Text: Luke 24:1-12
I could have never imagined it, at least not in my lifetime. From early childhood, I had learned that there was a script, and the script doesn’t change, so you can do what you do, but you have to learn how to follow the script. Do what is expected, and don’t expect what is expected to really change. Stay within the norm, knowing you will never be considered the norm. Don’t dare to hope for what others can’t or won’t understand or accept. Just maintain the status quo.
But then, six days after my 51st birthday, the unimagined happened. The day was October 10, 2014: a day that will be forever etched in my mind. For that is the day that love won in North Carolina – the long-awaited day of justice for same-gender loving people. Had I even known how to hope for it, I’m not sure I could have actually ever imagined it happening. Not before that day. There had been too many disappointments. But on that fall day in October, for same-gender loving people, marriage equality became the law of the land. And for many of us, it was unimagined hope.
My grandmother, when something would surprise her, would often say, “Good Lord, I never imagined that happening!” My grandmother was saying what every generation throughout history has uttered. Think about the people who stood and watched as the first automobile made it way down the street. Good Lord, I never imagined that happening. Picture the woman who had lived her whole life by the light of a gas lantern flipping the switch and a light bulb illuminating the room. Good Lord, I never imagined that happening. There may be one or two people in this room who can remember the first time they heard a human voice coming out of a box radio, or the first time they saw human faces on a television. Good Lord, I never imagined that happening. There are more than a few people in this room who can remember the first US astronaut orbiting in space, and a man walking on the moon. Who could have ever imagined that happening? Can’t you just hear your grandparents and their parents shaking their heads mumbling those words: Good Lord, I never imagined that happening! But it’s not just our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents who know what it is like to be surprised by the unimaginable. Who in this room could have ever imagined the sequencing of the human genome or genetic blueprint that points out the mutations leading to cancer, or the creation of human organs through stem cell research, or for that matter self-driving cars? Be careful. You want to be honest on Easter.
Unimagined hope is what I felt when I read Luke’s account of the Easter narrative this year. It was the women – Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other unnamed women – who drew my attention to the miracle of the Easter story this year. As Jesus’ most dedicated and courageous disciples, they had the stood vigil by their beloved as he was arrested, tried, and crucified for speaking truth to power, for standing with and up for the poor and the oppressed and the marginalized of society, for calling out the sins of wealth and greed and abusive power and privilege and institutional oppression. The women – the very ones most vulnerable to these sins of power – never left Jesus. Unlike some of the other disciples, they had not run but rather had knelt by the foot of the cross praying for him in his darkest hour. They had watched as the Roman soldiers carried away his body. They had gone home, and as the women were accustomed to doing they prepared spices for the burial of their friend and teacher. They did exactly what was expected of them. They followed the script of what they were allowed to do. And on the first day of the week, just before the sun was rising, they went to the tomb with their spices. They entered expecting to find the body of their brother Jesus. And what happened next can only be described as unimagined hope. In their awe, they heard someone speaking to them saying: Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen.
Unimagined hope – how could they have ever imagined such an ending? He is not here but has risen. As I read the Easter proclamation, I could hear my grandmother’s voice, “Good Lord, I never imagined that happening.” Had Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other disciples – women and men – had they even known how to hope for such an ending, could they have ever really imagined resurrection happening: their brother Jesus now alive as the risen Christ.
Now I want to stop here and add a parenthetical to that last statement. Contrary to what a lot of Christians think, Christ is not Jesus’ last name. The risen Christ is the human Jesus once again transfigured. We follow the example that our brother Jesus set before us: to love one another as he loved us, to work for justice for the poor and the oppressed, to speak truth to power, to practice resistance against the powers and principalities of this world, to build God’s kin-dom of radical inclusion and welcome here on this earth. And while we follow the example that Jesus set for us by his living and loving, we put our faith and trust in the living, resurrected Christ who is still in the world today guiding and leading us to unimagined hope – the kind of unimagined hope when we dare to see God in the face of every single person, the unimagined hope that moves us to radical action when we hear the cries of the poor, the kind of unimagined hope we experience when we risk resurrecting dead dreams and lost hopes. Easter is about the living, resurrected Christ who calls us to imagine unimaginable hope. Post-resurrection, Jesus becomes the living Christ – transformed and transfigured once again by God’s love and grace.
Think of it this way. Jesus did his part. Jesus was born, he stayed true to the divine image within him, he was crucified for his ministry, and he was resurrected. For 33 years on this earth, the Christ was manifested as Jesus of Nazareth. But our faith tells us that Christ was with God from the very beginning of time! “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This Easter story teaches us the Christ could not be bound by the death of his human life. The Christ who could not be found in the tomb is now the Living Christ, and the Living Christ isn’t so much a person as it is an unimagined and unimaginable hope.
I got a text from Brooks on Thursday after she saw the draft of the bulletin. Her text read: You want “Christ is rising” in the call to worship? Not “Christ is risen?” In worship planning, we had deliberately chosen to say, “Christ is Rising.” The story of the Living Christ isn’t over! I know many of us were taught in the churches of our youth that the price had been paid! That the war was over, and Jesus had won our souls. I don’t need to put any of that in doubt if that is important to you. But I do need to say that the resurrection isn’t over – it isn’t in the past. The Living Christ is very, very much alive today! The Living Christ is what compelled gay couple after couple to show up at Registrar offices across this state and this nation knowing that they would be denied a marriage license. They went, not because the script would allow them the privilege of marriage, but because they held glimmers of this Living Christ – the unimagined hope of a world that could see them and make space for the divine love we carry within and between us. The Living Christ is alive – the Living Christ is still rising!
The Living Christ is what compelled a 19-year old Honduras woman named Marla to walk miles with her three-month-old baby boy named Bryan to a shelter run by Catholic sisters in Mexico as she sought safety from gangs in her home country who threatened her life. And the Living Christ is what set in motion a church in Raleigh, North Carolina saying yes to offering Marla and Bryan housing in their facility when Marla receives her asylum papers to enter the United States. As Jim McMahan, Serena Buckner, and I video chatted with Marla this past Tuesday, and as I listened to Marla speak of the possibility of being safe with her son I could hear unimagined hope in her voice as she thanked us over and over. And I knew in that moment that Pullen was, once again, offering the unimagined hope of the Living Christ to Marla.
The living, resurrected Christ is a group of people from across the faiths gathered to work for ecological justice. The living, resurrected Christ are the people who create circles of support for people coming out of prison. The living, resurrected Christ are people sitting in our prisons deemed criminals for no other reason than the brown hue of their skin. The living, resurrected Christ is the adult child who holds a parents hand as they transition from this life into the next. The living, resurrected Christ is the homeless man and the homeless woman tortured with mental illness screaming to be left alone as they make their bed on our property. The living, resurrected Christ is a six-year-old sister washing her older brother’s feet at a Maundy Thursday service. The living, resurrected Christ is anywhere and in every moment when the unfolding love of God is happening. The living, resurrected Christ is present whenever we dare to imagine unimagined hope.
Easter calls us, no Easter begs us to imagine unimagined hope. Easter is begging us to imagine our nation as a compassionate land where the tired and the poor and the huddled masses yearning to breath free are welcomed and cared for. The living Christ of Easter is begging us to imagine an America where healthcare is a human right for every single person, not just for those who can afford it. The living Christ of Easter is begging us to imagine a world where no one goes hungry or is without safe shelter. The living Christ of Easter is begging us to imagine a world where the money spent on weapons of war is redirected to quality education for every child alive. Easter is about us, the people of God, imagining the unimaginable hope of the living Christ and then being that unimaginable hope to a suffering and hurting world.
Karl Benz imagined the unimaginable and today we have the automobile. Thomas Edison imagined the unimaginable and today we can flip a switch and the darkness is illuminated. Neil Armstrong imagined walking on the moon and on July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Six hours later on July 21, Armstrong became the first person to step onto the lunar surface.
As so I have come to Easter Sunday morning wondering: Are there people of faith in this room willing to imagine unimaginable hope? Is there anyone in this room willing to imagine peace on earth? Is there anyone in this room willing to imagine a nation that cares for its poor? Is there anyone in this room willing to imagine a nation that welcomes all with open arms – people with papers and people without? Is there anyone in this room who is willing to imagine a nation that is dedicated to healthcare for all and quality education for every child? Is there anyone in this room who is willing to imagine unimaginable hope for the transgender community – that they may live in a nation where they are protected from being beaten in the street for who they are? Is there anyone in this room willing to imagine the unimaginable hope that one day our nation will stop criminalizing people based on the color of their skin?
Thousands of years ago some women went to a tomb to care for the body of their beloved teacher and friend who had been crucified for speaking truth to power. When they entered that tomb, they experienced an unimagined hope. Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, he has risen? And he is still rising. That is the Easter story my friends. And the question for us is: Do we have the courage to imagine, unimagined hope? The world is in desperate need of people to imagine unimagined hope. Easter is begging us to shore up our courage as a people of faith and to keep on imagining an unimaginable hope for our world.
Here is my Easter finale: “There are all kinds of futures. There is the hoped-for future, there is a feared future, there is a predictable future, and there is an unimaginable future.” The living, resurrected Christ is that unimaginable future. To not pursue unimagined hope is to stay locked in the tomb of a scripted, status quo life doing only what others expect of us. The Pullen Church I know is not about tomb dwelling, or script reading, or status quo-ing, or only doing what others expect of us. We are a people who have for over a century and a half trusted in living, resurrected Christ going fearlessly into that unimaginable future. May we never stop imagining unimaginable hope! Never. No never. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.