Invincible Hope

Easter Sermon

Link to Service

Happy Easter, my friends.  Even when the sun doesn’t shine on Easter morning, we arrive with the promise of Easter ringing in our hearts.  It is a new day, a beautiful day, a day of promise and a day when we are reassured that love is greater than death, that love has the final say, that Chris Is Risen this day and every day, even when we cannot feel his presence or be confident of his promises for our world.  We are here, as a community of love, to be reminded of that promise and to be inspired to continue to live out the hope of this day.  We are here to be renewed in faith and to be invited to rise up out of the brokenness or pain or sorrows we may carry for our selves or our world.  Let us pray,  O God of joy and love, lift our hearts this day.  Help us to feel the hope of that first Easter morning and let it fill us with joy.  We invite your blessing upon all those who awaken this day with hearts full of sorrow; may they know Your comfort and peace.  We ask all of this in the name of your Son who taught us how to love boldly. Amen.

Resurrection… new life.  Who among us hasn’t wondered exactly how this all felt on that first Easter morning.  Who among us hasn’t grappled with what resurrection meant for the beloved friends of Jesus at that time and what it means today in our world where there is too much suffering and sorrow.  Did Jesus come back exactly as he had been, or does he appear in a new form?  A resurrected life is a radically new “life.” No wonder Mary, and later Thomas, and the disciples on the road to Emmaus and all the apostles did not recognize Jesus in his resurrected form. Perhaps they too wondered if they could believe their own eyes.  

While the idea of a person rising from the dead may seem far beyond our comprehension, we may know a little something about finding our way back from a dark place in our  lives. To be human is to feel the fullness of emotions, and it is never easy when hard times come. Yet, somehow, with the grace of God and the help of those who love us, we may discover new life.  Are we changed by such experiences? Certainly.  Are we ever the same as we were before?  I think not.  When we enter into times of suffering and struggle, we may feel as if part of us has indeed died and yet, one day, we awoke to new hope and new possibilities.  Like a springtime morning, we feel our spirits greet the new day and we feel a glimmer of hope again.

And so it is with the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  We know Jesus himself experienced despair on the cross.  The final week of his life had to be very sad indeed for he had come to share a story of great love and hope and encounters betrayal, arrest and death. He himself questioned whether he had been abandoned, not only by his friends but by God. We imagine too the pain and deep sorrow of his closest friends.  How had it all come to this?  Was all hope lost?  They must have felt very, very afraid to see their beautiful teacher, their beloved friend arrested and put to death.  

Each of the four Gospels tells the story of that first Easter morning.  According to Mark, on the first day of the week, the women rise with the sun and buy spices to anoint Jesus’ body. They are shocked to find the tomb empty and leave in fear and terror. Mark’s resurrection story is less triumphant than the other Gospel testimonies.  In Mark’s version, we are reminded that Easter comes to us, again and again, even if we don’t know what to make of God’s resurrection ways. Again and again, the sun rises. And some days, that is enough.        

Mark’s gospel is straightforward and there’s not much joy in it, either. Sunday morning was a time of profound grief for those closest to Jesus. Consider those first few days after you’ve lost someone and the painful moments between their death and funeral. There’s no closure yet, and mornings are reminders that the loss is real. It’s hard to imagine how you’ll face the day.

On that first Easter, Friday’s terror gives way to new fear as the women arrive to find the stone removed and a strange young man with an outrageous story. Remember that nothing about this sight is recognizable to them. This isn’t comforting. They run away terrified, unable to even speak about what they’ve seen!  But resurrection still came, even if they weren’t yet able to make sense of it. Again and again, the sun rises on a new day, often without embrace or acknowledgment. The same is true of resurrection. Whether or not we understand what’s happening, our God is continually present offering comfort and the promise of hope.

Last November, there was a powerful story on CBS’s 60 Minutes that told the journey of a group of widows and their young children from Ukraine.   They had been invited to a summer camp last August in the Austrian Alps by an American marine, Nathan Schmidt, who himself knows too well the profound sorrows of war. For him, mountain climbing had provided an important way for him to begin to recover after three combat tours in Iraq, and he wanted to share the possibility for healing with this brokenhearted group of women and children.   After the Russian attack on so many innocent people in that country, Schmidt offered Ukraine what seemed like an impossible hope-that, in only six days in the Alps, he could teach grieving families to rise. For the families involved, it was truly a leap of faith.  Even the journey there of  45 hours to the site was exhausting and by the time they arrived, many of the women felt that they had made a huge mistake in coming.  The bereaved families had traveled 13-hundred miles on faith to meet a stranger still struggling to heal from his own war.

 Their husbands had died defending their beloved country of Ukraine– among the tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers killed.  Many felt that their lives were over upon hearing the news of this great loss.  They couldn’t imagine a future for themselves or their children.  But  these 13 widows and twenty children decided they would have faith that there might be a path forward and they decided to try.

As the founder of the Mountain Seed Foundation, Nathan Schmidt explained, “Our name comes from the Bible. “With faith the size of a mustard seed, one can move mountains… that faith in something bigger, that faith in self. And if you can reinforce that faith — we and you can move mountains.”

There was plenty of fear to overcome because, ultimately, his goal was to lead these children, ages 15-17, and their mothers on the last leg of a climb to the peak of Mount Kitzsteinhorn—at more than 10,000 feet. The first steps to the summit began with training for the kids, ages 5 to 17 while their moms attended daily group therapy sessions. Every day the group faced immense physical and emotional challenges.  Both mountaineering guides and therapists worked with them to provide training and counseling to help them process what they had lived through and seek healing and hope.  They worked as a team literally held together by rope and courage and sheer determination and together, they prevailed.  It seemed an impossible task, to imagine how they could go on living, for the mothers, how they could find the courage to raise their children alone.  Sharing their stories of sorrow, sharing this incredible challenge together allowed them new hope. 

Schmidt explained the connections between mountaineering and facing incredible challenges such as war. He said, “Losing their homes, in many cases losing their future, or at least the future being unknown is so hard… And it’s one of those moments in climbing where you look all around and you don’t know where you’re gonna put your hand, and you don’t know where you’re gonna put your foot. You don’t know if you’re gonna be able to stay in that position or fall. This program is meant to show them the footholds and the handholds to fill the cracks that they have too. And then lead their children back up– up the mountain. 

Upon reaching the summit, the entire group posed for a photo next to a cross.  The elation they felt in having overcome such monumental challenges is evident on their faces. One mother said that as she breathed in the fresh air, she imagined releasing her sorrows to the sky.  It was literally a moment of exhaustion and of sheer joy.   As the reporter explained, “ Five days before, they clipped to a rope a string of broken souls. Now they would return, but this time, resurrected in strength and love and invincible hope.”

There are times in our lives when we feel as if we have run out of hope and it seems impossible to get up and live again.  For the followers of Jesus, the days following his death brought incredible grief and despair.  How could they go on?  How could they hold onto the dream of a better world that Jesus had shared with them?  On Easter morning, they woke up in sorrow and then found themselves filled with new hope.  They would go on.  

Wherever we are in our lives, whatever challenges we face, we are not alone.  We may trust the presence of the Risen Christ to accompany us; his stories inspire us to live courageous and hopeful lives.  His story of rising can be our story too.  We can rise up from sorrow and despair; we can lift others up and walk with them in love. We can be Easter people who share our greatest hopes with our world.  We can be the ones to carry the message forward; we can be the ones who live in love.  We can be peace and hope for a world in need of new beginnings.

-commentary By Rev. T. Denise Anderson, Sanctified Art

-CBS 60 Minutes,