Death where is your sting? You do not have the final say! This place is not one where you rule! We declare ourselves to be those whose mourning has turned to dancing! These dry bones have knitted together, joint-to-joint. Where sinew, muscle, flesh and hair are restored and will no be deterred from their goal of faithfulness to the life and resurrection that we find in Jesus Christ our Lord!
Can I hear amen? Alleluia? Praise to his name? This place is no tomb, nor the room where disciples huddle in fear, this is the place where we are restored by the one thing that can transform everything. In this place, amongst these friends of Christ, we are being resurrected as hope. We are hope to ourselves. We are hope to each other. We are hope to our families. We are hope to the Westside. Do you believe that? If you don’t then we need some more resurrection in this place!
Look at the emotion of the disciples, especially Mary and Peter. There is despair. Are they next for persecution? They are dispirited by the loss of their leader, the loss of their momentum, the loss of hope. They have lost their teacher, their rabbi and their friend. Yet, it is even more daunting than that, they have lost their God. What situation could be more devoid of hope?
Yet, we know the what happens, this resurrection spurs the initial movement of a church whose reach over time has come directly to this house of faith. Resurrection has occurred so that Renaissance Presbyterian Church could exist. Nothing is more transformative than to encounter life in the midst of death, despair, grief and abandonment. This is the emotional transformation that we bear witness to this morning. The unabashed certainty that there is hope when everyone tells you hope must be abandoned.
One of the great witnesses to Christ’s love was the 20th Century Vietnamese Catholic Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan. Imprisoned for his faith and his relatives he not only survived 13 years of prison and 9 years of solitary confinement, but witnessed to the unquenchable
Spirit of Christ that spreads even in the harshest circumstances. One of many of his amazing stories confirms this witness. In his duty as a vatican peacemaker he related this amazing witness to the hope he possessed. He said:
In another prison in Hanoi, I became friends with my guard and was able to request a piece of metal wire. He was terrified. “I studied in the University of Police that when someone wants electric wire he want is to kill himself!,” he cried.
I explained that Christians, and most of all priests, do not commit suicide.
“And so what are you going to do with electric wire?”, he asked.
“I need a chain to wear my cross.” “But how can you make a chain from wire?” “If you bring me two little pincers, I’ll show you.” “Much too dangerous!” “But we’re friends!”
He hesitated and finally said, “It’s too hard to refuse. Tonight at 7pm we’ll do it. But we have to finish before 11. I’ll have my companion take the evening off. If he knew, he’d denounce the both of us”. That evening, with the tools he brought, we cut and shaped and worked together to make my chain and we finished it before 11pm!
This cross and chain are not only my souvenir of captivity, as precious as that may seem. They are a constant reminder that only Christian charity can bring about a change of heart. Not arms, not threats, not the media. It was very hard for my guards to understand when I spoke about loving our enemies, reconciliation and forgiveness.
“Do you really love us?” “Yes, I really love you.” “Even when we cause you pain? When you suffer because you’re in prison without trial?” “Look at all the years we’ve spent together. Of course, I love you!” “And when you get out, will you tell your people to find us and beat us and hurt our families?” “I’ll continue to love you even if you wish to kill me.” “But why?” “Because Jesus taught us to love always; if we don’t, we are no longer worthy to be called Christians.”
So, I am not ready this morning to surrender to the nihilism of despair, to give in to the principalities and powers, the rulers of darkness in this world, and say that I am powerless in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Are you? What if Jesus matters, I mean truly matters right here and right now. What if faithfulness still means having hope in the face of the deepest cynicism? What if love means overcoming our fears to trudge alongside others and proclaim the essential dignity of all humans regardless of what Nancy Grace, Sean Hannity, Bob Corker or Nancy Pelosi tells us? What if we stood certain that the truth in the hope we now possess is stronger than violence, divorce, hunger, Neo-Nazis, the Chattanooga Housing Authority or unemployment?
These are the questions that experiencing resurrection will begin to unravel. It messes with our certainty and compels us instead toward love, mercy, peace and joy.
Is it not true that such firm faith in Jesus Christ and hope in his love will transform individuals sin, community’s injustice and the world’s plunge into destruction? I say an unequivocal, Yes! Why? Because I have seen Jesus in his glory. I have experienced resurrection. It is happening right here in our midst.
I am unshakably convinced that the best and most challenging church growth strategy is love. Look around you when you leave this place. Is there an opportunity for us to love the people around us? Do they need the hope that we find together in Jesus Christ? Do we have a message to take to College Hill Courts, Gateway Towers, Boynton Terrace, Alton Park, the Southside, East Ridge, Hixson, and maybe even the Mountains? I know we do. I can see the Spirit of Christ growing in and amongst us. It will knit our faith into those who have lost faith and transform lives so that they can be saved. Do you believe that this morning? Are you ready to have your worlds transformed? I hope so, because the resurrection gives you no choice.