All things new

A sermon on Luke 24:1-12 for Kensington Community Church, San Diego, Calif. on the occasion of Easter.

You probably already know the story of Easter. It’s not like it’s one of the niche stories in scripture that Sunday School teachers gloss over.

And even if you don’t know, it’s not like it would take long to tell: Jesus was executed by the Romans on Friday, took a quick trip down to “harrow hell,” unlocking its gates so it can no longer hold any of us captive, and then rose again on Sunday.

Good. Sermon done. Now back to the music.

No really, can we have more music? I really like our music here.

Okay, but I suppose we should actually do the sermon thing—that is kind of my job.

Speaking of which: one of the most special things about working here, about this job, is getting to share space with all of the recovery groups who meet here throughout the week. Many days I’ll wrap up my day job and drive over to the church so I can work on my sermon with the joyous applause of alcoholics and children of alcoholics and addicts and debtors and gamblers celebrating recovery in the background.

And if I’m really lucky, once or twice a week, one of the folks from one of these recovery groups will stop by my office, knock on the door, and ask to talk before they leave.

It is always, always a gift to hear from folks in recovery. Their stories are gospel to me.

This week, someone who’s been to my office two or three times waltzed right in without knocking, sat himself down in the big armchair, and said “you should make a bigger deal out of Easter.”

“Christmas,” he told me “gets too much attention.” “Babies are born every day, but people aren’t resurrected all that often.”

And while I certainly agree that we should make a big deal out of Easter, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the idea that “people aren’t resurrected all that often” coming from a man who, just a few weeks earlier, had told me his own story of resurrection. The story of his own longest night, his own rock bottom, his own moment of seeing he was powerless against this great force outside of him… and then his own harrowing of his own hell, finding freedom so that he could no longer be held captive by his demons. The years and years he has spent working step after step. His joy in new life, restored relationships, second chances, and more abundance than he could have ever asked for.

My “anonymous” friends in recovery aren’t the only folks in whose lives I see resurrection. In addition to being Easter, today is the International Trans Day of Visibility, and when I think about resurrection, I often catch myself thinking about the stories my trans and nonbinary friends have shared with me about their own resurrections.

I think about my friend who is a queer and nonbinary filmmaker in San Diego, how they went through their own experience of confronting death—both by the violence of forced conversion therapy, and by a sort of inner turmoil that comes from having to hide who you really are. I think about how they had to harrow their own hell, doing the brave work of coming out and then transitioning, first socially and then medically, in order to unlock the gates of “hell” that held them captive. And I think of their resurrection, their new life, the gift of the authentic person I now get to know them to be.

And it doesn’t stop there. When I think of resurrection, I also think of the many people I know who somehow found ways to claw themselves out of the most abusive and unfair situations. People who embody the old Mexican proverb, “they tried to burry us, but they didn’t know that we were seeds.” People who confront death—emotional, spiritual, relational, maybe even borderline physical death—then bravely harrow hell, fighting to unlock the gates that held them captive. Fighting for justice in the courts. Then finally, rising again into new life.

I think of my own experience of resurrection, when I was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS seven years ago. The days I spent laying on my couch with a 104 degree fever, the day I finally faced the music and went to the hospital, the day I got tested and learned I must have had this scary virus for quite some time because it’d already progressed to AIDS. I think of the psychological and physical hell I had to harrow as I recovered. And I think of the new life I found when, after a year of carefully following doctor’s orders and taking the most disgusting medicine you’ve ever tasted, I was tested as “undetectable”—the presence of the virus was too low in my blood, it had too little impact on me, to even show up on a test.

Truth be told, I see resurrection all around me, all the time. I’m kind a drama queen.

I see resurrection in those videos on the internet of stray dogs with dirty and matted coats who get taken into shelters and come out looking adorable and adoptable.

And so when I hear someone say “people aren’t resurrected that often,” especially someone whose resurrection I know, you can see why I might nod my head a bit and chuckle.

Because in the story of Easter, Jesus may be the main character, but I don’t think he who the story is about.

It’s about a bunch of people coming together two days after the mourning of Good Friday and singing so loudly and joyfully that even mountains tremble and oceans roar in response

It’s about how vain and silly it is for the people who want to oppress you to try to lock you away because they’ll never have the last word, they’ll never take away your hope and your joy.

Easter is about the God who works marvels for their beloved, who fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty,

It’s about the God whose power never ceases to astound us.

I think the story is as a story written by God, about us; it is a promise God makes to us that is enacted through the work of Jesus:

A promise that our longest nights will never be long enough to stop the sun from breaking through.

A promise that our worst fears can come true—your savior can die a brutal, painful death at the hands of the same colonial power that looms large over you each day—and you can still, somehow, end up with a greater ending than you could have ever imagined.

A promise that if you’ve descended into hell, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll find the gates unlocked.

A promise that your worst day is never your last day. That if it seems like the story is a tragedy, you only need to wait a little while longer for God to make it a comedy.

A promise that recovery is possible, that new life is possible, that freedom is possible, that health is possible, that if you find yourself confronting death and descending into hell… the story isn’t over yet.

A promise that even a power as strong as the power of death is no match for the even greater power of the God who is making all things new.

And may you always find yourself rejoicing in that promise.