For the life of me, I can’t remember her name, but this morning I am remembering someone who had a habit of speaking while I spoke. She didn’t talk over me so much as she repeated what I was saying with a half-second delay.
Every once in a while, my phone will do something similar—I’ll say something and then almost immediately hear myself saying what I just said. It’s quite unnerving when it happens and worse, it makes it difficult to focus on what I’m trying to get across.
Unlike the phone when it glitches like that, this individual didn’t just echo back word for word what I was saying. She also raced ahead to finish my sentences. As if she knew better than I did what I was about to say. Rarely was she right, though.
Whenever this happened, and it happened fairly often, I would stop speaking and let her finish. Then I would say “No, where I was going with that was…” and then start out again.
We are all that woman to some extent, I think. With God, I mean. A job ends. Or a relationship. An accident happens or the bottom falls out. There’s an unexpected diagnosis or even a death.
Unnerved and destabilized, at a loss and beside ourselves, in those moments we rush to fill in God’s sentences, certain we know what’s coming, convinced we have a bead on what’s coming next.
Jesus dealt with this human tendency to jump ahead and complete his sentences fairly often. Not in a literal sense, of course.
Recall Jesus’ exchange with Peter when he asks the disciples who they think he is. Peter rightly says Jesus is the Messiah but when Jesus goes on to say that this will involve suffering, death, and resurrection, Peter is so busy completing Jesus’ sentences for him that Jesus can hardly get a word in edgewise.
This happens at the Last Supper, as well. Jesus says that one of them will betray him that very night and before he can even finish his sentence, out comes a chorus of “not I’s.” A few hours later, Jesus will speak of Peter’s upcoming denials and hardly get a word in as Peter denies that he will deny Jesus.
I told you what I did when that kind of thing happened to me. I just waited and tried again. But what’s a Savior to do?
Keep going. Even when people thought they knew what he was going to say, Jesus just kept going. Even when it was clear they had never fully understood what he’d been saying or why, Jesus—unruffled, undaunted—just kept going.
It wasn’t until Jesus’ final hours that this jumping ahead ceased. And when he said from the cross “It is finished,” those who were there nodded their heads in grief-stricken agreement. Yes, this really was where the road ended. Yes, it truly was finished.
Except this wasn’t true. Even then, even then, Jesus kept on going.
When Jesus breathed his last, everyone was positive there was nothing left to be said. But today says otherwise. Easter says “Not so fast, friends! The end isn’t the end. Those final moments on the cross were most certainly not the last chapter.”
Easter’s proclamation is this: Jesus’ story, our story, is not done, not ended. Jesus’ story, our story is to be continued. And in astounding, unanticipated ways. Ways that will leave us all speechless.
Easter is God’s message loud and clear: no matter how certain we are about how hard and horrible things will turn out, we are wrong. And no matter how determined the world may be in trying to finish God’s sentences, no matter how it hopes to get the last word, it won’t. It won’t because it can’t.
At Easter, we rejoice to say “Christ is risen. Risen indeed.” And we rely on church bells and trumpets to help us express this. We sing our joy today. We shout our elation. Accompanied by angel choruses, we announce the truth of the empty tomb, of a Savior resurrected.
But not even our best and brightest “Christ is risen,” is where this story, our story, ends. If we listen when the angels sing with us, we’ll hear our proclamation for what it truly is “Christ is rising. Rising indeed.”
What we thought was the story’s conclusion is really but a beginning. The period at the end of our sentence is but a comma, a cue to take a life-giving breath and continue on.
The Risen Christ didn’t step out of the tomb, reunite with his friends, and give one last sermon. Full stop.
No, after Easter Day, he stuck around for 50 marvelous days. He moved among his friends and continued to teach them. He helped those who were certain the story had ended at the cross absorb the great good news of God’s ultimate power—power even over the grave, and especially over the evil we humans are capable of.
In the weeks that followed Easter, Jesus healed his friends of their fears and doubts. He even fixed them breakfast on the beach, something he didn’t do before the cross.
The Risen Christ didn’t just rise from the grave. He kept rising. And he did everything in his power to bring his friends, us, along with him, to raise all of us up out of our graves. That is, our limited, limiting notions of what love does and what love wants, where it goes and how it speaks. How, despite our predictions, that love wins the victory.
Today in Acts, we remember how even as Christ ascended, even as he was lifted up into the heavens, he rose up in his community. Days earlier, the Spirit breathed itself into those women and men, into their collective lungs, transforming them into Christ’s mystical body here on earth.
And even this, even this was not the end of the story. It was yet another comma in a long string of commas that kept opening on to new realities and resurrection possibilities. From that day all the way to today—and beyond. You and I are Christ’s body now. And with him, as we face the hefty challenges of our times, we rise and rise and rise.
I read the other day that for the first time since the 1930s, those who do not belong to any religious community outnumber those who do. It’s not that folks have decided to become atheists or agnostics. It’s not that they no longer believe in God, because most very much do.
It’s that fewer and fewer Americans have a genuine interest in organized religion, the youngest among us especially.
For 20 years I’ve watched this decline and have honestly grieved it. Not because I think God needs us to go to church but because with our Conference Minister Sue Artt, I believe that faith-based communities are the last best hope for the world.
But here’s the thing. Because God is still Eastering us, because Christ is still rising in us, then this decline is not the end. We may rush to complete the sentence, filling it in with our worst fears or harshest judgments. But who are we to put words in God’s mouth? Who are we to predict what the Spirit will do next?
As I think about the finality of Jesus’ death, about the tragedy of it all, as I think about the many endings that have taken me by surprise over the years, I think about the heavy stone in front of Jesus’ tomb. And I think to myself: this looks a lot like a period. It looks like the end.
But then I watch as the stone rolls to the side. When it moves, it grows a little tail. It isn’t a period after all. It’s a comma.
Today we celebrate that Christ has been Eastered. And we have been, as well. Christ is risen and rising. And he carries us with him—risen, rising.
The story doesn’t end at the cross. Neither does it end at the mouth of an empty tomb.
It’s being written even now, even now as we live and breathe as Easter people. It’s being written as we step into the future, not knowing exactly how each sentence will end, but certain that God is placing commas where we are tempted to place periods.
Onward, friends. Onward with joy, hope, and one another. Onward, hands and feet of the risen, rising Christ!
Will you pray with me?
Christ is risen. And rising. We are risen. And rising. Holy God, today we rejoice that your love has no beginning and no end. We praise you that no matter how we try to talk over you, your love persists. That no matter how often our unwise choices interrupt and even displace your gracious will for humanity, your love will not fail us. That no matter how many times we put others on crosses, no matter how many times knees press down into necks, you refuse to give up.
May the Christ who rose up keep rising. And may he keep rising in us, as well.
We thank you, Holy One, for writing us into your story that has no end but love, no aim but love, no purpose other than love. Bless us as we, with your Spirit, seek to make this love real—in our hearts, homes, neighborhoods, and nation. As you have in every generation, show us how love, when it walks around in public, becomes justice.
May the Christ who rose up, keep rising. And may he keep rising in us, as well.