We live in turbulent times—times of persecution, death, fear and uncertainty. Just as Jesus did. We know suffering and pain, individually and collectively as a community. We are sinners. We are human after all. But we have not done what must be done to redeem the world to make this the Heavenly Kingdom.
We, like the women who come to the tomb expect this darkness, death, troubles, lament and sorrow. We bring what we can—our herbs and ointments--to help us mourn. We are prepared to complain, we know what it is to cry and struggle.
But from within that tomb, and from this place of darkness we find the Good News. He is Risen, Allelujia. The two men dressed in dazzling clothes proclaim the news. But the news is about Jesus who has died coming to bring forgiveness and hope of eternal life, new life that overcomes death.
And this is the message to us who suffer, who age and die and who see the oppression and death all around us. Today we hear again that from within this tomb, this place of darkness will come new life. We hear this message of hope that is not going to come from far away, but is going to come from right in our midst. From the very place where we are suffering will come the news of resurrection.
Let us look into the tomb—let us contemplate the darkest places. Today, we must contemplate the hatred that led to the killing of 36 in Brussells, we must look at the environmental destruction which is leaving people without clean water or without food, we must look at the political oppression that has led Syrians to leave their country and become refugees throughout North Africa, Europe and the United States. We must look at the people closest to us who suffer from physical and mental illnesses, we must hold those who as part of the aging process are losing their autonomy or who are in pain and wish for release.
Like the women who approach the tomb, we expect to see only what is darkest. But if we listen and look for the angels, the men in dazzling white, we may hear the good news.
Who is the angel?
Is the angel the one who heroically helped people in the midst of the bombing in Brussels? Is the angel the ones who preach peace, standing with our Muslim brothers and sisters and declaring that there is a new and different way to be, a way without hatred, a new life in which all people live fully, with dignity and respect, with enough food, and safe places to live.
Is the angel the one who speaks out about the need to conserve our precious resources, the one, right here, who warns us to recycle those plastic bottles because it matters to all God’s creatures. In this throw away society, the angel is the one who says, it could be different if we work together, there is hope that we might reverse the ways that destroy and find new ways to live?
Is the angel the nurse who comes to be with the family members helping them, giving them rest and reassurance when the person they love cannot sleep? Is the angel, the teacher who says I know, I understand, I care when the child is struggling? Is the angel the one who says I will be with you in the face of addiction, I know this journey and it is hard, but it is possible to emerge into a new life in sobriety.
Is the angel the friend who makes the phone call when you are feeling lonely, or brings a pot of soup when you are too tired to cook?
Maybe the angel is the patient, who is dying with grace, finding a way to comfort and support her own caregivers, showing that life will continue, and will be good after she is gone. Maybe the angel is the prisoner who shows his group what forgiveness really means.
These angels are the messengers of hope. They are showing us that there is life that is better.
What is our response?
Will we be like the women who put our faces to the ground? Will we be terrified? Are we so afraid, that we cannot look and see the messengers who show us that there is a possibility beyond our own darkness? Are we so angry, so hurt, so confused that when the good news is whispered, we drown it out with our weeping?
Or will we be like the apostles who hear it and think it’s an idle tale, it cannot be true. Are we the non-believers who are so sure that death and sorrow are inevitable that we don’t believe when hope is presented to us?
Or will we be like Peter? “Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.”
Peter was awed, and I think we come today to be awed. We are looking for hope, and we find it. Here amongst the people who share our faith, we find hope. We come together to build up that hope, to tell one another that new life is possible.
Our passage from Acts, show us what we must with this awe. We must go out and preach. We must tell one another what we have seen. We must teach the way of Christ to all we meet. This message is for all of us who eat and drink together. It is up to us to preach and teach that Jesus has died and risen again. There is hope for life that is beyond death. Peter is very specific in this passage about forgiveness. “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
What does it mean that we are forgiven? It means that even though we have participated knowingly or unknowingly in political oppression, in economic systems that leave some of God’s people in abject poverty, even though we have participated in wars and violence, been part of creating a fear that would lead people to leave their homes and seek security as refugees. Even though we have sinned individually, making mistakes that have hurt others. We are assured that God forgives us always. Our past is not the sole determinant of our future. Forgiveness means that there is the possibility of starting over, of going forward in a different way. With God’s help, we may change our systems, overturn the forces that maintain oppression and create new life with God---new life that overcomes the darkness of the tomb and brings us face to face with the glory of God.
We come to the empty tomb today. We carry with us our sorrows, and the things that comfort us. We expect to see death, hardship, darkness. But from within that tomb, there is great light. We come to see those men in dazzling white, to know that they telling us the truth—He is Risen. He has overcome death, and offers us forgiveness and the opportunity to make all things new.
We must respond like Peter. We must run to the tomb to see those signs of new life. We must preach it and teach it. We must come together as a people of faith to share our food and drink, to live as the people who God wants us to be, building up that hope by living into the Kingdom of God.