Scriptures for today are here. Options chosen are Acts, 1 Corinthians, and Luke.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! [The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!]
This feels like a very happy Easter to me. Last week, unexpectedly, I got a call from my mother that my father was dying, possibly within hours. I dropped everything and flew to Austin to be with my parents. And it turned out that it was a complete misdiagnosis – he just had a simple infection. He is on antibiotics now, and is much better. So for us, this year, the words of the hymn we just sang took on special meaning: “Our despair he turned to blazing joy.” This feels like an Easter miracle to us.
And so I feel optimistic about the future. Optimism is something you feel when there are good signs, when it looks like things are going well.
But there are times when optimism is very difficult. My friend works as a teacher for homebound high school students – some who are unwed mothers with infants, some who are ill with terminal diseases, some who are handicapped and unable to function in a regular classroom. She sees teenagers and their parents in all kinds of difficult situations. A couple of years ago she wrote me – I’m finding it hard to be optimistic these days, she said – she sees so many things to worry about. And I wrote her back – when you can’t have optimism, try hope.
Optimism and hope are two different things. Optimism is believing that a situation is heading in a positive direction. Optimism means looking on the bright side, finding the silver lining, believing that evidence shows that events will come out well. Optimism is a good thing when you’re facing a challenge: when you’ve interviewed for a job and the signs look good; when you think there’s a good chance you’ll get a good grade because you studied hard; when you’re undergoing treatment but the doctor says the prognosis is good. Optimism is a belief in happy endings.
But not all endings are happy. There are things that optimism doesn’t touch. Optimism doesn’t help the cause that is lost. Optimism doesn’t prevent the people we love from dying, eventually. Optimism doesn’t bring the dead back to life.
Optimism is doing what the women did in our gospel story today, looking for the living among the dead – understanding that the dead stay dead, wanting only to anoint death with burial spices, finding something good and sweet and kind about the whole sad situation.
If Easter simply means optimism, a feeling that things will turn out all right if we look on the bright side, then we can enjoy our beautiful music, flowers, our pastel colors and Easter bunnies, our plastic eggs and marshmallow Peeps. We’ll enjoy a little sunshine today, we’ll remember Jesus as a nice man who did good things. But we won’t go home changed –our lives won’t be different. The dead will not be resurrected. When we wake up tomorrow, we will still be worried, distracted, will still be certain of only one thing in life – death – because optimism can take us only so far, but it cannot finally conquer darkness, evil and death. Optimism can never do anything more than search for the living among dead.
But hope – hope is something different entirely. Hope is not based on indications that things are going well. Hope is born in the darkest of times when optimism has failed. Hope means that all is not lost, even when nothing good is left.
In the movie The Shawshank Redemption, two inmates are in a hellish prison. One of them, Andy, never loses hope. He tells his friend, Red, “You have to have hope. Hope is all you have when nothing is left. Hope is a good thing, and no good thing ever dies.” Red shakes his head and says, “Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can get a man killed.”
Well, hope IS a dangerous thing, because hope upsets everything we know. Hope arises from the belief that some unexpected, inexplicable power outside the situation will change things; hope is a light that begins to gleam in utter darkness; hope opens our eyes to new possibilities optimism could never see. Hope understands that God has hold of us and has no intention of letting go.
Hope is dropping the burial spices, losing our faith in death, listening to the voices of angels, and beginning a new day where we look for the living among the living, the blazing light of resurrection in each face gathered here today.
And hope – if we can find hope today, in our Easter celebration –then we will go home, transformed, renewed, newly created people shining w Easter light. Because we will know that there is no darkness so deep, no evil so powerful, no death so final that God’s light cannot shine into it and bring us hope.
And friends, this Easter morning, we who follow Christ are not optimistic – we are hopeful, we are filled to the brim with hope – a hope that outshines optimism – a hope that begins in darkness and bursts into the light of day – a hope that is born in despair and becomes a blazing joy.
And we say with all the angels in heaven, Alleluia, Christ is risen! [The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!]
The thing is that Christ’s resurrection is true, and real, and makes a difference to this world. Jesus gave himself up to death out of love for his disciples, love for his fellow Israelites, love for the Roman soldiers who crucified him, love for all of us. He had choices: he could have fought or fled or called down legions of angels. But he chose to die; Jesus allowed all of the evil and hatred and fear and sin of this world to overwhelm him; he went to his death willingly.
Jesus went into the darkness of death because all of us will go there too. And it is only when all cause for optimism is lost, that God can give the gift of hope. Hope arises out of darkness, when there is no more reason for optimism. And friends, in our lives, we need hope.
So Jesus went to his death, but he didn’t stay dead – he rose from the dead. Which means that death and evil and hatred and sin don’t rule this world any more – a new creation has begun.
Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, says: at Easter, “we are really standing in the middle of a second ‘Big Bang,’ a tumultuous surge of divine energy as fiery and intense as the very beginning of the universe.” If you throw a stone into water, it creates ripples in circles that radiate out. In Jesus, on Easter day, the resurrection started a ripple of new creation, a wave of energy that has spread out for 2,000 years, an energy wave that hasn’t stopped yet, but will keep on growing until the evil powers of this world are completely destroyed, and all of us are brought from death into life.
This is not optimism, because it makes no sense. You can’t deduce resurrection, new creation, from any facts in our world today. You can’t get resurrection by looking on the bright side of a bad situation. You get to resurrection only by dying. And out of the darkness of death, God brings new life and new creation. God gives us hope in Jesus Christ.
There are people here today, who are living in dark and difficult times. Even if I didn’t know you, I would know that to be true. I can be sure that in a crowd this size, there is someone experiencing the loss of a relationship, someone facing a serious illness, someone mourning the death of someone they love. Optimism won’t touch those situations – not every cloud has a silver lining.
But, in the darkness of human life, God brings hope. Resurrection hope, hope so glorious that it breaks all the rules, that no one can understand it. For anyone who lives in darkness, the resurrection tells us that God’s love enters even into the deepest and darkest parts of human life. And God’s love takes hold of us, and refuses to let us go.
Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, and we, his beloved ones, are raised along with him, to new life and new creation. And to this, there’s only one thing we can say: Alleluia, Christ is risen! [The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!]