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Sometimes, words just fail. The deepest moments of our lives take us where words cannot go. We try. We speak. But when it comes down to it, the words seem so small.
The mothers and fathers here this morning understand this. We spend months getting ready for the birth of a child. We wait. We paint the nursery. Moms get poked and prodded. They get sick. They get too big for their clothes. Dads watch and wonder. But then that moment comes. A first breath. The cry of a new voice pierces the air. And, suddenly, everything – everything – in our lives is different.
If we are aware of the moment at all, it is not just joy that we feel. There is joy. But that is not all. We see those small eyes and little hands, that frail body, and – maybe for the first time in our lives – we know how frail life can be. And we feel – maybe for the first time – the weight of responsibility. Here is a life that needs you.
We feel joy. We feel fear. We feel something awesome and hidden in the universe turn just a bit.
But no matter how hard we try, words fail to grasp it and can never fully explain it to someone who has not lived this.
It is like describing the sunrise to a blind man.
Joy and fear. Beauty and terror. At the deepest moments of our lives they stand side by side.
The day was July 16, 1945. The place was a barren desert in New Mexico. They called it Trinity.
A flick of a switch and the world changed forever.
When the “fat man” style atom bomb detonated at the White Sands Missile Range at 5:30 a.m. that morning, the atomic age began. A mushroom cloud 7.5 miles high rolled into the sky. The shockwave was felt 100 miles away. The desert floor was baked into a solid glass bowl 10 feet deep and 1,100 feet wide.
A general later tried to describe the site he saw that morning. “The lighting effects beggared description. The whole country was lighted by a searing light with the intensity many times that of the midday sun. It was golden, purple, violet, gray, and blue. It lighted every peak, crevasse and ridge of the nearby mountain range with a clarity and beauty that cannot be described but must be seen to be imagined…”
Robert J. Oppenheimer, the scientist who led the development of bomb project and watched the explosion from a bunker 10 miles away, was reminded of a Hindu scripture: “I have become death. The destroyer of worlds.”
In the morning darkness that day, a terrible and beautiful light announced the birth of a new age for all humanity.
As the general said, it could not be described. You had to live it to understand it.
Somewhere outside Jerusalem all those Sundays ago, these three women had one of those deep moments.
The two Marys and Salome had been there on Friday – off in the distance. They had watched this man die on the cross. They’d stood off at a distance, the scriptures tell us, through the agonies of his last hours. And they had seen where his body was laid.
On the Sabbath, they rested. It must have been a grief-filled and sorrowful day. How, God, could this have happened? How could this man – this man of all men – been crucified? How?
And so, on Sunday morning, as the sun broke over the horizon, they walked over the garden paths to the tomb. They carried spices to anoint his body. With heaviness that a day of grief had laid on their hearts, they set out to do this chore, this necessary task. So, deadened and numbed by what had happened, they had not even thought it through. Not until they drew close to the tomb did one of them think to ask.
The stone. Who will move the stone that had been rolled over the tomb entrance?
But there it was. Rolled away. Inside, this young man in white. In his mouth, words they could not imagine.
Now, our Bibles this morning do not really capture the reaction these women had that day. The English translation says they were “alarmed.”
“Alarmed.” I can imagine what it is to be alarmed. When the phone rings early in the morning or late in the night, I’m alarmed. When the doctor calls and says I need to come into the office to discuss a test result. I’m alarmed. When the gas light goes off on my dashboard and I have no idea how far it is to the next gas station, I am alarmed.
But these women were not alarmed. That is not all they were.
The Greek word translated as “alarmed” is used only in four places in the entire New Testament – and all four of those are in the Gospel of Mark. Two of them are right here.
It is hard to translate. It is an intense wonder. Amazement. Fear. Being nearly out of your wits.
One of the other uses of this word comes that night when Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane. Mark tells us that he was overwhelmed by ek-tham-beh-o. Kneeling in the garden the night before he is to be tortured and murdered, the night before he is to feel the agony of all creation, the night before he is to look up to the skies for the face of his father only to find the empty blackness of a empty universe. Kneeling in the garden he feels that unspeakable ek-tham-beh-o.
And on Easter morning, standing in that empty tomb, these three women are overwhelmed by the same feeling.
A man got a call one night. It was the police. There had been a party. There had been an accident. The son had fallen from a balcony. The man and his wife had better come quick to Bloomington Hospital. That night over the empty roads, they drove. Not a word was said. Not for a long time. They held hands and stared out into the darkness.
At last the man spoke. “I can handle anything,” he said. “But I can’t do dead.”
The longest night of their life ended in a hospital room. There they saw their son. The grown man who had been a baby in their arms one day back when.
And there he was, alive.
There are moments like these when the fear we can barely speak, breaks into a joy that can only be expressed with sobs and whispers.
We use words to describe this. He lives.
But it is not something we can describe. Words fail us here.
We stand at the foot of that hospital bed or in the empty tomb on Easter morning and only if we experience the full weight of this moment can we understand it.
He was dead. We saw him die. We saw him buried.
This is the way of things. We are born. We live. We die. When the powers of this world get hold of us. We die in terrible ways. And so it goes. The world grinds on and in the cold, dark night only the stars look down on our graves.
But to the “no” of death. On Easter, God says, “yes.”
Jesus lives. He lives.
And here is the reason we are here this morning – in this place – gathered in our bright Easter clothes.
Easter is not a day long ago in a far away place. Easter is not a fairy tale told by people too dumb to understand the world.
Easter is any moment when we stand in that empty tomb with Mary and Mary and Salome. It is when the deep moment overtakes us. It is when our knees buckle under the weight of a truth so deep that it can barely be spoken. It is not shouted. Not at first. It is whispered.
Some of us come here today having never lived this. Just as some of us do not know the crushing joy of the birth of a child, just as most of us have never beheld the terrifying beauty of humanity’s courtship with the powers of death and destruction, some of us can hear the words about the empty tomb, but do not know what it feels like to live the truth that shattered those women that day.
We come here this day not even sure what we hope to find. Like three women on the garden path, we are going about our religious duty. We wonder who might remove the heavy stone that seems to block us from the God we long to find.
On Easter morning, brothers and sisters, all our creeds, all our hymns, all our sermons, and all the tradition of the church comes down to these simple words.
We, the body of Christ, have no other truth to offer the world.
We have no other prayer to utter.
We come. And even if they are just words in our mouths. We say it again.
We say it until it becomes more than words. Until one morning when we do not expect it, the darkness splits with a light brighter than a thousand suns and our knees buckle. In fear and trembling. Overpowered by something so vast we can barely utter the words, our life itself whispers.
My God, my God, he lives.