How to Lament

Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost/Lectionary 26C, October 2nd, 2016

Lamentations 1:1-6, Lamentations 3:19-26, 2 Timothy 1:1-14, Luke 17:5-10

Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND

 

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Today’s first reading and psalm come from the book of Lamentations.  A lament is a passionate expression of grief and sorrow.  A lament is when mere tears are not enough.  A lament is when every inch of your body and soul cry out within you.  When no consolation is possible.  There are times for songs of joy and hope, but there are also times for songs of sadness and despair.  There is a time for grief.  The book of Lamentations is a whole book filled with lament.

We don’t know how to lament, these days.  We are uncomfortable with grief and sorrow.  When someone suffers a loss, we don’t often cry with them.  How often have I seen this: someone is overcome with grief, and we pat them on the shoulder, tell them we’re praying for them, and then explain why they shouldn’t cry.  God wanted another angel in heaven.  She’s in a better place.  You’ll feel better soon.  God’s got a plan—and don’t you trust God?  Shouldn’t you be over it by now?  We tell ourselves that these platitudes are to comfort the one who grieves; yet all too often what they really do is just shut them up.  In big ways and small ways, our culture tells us that we can’t grieve too much.  We can’t be too extravagant in our tears, and we can’t take too long.  It makes people uncomfortable.  As Christians, especially, there is a pressure to hide our grief and recover quickly, to put a good face on our sorrows.  After all, don’t we have God?  Isn’t God supposed to take care of us?  Isn’t God supposed to supply us with all good things all the time?  If our suffering is too great, if our sorrow is too deep, well.  Maybe we’re not being faithful enough.  Maybe we just don’t have the right attitude.  And yet, here in the Bible is an entire book filled with grief and pain and anger and fear and sorrow and all the emotions that rage through us in the darkest times.

The book of Lamentations was written after the Babylonians destroyed the country of Judah, and its capital the city of Jerusalem, in 587BC.  And by destroyed I don’t just mean they conquered it.  They tore down the Temple to its very foundations.  They took a large portion of the population away in chains to live as hostages to the good behavior of those left behind, and to be forced to serve the very empire that had destroyed their home.  A large portion of Judah’s population, including the prophet Jeremiah, fled to Egypt, where they lived as refugees watching from afar as their enemy destroyed their homes.  To add insult to injury, the Babylonians resettled people from other parts of their empire in Judah, to make doubly sure that even Judah’s culture would be destroyed.

Imagine that.  Put yourself in their shoes.  How would you feel?  Imagine that America was conquered by a foreign power.  Imagine that an occupying army patrolled the streets of Bismarck every day, and swept through Underwood regularly.  Imagine that they destroyed the church, the city hall, the pharmacy, the grocery store.  Imagine that they took your friends and family away at gunpoint, and took them somewhere else—you didn’t know where.  Imagine that they were coming for you, and so you gathered your family and what you could carry on your back and slipped out of town at night, heading for Mexico, in the hopes that you would be safe there.  Imagine arriving with nothing, terrified and alone, in a place you didn’t speak the language, a place where no one liked you and no one wanted you.  Imagine waiting every day for news from home, hoping that the invaders would be destroyed and you could go back, but only hearing more stories of pain and suffering.  How would you feel?

That’s what the book of Lamentations is all about.  That despair.  That pain.  That sorrow.  “How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! … she weeps bitterly in the night with tears on her cheeks … all her friends have dealt treacherously with her.  Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude.”  They sang these songs, Jeremiah and the rest of the refugees in Egypt, and they cried, and they wept.  There is no platitude that will fix this, no consolation that will make it all worth it, no sweet, pious words that will make things better.  And you know what?  It was okay to be honest about that.  It was okay to be honest about the depth of their pain and their grief.  It was okay to scream and yell and rage at God.  God knew what was in their hearts.  Putting a brave face on it and pretending to be okay would not fool God; all it would do is bottle all that emotion up where it could do nothing but fester.  God is big enough to take all of us, even the ugly parts, even the grief and the pain and the anger and the fear and the sorrow.

And yes, the captives and the exiles and the refugees were partly to blame for their own misfortunes.  As a nation, they had turned away from God, taking his love and protection for granted, seeking after other gods and allowing injustice free reign in their communities.  If they hadn’t done that, if they had remained as faithful to God as he was to them, even all the might of Babylon would not have prevailed against them.  By turning away from God, they had removed his protecting hand from them, and so the Babylonians had come.  I imagine that must have made things ten times worse, to look back and wonder what they might have done differently, what might have been possible if they had been more faithful.

But even in the midst of that grief, God was with them.  As they grieved the destruction of their homes, as they took responsibility for the things they had done leading up to the fall of their country, God was there.  He wasn’t there with a magic bullet to take away their pain and make things better.  He wasn’t there with greater rewards to make the destruction of their homeland and the deaths and kidnappings of so many of their loved ones unimportant.  He wasn’t there to tell them to get over it.  He was there in the midst of their pain to hold them as they cried.  He was there in a million small ways, giving them strength to get through each day and courage to start building new lives.  “The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall!  My soul thinks continually of it and is bowed down within me.  But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.”

I hope and pray that we never suffer what they suffered, but there are people today who suffer that and worse.  Between imperialistic nations, terrorists, gang violence, and environmental disasters, there are more refugees in the world today than there have been since the end of World War II.  But there is no Olympics of grief: no scale to weigh things out and go, well, this grief is worse than that one, so you can’t be too upset about that one.  There is death in this community.  There are broken relationships and broken homes in this community.  There is abuse and rape and homelessness and suicide in this community.  There is loss and grief and pain.  And you know what?  It’s okay to lament.  It’s okay to not be okay.  If grief overwhelms you and fear and pain and doubt and anger and sorrow drag at your footsteps and threaten to drown you, that’s okay.  It doesn’t mean you’re a bad Christian, and it doesn’t mean your faith isn’t strong enough, and it doesn’t mean that God isn’t there with you, helping you along and giving you strength.

Things may never be the same.  There may be no happy shining thing that makes what you have suffered all worth it in the end.  Sometimes things get better; sometimes, there is a dramatic recovery and change of fortune and everything becomes almost perfect.  And we rejoice when that happens and celebrate it.  But that doesn’t mean the pain wasn’t real, and it doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you or your faith if that never happens.

Because God is with us.  You, me, every person who suffers loss, every person who celebrates a joy.  God is here.  With us.  God is always faithful; his steadfast love never ceases; his mercies never come to an end.  Even in the darkest parts of our lives, when we can do nothing but lament and wail at our suffering, God is with us, and God will never let us fall.  You are not alone.  We are not alone, not any of us, for God is with us.  Thanks be to God.

Amen.

To Be Blessed

All Saints Sunday, November 2, 2014

Revelation 7:9-17, Psalm 34:1-10, 22, 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12

 

Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND

 

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

This Wednesday, in honor of today being All Saints Sunday, I took the Confirmation class out to Basto Cemetery. Most of you probably don’t know this, but Birka Lutheran Church is not built on the site it was originally planned to be built on. In the 1890s, the Swedish settlers to this area built a settlement they called Basto, about three miles away from where Birka is now, on the bluffs overlooking the river. There was a post office there, a stage coach stop, and they planned to build a church. While the building of a church building could wait, a cemetery could not. So they started a cemetery there at Basto. But, by just a few years later, things had changed, and Birka was built three miles away. Some of the people buried at Basto were dug up and transferred to the new church’s cemetery. But not all. About a dozen are still buried there on the bluff, and while we know most of the names and locations of the graves, there are a few we don’t.

Of the dozen or so graves at Basto, the Confirmation students were most struck by the three infants buried there. Two died within a few months of their birth, and although they died in different years, they are next to one another. The other died at birth, and was buried with his mother—who died with him, in childbirth. He was her last child, but not her first … nor her first to die. We’re not used to tragedies like that, in our time. Yes, children die, but not often. We have medical knowledge and techniques the likes of which our ancestors at Basto couldn’t have imagined. Even more critical for those of us who live in rural areas, we have ambulances that can get a critically-ill person to a hospital quickly. We have better nutrition and safety to prevent problems before they start.

Yes, tragedy is far rarer now than it was a century ago. But sometimes all that means is that we aren’t as good at dealing with it. We are so used to be able to do something that we don’t know what to do when there is nothing that can be done. And so we avoid talking about death. We avoid thinking about it. We dress it up in euphemisms, we push it away. And as a society, we tend to avoid people who are grieving, because it makes us uncomfortable. A few months after someone has died, I sometimes hear people talking about the family. “Shouldn’t she be over it by now? I’m worried about her!” “You just need to stop dwelling on it—you’ll feel better.” We tell ourselves stories in which only bad people die, and good people always survive and thrive, no matter what happens. We try to ignore the possibility of pain and sorrow.

And yet, even in today’s world, tragedy happens. People die. People get sick, and injured. People get abused and violated. There are times when we can no longer hide from the reality that sometimes, life isn’t fair. Sometimes, tragedy strikes—and it strikes good and bad people alike. Ignoring it won’t protect us. And so maybe we should take a look at how our ancestors in the faith handled it.

Life was a lot harder a century ago, as the graves at Basto show. In fact, life was harder throughout most of history. They didn’t have what we’d consider basic medical care. If you broke a bone, anything more complicated than a simple fracture would probably cripple you for life. Famines were a regular part of life for most people. And, unless you were very rich, you would probably spend your life in backbreaking labor, day in and day out, from childhood until you died. There was no such thing as retirement. And in Jesus’ day, if you were a Jew, you could add political oppression to that, too. Judea was occupied territory, conquered by Romans whose favorite method of dealing with dissenters was killing them—by crucifixion, if they were slaves or non-Romans. So people in Jesus’ day understood death better than we do. They understood suffering; they saw it every day. They experienced it every day.

So when Jesus went up on that mountain and started talking about blessing, it was pretty shocking. We tend to spiritualize it or view it as a nice saying of Jesus, but really listen to his words: Blessed are the meek, the ones who get ground down by everyone and everything. Blessed are the mourners, the ones who have lost loved ones. Blessed are the ones who get persecuted and beat up for trying to do the right thing. Seriously? Every sad state we try to avoid, every horrible thing we try to ignore, Jesus pronounces a blessing on it. Now, sometimes when bad things happen, people will say something like “Oh, God doesn’t give us more than we can handle—God will teach you something, you’ll grow in faith through this experience!” Is that what Jesus is saying, here? That bad things are actually good because God’s trying to teach us something?

I don’t think so. For one thing, Jesus is not saying that those states are good. And he’s certainly not denying the pain and grief and hardship are horrible to live through! He’s pronouncing a blessing. He’s saying that even when horrible things happen, even when life really sucks, God is present, giving love and grace even in the midst of pain. Yes, life sometimes sucks. But we don’t have to face it alone, because God, who loves us, will be with us. God will give us blessing even when the world gives us grief and horror. It’s not that grief and pain and persecution are good, it’s that even in the worst that life can hand out—even when children die, one after another, even when there seems to be no hope, even when things seem like they can’t possibly be any worse—God is with us, giving us refuge and hope.

That hope isn’t always validated in this life. There are some people who think that having faith in Jesus will protect you from anything truly bad happening to you, that being a Christian means prosperity, that being blessed means something tangible in this life that anyone can see. If so, they need to read Revelation more closely. Revelation was written during a time of persecution. In our Gospel lesson, Jesus talks about his followers being persecuted for his sake. Well, that happened to his followers, and it still happens in some places today. In the first few centuries after Jesus died, being a Christian could get you killed. It could get you crucified, it could get you fed to lions. Christians in this country sometimes talk about being persecuted when “Happy Holidays” cards are more common in stores than “Merry Christmas” cards. In the days when Revelation was written, persecution meant being tortured and murdered for your faith.

The book of Revelation was a dream, a vision, to give hope to people who were being tortured and murdered, who were suffering every kind of hardship imaginable. And the message was this: no matter what happens, no matter how bad things get, no matter what kinds of monsters and horrors you face in life, God is with you, and God gives life and love to all of God’s children. You may cry now; you have much to cry about. But God is with you, and at the end, God will bring you to a place where there is no need for fear, where there is no pain, no tragedy, no loss. It may not come in this life—it may not come until Christ comes again. But there is hope, no matter how dark things get, because this life is not the end of the story. As Christians, we know we are citizens of this world, but we are also citizens of the world to come. We are children of God, no matter what happens, and God will never abandon us. Even when all hope seems lost, God is with us. And God will take every horrible thing, every tragedy, every grief, every loss, and every tear, and heal us. God will make us whole in a way we can never be in this life. God will wash us clean from all the stains and mend all the holes, all the broken places, in our bodies and hearts and minds and souls.

We may not face the same hardships our ancestors faced; we may never know true persecution, or famine, or plague, or any of the things faced by the first Christians or our ancestors who first came to this prairie. But we have the same assurances they had: we have the same gift of God’s love that will never let us go. And we have the same promise that no matter what, the pain and grief and death of this life is not the end of the story. Not for us, and not for those who have gone before us.

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God, and that is what we are. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. Thanks be to God.

Amen.

Restore Us, O God

Fourth Sunday after Advent, (Year A), December 22, 2013

Isaiah 7:10-16, Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19, Romans 1:1-7, Matthew 1:18-25

Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND

 May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Restore us, O God,” the psalmist prays.  How many times have you prayed something like that?  Restore us, because we’re tired.  Restore us, because things just aren’t like they used to be.  Restore us, because we’re broken down.  Restore us, because we’re hurting.  Restore us, because we’re hurting others.  Restore us, because we’ve lost our way.  Restore us, because we’re all alone.  Restore us.

Maybe it’s the rush to get everything done: trees, decorations, presents, cookies, parties.  Maybe you feel like you’ve been running for a month straight, and you long for a good night’s sleep and a day free to do nothing but relax.  Maybe you’ve been fighting an illness—from the cold that’s been going around to the flu to something more serious.  Your body just isn’t doing what you want it to.  Or maybe it’s your heart that is failing you; maybe you feel more like the Grinch than anyone should.  Maybe your joy in the holiday, in the coming of Christ, has gotten lost amid the cares and woes of life, and it feels like you’re on the outside, looking in.  Restore us, O God!  Help us to be the people you created us to be.  Help us live up to the gifts you have given us.

For some of you, the holidays are a dark time.  For those of you who grieve lost loved ones, the holidays can be a grim reminder that things will never be the same, that you can’t share the holidays with those who were so dear to you.  Everyone talks of who they are going to visit, and who is coming to visit them.  Old traditions that you cherished can never be the same.  While everyone else seems so happy, the grief and loss can make you feel so isolated and alone.  And even if you know that you will see them again some day in God’s kingdom, that doesn’t help the ache and loneliness you feel now.  Restore us, O God!  Fill the hole in our hearts!  Help us to experience the joy of your kingdom!

Maybe you don’t feel like you need to be restored this season.  Maybe the joy of the holidays has kept your spirits high and your body and soul rejuvenated.  But even if that’s the case, I bet you that there have been times when you have desperately needed renewal and restoration.  I bet there have been times when it felt like you could not go another step without help.  Or maybe there have been times in your lives when you felt like everything was crumbling down, when old certainties turned to doubt, when things in your life changed and you didn’t know what to think, let alone do.  And you longed for the old certainties, or new certainties to replace them, for faith in the midst of a world full of doubt.  And when you felt like that, did you join in the Psalmist’s prayer?  Restore us, O God!  Turn around our lives and hearts, give us faith and strength in our time of need!

I wonder if Joseph thought of this psalm when the angel came to him.  Because that angel turned Joseph’s world upside down, and left him without the comforting certainties and pattern that he must have expected his life to follow.  The ancient world was very predictable: a man would follow in his father’s trade, and marry and have children who would carry on his trade in turn.  That pattern was supposed to ensure prosperity for the community.  Everyone had their place.  If anyone stepped outside that pattern (for example, if a woman got pregnant outside of marriage) that person had to be punished so that the community would survive.  And sure, it didn’t always work out—the Roman overlords had imposed heavy taxes that drove even hard-working citizens into debt and slavery, and Israel’s king was a Roman puppet who spent more time currying favor with his masters and building lavish palaces than governing his people.

There were a lot of problems in Joseph’s day.  But still people clung to the idea that if everyone just behaved themselves, if everyone acted properly, things would be okay.  They prayed for God to restore them, and they hoped that that God’s restoration would patch up the problems in their society and their world while still keeping their day-to-day lives looking much the same.  A place for everybody and everybody in their place.  Joseph, a carpenter, engaged to be married, must have felt like he was about to take his place in that great pattern.

And then he learned that Mary, the woman he was supposed to marry, was pregnant, and it wasn’t his child.  Well, that was the end of that.  He would have been within his rights to order her stoned; instead, he wanted to send her quietly away as if that would let him pretend that nothing had happened.  That relationship was over, broken, gone.  Smashed beyond any hope of fixing.  Bad luck this time, try again.  Sweep the problems under the rug, and hope you don’t get ridiculed too badly for your girl stepping out behind your back.

And then the angel came.  “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”  This child, this shame, this problem, is the Messiah, the chosen one sent by God to restore Israel, to save it, to bring God’s light to the world.  Israel had been praying for the Messiah to come and restore them for a long time, but that restoration was coming in the form they least expected.  In scandal, in disruption, in poverty and weakness: that was how the Messiah was going to come.  I wonder if Joseph prayed: Restore us, O God, let your face shine so that we can see your light.  You’ve given us a new life; give us the strength to do what must be done.  Let your hand be upon us.  Restore us in the way you want us to be, not the way we think we should be.

Jesus’ birth was a scandal.  We know people gossiped loud and long that Joseph wasn’t really Jesus’ father, because in a couple of places in the Gospels people made a point of calling Jesus the “Son of Mary” instead of the “Son of Joseph.”  Jesus’ birth was weakness; even in Joseph’s family’s hometown, nobody wanted to take them in and so Jesus was born in a stable.  Yes, kings came to his birth—but so did shepherds, who were on the bottom of society.  By any objective measure, this was a failure of a family.  But wrapped in that weakness was a strength great enough to turn the world upside down, to save people from their sins: not just the people who have it all going well, but the people who have failed.  The people who have lost their way, the people who don’t measure up, the people whose lives are a mess.  The people who despair.  The people who seem to have everything going well but are empty inside.  God’s light is bright enough even to save those people.  God’s love is great enough to include all people, to reach out to them, to restore them to what and who God created them to be.

God created the world, and God created the world to be good.  If you read the first creation story in Genesis 1, that repeats over and over: “it was good.”  But sin and brokenness have marred God’s good creation.  We are like works of art that have been vandalized.  Sometimes the vandalism of sin is plain to see, but sometimes it is hidden away in our hearts and minds.  We need to be restored.  Restored to life.  Restored to health and wholeness.  Restored to a community that supports and empowers instead of tearing down and excluding.  Restored to relationships that are good and life-giving, with God and with one another.  We need to be restored so that the light of God shines brightly in us and around us, the light no darkness can overcome.

O God, you are the shepherd of Israel, you lead Joseph like a flock.  Stir up your might and come to save us!  Restore us, O God, let your light shine!  Make us whole, and transform us into your people, people who live as you would have us to live!  Let your hand be upon us, and give us strength for the trials ahead.  Give us life, and we will call your name!  We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior, God made flesh, who was born in scandal and weakness and died in shame on the cross, but who rose in glory and comes to bring in God’s kingdom.

Amen.

Pain in the Light of Resurrection

Just realized I never posted last week’s sermon!

The Fourth Sunday After Easter, Year C, April 21, 2013

Acts 9:36-43, Psalm 23, Revelation 7:9-17, John 10:22-30

Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND

 

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

It’s been quite a week, hasn’t it?  The Boston Marathon was bombed, triggering a city-wide manhunt.  Someone tried to poison the President.  A factory in Texas exploded.  High tempers and harsh rhetoric over a gun-control.  Floodwaters rising in the Mississippi River.  And America is not the only place in the world having a tough time.  Yesterday there was a deadly earthquake in China.  This last week, there was a coup in the Central African Republic, and so the people of our companion synod there are endangered.  A child was viciously raped and held captive in India, and police tried to bribe her parents into not filing charges, triggering massive protests.

Of course, horrible things have happened before, but they don’t usually come this close together.  And we’ve never been as instantly connected as we are now.  When the Twin Towers were attacked, I spent most of the day wondering what had happened, knowing only bits and pieces.  Even turning on the news gave little information, compared to today.  A few clips of the towers collapsing, the same speculation repeated over and over.  And if those few images got to be too much, it was easy to escape them: just turn off the television.  Today, you don’t have to seek out pictures and information on such tragedies.  Today, you have to work hard to escape, because they’re everywhere.  Not just on television, but online, on Facebook and Twitter and spread by email.  The computer age has given us many, many more ways to communicate, but that comes at a cost.  And one of the costs is that when evil things happen, they are shoved in our faces in ways they never were before.

How do you deal with the problem of evil?  Why does God let such horrible things happen?  Why do the innocent suffer?  What happens to people to cause them to do such things, and how can we prevent it?  Why are things so bad these days?  Are things worse than they used to be, or is it just that we are more aware of suffering in the world, and that victims of horrors are more likely to speak up and demand justice?

We are not alone in asking such questions.  People have been trying to figure out how to deal with evil since the world began.  People have suffered from injustice and natural disasters since the first human beings.  And people have suffered from all manner of physical and mental and emotional problems since there have been human beings on this Earth.  I don’t think people treat one another worse today than they did two thousand years ago, though I do think we are more likely to see and be haunted by the evils that happen to other people in the world.  But all these questions, important as they are, are not the most important ones to ask.  The question we as Christians must ask is this: what does God have to say in response to such horrors?

First of all, we are not alone.  We are not abandoned to muddle through in a world falling to pieces.  God came to us in the person of Jesus Christ, who lived a human life and who suffered just as we have suffered.  Jesus was no stranger to pain or grief.  He wept when his friend Lazarus died, and he himself ministered to those in grief.  Jesus spent his time with those who were sick, injured, dying, outcasts, sinners—all who suffered.  He brought hope and healing to all he met.

And we are not alone because we are called to minister to one another in pain and grief.  We see an example of this in our first lesson.  A woman named Tabitha died.  We aren’t told how or why, but medical care was almost non-existent at the time, and what little there was probably wouldn’t have been used for a woman.  She seems to have been of no particular merit or value in society—except to her friends and those she helped.  And when she died, her friends grieved, but the town probably didn’t pay much attention.  Unlike today’s world, where social media shoves tragedy in our face and there are funds and campaigns to send help to those who need it, Tabitha’s life and death were not something the larger society cared much about.

But the family of faith cared.  The family of faith cared even about this woman that society said wasn’t worth worrying about.  Tabitha’s friends cared, and so did Peter, and so did God.  Tabitha’s friends, both those who were within the Christian community and those who weren’t gathered to mourn her.  They let their grief at her passing come out and be seen and heard.  They told stories about her.  They told of the people she had helped, the things she had made.  They cried together.  And when Peter heard that someone had died, he went.  He joined them in their grief.

Now, Peter had a power I don’t have, and neither does anyone here that I’m aware of: God worked through Peter to raise Tabitha from the dead.  Such things have only happened a bare handful of times, and we can’t pin our hopes on an apostle like Peter happening by at the right time.  The victims of the bombs in Boston probably aren’t going to sit up out of their coffins at the funeral.

But Peter points to something greater than just one faithful woman being raised: Peter points to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  You see, Jesus Christ lived and died in a world just as messed up, as violent, and as unjust as the one we live in.  Jesus Christ lived in a world of casual brutality and callous disregard for people outside one’s own group that we can’t even begin to imagine.  And Jesus Christ stood up to that brutality, that violence, and that evil and said NO.  No, evil does not get the final say.  No, Jesus says, you can’t just ignore people you don’t like because even the greatest sinner is one of my flock.  No, you can’t use “they’re not like me” as justification for hatred and violence, for discrimination and abuse.  No, Jesus says, you can’t just shove aside those weaker than you, because they are mine, all of them.  No, Jesus says, the pain you have suffered is not an excuse to go out and inflict suffering on others.  But most importantly, Jesus says no—death doesn’t get the final victory.  Jesus’ NO was so loud that it scared people.  Jesus’ refusal to go along with a corrupt and callous society threatened those in power, and so they reacted as scared, callous people do in a violent world: they killed him.  And they thought they’d won.

But Jesus was not done.  Jesus was greater than that, and when Jesus said “no” to the evils of the world, that “no” was stronger than anyone could possibly imagine.  And when Jesus rose from the grave, he broke the powers of darkness.  He burst the gates of Hell so that it could not keep anyone imprisoned.  From that second on to this very day, evil and violence and brutality and callousness and abuse and injustice are on the defensive, fighting a losing battle.  They may seem as powerful as ever—and God knows that this week, they’ve seemed to loom over everything—but we are people of the Resurrection, and we know that in the end, they will be destroyed.  In the end, the Risen Christ will come again and all people will be raised from the dead.  Not just a faithful few like Tabitha, but everyone, from every time and every place.  Evil will be purged, and in its place will be only goodness and love.  In place of hunger and thirst, there will be good food and drink.  In place of hatred, there will be love.  In place of mourning, there will be joy.  God himself will wipe away every tear from every eye.

And while we wait for Christ to come again, while we wait for the general Resurrection, while we wait for the world to be made new, Christ calls us to join him in ministry.  Christ calls us to grieve for the dead, and for what has been lost.  They rest secure in Jesus’ care, but we will miss them and we are less because they are not with us.  Christ calls us to support those who grieve, just as the faithful in Joppa did, telling stories and crying together and simply being there.

Jesus Christ calls us to stand up in a world full of death and destruction, and proclaim the Good News.  Jesus Christ calls us to stand up in a world of violence and proclaim the coming of the Prince of Peace.  Jesus Christ calls us to stand up in a world of injustice and hatred and proclaim the coming of the Lord of Love.  And we are called to do that not just in word, but in deed.  We are called to live out our faith in the light of the Resurrection, to let every action, however small, and every word, however insignificant it may seem, proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.  We are called to let God’s love flow through us and in us and around us.  We are called to bring healing and hope to those who walk in darkness, whether that is the darkness of what has been done to them or the darkness of their own hate and fear.  We are called to tell the whole world what it means for all people that Jesus Christ is risen.

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!