Texts: Creation – Genesis 1:1—2:4a | Flood – Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13 | Valley of the Dry Bones – Ezekiel 37:1-14 | Deliverance from the Fiery Furnace – Daniel 3:1–29 | Gospel – John 20:1–18
The important thing to remember is that people were being crucified every day.
When you see the movies about Jesus’ life and you listen to the way people talk about how he suffered and died, it sounds as though Jesus hanging on the cross is the worst fate anyone had ever suffered. But it wasn’t. It was happening every day. Crucifixion is what was done to criminals, rebels, and insurrectionists. Crucifixion was a slow, painful, public way to die. It was how the empire made an example out of people, to force others to think long and hard about whether or not they really wanted to challenge the status quo. During one of the slave uprisings in the years just before Jesus was born, over six thousand people were crucified along the road from Capua to Rome. People were being crucified every day.
What is remarkable about the crucifixion of Jesus is that those who followed him, those who kept his memory alive after his body was gone, said that he was the son of God. In time they came to say even more, that he was himself God, God taking on human form and living a human life, even dying a human death – a plain, ordinary, everyday, humiliating death. Given more time, they went on to say yet more about his death. They said it was salvation. They said that God took on human form; died a common, humiliating death; and that this was salvation for the whole world.
That’s quite a story.
Why do we suppose they told the story that way? Wouldn’t it have been better to have sided with the Romans, whose army occupied most of the known ancient world? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to line up on the side of the powerful? Why did a group of Jews, already an oppressed people, become obsessed with a lone Jewish teacher who confronted the temple authorities, refused to bow his head to Rome, and paid for it with his life? And what about their obsession with him was so appealing to the Jews and the Gentiles who almost immediately began to join the movement after his death – people who had never known him in life?
The important thing to remember is that people were being crucified every day.
Tonight is a night of stories and sacraments. It is a night for remembering all that ways that God has been taking on flesh and joining our experience. It begins with creation. The first salvation story is God rescuing us from nothingness. God created the world and everything in it. God looks at us and the world around us and calls everything “good.”
Is this really a salvation story, or is it just a prelude? What does the story of creation have to teach us about the world we inhabit that could save us at this present moment?
Well, for one thing, it tells us that we are intimately bound up in the life of the world. We do not exist separate from this planet and its fragile ecology. We are connected to the fish of the air, the creatures that crawl the earth, the dome that covers the skies and provides us with air to breath. We are part of a living system, so this story tells us, which means that we are responsible for caring for its health and well-being – not just so that it can continue to exist to meet our needs, but because it has inherent sacred worth.
The declaration that God looked at the world and called it good is saving as well though. Think of the amount of suffering that exists in the world because people look at themselves in the mirror and can only hate what they see. Consider the agony that our families and friends and neighbors endure because they have been taught to look upon themselves as “less than” something else. When God created the world, it was a world teeming with diversity, nothing exactly like anything else, and God called that good. We begin by remembering the creation as a story of salvation, because when God looks at us, what God sees is what God loves, and that is very good indeed.
But we struggle so hard to remember who and whose we are. We fill up with poison, we are exhausted from caring for ourselves and others, we doubt our ability to survive. We grow resentful of the responsibilities that come with being created and a part of the whole human family. We need a bath. We need to be washed clean of the weight of our failures that cling to us like filth. We feel so weighed down by those angers and prejudices and resentments and feuds that we can barely lift our heads to look one another in the eye. It would take a flood to wash us clean of those failures.
So God provides us with a flood. Drip. Drip. Drip. Then whoosh! We tell the truth about our failings and we are reborn in those moments of confession and forgiveness. God’s absolution, available in abundant, flood-water quantities. Salvation from our sins, our failures.
Sometimes our failures aren’t individual though. It’s not just those things we have done or left undone that haunt us, it’s the memories of the way things used to be. We get trapped in the past, remembering the families and the neighborhoods and the rituals and traditions that seem to have fallen by the wayside. We feel lost and forgotten, like we are living in a world that has passed us by. We struggle to keep up with the ever-quickening pace of change, and we suspect that we have become irrelevant simply by standing still as the world moved ahead. We want to catch up. We want to be a part. We don’t want to be just some sack of dry bones taking up space at the party – we want to join the dance, be part of the circle, experience the new life that others are enjoying. We cry out, “can these dry bones yet live?”
God answers with one amazing story after another of people and places left for dead returning to life. We know – this church is one of them! But it is happening all the time. Consider our shattered, dry husk of a healthcare system! Broken down and lifeless for generations, and now millions of people – once left for dead, should a disaster hit – will be set back on their feet. Reason enough to dance for joy!
But not all of us have been brought back to life yet. Some of us are still standing in the middle of the fire, as the world tries to reduce us to ash. Some of us have stood up to the powers and principalities of this world and been thrown into the furnace as punishment. Sometimes it was our parents who put us out there. Sometimes it was poverty. Sometimes it was addiction. Sometimes it was racism, or homophobia or transphobia, sometimes it was a hostile immigration policy. Sometimes it was just as simple as being born to parents who weren’t really there at all, in a world where no one thought it was their job to claim you and care for you.
You may still be in the fire, but if that’s the case then we still have a story that says God is with you in the furnace and that you may burn, but you will not be consumed! God will stand beside that portion of you that the world cannot touch, cannot foul, cannot destroy. God, who created everything out of earth, who has washed us in water, who blew the breath of life into our lungs, is present even in the fire. There is nothing that we are subjected to in this life that God is not willing to experience with us.
The important thing to remember is that people are still being crucified every day. Crucified on the streets, and in their homes. Crucified at the border, and in our churches. Crucified on crosses of our own errors and addictions and crucified on crosses of pow
er and privilege. Crucifixion is alive and well, and the death that Jesus endured is by no means what sets him apart from the rest of us.
Exactly the opposite. The death that Jesus endured is what binds him to us. The stories we tell about God’s work in the world are all a way of reminding us that God is binding God’s very self to us, no matter what. God is bound to us in creation. God is bound to us in absolution. God is bound to us in revitalization. God is bound to us in our oppression.
God sees our suffering, and God is binding God’s own self to us as prelude to one last story – the story of God’s rising.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark out, like it is right now, the women who loved Jesus came to the place where they thought they would find his cold, dead body. But when they arrived they discovered that the stone had been rolled away and the body was missing.
They ran to tell his friends, the disciple Jesus loved and the one who had denied even knowing him three times on the night of his death. As they stood around the entrance to the tomb, weeping at this new tragedy, Mary encounters Jesus in a brand new way. Not with a body she can hold on to, but with a message for those who would follow him, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
Jesus binds God to us on the cross. Jesus binds God to us as members of one human family – my Father God is your Father God, my Mother God is your Mother God – we are bound together that tightly. Hasn’t that been the story all along? In the creation, in the flood, in the bones, in the furnace, on the cross, at the tomb. We are all in this together.
The important thing to remember is that people are being crucified every day, but tonight we tell the story over and over again of a God who is bound to us, even as we fall under the power of death, the sting of the poison, the brittleness of dry bones, the scorching heat of the world’s furnaces. God binds us together and raises us together so that we can look one another in the eye, so that we can listen to each other’s stories, so that we can recognize in each other the saving work God is always doing in the world, and proclaim along with Mary Magdalene, “I have seen the Lord!”