I do not know about you but I have the distinct impression that were Christ to have been crucified last week, the protestors surrounding the hospice in Florida where Terry Schiavo is staying would be surrounding the cross demanding that Jesus be taken down from there. "He is in too much pain and suffering to be up there," they would cry. "He doesn’t deserve to die like that," they would say. "Even though He cannot speak for Himself, we know that His wishes would be to be with us," they would pronounce with all solemnity and ardor. But, were this to have occurred, the protestors, like the disciples in the New Testament, would not understand what transpired that Friday afternoon at Golgotha.
I am amazed at what has transpired this past week. But I am more amazed by what did not occur last week. If the protestors put so much value on one life, why are they not in Minnesota calling for the redemption of the lives of the individuals killed in Red Lake. Why are they not calling for support for school professionals to intercede when the warning signs tell us that a young man or woman is about to do something terrible. Are our concerns about the lives of individuals only important when a state has a large number of electoral votes?
The people who are fighting to keep Terri Schiavo alive have enough political power to force Congress into passing bills of questionable constitutionality and getting the President of the United States to intervene. Yet, while they will protest when nourishment and water has been taken away from one individual, they are not on the steps of the capitol in Washington, D. C., screaming at the congressman who voted to cut the food stamp and other support programs for the poor. Is it easier to fight for one person who has a name rather than the countless poor and homeless who have no names in society? In a time when the fight seems to be over values, what are the values of the protestors?
If life is so dear to these Christians, why are they not fighting to stop the war in Iraq and the killing in Northern Ireland and the genocide in so many regions of Africa? Is it because there is no political capital to be gained; there is no money to be raised to support their efforts?
I do not mean to be cynical and I am certainly do not want to diminish the pain and anguish that all concerned in this case must be going through. As Christians, we value and cherish life and, over the years, we have found ways to make life last longer. But, as Christians, we know that our time on earth is limited and that efforts to continue that time can often be meaningless and futile. It is not up to us to judge what others may do; it is not up to us to determine what others can or cannot do. We can and should give comfort and support, aid and assistance. But, if we believe that each individual makes the choice to follow Christ, then we must also believe that each individual has the right and the ability to choose for themselves the path they wish to walk into heaven.
As Christians, we hold to the belief in eternal life after death. Are we going to deny Terri Schiavo the right to decide that she would rather enter the kingdom of Heaven and say to her that she must live the life that she now lives? What in our faith says that we can make such decisions?
It is thus up to us to insure that others know what our choices are, especially in situations like what has transpired in Florida this past week, and it is up to us to honor the choices that others make in this regard. We cannot presume to know more than they nor, like some of the pronouncements that have come out of Florida, presume to know better than God what God is thinking or planning.
Our faith gives us knowledge of God, not a guarantee of knowing God’s wishes. As believers, we live in a dark world and we seek a path to the light. That light and the path to the light, as has been said many times, is Jesus Christ. We seek the knowledge of God, not God’s knowledge. We cannot claim to know God’s wishes, only that we know God through Christ.
This is the dilemma that the disciples faced that first Easter weekend some two thousand years ago. They watched their teacher, their friend struggle and die on the Cross. But they could not know that the sky was turning black because the sins of mankind from ages past and ages yet to come were covering the light. They could not know that Christ’s cry of anguish, "My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me!" was the culmination of the sacrifice that Christ had to make in order for our lives to be free.
It was clear that they did not know what was to come that first Easter weekend. For if they knew, why were they so surprised when they found the tomb empty?
Mary comes to the tomb that first Easter morning more in grief than in expectation. What have the past two days been for her and the others? Perhaps she was angry at the Romans for killing her friend and teacher. Perhaps she was angry at the Sanhedrin for orchestrating the whole think and cooperating with the Romans. She may have even been angry with God.
And what were the disciples doing that morning? Their teacher had been declared a common criminal, an enemy of the state. Their own lives were in jeopardy and it was best that they hide for a while. And with the mission gone, what were they to do? As they secretly gathered somewhere around Jerusalem, did they make plans to return to the previous occupations such as fisherman and accountants?
And how that grief and anger must have multiplied when Mary found the tomb empty. Now she could not even complete the rituals of death that brought comfort to a soul; now she could not see to it that Jesus was properly attended too. And the disciples, upon hearing that the tomb was empty, surely they feared for their lives. For if word got out that the tomb was empty, would the authorities hunt them down as thieves as well as followers?
It is clear that the understanding of what today represented back then did not come that morning. It is clear that over the period of the next few weeks and even years, the disciples will struggle to understand what it is that they were a part of and what it is that they will be asked to do.
It would be one thing for us to grieve at the loss of Jesus; it would certainly be the most natural thing to do. After all, what man, woman, or child has not experienced grief in their time? Our lives most certainly have their frustrations; too often war, hunger, injustice, poverty, disease and natural disasters prevail. We have to ask ourselves what shall we say this morning? How can we explain this morning to our friends, our neighbors, those we meet on the street?
How can we explain what drove the prophets of the Old Testament to pit their lives against their society and their culture? How can we explain what drove Jesus to the cross? If we understand that Jesus loved us as His Father loved Him, then we can explain it. We can explain and tell others that we come to the tomb this morning because of love. Yes, we come because we mourn the death of Jesus; we come out of emptiness in our lives; we come because we are faithful. We come to the tomb to be there.
But when we get there we find that there is nothing there. There is no reason to feel empty; there is no reason to be in mourning. There certainly is no reason to be sad. What we find is that love is there, a love that transcends anything we can possibly know. We find a love that is capable of defeating the darkest spirits and rising from the dead. The darkness of Good Friday is replaced by the brightness of Easter morning; the mourning of death is replaced by the celebration of victory of death.
We also find that we have no time to linger in this moment. We have no way to hold on to or hoard this moment. It is a moment that must be shared; it is a moment that must go beyond the boundaries of our own souls. It is a moment that brings us back to the words we heard in Matthew 10: 27 – "What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim upon the housetops."
So, this morning, as we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, of God’s defeat of sin and death, what will you say? I hope you will carry the words of our hymn of invitation with you out into the world this week.