April 21, 2019: Easter
When Mother Teresa died and went to heaven, God greeted her at the Pearly Gates. “Are you hungry, Mother Theresa?” God asked. “I could eat,” Mother Teresa replied. So, God opened a can of tuna and reached for a chunk of rye bread and they began to share the meal together. While eating, Mother Teresa looked down into hell and saw the inhabitants devouring huge steaks, lobsters, pheasants, and pastries. Curious, but deeply trusting, Mother Teresa remained silent. The next day God asked again if Mother Teresa was hungry; “I could eat,” the tiny nun replied. Again, it was tuna and rye bread. And again, Mother Teresa could see the denizens of hell enjoying lamb, turkey, venison, and delicious desserts. Still, she said nothing. The following day, mealtime arrived and God once again opened a can of tuna. Mother Teresa could not contain herself any longer. Meekly, she asked, “God, I am grateful to be in heaven with you as a reward for the pious, obedient life I led. But here in heaven all I get to eat is tuna and a piece of rye bread and in the…other place…they eat like kings and queens! I just don’t understand.”
“Well,’ God sighed, ‘let’s be honest. For two people, it just doesn’t pay to cook.”
The implication here is that there are only two people in heaven: God and Mother Teresa. While that makes for a great punch line, it is in no way compatible with the good news of the Gospel we have heard today. The good news of the gospel is that Christ’s death and glorious resurrection has secured a place for all of us in God’s eternal kingdom. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead means that we no longer have to fear death though it is something we will all face. Death is but a passing moment now that Christ is risen, a small transition from this life into life eternal with God. That is the good news of Easter. We didn’t do anything to deserve it and there is nothing we do to have it taken away. Period. End of story. Thanks be to God!
But what do we do now? Since eternity is secure for you and me, and since you and I know where we are headed when this life is over, what do we do today, tomorrow, and for the rest of our lives in order to live as people of The Resurrection?
I recently stumbled on a website created by SMITH magazine that is a collection of six-word memoirs. People both famous and ordinary are invited to visit the website and submit a distillation of their lives in six words. These six words are meant to be about what is most important or distinguished or interesting about the person. Everyone is invited to participate and there is an ongoing gallery on the website of the most recent six-word memoirs submitted by visitors. The idea of composing a memoir in six words came from Ernest Hemingway who once famously wrote, “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.” These six words tell an entire story using only a half-dozen words.
Some of the six-words memoirs on the website are poignant. One person writes after a break-up, “I still make coffee for two.” Some are clever, like the offering from comedian Stephen Colbert who wrote, “Well, I thought it was funny.” Others are tragic like the six words by Hemingway that inspired the whole project. Still others are just funny, like screenwriter Nora Ephron who wrote, “Secret of life: marry an Italian.” One teen writes, “Though it hurts, I will smile.” Another teen wrote, “Test scores defining who I am.” One dad writes, “I don’t know, ask your mom,” while one mom writes, “Dandelion wishes always come true, baby.” These six-word memoirs are sweet and touching and complex and heartbreaking and filled with joy.
As I began preparing early last week for the eight services that took place here during Holy Week, I realized that for all the complexity and mystery of our religious life together, and for all the billions and billions of words we use to try and explain all of it, our Christian faith has a six word biography that explains it better than all those other words combined ever could: Jesus is risen from the dead. There are 775,000 words, more or less, in the Bible and not one of them makes any sense without these six words. There are roughly 2 billion Christians in the world, and not one of us has a thing to say without these six words. As I work in the next year to finish my doctorate, as we work together each day to bring the good news of Jesus into the world, none of it matters one bit if it isn’t based on the six-word memoir of our faith: Jesus is risen from the dead.
“Jesus is risen from the dead” are the words that the breathless women carried from the empty tomb back to the other disciples. These six words were so unbelievable to the disciples that they thought the women were crazy or drunk. The other disciples, all men by the way, dismissed the women and thought they were telling idle tales. But these words were enough to get Peter up off his rear end, to get him running to the tomb to see for himself if the women were telling the truth. And what did Peter see when he arrived at the tomb? It was empty just as they had said. “Jesus is risen from the dead” then became six words passed down from person to person, from community to community, every day since that glorious morning.
It is these six words that have taken us from scattered, broken people to a gathering of God’s beloved who have the ability to change the course of time and history. It is these six words that have found countless individuals whose lives were already dead, broken by pain and suffering and sin and darkness, and given them new life. These are words that are whispered at bedsides and shouted from rooftops and shared at dinner tables and workplaces and in neighborhoods. These are the words that have been forbidden by governments ancient and modern, and yet somehow, they have still been spoken and shared.
These are the words that the martyrs sang as they were being burned at the stake or fed to lions. Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught these words to students in his secret seminary that was hidden away from the view of the Nazis. Oscar Romero was speaking these words when he was gunned down while celebrating communion in El Salvador. Dr. King held fast to these words as he opposed the violent racism of our culture. Simone Campbell lives these words more than she speaks them as she and her fellow nuns travel all over the United States in a bus campaigning for a better life for the poor. Mother Teresa admitted at the end of her life that while these words had lost some meaning for her, she still believed in their ability to transform the world.
Jesus is risen from the dead. That is the six-word memoir of our faith. How will these words change your story? Where in the essence of who you are do you hear the call to new life, to come out of the tomb you’ve been sealed in? These tombs are built out of fear, hopelessness, lost dreams, broken promises. They are dark and often very deep, but they have no power any longer. Where are you looking for the living among the dead? How will you receive the good news that has been handed from person to person, from community to community, that is now handed to you. Jesus is risen from the dead. What will your six words be? What will your six words be when joy and plenty? What will your six words be in sorrow and want? How can we be sure that the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection reaches into all the nooks and crannies where it is so desperately needed?
Let’s give these a try:
We must love unconditionally like God.
We must welcome as God welcomes.
We must worship and pray unceasingly.
We must share without expecting paybacks.
We will never give up hope.
We will never subscribe to fear.
We will always side with grace.
We can never leave one another.
The light shines in the darkness.
And the darkness doesn’t overcome it.
You are loved. Share that love.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, every day we have an opportunity to write our story again. Every day we have an opportunity to live as people of The Resurrection. Our stories, our lives, are sweet and touching and complex and heartbreaking and filled with joy, but they are also miraculous. Choose today to write your story on this theme, and this theme alone: Jesus is risen from the dead. Jesus is risen from the dead just as he said. Let’s run and tell the others what we’ve heard. Amen.