Seeds in the Darkness
Four months ago we gathered here to celebrate the birth of a child – a child who was to become the man who revealed the face of God to us; who was called Emmanuel, God-is-with-us.
That man lived an ordinary life until the age of about 30, when he was baptized and had a profound sense of God’s calling, and of his being God’s beloved. That experience sent him on a 40-day retreat, during which he wrestled with temptations of ego and power. And he emerged as the Jesus we think of: teaching, healing, announcing how near God’s kingdom is, challenging people to turn their lives around and follow in God’s path. For three years he travelled through the towns and villages of northern Israel with a message of hope for the poor, acceptance for the outcast, forgiveness for those burdened with guilt, and challenge for the rich and self-righteous.
He knew that he was attracting both followers and enemies. He knew that he was standing in the tradition of Israel’s prophets who had called the people back to God’s ways and been rejected, even killed.
Three days ago we gathered here again, to share a lamb dinner and recall the prayers and blessings from the Passover meal that Jesus shared with his disciples the night before he died. We re-read the story of the ancient Israelites being led by Moses out of slavery in Egypt and towards the promised land of freedom. In our service after the dinner we remembered Jesus’ words at that last supper – that the food and drink were symbols of his body and blood, given for them. We remembered how he got down on his hands and knees and washed his disciples’ feet to show them what it means to be a servant, to follow in his footsteps, to love unconditionally.
And some of us took part in a vigil here that lasted all through the night from Thursday evening to Friday morning, remembering Jesus praying in the night in the garden of Gethsemane, alone, knowing the end was close, wrestling again with the temptation to save himself, but trusting himself into God’s hands.
Our Good Friday service was solemn, emotional, even painful. It was like attending the funeral of a very dear friend. The cross was bare apart from a crown of thorns and a robe. Some of us came close to pray at its foot. Together we told the story of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, torture and execution. It’s not a pretty story. It’s hard to bear.
And somehow as we tell that story of suffering and death we bring to it all the anguish, sin and suffering of this hurting world. When I came before the cross in that moment to pray on Friday, I was carrying on my heart the people I know who are struggling so hard in the darkness of their lives: a friend whose granddaughter is an addict, a young woman with a terminal illness recently diagnosed, mental illness tearing a family apart.
You know what darkness lurks at the edges of your lives.
We see it in the world all around us: tragedies, disasters, injustices, violence of all sorts.
And Jesus entered into that darkness like a seed falling into the deep black earth. “He descended into hell,” one of our creeds says. He took on himself the sin and suffering of the world, carried it on the cross to the very end, and died with it. And as he died it was as though the darkness pushed him down, down, down, beyond the reach of hope. Even the sun went dark.
And yet here we are today surrounded by light, colour, fragrance, music, delight.
The seed that fell into the deep darkness has sent up a shoot of new life. We celebrate resurrection. The close friends of Jesus – Mary Magdalene, Peter, John – went to wash his poor dead body only to find the tomb empty and Jesus alive. They had no expectation of that whatsoever. The truth was almost more than they could grasp.
But it was true. And from being a scared, scattered group of individuals they became a community of faith – the first Christian community. They didn’t have all the theology and theory worked out; they didn’t always agree; they sometimes made mistakes, but together they had lived the truth of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And that changed everything.
The story continues to be true today, as we experience it in our own lives.
And in a very real way Christ is alive and real again through us – through you and me, in as much as we allow ourselves to be changed and follow his way, love with his love, bring hope and healing as he did. In as much as the seeds of hope take root and grow in the soil of our darkness.
I’m not standing here to tell you what you should believe.
I’m here to tell you that the Jesus story of God’s presence with us, God’s power over darkness and death, God’s abundant life emerging from even the bleakest situation – that story is true.
I’m here to tell you that when you face your darkness you are not alone.
When death is lurking it’s not the end.
When hope seems futile a seed is lying buried in the depths waiting to grow.
We’re here together to remind each other of that truth, and to show each other what new life looks like, what hope looks like, what a community of faith looks like.
And that’s why we have the audacity to say, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!”
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!