(John 20:1-18, John 12: 24, Psalm 30: 3, 5, 11, &12)
A seed must fall to the earth and die for the new life that lies within it to bust through and root down and sprout up and flourish and bear new fruit.
This is the way of life and of death and of new life beyond death.
This is the mystery of Easter. And it is a mystery. That’s why we return to this story-cycle year after year. There is a mystery here in this story of the death and resurrection of Jesus, a mystery that’s a good and true source to which we turn back and return year after year to feed us and lead us through the seasons of our lives.
There once was someone anointed by God – Jesus. He was anointed by God to lead people to the presence of God with us, to the way of the realm of God here and now and beyond. The one anointed by God for that task, Jesus, he didn’t survive long in this world – he didn’t survive long as a solitary life at least. The forces of violence in this world, the forces of domination and crookedness – sin, to use a tricky word – the forces that deny God and the way of God’s realm, they rose against Jesus and stripped him bare and snuffed him out. These forces did to Jesus just as they have done to countless victims throughout history and up to the present.
Jesus surrendered himself to it all, and died … but through is dying there was unleashed an astonishing transformation.
New life busted through and rooted down and sprouted up and flourished and bore new fruit. New fruit for a new harvest, an overflowing abundance of the spirit of what is good and true.
That’s what we celebrate today on Easter. The way of God’s realm triumphs, like dandelions busting through the cracks of a sidewalk. It triumphs because it is rooted in what is actually true, it’s rooted in ground that’s the ground of all being.
You see, the things built by the forces of human power, hubris, domination, violence, greed … they’re built on sand, and they soon crumble and wash away. We’re so easily caught up in all, and it can seem so impressive and satisfying. But it all falls and passes away.
We’re so easily mistaken about who we actually are. We get caught up in our clothes, we get caught up in our names and titles and roles, we get caught up in our bodies and in our passing pleasures, we get caught up in our language and in our tribes and in our pride and in our power. We take our self and everything we touch to be somehow eternal, and somehow the standard against which to judge everyone else. It’s easy to do, we all do it and we make excuses for each other. We do it as individuals, we do it as communities and nations. But getting caught up in what is false and fleeting is what makes us hosts for forces that seek to destroy and dominate. This is the stuff that kills and crucifies.
And this is why we must die to be transformed. We must die to our false sense of who we are, of who we are as individuals and who we are as communities. Letting all that die is very humbling. But when we humble ourselves and surrender all that we think we are, we surrender it to God, to the true God, not the false gods of pride and power, the true God in whom we live and move and have our being. And an incredible force of new life busts through us and roots down and sprouts up and flourishes and bears new fruit.
As the Apostle Paul says, with Christ we must die, and with Christ we are reborn.
Now, when the resurrected Christ first appeared to Mary Magdalene, he said, “Don’t hold on to me. I’m passing through, to be reunited with my creator and your creator, my God and your God.” And soon later, after appearing a few more times, the transformed Christ moves on from this earthly realm, and when the community of his followers gather together to figure out what’s next, suddenly this Holy Spirit busts out and blossoming through them. They have been given the enduring fruit of the resurrection.
The Holy Spirit moves in the midst of communities of the faithful, it’s a connection with the living God, transforming people and giving through them to others new fruits: healing, comfort, restoration, peace, courage, wisdom. It’s this Holy Spirit growing out from communities that pushes us along the way of Jesus.
So we can let this Spirit sprout out of us. We can be a sprouted people. We can let new life bust through us and root down and sprout up and flourish and bear new fruit, abundant fruit, for all who hunger.
Thanks be to God.
(Delivered Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016 at First Congregational Church of Walla Walla. By Rev. Nathaniel Mahlberg)