Being Saved

So…what did you get in your Easter basket? I know that baskets of candy are for children, but I just had to ask. If you did not get one today, you probably have fond memories from years past. Traditions do vary from house to house. I always remember that I would get a basket of candy, and the freedom to eat it whenever I wanted. As for my children, their baskets have always involved some kind of prize. In fact, we used to take a trip every year after Easter, and somehow their baskets always included a movie to watch!

We all have our wishes for birthdays and magic baskets and other celebrations – some more realistic than others. Every holiday basket includes the age old question of whether we are celebrating for the right reason or not? In fact, just as I was wondering about some Easter equivalent to, “Keep Christ in Christmas!” I saw a post on social media that said, “the cross and the empty tomb as the only real symbols for Easter.” Not quite as catchy, but effective.

It made me stop and think. Yes, I guess we do get a little carried away with eggs and bunnies, but maybe there is another symbol that should matter to us – the banquet. It’s true. The Prophet Isaiah called out before there were bunnies and eggs – and even before the cross and the empty tomb – to invite us to a feast.

OK, so he probably did not have us in mind. In fact, he was talking about the people of Israel and Juda who had been taken captive in Babylon. These words of excess in generosity were told as stories: around the camp fire to young men who were becoming impatient with the oppression they were born into, they were whispered by mothers trying to sooth and lull hungry children to sleep.

They were told to the aged who would not live to see their people restored. They were told between adults who needed something greater to hope for in order to make it through the day. “Oh, the food will be so very rich,” they said, “and the wine will be so strong! And tears will be no more, and even death won’t matter to us at all.”

This was how they answered the questions of an enslaved and oppressed people – with hope. It makes me wonder how we answer those questions today. When our children ask us why we can’t seem to do something about violence against the innocent – whether in schools or against those profiled by color – do we offer an Easter vision of hope or do we accept the violence as unavoidable?

When they ask about the role of lobbyists, do we say that they are just part of the basket – like licorice jelly beans? When our parents or loved ones talk about rising medical costs and equal access to care and treatment, do we resign ourselves to Easter baskets that just don’t always have enough?

What do we do when we hear of the rising rates of student debt or the lack of jobs for skilled labor or the lack of hours for the unskilled single mom, or the immigrant family that is employed but isn’t allowed to stay and contribute to the banquet from which we all eat?

Now, I know that some of you are probably thinking, “How did he go from Easter to all that political stuff. He’s pretty much called out everything but loving people in the LGBTQ+ crowd.” Yup. That’s true. There’s a rainbow in our basket as well.

My point is not to prescribe an answer for any of the above. My point is to say that our vision for the banquet has to include some sense of hope for God’s resolution of all these things – not just in some far-off vision quest— but in the lives that we live together today.

For the good news of the empty cross and the empty tomb is that our sins are blotted out. By that, I do not just mean the actions and behaviors that separate us individually from God. I mean the reality of sin that keeps us from seeing God in one another. I mean the sin that keeps us from proclaiming the gospel which we have received, on which we stand, and by which we are being saved!

I just love that verse. It reminds me that we have received this good news together. It reminds me that this good news gives us the ground to stand on together when all else is lost. It also reminds me that our experience here on earth is one of “being saved”. There’s an ongoing process of “being saved” that ebbs and flows throughout our lives. That means there is someone doing the saving, and that someone is none other than the one who created the universe out of love and curiosity and wonder.

The author of life is so much more than we can conceive. God came to us through the person, the work, the teaching, and the self-offering, redemptive, and restorative love of Jesus. Even that is sometimes too much for us to get. God comes to us through those that follow Jesus in community together.

Sure, there are times when being off in creation reconnects us to the Creator, but it is in the messiness of our lives together that we come face to face with our own need for redemption.

So, it was, even on the first Easter, when three women woke up with the sun to go and offer care for the body of Jesus – whom they saw die on the cross— and in their way they wondered who will roll away the stone? or as Rev. Eric Fistler suggests, “Who will open the door to our memories?”

You see, the word for “stone” has its roots in the idea of memory. It’s where we get the idea of a memorial from. So often we set up memorials in our culture. We memorialize events and people through plaques and statues, and that’s a good thing to do.

Yet there are times that we set up our memorials in ways that also limit our ability to move forward. For the women, this memorial was an unmovable thing, and yet it became the thing that reminds us today of the power and abundance of God’s love.

Not only that, it serves to remind them, and us, of the promises that he made before his death. But, more than that, it stands as a challenge for us to remember that the empty tomb is not an end. It is a new challenge with renewed hope that demands our response.

For these women it was overwhelming. They had come to fulfill the religious duty of embalming a body and instead they were confronted with a new story to tell. A new story that changed their understanding of the world.  We know that the story did not end with their silence.

Even though this story was shared for generations before it was amended, we know that the story ends this way as a challenge to the way in which we tell our story. It ends this way because we are left with the task of deciding whether we are going to let our baskets be filled with religious obligation or true proclamation!

What have we to proclaim? He is risen! He is risen indeed. So what? So, death and sin do not have the final word! OK, now what? Now we have to find a way to respond that respects life and calls everyone to the banquet. However, in the mean time we have this foretaste, this morsel, this celebratory feast that needs nothing more than a nibble and a sip to let us know that redemption has come- and even more- is coming!

Yes, my friends, we are being saved – even here and even now. The only question is, how will we respond? My hope is that we will continue proclaiming the good news that Jesus saves us from sin and death and the separation from one another that steals our own humanity. My expectation is that we will continue to work out our experience of redemption in the messiness of living together.

For there is this great banquet that has been spread before us. It is a banquet of grace and mercy that commands our response – of which there is only one – and that is to love as we have been loved. That’s a gift that is better than any basket, or rich food, or fine wine, or even – dare I say it – chocolate. And thanks be to God for that, now and always, Amen.

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