The Resurrection Doesn't Erase; It Transforms (a sermon for the Great Vigil of Easter)
There are moments, in relationships, when we share something simply to build intimacy. Fears, hopes, memories - things that we hold deep inside and do not often offer the world. Things that are so rarely shared that just being offered such a thing is a holy privilege, and we are bound closer by holding the thing together.
And so it was that, one spring, maybe a dozen years ago or so, I let my best friend sit with me and watch the video from the first time I did Godspell, the musical version of the gospel story. It is a home video taken from the back of a church auditorium, of a cast mostly composed of high schoolers who would never have gotten such big parts in their school plays. It is as funny-embarrassing as most amateur performances are from a distance, but it is also immensely tender, for me, because our Jesus really died.
Not in the show, of course. A couple of years later. But it made it a different thing to watch the end of that video, to see Emily hung on a chain-link fence, to see myself work at taking down her body and carrying it out, and then, during the curtain call, to see her run back on stage and to watch the two of us embrace so joyfully.
And so I do not normally watch it with others. But that day, I did. And as we sat there afterward, I looked at him and said, “I just want her to walk back in the door for real.”
And he looked at me for a long moment - and nodded a little - and finally said, “It may take an unfair amount of time.”
“But she’s going to.”
It is one of the moments that has taught me the most about resurrection.
Until that moment, I think I hoped that resurrection should mean that we would go back to the way we were before. I don’t think I even knew, exactly, that that was what I was hoping for. That I really wanted her to walk through a door this minute and for us to then find ourselves back in college, both alive, to live things out differently this time. But something shifted in that certainty from a friend, that that reunion would come, but at a future time, and it might be too long a time from now. And in that moment, in that context, I realized:
Resurrection does not erase.
And sometimes it takes an unfair amount of time.
Sometimes 150 more days of swollen flood waters feels unbearable after 40 days of rain. Sometimes it takes several generations of slavery before a prophet is raised up who can finally lead the people to freedom. Sometimes the valley is full of bleached bones by the time they are restored to life.
Sometimes it takes an unfair amount of time; and when it comes, it still won’t mean that the pain never happened at all. The return from exile is not the erasure of exile. Jesus will be recognized next Sunday by the wounds still visible in his hands and side.
Resurrection does not prevent the cross, nor does it undo the cross.
Because resurrection does not erase. It transforms.
To erase would be a final act of violence done in the name of peace. It would smooth the way, not for a better future, but for a repeated past. It would make of resurrection an idle tale.
Resurrection doesn’t take away the lingering vibrations in your body after the terror, or the dreams that follow.
Or, more precisely, resurrection doesn’t flip a switch and make them go away. Instead, it gradually turns them into something else, until they become memories rather than triggers.
Now this is, in theory, the part of the sermon outline where I should show you the map, tell you something to do now, give some hint about how to go home and have resurrection in your life.
I can’t do that.
I don’t understand when and why and how it happens either. I don’t know why it takes an unfair amount of time sometimes. All I know is that it happens, and that it is a mystery whenever it does.
Because there is nothing about resurrection that *we* cause. Resurrection is how *God* transforms. It’s a promise - not a plan.
And so, tonight, we do the best we can: we tell the stories of how we have seen it before. We tell one another how God created the world in love. How God risked giving humans free will, regretted it, and decided in the end that it was still better to have an earth full of humans with free will than not to have one full of humans with free will. We tell each other, “This is the night when God brought our ancestors out of bondage. This is the night when God breathed life into dry bones. This is the night when Christ Jesus broke the bonds of sin and death, and rose victorious from the grave.”
This is the night when we remember that in every one of those stories, more turned out to be possible than we had ever seen before. This is the night when we proclaim that more is possible still than we have seen yet - and it does not depend on us. Resurrection does not require us to believe it, or to create it, for it to happen. We do not already have to be transformed for resurrection to begin. Resurrection is a gift in brokenness, not a reward for perfection.
Whether we want to participate in a transformed world - now, that’s a different story. We have our own part to play if we want to be a part of this transformed world, and we’ll get to that, tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. It’s important, that work that we’ll be sent out to do in this resurrection world. But it is not the thing that makes resurrection possible.
So for tonight, we revel in what God has done. Tonight is the night when we glory in the fact that God can and will and has and does and is transforming the world already, with or without us. Tonight we celebrate that God can and will and has and does and is offering us that transformation as well. Tonight the resurrection itself is enough.