon was preached on August 23, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel “Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.
The texts were:
Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24
Colossians 3: 1-4
Matthew 28: 1-10
I always get sucked into those Facebook posts or that have the abstract pictures that ask you if you see or don’t see certain objects like animals or numbers or whatever. Sometimes I can see what I’m supposed to and that’s fun but sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I can’t see what others do. Then I wonder if there is something wrong with me, why don’t I see it? Maybe it doesn’t really exist and I’m being punked? The phrase “seeing is believing” has been resonating with me this week as I ponder our gospel text of Jesus’ resurrection. Just as we did Christmas in July, with no snow, or presents or egg nog, we have Easter in August, with it’s dry, hot, waning days of summer as the growing season wraps up. Easter in August forces a different perspective versus tulips, lilies and cool spring mornings when everything seems new. It’s easier to see the new life in Jesus’ resurrection with so many visual reminders around us than in late August when things are drying up and dying. How can I see new life and hope when all around me is death, endings, and empty places where life once was? I think of the angel’s statement to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (probably Jesus’ mother), “I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.” In Matthew’s gospel, we don’t know why the women came to the tomb in the early hours of Sunday before sunrise. In Mark and Luke, the women went to apply spices to Jesus’ body, but in Matthew, it doesn’t say why the two Marys’ went. Did they expect to see a dead body? A resurrected Jesus? Something else entirely?
What would I have expected to see that morning after witnessing Jesus’ crucifixion? I know that my vision can be sorrowfully myopic. I might only see Jesus in what you might call the obvious: in specific church places, activities or events, or in certain people. I might see Jesus only in my scripture reading or in prayers. I might see Jesus only where I expect to see Jesus.
If I’m honest, I don’t see Jesus as much as I should. Time and time again, in all the gospels, in the entirety of the Bible, God shows up in unexpected ways, in unexpected places and in the least likely people. Over and over. God shows up as wind, as a stranger, a wrestler who wounds, as a burning bush, as still silence, in the voices of men and women prophets, and as a baby born in the middle of nowhere to refugees whom no one cared about. The Marys’ went to the tomb to see what would happen, and they experienced an earthquake, a large stone moving, an empty tomb and an angelic message. None of these actions typically herald new life. But the women knew that they were God’s actions and where God is acting, they needed to look again. And when they did, they saw Jesus. Without those unexpected and frightening experiences would they have seen Jesus as readily?
As I said, it’s easy for me to see Jesus in sunrises, in hummingbirds, smiles, and stained glass. But I admit that it’s harder for me to see Jesus in the midst of this pandemic, in the midst of the racial turmoil, in the midst of the divisions and in people whom I disagree with. And yet, that’s the whole point of the resurrection. It’s the point of Jesus’ life and ministry. It’s the point of the Bible. That God acts in all times and in all places, even when we can’t or won’t see God. God acts in tombs of death, God is acting in the pandemic, God is acting in our nation’s racial reckoning, God is acting in our divisive conversations. God is acting whether we can see it or not. God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, hope and new life exist even when we can’t see it and we can’t believe it. This is good news, because it’s not all up to us and what we can see or do. It’s what God sees and does. It’s what God promises.
God is bringing new life to us, and maybe we’re being forced right now to see it. Maybe we had to experience frightening events to see differently, like the Marys at the tomb. Maybe we had to stop seeing our faith and church life, and our daily lives, in the same old way to see God’s actions of new life. Maybe we had to see our sanctuary as empty as the tomb to see that Jesus has gone out ahead of us to meet us on the road. Maybe some of us had to see how privileged our white upper middle class lives are to see that is not true for all people in our community. Maybe we had to see that relationships can’t be taken for granted, that our health, our status, our abilities are all fleeting in order to see that when we let go of seeing our lives as our own, we see Jesus. Like the women, we can see Jesus right in front of us with words of hope. We see Jesus in our neighbor, we see Jesus in diversity, we see Jesus in hard conversations, we see Jesus in what is changing, we see Jesus in what is hard for us to comprehend, and we see Jesus in our own fear and great joy. And in the midst of this, we worship right where we are. The promise is that we will see Jesus, who is God’s action in our midst through the power of the Holy Spirit. We see Jesus in water, bread and wine. We see Jesus and we then go to tell others to see Jesus too. We walk beside all people so that they can see Jesus in their own lives, and in the world, even when it’s hard, even when it’s unlikely, even when they don’t want to.
This is what it is to see the resurrected Jesus, is to see life where others see death, to see new beginnings where others see endings, to see abundance where others see emptiness, to see love where others see fear. We see Jesus and believe that God is acting. Amen.