In this world, there is just too much suffering—
in the larger world,
in our communities,
in our own families and personal lives.
Just too much pain and suffering.
As people who follow the suffering servant Jesus,
we want to engage the suffering of our world in meaningful ways,
we want to alleviate suffering,
we want to be agents of healing and reconciliation.
But how, in the world, do we do it,
without becoming buried in the darkness of it all?
it’s too much to stay informed about, attuned with, up to date on.
We have to take it in measured doses, to keep our sanity.
One of my Lenten disciplines this year was to minimize
the amount of news I got on a screen—computer, TV, phone—
and to read more print journalism.
It was an attempt to measure it out, in doses I can handle.
Why does every TV news anchor, every evening,
start their broadcast with a breathless, “Breaking news!”?
Meaning, “This is so important for you to know now,
that I’m telling you about it as it happens,
even before I know much about it.”
An attack on our country, or incoming meteor, I understand.
But must we be informed about everything while it’s happening?
before the information is in?
before anyone takes time to reflect on the event,
put it in perspective,
check and re-check sources,
and think in measured ways about it?
How does instant half-baked information enrich our lives?
Does it make us more thoughtfully responsive to the needs of others?
Does it make us more, or less, likely to take meaningful action
to make the world a better place?
Does it enhance, or diminish, a life of joy?
Does it ground us and center us,
or leave us unsettled and unhinged?
And bringing it closer home,
how do we meaningfully engage suffering in our own communities?
How do we avoid the ditch on both sides of the road,
either getting overwhelmed and paralyzed,
or . . . hiding it from view and pretending it’s not there?
Local infrastructures are organized to separate us.
If we live in a middle-class neighborhood,
it takes no effort not to see our suffering neighbors.
About the only place we people of means,
are forced to face a destitute person,
is on a sidewalk or highway median,
where they try to get through to us with a cardboard sign,
and we try not to make eye contact and humanize them,
and thus have to deal with our discomfort.
And even closer home,
how can we, as people of faith,
walk with each other in our times of deepest suffering and disconsolation.
Our hearts and minds and spirits this morning are heavy with sorrow,
as we all share the grief of the Brubaker family,
at the death of their beloved 10-year-old Norah on Friday evening.
We hardly know what to feel and what to do,
other than simply to sit with each other in our shared sorrow.
Sometimes, that is enough.
Just to share sorrow, and express it to one another.
When we experience a devastating loss,
knowing we are not alone in it is the first and crucial step.
Together, we lament the brokenness of it all.
It is right to acknowledge the raw suffering of those close to us,
to name it, and to sit with it in protest.
And, it is right to name the reality
that this is not the way the world is supposed to be.
This kind of suffering is not in alignment with
the good world that God created.
In other words, this is not God’s will.
And it’s okay to be angry about what happened.
Because, I think . . . God is, too.
I love the passage from the Wisdom of Solomon, from the Apocrypha;
it rings true.
“God did not make death,
and he does not delight in the death of the living.
God created us for incorruption,
and made us in the image of his own eternity,
but through the devil’s envy death entered the world.”
Death is not now, nor has it ever been, God’s doing.
God takes no pleasure in death.
So we dare not sugar-coat a tragedy like this.
God did not “call another angel home.”
This was a rank offense against God’s shalom.
No, it was nobody’s “fault.”
But life unfolded in a manner that did not align with
God’s vision of wholeness and shalom.
It is out of sorts . . . with the world God once created,
and that God is even now working to re-create.
These violations of shalom happen too often.
All the time, in fact.
As I said, there is too much suffering in this world.
That, dear friends in Christ,
is why we do Holy Week.
This is why we preachers always warn our churches,
“Don’t jump straight from Palm Sunday to Easter!
Live through, and recall the passion, the suffering, the darkness.”
You may not realize that it was while this church
was gathered together on Friday night,
listening to the choir singing by faith,
“Do not fear . . .
when you pass through the waters, I will be with you,
you are precious in my sight, and I love you, you are mine,”
he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows,”
and while we were listening again to the story
of Jesus’ unjust arrest and torturous suffering . . .
it was precisely then that Norah Brubaker took her last breath,
and that the Brubaker family were surrounding her bed,
living the agony
that we were singing about and listening to at that moment.
This is the real and raw stuff of a life of faith—
faith in a God who loves us so much,
as to be with us in our suffering.
Not to manipulate or coerce humanity or creation
to bend toward God’s will,
because that would violate love.
No, but to be with us in the midst of the pain and suffering,
and then to say,
“Do not be afraid. I am with you.
And I am giving birth to something new.”
After Good Friday is over,
after we have held vigil in the darkness,
we find there is more to the story—
more to be said, and more to do.
Friends in Christ,
today is Resurrection Sunday.
Easter does not erase Good Friday.
Resurrection does not un-do death.
It does not un-do Norah’s death, or ours, or that of Jesus.
Good Friday still happened.
The agony in Room 7132 at UVA on Friday still happened.
Death is still a reality that is with us.
A reality some of you are even now facing.
A reality some of your loved ones have suffered recently;
Cal Redekop’s 20-something granddaughter, last Sunday.
But because of Resurrection,
death does not have the last word.
God is doing something altogether new.
That’s when it occurred to me,
Easter has something in common with Christmas.
Easter is God’s second Nativity.
We celebrate Jesus’ Nativity at Christmas,
remembering his arrival among us as a human being,
Immanuel, God with us.
And at Easter,
God ushers in a newly-birthed reality—
a world dominated by life instead of death.
On Easter, God’s labor pains over the brokenness of Creation,
are resulting in, as it were, in Christ’s second Nativity.
As the hymn writer Brian Wren put it,
Christ is alive and goes before us
to show and share what love can do.
This is a day of new beginnings;
our God is making all things new.
We read Isaiah 65 this morning.
“For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating.”
Isaiah is not speaking the language of repair.
This is not the language of taking something that is broken,
and restoring it to what it used to be.
No, this is new creation language.
This is bringing to birth something we have not yet seen,
or even imagined.
I don’t know what was going through your minds this morning,
if you were thinking about Norah,
when you heard these words of Isaiah, and I quote,
“No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime . . .
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity . . . and it goes on.”
That does not describe the world we live in, of course.
But it is the world that God is giving birth to.
It is the world of the Easter Nativity.
God is giving birth to something new.
It’s not yet here in its fullness or maturity.
But it’s happening.
And we are God’s midwives.
We are here to accompany and support and be present
as God does the work of recreation.
The resurrection of Jesus that we celebrate today
is the assurance of where this is all heading.
It is heading to new creation,
to a new heavens and new earth.
And we get to be present in the birthing room.
The way to navigate a life where there is too much suffering,
is to hold on, in faith,
to our shared hope that God is creating a new heaven and earth,
and God is doing it with us.
It is even now starting to take shape,
in the midst of painful present realities.
And no, God will not coerce creation to bend to God’s will,
because love requires freedom.
But love also goes the distance to be with us.
Of that we can be certain.
We are not alone.
God says to you,
“I love you and you are mine.”
This is what we are going to celebrate
as we come to the table this morning to receive communion.
This is a meal that calls to mind suffering and death—
the brokenness of body,
the shedding of life-blood.
But because of resurrection,
this is also a meal of hope, of presence, of sustaining grace.
Whatever you bring to the table today—
your grief, your hope, your doubts, your fears,
your joy, your wonder, your gratitude,
these tangible symbols of bread and wine can hold them,
and you can be nourished.
May it be so.
—Phil Kniss, April 21, 2019
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