The Garden Church
Rev. Anna Woofenden
So here’s the thing about resurrection. It comes when we least expect it. And in fact, when we don’t expect it. It confronts us–right smack-dab in the middle of our confusion and grief and despair. Like Mary, weeping outside of the tomb, I picture her, head down, in utter despair. And Jesus reaches out and asks, “Why are you weeping?” She looks up, and she doesn’t even recognize him. She doesn’t see the resurrection in front of her. Until he says her name, “Mary” and she is shocked, jumps up and exclaims, “Rabboni, teacher!” Confronted by the resurrection.
Walking through these stories, it’s hard for us to remember that the followers of Jesus didn’t know about the Easter part. Today on Holy Saturday, we’re walking through the whole story of Holy Week, but we also hold this space for what this Saturday day is–a place of waiting, and wondering, not knowing how the story will end, longing for resurrection.
This week one of my hometowns and church communities where I hold many dear suffered a quick succession of tragic and shocking losses. They entered into the darkness and pain of these narratives a few days early as they are wrestling up close and personal with darkness. As I spent time this week being present, via phone and text, I witnessed questions of how humanity can be in such pain, and how is it that we continue to inflict it on each other, where is God in all of this? As I sat with these questions and felt the deep pain and darkness, I kept coming back to these stories, to the scriptures of Holy Week. The stories of how the Loving God of the Universe, incarnated and walked among us in the vulnerability of human flesh, encountering pain and darkness and suffering. And somehow, these stories are able to hold it all.
This song we’ve been singing today kept living with me. “Within our darkest night, You kindle the fire, that never dies, that never dies, within our darkest night, you kindle the fire, that never dies.” Because darkest nights are part of life. And they’re part of this narrative of Holy Week. In fact, they’re right there in the story. Dark, sad, violent, hard stuff. Stuff that I don’t really even like to read out loud in church, stuff that makes me cringe as the words are spoken, because who wants to have to face it? And yet in holding it as part of the story, we find that God is facing it with us. Emmanuel, God with us, holding us, suffering with us, and loving us through it all.
Because pain and suffering and death is not the whole story, and that is not the final message. Because with God, there’s always resurrection, there is always hope. With God there is that flame that never dies, that divine impulse of new life is God’s signature act. Now I want to be really clear, believing in resurrection doesn’t mean that we skip over the hard stuff. It doesn’t mean that we pretend it’s all going to be fine. What God shows us in the ability to be present, by walking through it, fully embodying it, and then transforming it and giving new life. And it’s that “God with us,” the God who kindles that flame within humanity, within creation, constantly with us, constantly calling us towards love as God makes all things new. And this newness is often not some clean-cut bookend on the other side of the story; life doesn’t operate Palm Sunday, then Easter. Life is more like the whole week together, the powerful acts of love when bending down to wash another’s feet, the triumphal shouts with palms held high, the dark depths of the violence of the crucifixion, the shock and joy of the resurrection, the holy waiting of this day. All mixed up together.
The hope of resurrection is that we know and are being held by a God who is with us in it. In the pain and the suffering, in the blah days and the wondering, in the times where we know and the times when we don’t, and this God, God with us—is always, always, always working towards resurrection, transformation, hope, reconciliation and love.
This is the God that willingly walked the paths that encountered suffering, every kind of human temptation, and experienced the depth of violence and pain and hurt in the world. And then said, “this is NOT the end of the story.” And, when his followers least expected it, they found an empty tomb and the Christ shining brilliantly and calling them forward in the way of resurrection.
And Christ is still calling us forward, God continues to be the God that is making all things new, brings healing in despair, calls us to rise together and address the suffering in the world, holds us in all things. And continues to show us, to confront us with the beauty and light of resurrection. And likely, it will come and confront us when we least expect it. In the brilliance of a glowing bed of flowers on a dark dark day, in a reconciliation that we never thought would come, in the pieces and places in ourselves and our world where we name and claim the beauty, the hope, the love coming into being in the world.
The word is very near us, it is in our hearts and in our beings, let’s continue our reflection together…how have you, or are you, being confronted by resurrection?