By Rev. Dr. Karen Schuder
Easter Message on Luke 24:1-12
April 21, 2019
A couple of months ago when my husband Steve and I were in Honduras with a team of people from Seattle, we helped build a house in Pedra Atala, a children’s home for about 40 children. When we arrived in Tegucigalpa we did not know what we would be doing, we only knew we were going to help build a new house so more children could be nurtured by the wonderful staff there. We had some possible tasks in mind like putting up sheet rock or painting walls. So when we were directed to a very large pile of bricks and told to move them to the second level by throwing them, my brain went blank.
We had seen the handiwork of the builder and had no doubt he knew what he was doing, but my only response to his directions was “huh?” I looked at the bricks, the handmade wooden ladder leaning against the wall and the wide open second level. He went through the directions again with the motions adding, “Don’t break the bricks.” My mind was finally able to wrap around the concept, so I climbed up the rickety ladder to the second level and tried not to move too close to the edge.
I soon discovered that my husband is a very skilled brick thrower and I could catch the bricks without too much trouble. At one point after throwing hundreds of bricks, we had an assembly line going. Steve and Diego, a young man who grew up in the children’s home, were throwing bricks. I was catching them and handing them off to someone who was stacking. One time while I was handing a brick off, I heard Steve say, “Oh, oh” and a few seconds later a brick thudded against my leg. I gave Steve the look and said a few words. He looked at Diego and said, “Don’t throw bricks at your wife.” For two days we moved bricks to the second level. Although a part of me still wants to either shake my head or laugh at the unexpected task, I know the next time we are in Honduras we will delight in seeing the home we were part of creating for some very dear children.
One of the delights of our experience is that it clearly was a group project relying on the vision and effort of many individuals. While I admire the strength of the guys carrying 80 pound bags of cement up the rickety ladder, I also admire the vision of those who tirelessly work to provide a home and nurturing environment to so many children. A place of hope amidst the brokenness in our world. A collective hope that inspires and nourishes far beyond the brick walls of the homes.
This brings us to the story of today, the Easter story. We often think of the Easter story as something to experience individually. Once we embrace the story of Jesus’ resurrection, we can find hope for facing the challenges of our lives. We see faith as being a very personal, unique to our experiences, perceptions and theologies. Yet if we really look at the Easter story, there is a strong focus on the collective sharing of hope and new possibilities, not just on the individual experiences. This collective hope in Luke’s Easter story starts with the women.
The women went to the tomb to carry out the ordinary task of preparing Jesus’ body for burial, but were confronted with the unexpected. The tomb was open and empty. In the midst of their confusion a brilliant presence suddenly filled the void with two messengers who asked, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” It is not surprising the women were confused and terrified, because from any normal perspective once a person died, they stayed dead. There was not an alternative expectation from their experiences with death.
Even if they had heard Jesus talk about his death and resurrection, the thought of that being a reality was outside their realm of possibilities. When the messengers told the women to remember what Jesus said, we discover a surprise of our own: they were a part of Jesus’ inner circle. Their presence in the Easter story speaks volumes about God’s working outside the lines and parameters we people tend to allow. After the messengers spoke, the women experienced an “ah, ha” moment allowing for the possibility of something new and unexpected. In the midst of their grief and loss of a leader, the door to new hope is opened and they ran to tell the others.
It is not surprising that skepticism ruled the other followers’ response when the women shared the news as it seemed to them an idle tale. Just like the women’s initial response, their expectations of life and death did not allow for the possibility of Jesus raising from the dead. Except for Peter, who allowed for the possibility of the unexpected and ran to the tomb to discover that indeed Jesus’ body was gone. He leaned on the women’s witness and experienced the amazement of a new audacious hope that moves beyond death.
So we see the mixture of reactions and beliefs regarding the Easter story. The author of Luke went on to show this mixed response in the final verses of the Gospel and in the book of Acts. There were people who embraced Jesus’ resurrection, those who were skeptical and others who walked away from it. People responded in a variety of ways, but those who embraced the Easter story at some level gave a collective “Yes!” to the hope of God’s work that moves beyond the expected into the extraordinary and inexplicable. They became a part of this work and the Christian church was born.
It is this collective “Yes!” that we are a part of today. We have come together to celebrate Easter hope and defiantly say “No” to suffering, brokenness and death. Yes, I hope you experience the power of God’s love, forgiveness and hope in your life as an individual, but even more I hope we see and respond to the collective hope we are called to be a part of. Wherever you are on your faith journey, whatever understanding you have, you are a part of this collective hope. When we say “yes!” at some level to the Easter story and God’s work, we say “yes!” to allowing God to work through us. Together experiencing hope. Sharing hope when we see someone struggling, receiving when we are struggling. Embracing resurrection hope, not just to help ourselves or family, but to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.
That something bigger is God’s divine work in our midst. The Easter story shows us that we do not have to create hope, we just need to tap into the hopeful work of God in our world. Jesus revealed this sometimes means moving beyond our expectations and understandings that create barriers to seeing the audacious, unexpected work of God’s love. When we do this together, we are more than a fellowship or support group, we are the church at work in the world helping the holy create new stories of life. While the brokenness of the world may try to overwhelm us, Easter helps us to stubbornly face the chaos, suffering and death with a defiant hope creating beauty and life.
We have heard a lot in the news about the brokenness of Honduras and other Central American countries this past year because of the caravans of people trying to get to the U.S.. It is true there are a lot of things that need to change so the country can be healthier. If you spend time talking with any of the staff at CHUM, you will be reminded that this is true for our country as well. Amidst the suffering and brokenness I have seen in Honduras over the past four years, I have seen a lot of Easter hope as well. A collective hope that reaches out to nourish, inspire and change the world.
This hope can be seen in the story of four young sisters I have had the blessing of getting to know at Pedro Atala. Karen, the oldest, was 14 years old when their aunt made them leave her home. She didn’t have the room or money to care of four young girls or the patience to deal with their dysfunctional mother who couldn’t care for them. While living on the streets Karen did what she could to take care of her young sisters, the youngest was just a baby. After some time, their mother remembered Sister Maria, a nun who had helped her when she was young. So on a desperate day in 2013, Karen, Emily, Samantha, and Nicole went to the children’s home Steve and I recently worked at. We were able to be with all four girls who are now attending school and, like other children, are working to figure out their place in the world.
A little over a year ago, I had the privilege of attending Karen’s graduation from a respected Catholic High School. She is now working hard in college studying medicine. I have no doubt she will continue to thrive and radiate Easter hope as she works to bring healing into other people’s lives. Karen is a wonderful example of an individual who has overcome overwhelming challenges to succeed, and has relied on her faith in God to help her. However, there is something much bigger to see with her story. There is a collective Easter hope at work bringing new possibilities and life.
In the 1950’s Sister Maria, an orphan herself, embraced the Easter story and worked to build on the collective hope of God’s work. With the help and support of others, she developed children’s homes, medical clinics and schools to bring Easter hope to others. It is said she has improved the lives of more than 40,000 children. More than a decade ago a group from a church in the Seattle, WA area connected with Sister Maria’s work and has led work groups each year to provide support and improve the living conditions for the children at Pedro Atala. Some of these individuals developed a non-profit organization that continues to increase building on the Easter hope at work in the U.S. and Honduras by supporting Sister Maria’s work. The Easter hope being experienced, shared and lived out by Sister Maria, her staff, the children, the individuals from Washington and many others is very much changing the world. We were able to experience some of this on our recent trip. Even though Steve and I have different understandings and experiences than many of the people we were with on our trip, we were able to share in the collective “Yes!”
This collective “Yes!” may seem small amidst the brokenness of the world, but from the perspectives of Karen, her sisters, all of the other children being helped, as well as people like us whose lives are changed by helping – it is significant. People have said “Yes!” to the unexpected, inexplicable work of God’s love in Easter hope and are experiencing life changing love. Not all stories reflect such positive direction, but the power of Easter proclaims there is hope even when we cannot see such. This hope does not take away the mystery of life, but does give us the possibility of something new, unexpected and life giving.
Here we are on this Easter morning celebrating the new hope of God’s love together. We have come from different places on our faith journeys and have different understandings of what this day means. We may be here to experience fellowship, to enjoy great music, or to be nourished spiritually. From here we will go back to our lives, perhaps celebrating Easter with a meal or other tradition. Wherever we come from and go to we are called to live the hope of God’s resurrection work. God urges us to respond with a collective “Yes!” to Easter by working together to tap into God’s love, bringing wholeness and renewal into the world. Helping others say “Yes!” and join in the work of love.
This is what church is called to be – a collective “Yes!” to bringing Easter hope into the world. Not just me, nor just you, but us. Together with God’s Spirit shaping the world around us and beyond with God’s love in Jesus Christ. Together removing barriers created by expectations and reasoning to say “Yes!” and following Jesus into the new audacious work of God. We may have a hard time grasping what we are called to do and we may stumble at times, but God’s work and love are persistent. The unexpected may throw us off at times, but together with faith we can do much more than alone. No matter what challenges we face as a people, as a congregation in a struggling world, may we come together from wherever we are on our journey of faith and understanding to say, “Yes!” to Easter hope and witness to the depth and power of our God’s love.
Thanks be to God, Amen.