Wonderfully created, more wonderfully restored…
Often our experience falls short of our expectation, even very short. We hope for love and find companionship. We desire friendship and find alliance. We expect vocation and land a job. We have high expectations, but low experience. So, over time, our expectations can diminish, and we find ways both to accept that outcome and to militate against it. Experience ever trumps, and often disappoints, expectation. We want an A and get B. We want a Porsche and get a Ford. We want a full church, and get half of that.
How different Easter! The Easter gospel is so strangely, hauntingly different. It is not just a matter of a church being full (though that is very nice). It is the experience of the women, who come to the tomb, in the face of their expectation. Luke begins and ends this gospel of restoration power with the women. A gathering of women engaged in a traditional task of preparing a body with spices and ointment. Luke revises, not to say restores, Mark’s earlier account. Christ has triumphed over the cross and that triumph is based on appearances—experiences—of the risen Lord, experiences of restorative power.
For St. Luke, the resurrection of Jesus brings the restoration of life, the redemption of the world, the re-creation of the church. Hence his location of all these stories in Jerusalem, where the spirit will come upon the church come Pentecost.
We might ponder especially this Easter the women in Luke 24, the prototypes of faithful people in the church, your own progenitors: sent on a thankless mission…heading for the stench of death…facing a corrupted corpse and a corrupted hope…dreading the visual and spiritual encounter…worried too about the practicalities (spices, cloths, stone)…together, at least, in their dread and sorrow, together…leave the messy things to the women…carrying with them, at daybreak, the memory of Passover loss…perhaps hoping for one last earthly moment of connection with One who brought meaning, belonging, and empowerment… Jewish women of the first century, not exactly the Lords of creation…three for whom the ministry of Jesus was in ruins, consigned to failure…it is a tomb after all to which they march, conscripted into the army of the least, last, and lost…
‘I dread the sight of him, torn and bloody. I dread the lifting of him, and the stench. I dread the cold of the stone, the darkness of the crypt—it makes me shiver shake. I dread to touch him. I dread facing him and the future, and facing the future without him. I dread how awful the world is, and now that light love glimmer doused. I dread the walk home, full of emptiness.’
Come Easter we recall: something happened, with power, to restore the life of a desolated community, and to restore the lives of particular women and men, who have given us the record of the Easter restoration. Easter is about restoration, resurrection, rebuilding, re-creation.
They expected a corpse and found an angel. They expected a stone and found an opening. They expected and ending and found a beginning. They expected death, real pungent death, and found life. No wonder they were perplexed.
The women breathed apocalyptic air. The church breathed messianic air. The evangelist breathed dualistic air. We are recovering naturalists. Some assembly required here, that is, some translation, from worldview to worldview. These are symbols to be interpreted more than doctrines to be propounded.
Easter: Wherein our worst fears are not realized in dread, in bread, and in spread. Wherein, for once, our experience if far better than our expectation. For the Easter news of Jesus Christ is not about creation, but about redemption, about restoration. The good news of Jesus Christ is not about building, but about rebuilding. The good news of Jesus Christ not about the beginning, but the next beginning. The good news of Jesus Christ is not about creation but about a new creation.
It raises a personal question for those in their later sixties: with time remaining, what do you hope to restore? Endow? Rebuild?
As said EE Cummings “I thank you Lord for this most amazing day…”
As Tug McGraw so well said, “You gotta believe.”
As Butch Cassidy told the Sundance Kid, “Kid, I’ve got vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals.”
‘I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, most of which never happened.’ M Twain.
As Judy Collins sang, “I’ve looked at life from both sides now, from win and lose and still, somehow, it’s life’s illusions I recall. I really don’t know life at all!”
You can hear restorative words every week:
“Hello, my name is John, I am an alcoholic…” Restoration.
“I enrolled to start my education again…” Restoration.
“I just called, Dad, it’s Easter. I know we haven’t gotten along very well. But I wanted to be in touch…” Restoration.
“She joined the Y last month. She had to start again toward health.”
“This meeting is about changing our company to save it.” Restoration.
“We are here to try to prepare our church for the next century.”
“I took communion because I wanted my life to change.” Restoration.
“In the time I have I will share my heart with those I love.”
“Hi Mom. I went to church today. It felt good to be there.: Restoration.
“I’m 45 years old, and I’ve never been able to commit to anything or
anyone. With you, I am going to try.” Restoration.
“For 30 years there has been a woman inside me waiting to come alive, to be. I have crying other people’s tears. No more.” Restoration.
“I made a mistake when I was 19. I have been beating myself up for it
ever since. I guess I’ll move on.” Restoration.
“Today you made me happy. I haven’t laughed like that since school.
Where have I been all these years?” Restoration.
New Creation Augustine
‘Twas not the creation which settled Augustine’s heart. Here is restoration from our neighborhood. It was the grace of restoration. No, he saw too well who we are by nature, and the restoration turn the redemptive God of Easter gives our souls:
Sloth poses as the love of peace: yet what certain peace is there besides the Lord?
Extravagance masquerades as abundance: but God is never ending store of sweetness.
The spendthrift makes a pretence of liberality; but God is the most generous dispenser of good.
The covetous want many possessions for themselves: but God possesses all.
The envious struggle for preferment: but what is to be preferred before God?
Anger demands revenge: but what vengeance is as just as God’s?
Fear shrinks from any sudden unwanted danger, for its only care is safety: but to God nothing is strange, nothing unforeseen. (Confessions,50).
It was grace, redeeming power: “not in reveling and in drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Rather arm yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ; spend no more thought on nature and nature’s appetites. )(Rom13:13)’”. For in an instant, as I came to the end of the sentence, it was as though the light of confidence flooded into my heart and all the darkness of doubt was dispelled.” (Confessions, 178). “ That’s restoration.
Here is restoration from my neighborhood: Several years ago, a young man from my neighborhood, upstate New York, one Batavia boy, set out for the Marines. He did a couple of tours. Then a job opened up in journalism. He was young! First he went to South Africa. And then to Israel. Later, he chose to transfer to Lebanon. Free, healthy, successful, gaining influence—what a life. Then one Saturday he went early to play tennis in Beirut. Along the way, a black sedan pulled him to the curb. He was blindfolded, stuffed in the truck and whisked away, carted from basement to tenement to apartment. He spent all day and all night hooded and chained. For six years.
It’s one thing to build a life—free, healthy, successful, influential. Another to redeem a life.
I remembered Terry Anderson’s story again this week. In the darkness, in the bondage, through the terror, out of the misery he found … a new life, a new creation. He found faith. Or faith found him. He read the Bible, cover to cover, more than 50 times. It was his only story. As it is ours.
50 times, he watched Moses slay the Egyptian.
50 times, he saw Israel run from Pharaoh.
50 times, he heard the chariots chasing God’s folk.
50 times, he wondered at the Red Sea parting.
50 times, he gasped as the returning water drowned Pharaoh.
50 times, he fidgeted as Israel just wandered and wandered in
50 times, he heard the promise of milk and honey.
50 times, he sat with Moses on Mt. Nebo.
Then, as Moses lay dying for the 50th time, a knock came at Anderson’s door. And again he was whisked away, but this time, by grace, to freedom. Do you remember his landing in New York? Do you recall his walk across the tarmak? Do you recollect his drive—they closed the highway to all traffic—to Midtown? Do you remember his words? “I have faith in God”.
It’s one thing to grow up in Batavia and build a life.
It’s another thing, hooded and chained and trapped in later life to see life redeemed. And some bondage comes to us all. That’s power. That’s restoration. That’s power.
I Expect Great Things
45 years ago, Martin King was killed. But he transformed our land. His words transformed our rhetoric. His marches changed our culture. His leadership fashioned a new middle class. His hope kindled our hope. His courage inspired our own. 45 years ago. I love a story he told many times about power, redeeming power. So hidden we miss it, in borrowed upper room, in a tragic crucifixion, in a temporary tomb, in a woman’s report of resurrection, in little hands, scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing to finish the new creation…
The gnarled hands—the cross, Good Friday. The expectation—the resurrection, Easter. (No matter who you are today, somebody helped you to get there. It may have been an ordinary person, doing an ordinary job in an extraordinary way. ) Here is restoration from your neighborhood:
There is a magnificent lady, with all the beauty of blackness and black culture, by the name of Marion Anderson that you’ve heard about and read about and some of you have seen. She started out as a little girl singing in the choir of the Union Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. And then came that glad day when she made it. And she stood in Carnegie Hall with the Philharmonic Orchestra in the background in New York, singing with the beauty that is matchless. Then she came to the end of the concert, singing Ave Maria as nobody else can sing it. And they called her back and back and back, and she finally ended by singing, ‘Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen’. And her mother was sitting out in the audience, and she started crying; tears were flowing down her cheeks. And the person next to her said, “Mrs Anderson, Why are you crying? Your daughter is scoring tonight. The critics tomorrow will be lavishing their praise on her. Why are you crying?
And Mrs. Anderson looked over with tears still flowing and said, “I’m not crying because I’m sad, I’m crying for joy.” She went on to say, “You may not remember, you wouldn’t know. But I remember when Marian was growing up, and I was working in a kitchen till my hands were all but parched, my eyebrows all but scalded. I was working there to make it possible for my daughter to get an education. And I remember Marian came to see me and said, “Mother, I don’t want to see you having to work like this.” And I looked down and said, “Honey, I don’t mind it. I’m doing it for you and I expect great things of you.”
And finally one day somebody asked Marian Anderson in later years, “Miss Anderson, what has the been the happiest moment of your life? Was it that moment in Carnegie Hall in New York?” She said, “No, that wasn’t it/” “Was it that moment you stood before the Kings and Queens of Europe?” “No that wasn’t it”. “ Well, Miss Anderson, was it the moment Sibelius of Finland declared that his roof was too low for such a voice?” “No, that wasn’t it.” “Miss Anderson, was it the moment that Toscanini said that a voice like your comes only once in a century?” “No, that wasn’t it.” “What was it then, Miss Anderson.” And she looked up and said quietly, “The happiest moment in my life was the moment I could say, “Mother, you can stop working now.”
Marian Anderson realized that she was where she was because somebody helped her to get there. (MLKing, “A Knock at Midnight”). That’s restoration. In the mother’s gnarled hands—the cross. In the mother’s voiced and great expecations—the resurrection.
You are a people soaked in a sense of restoration! The church: women at the tomb! The church: loving rebuilding not just building! The church: you present today, voicing redemption! The church: waiting six years with Terry Anderson in prison! The church: giving Augustine grace! The church: singing with the voice of Marian Anderson!
Wonderfully created, more wonderfully restored…
Come ye faithful raise the strain
Of triumphant gladness
God has brought his Israel
Into joy from sadness.
Loosed from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke
Jacob’s Sons and Daughters
Traveled with unmoistened foot
Through the Red Sea waters.
~The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel