Day is a breakin’ in my soul…

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Easter Sunday Year A
Acts 10.34-43; Psalm 118.1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3.1-4; Matthew 28.1-10
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson

Today we gather together to praise God in communal worship, and the realities of our individual lives keep us honest in our praise. The truth is, if the resurrection doesn’t speak to the depths of your earthquakes…your pain…your darkness…or your death, then it has nothing to say and our faith is in vain.

Grace and peace to you from the One who has been raised from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

One of my husband Ben’s most transformative moments happened on Easter Sunday when he was 15 in Ethiopia, which is a country in Africa. Ben traveled there with his father to form relationships with the people. “Ethiopia is one of Africa's poorest” countries. “Almost two-thirds of its people” cannot read. The economy revolves around agriculture, which in turn relies on rainfall.” It has many periodic droughts and famines, and has had a long civil conflict with its bordering country, Eritrea (” The life expectancy of Ethiopians is between the ages of 41-45. I tell you these things not to pity them, but so that you can have some concept of life being rather difficult for Ethiopians in the day to day struggle that life can present.

So Easter morning, Ben and his dad were staying in a guest house in a local village. Around 3am they awoke to the faint sound of singing and gathering of people. They wiped the sleep from their eyes and paused to try and understand what was happening. They got out of bed and went outside in the pitch black, middle of the night, a pitch blackness that comes with no electricity or street lights, only to discover more and more people gathering, lifting their voices together in song in their Ethiopian languages, and following torches that lit their way through the dark streets.

The singing people led a procession down the streets of the village adding more and more people as they went along, including Ben and his dad. The whole community, thousands and thousands of people of all ages from all Christian faith traditions, joined the procession as they made their way up the mountain just outside the village. They walked and sang, following the light of the torches. The sun rose as they reached the top of the mountain and there they worshipped on Easter morning, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

It is this story that brings to life words from the musical trio, The Wailin’ Jennys (from the album, “Bright Morning Stars”). They sing: “Day is a breakin’ in my soul.”

It was at day break in which the 2 Mary’s made their way to the tomb. I don’t imagine they were singing songs of praise, but rather songs of lament, for they were the witnesses to the brutal crucifixion and death of Jesus just 2 days before. And as if this wasn’t enough, a great earthquake suddenly happens and disrupts creation, rolling back the stone to Jesus’ tomb and leaving the guards like dead men and the women afraid.

This is not the first earthquake we hear about in the Gospel of Matthew. Just before our resurrection story today in chapter 27.(50-52, 54):

"Jesus cried out with a loud voice and breathed his last…the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After Jesus’ resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, "Truly this man was God's Son!"

The first words the women hear from the angel sent from God in the midst of the terrible earthquake is: “Do not be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised (as he said).”

Now here is where talk and theology of resurrection gets dicey. When I say resurrection, I mean physical, tangible resurrection of the body. Not only Christ’s resurrection, but ours too. In one of most out-there and easily missed verses in Scripture, we are reassured of our bodily resurrection with Christ: “many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.” This does not mean soul, but rather both soul and body. We proclaim this mystery in our confession of faith, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”

When the Marys, the first witnesses to and proclaimers of the Gospel, run with fear and great joy to tell of the unbelievable news to the disciples, Jesus meets them on the road. They take hold of his feet and worship him. They take hold of his bodily, tangible feet…a Jesus who was dead for three days and now lives…breaking every law of nature and inaugurating the new creation in which we now live. God cares about bodies. God cares about the earth. God cares about the redemption of both your body and soul.

What we must acknowledge for the Marys, and for ourselves, is that even in their whole world changing with the resurrection of Jesus, they still needed to live their lives and witness to what they saw even though everything else seemed contrary to that reality. The resurrection didn’t change the fact that the disciples weren’t going to believe their testimony at first. It didn’t change the fact that they would continue to experience fear and pain in their lives and eventually die. The resurrection story doesn’t mean that we do not face suffering and death anymore…but rather, it means that we can face them with courage and confidence that we too will be raised like Jesus.

Resurrection takes away the fear of death so that we can serve God, creation, and one another. We know that this service and witnessing can lead to death, as it did for many of those who proclaimed Christ’s resurrection. I know it all too well in the death of my husband, Ben. This resurrection story from Matthew is the text we read standing at Ben’s grave on the one year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake, in which Ben was killed.

If it wasn’t for the resurrection of Jesus and the promise that Ben’s body, my body, and your body will be made whole, I don’t know how I could live with any hope. But I tell you, there is much hope and it is for you to grasp onto and make your own. This story is your story; it is our story together.

Like the Ethiopians who had to go back down the mountain after worshipping together on Easter morning to face their continued hardships with courage, we too go back to our lives at 11am today. Some of you return to your cottages, some of you go home to eat a meal, some of you face relationships that are broken, some of you face illness and aching bodies. But as you leave, your faith and trust in Jesus, the risen one, continues.

Theologian Walter Brueggemann writes: “Praise has the power to transform personal pain, but personal pain keeps the praise honest.” Resurrection doesn’t nullify death, pain, or suffering, but rather it has the power to redeem them.

Today we gather together to praise God in communal worship, and the realities of our individual lives keep us honest in our praise. The truth is, if the resurrection doesn’t speak to the depths of your earthquakes…your pain…your darkness…or your death, then it has nothing to say and our faith is in vain.

I think about the resurrection all the time and what that mysterious and comforting verse in Colossians 3.3, might mean, that we “have died, and our lives are hidden with Christ in God.”

I’d like to share a poem with you by Caryll Houselander. It is a poem that puts words to the profound mystery of death and resurrection, and God’s steady, patient, nurturing, hidden work in your life and mine.

Caryll writes:

God will enter into your night,
as the ray of the sun enters
into the dark, hard earth,
driving right down
to the roots of the tree,
and there, unseen, unknown,
unfelt in the darkness,
filling the tree with life,
a sap of fire
will suddenly break out,
high above that darkness,
into living leaf and flame.

“Little Pieces of Light: Dark
ness and Personal Growth,” by Joyce Rupp, (p. ix).

“Day is a breakin’ in my soul.”

Christ has risen indeed. Alleluia!