April 15, 2018 — Third Sunday of Easter
Rev. Alison Quin
A Future Without Fear
I’ve heard that humans are the only creatures with an awareness of their mortality. I haven’t really checked in with other species, but it is certainly true that we live our lives knowing that we will die someday.
Awareness of our mortality has its advantages—if we reflect on it, it encourages us to focus on what is important, to keep our accounts short, to reconcile with the people in our lives, so that we don’t leave this world with unfinished business.
But there is a great element of mystery about death. It is like a closed door, with a sign above it saying “Exit Only.” People we know and love slip through that door and we don’t see them anymore in this life. Even followers of Christ have questions about what happens when we slip through that door. When you are grieving the loss of a loved one, it feels at times as though they have simply vanished into the ether.
But Jesus rose from the dead. He came back in through that door marked Exit Only. The disciples were terrified, as any of us would be if someone who had died suddenly walked in. They thought he was a ghost. But Jesus makes it clear that he is no ghost. “It is I, myself,” he says. “Look at my hands and feet, touch me and see that I have flesh and bones.”
They are overjoyed, but still disbelieving and wondering—what just happened? How? What does it mean?
While they are struggling to take it in, Jesus asks if they have something to eat. This is proof that he is not a ghost—everyone knows that ghosts don’t eat.
Jesus came back from the dead, to show us that life does not end when we go through that door. We need no longer fear death or entertain the thought that we simply disappear.
We simply can’t see beyond that door—our vision is limited by our mortal bodies. A friend of mine was discussing the death of her mother with her three-year old grandson. “Can great grandma see us?” he asked. She said, “I think so.” He thought for a minute and then said, “So, she has eyes to see us, but we do not have eyes to see her?” Yes.
But the resurrection does not only transform the way we think of death. By returning in the flesh, Jesus underscores the holiness of our frail mortal bodies. Our bodies may seem frail or inconvenient or even embarasshing, but they are God’s home. The resurrection completes the incarnation—God is pleased to dwell in us, not just for a moment in history, but always. God invites us to value this sacred embodied life, and to look for God in the concrete details of our lives. It is I, myself, God says—in your flesh, in your wounds, in your waking and sleeping, joys and sorrows, sickness and health, birth and death. Easter sends us back to our daily lives to look for all the clues we have missed of God’s abiding presence—God’s offer of abundant life and hidden possibility in every moment.
The resurrection frees us from fear of the future, and reveals the holiness of the present. It even transforms the past. When Jesus appeared to the disciples, they were living with an immediate past that involved torture, death, failure and despair.
But Jesus opened their eyes to see the bigger picture—in which God uses everything, even death and failure and despair, to bring about God’s purpose of salvation. A few years after I became a believer, I realized that my view of my own past had been transformed. The most painful parts of my life—various losses, my own mistakes and failures—had been illuminated as holy moments that opened my eyes to God. God’s mercy and forgiveness created a new beautiful pattern out of the chaos and sorrow of my past.
What possibilities for transformation exist if we do not fear the future or the past and if we allow our eyes to be opened to God’s presence in us here and now? With God, all things are possible.
In a few minutes, we will baptize Adrianne. God has called her to this journey with Christ and she has been preparing for this holy sacrament for months. Early on, we did a bible study of the Annunciation in Luke. The angel Gabriel says,
“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
The phrase that struck Adrianne was “of his kingdom there will be no end.” She saw it as a vision of peace flowing without end, love without end, life without end. Baptism is the sacrament, the visible sign of this endless grace. In baptism, we give thanks for God’s grace, and pray for God’s help in allowing it to transform us. The congregation prays too, and promises to support the newly baptized person, because we all need support along the way.
The transformation has already begun, for Adrianne and for all of us. Her story has been woven into the larger story of God’s salvation, just as ours have. Ahead of her she has a future without fear, a past without regrets, and a present filled with God’s love and abundant life.
As Jesus said to the disciples, all of you are witnesses to these things. Go and proclaim the good news to all the nations.