[This Easter Sunday, I was asked to preach at a virtual family church service. Today’s reflection is a tidied up version of my speaking notes.]
Good morning and good afternoon, everyone. It’s wonderful to be able to gather together like this — albeit virtually — to celebrate the biggest feast of the Christian year. At the same time, the fact that we are gathered like this is a reminder that things aren’t right in the world. Surrounded by so much death — both literal (close to 3 million lives lost to the pandemic at current count) and figurative, in terms of lost dreams, lost businesses, lost opportunities, and lost time — it’s a strange but perhaps fitting time for us to remember and celebrate that, no matter how bleak things may look, death does not have the final say, that when it comes to God’s activity in the world, life wins.
I’d like to begin this reflection by going back in time, to the words of the prophet Isaiah:
Bring forth the people who are blind, yet have eyes,
who are deaf, yet have ears!
Let all the nations gather together,
and let the peoples assemble.
Who among them declared this,
and foretold to us the former things?
Thus says the Lord,
who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (selections from Isaiah 43.8-19)
These words were spoken to a lost and desolate people, exiled from their homeland for seventy long years. For decades, they had been living out those devastating words from the Psalm: “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down, we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion,” feeling lost, heart-broken, and abandoned by their God. With no end — or hope of an end — in sight.
Into this situation, the prophet rises up and offers a message of hope. Is anybody listening? he asks. Does anybody see what God is doing? He reminds them of God’s help for their ancestors in another hopeless situation, when they were newly freed from slavery in Egypt and stood hemmed in between the advancing Egyptian army and the Sea. As the story goes, God “made a way in the sea” for them, allowing them to cross to safety and to the new life awaiting them on the other side.
But, then, right after reminding them of all this, Isaiah tells them to forget the past. God is faithful and steadfast, but also infinitely creative. God will act on their behalf, but it won’t look like it did before. And indeed, there was a new Exodus, but one accomplished not by miracles. There was no second Moses saying ‘let my people go.’ Instead, seemingly out of nowhere, the Babylonian Empire collapsed, and its Persian successor sent the Exiles home with the stroke of a pen.
“I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
I like to say that life is not for the faint of heart. And, looking around the faces on this screen, I know this is true for all of us here. We’ve all known sleepless nights, illness, financial struggles, impossible decisions, loss and grief, unexpected endings and beginnings — all of these Dark Nights of the Soul, Spirit and Body — to say nothing of the daily onslaught of bad news, and to say nothing of the ways our relationships aren’t what we know they should be, the ways we hurt others, the ways they hurt us. It’s easy to feel like the Hebrews at the Red Sea, called to a future and called to freedom but with no idea how to cross over and the past closing in behind us; and when the path opens before us, not knowing if we can trust it. It’s easy to feel like the people of Judah exiled in Babylon, exhausted and spent from our grief at all that we’ve lost, convinced that our best days are behind us.
But to us, as to them, God says: “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
And that brings us to the newest and greatest new thing of all, the new thing that brings us here together today, from the shores of Lake Ontario, to the Thames and Bow Rivers, to the Salish Sea, and indeed all Christians around the world: The Resurrection of Jesus.
“Christ is risen!” has been the cry that has inspired and united Christians for two thousand years. It’s more than a claim that something miraculous happened to the man Jesus a long time a go in a land far far away. It’s a proclamation that God has done something different, something new, once and for all.
Jesus offered something truly different and new in the world. What’s telling is that what he offered is still truly different and new today. It is still new because we have barely begun to start living it out. As Alexander Men, a theologian whose words changed my life, put it: “To this day many of Christ’s words are incomprehensible because we are still moral and spiritual cavemen. The gospel arrow is aimed towards eternity, and that which we call Christian history is in many ways a series of clumsy and unsuccessful attempts to bring Christianity about.”
The way the world works hasn’t changed much since Jesus’ day because human nature hasn’t changed. We’re still prone to chasing after, and clinging to, money and power. We’re still prone to following every whim of our minds and bodies, to do the easy thing today and let tomorrow clean up the mess. We still let our wants take priority over the community’s needs. We still let the beautiful things God has made distract us from God and one another, allowing them to separate us instead of unite us in love with one another.
And so, Jesus’ message is still new. It is nothing short of a new life: a life of humility, of communion, of love. It is that life that the world tried to destroy when Jesus was executed by a conspiracy of religion and politics. (If the way of Jesus seems contrary to the way things work, it’s because ‘the way things work’ is what killed him.) And it is that life that God vindicated, in raising Jesus from the dead. It is that life that God offers to us today, fresh and new as ever. As the apostle Paul said, ‘If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation — the old is gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5.17).
And so, in the midst of the heavy griefs and sorrows of the world, as we struggle through the consequences of the ‘old’ ways on our lives and relationships, let’s hold on to the hope of our faith.
If you feel like your’re crossing the Red Sea, in between the sorrows of the past and your hopes for the future, remember: God is doing a new thing.
If you feel like an exile, feeling exhausted and longing for a place to belong, remember: God is doing a new thing.
If you are feeling worn out, weary, or hopeless by the state of the world, remember: God has done, is doing, and will do a new thing.
God is doing a new thing, and has invited us to be a part of it. Thanks be to God! Alleluia!
Alleluia! Christ is risen!