The Great Vigil of Easter
Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18, 8:6-18, 9:8-13 [The Flood]
Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21 [Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea]
Isaiah 55:1-11 [Salvation offered freely to all]
Ezekiel 37:1-14 [The valley of dry bones]
I punched my physical therapist last week.
In my defense, he started it. He has a gift for digging his horribly bony elbows into all the knots in my back that he claims contribute to my back pain.
Last week, his sharp elbow found a spot that sent searing pain all the way from the crown of my head to my toes.
And reflexively, without even realizing what I was doing, I had to put an end to it, and my arm reached back and punched him.
Now, to be fair, I was laying flat on my stomach, so it was not a hard punch and it certainly was not a direct one. It amounted to what might be described as a tap on the forearm.
And thankfully we know each other pretty well by now, so after laughing about it for a few minutes, he said, “Honestly… I kind of expected this a lot sooner.”
I suppose it wouldn’t be unexpected for a person to act on instinct or reflex if you’re doing something that causes them pain.
It’s not unexpected for someone to lash out when they’re hurt.
Just a few days ago, a madman rented a van, filled it with smoke bombs and guns, drove into Brooklyn, and unleashed mayhem on the subway. Immediately, we wanted to know: who is he, and why would he do such a thing? It didn’t take long to uncover his troubled past, his rants on social media, his rage at the world. Relatives of his said he had always been like this. This attack may have been unforeseen, but it was not unexpected.
For the past almost 2 months, the world has lamented Russia’s attack on Ukraine. A war perpetrated by an authoritarian ruler hell-bent on domination — and a man deeply impacted by a childhood of abuse, neglect, and wartime trauma. We shake our heads how this war could happen, but when you look at the leader behind it, it’s not very surprising.
It is tragic and awful, but not unexpected.
When people are hurt, or hurting, we expect that they might lash out. Might try to get back at the person who hurt them. Might just try to hurt someone else, to displace the pain they feel. When someone’s digging their elbow into your back and it sends searing pain all the way down to your toes, your instinct is to do whatever you can, however forcefully you can, to get them to stop. We expect hurt people to hurt people.
One of the more popular teachings of Jesus is “whatever you do to the least of these you do to me.”
Jesus was pretty clear – whatever you do to others, you do to him.
The things we do that hurt others also hurt God.
And I wonder – if we expect hurt people to hurt people, what do we expect of God?
Despite what we might say is true about God, I wonder if, deep in our hearts, we expect God to respond the way we would. That there’s some part of God that feels the way we do when someone hurts us. To lash out, to stop the ones who hurt Her.
We’ve spent the last few days journeying with Jesus through his passion and death. It is not easy to stay close to this story and let ourselves feel the betrayal, abandonment, and physical torture he endured. From his agony in the garden, to his closest friends denying that they even knew him, to the crowds turning on him, to the brutal death by crucifixion, you cannot walk alongside this story and not wonder, “God, how did you hold all this pain?”
At some point, we might wonder, when will God punch back?
After all, we continue to hurt God, even when God has shown us exactly what divine love looks like. It’s almost like Jesus’ resurrection happened 2000 years ago, and hasn’t meant anything since. We might start to expect that the hurt God feels at all the horrible things we do to each other will one day soon make God react as we would expect any other reasonable person. To enact some form of divine punishment. To lose patience and eventually give up on us.
But God does not act in ways we expect.
Tonight, in the dark, under the cover of night, awaiting the empty tomb, we start by telling the story of our salvation history. Of how God has always acted unexpectedly even if we have been predictably short-sighted.
While it was still dark, the women went to Jesus’ tomb the day after he died, expecting to find his cold body, dried blood on his head and hands and feet. Instead, they found what should have been impossible. An empty tomb. Jesus raised to new life. Divine love poured out in completion.
God’s response to the pain we cause is not to punch back but to come closer. To take on our human brokenness, to live it, to experience it, and to redeem it. To reach out to that bony elbow… and soften it.
God is not in the business of retribution.
God is in the business of restoration.
Easter doesn’t matter because it happened 2000 years ago. It matters because it proclaims what God can do and is doing even now. Restoring all of creation. Bringing new life where death once reigned.
Bringing resurrection life in the form of people jumping in to help victims of a subway attack.
In a Ukrainian president leading his people with a steadfast hope they so desperately need.
Resurrection is not resuscitation.
Resurrection is new life.
New life, all around us.
Alleluia, Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!