Sunday, April 8, 2012

the power of the grave

In church this morning, our choir will have sung a beautiful song called "I Will Arise". It's one of my favorites (and I'm slowly getting over the fact that I'm sick today and so didn't get a chance to sing it one last time. Alas), mostly because the words are just so amazingly beautiful. And the music is good. And it's stirring and wonderful and I love singing it because it's in this really nice middle-range, and... okay, I'll shut up now.
I will arise
like the sun at dawn's first light
I will arise
You can bury me that day
Seal the tomb and turn away
but the power of the grave will be denied
I will arise
Sometimes, in the midst of typical American Christianity, we forget the truth of the resurrection. It becomes just another one of those holidays that we celebrate with special church services. We go to church, say "yay, Jesus" and then go home for food and naps and go on with our lives. And we miss that moment, that one little moment, of just standing in the presence of God and saying, "You're the most amazing thing existence can offer. Thank you."

We forget how amazing his promise and its fulfillment was. Can you imagine Jesus' disciples sitting on a hillside somewhere in Israel, being told by their beloved friend, leader, and teacher that he's going to die? And not only is he going to die, but then he's going to come alive again? Maybe the second part didn't make as much of an impact on them. He couldn't die--he was God! They believed this with every bit of themselves, or tried to say they did.

But then he did die. Jesus Christ, their friend, died. Jesus Christ, God of the universe, died. Petty concerns faded. All at once, they were faced with the indisputable truth that they were going to wrap him in burial clothes and stick him in a borrowed grave, roll a rock over the door, and go back to their mundane existences. They didn't want to let it go; they gathered in a rented room instead, clustered together and clinging to one another like the last refuge of sanity. Afraid that the Jews would come get them, too. Alone. Feeling like there was nothing in the world to cling onto. Perhaps praying within themselves, shouting at God and asking why he'd let them waste three years of their lives if he was just going to take it all away from them.

They'd forgotten. They'd forgotten the promise he'd made them. Either that, or they'd simply discarded it as idle fancy. God can't die, they might have thought. Jesus died, hence we must have been wrong. Perhaps some of them still clung to faith in the face of uncertainty, not willing to let go of the knowledge that somehow, some way, Jesus would make it right because that's what he always did.
Death will have no victory
the grave will have no sting
the promise of the living one
the whole world will see 
Four women picked their way through a dark garden. The sun hadn't yet risen; it was just the right hour for them to know that it was no longer the Sabbath. They were following God's law to the letter, still going through the motions of life while heading to say goodbye to the dead. Joseph of Arimathea had given his own tomb up for their friend, a fact they were thankful for. The thought of leaving their friend and son and brother to be married in an unmarked criminal's grave was too painful. At least, this way, they'd be able to say goodbye properly, like good Jewish women.

Perhaps the first thing they saw were the two guards, slumped over in the pathway. Perhaps not. Perhaps the guards had already woken and picked themselves up, running away in fear when they saw the open grave. Perhaps the gaping hole left by the stone's absence was the first thing they saw. Either way, their first thought was obviously not that Jesus had fulfilled his promise. It was that he had been stolen, that some thief had come and taken away his body. Only later would this first impression be corrected, when Jesus came to visit them in their hideaway, appearing out of nowhere.

And even today, two thousand years after four women first discovered an empty tomb and then saw their risen Messiah, we still remember that event. And whatever we call it--Easter or Resurrection Sunday or whatever--the whole world has indeed seen and will continue to see the promise of Christ and his redemption.

Happy Easter.

- Kyla Denae

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