Benediction Online

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Holding Pain and Joy

On Friday I went into one of the Los Osos stores. I was wearing my clergy collar and the young man serving me said, “Gearing up for Easter?” I replied that I was still on Good Friday and hadn’t made it to Easter yet. He looked a little puzzled so I added, ‘The guy has to die first before he can get resurrected.’ “Oh yeah,” he said, “I tend to forget that – always try to think positive I guess.”

It seems that we have a tendency to want to split the painful and the positive, the death and the resurrection. Either we focus on gloom and fear or we accentuate the positive, dance the happy dance and try to see the sunny side. The message of Easter is that both are true. The human-divine experience includes both pain and suffering and great joy and salvation. If we celebrate Easter, the coming of new life, the ultimate expression of God’s extravagant love for us, without at the same time acknowledging the pain and sin of human experience we fail to understand the full impact of the gospel.

We often don’t notice evil. It is so ingrained in the life of society that we accept it as normal. We accept the things people and institutions do to each other, and the evil, hatred and laziness that lie at their root, as part of the way things are. We cannot be outraged at every injustice, every murder, every rape, every hate crime or every hate filled joke, so we close our eyes and our ears. Jesus’ life was so unusual and love-filled, that it had the effect of exposing evil. In the last few days of his life Jesus experienced every kind of indignity, loss and torture, both emotional and physical that the world could inflict on him. Our technology is vastly superior to that of 1st century Palestine so we could do a better job today, but for a man of his times, he experienced the ultimate in extreme abuse.

Why? Because the beauty and grace of his life exposed the endemic evil. We have had a similar experience recently as aspects of our society which hid greed, cheating and lying have been brought to light. The death and resurrection of Jesus did not immediately end evil but it exposed it for what it is. The death of an obviously innocent victim exposed our tendency to scapegoat and to blame those who are defenseless.

After experiencing such hatred and vindictiveness from the people he loved, you would think that the God-man would have had enough of humanity. But after his resurrection Jesus the Christ goes to those very people who let him down, his closest associates and he goes on loving them. This gives a very different picture of God. This is not a punishing, angry God but one who forgives and forgives, who loves and loves regardless of how badly we behave.

That is the wonder of Easter. That God’s love is freely available for all of us. It is a love which gives meaning and life. A love which embraces the pain and the joy, a love which does not need us to always accentuate the positive but which holds us even when we are in our most negative places. A love which goes on giving and giving. We need do nothing but turn towards God.

Jesus Lives! And in him have we been judged, and we have been found to be the beloved daughters and sons of God. So beloved ones, let us celebrate the festival of our salvation as we continue our worship, offering to God the gifts of our lives and labors.


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