AFTER FAITH DIES, LIFE LIVES
Mary goes out, full of sadness. Everything she believed in has died. Everything she hoped was true, was dead. She can’t sleep the night so she goes out in the early morning, full of sadness, not full of faith. She goes out to where her Lord is buried. She does not even hope to see him because the tomb will have a rock rolled over it. She can only hope to be near the one she loved, the one she believed in, the one she lost.
The tomb is empty. The rock is rolled away. She goes immediately to the teachings of despair, not the teachings of resurrection he told them while he was still alive. No – ‘they have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.’
How often have you been in the land of despair? How often have your dreams died? How often has your hope been lost?
Don’t try to believe. Don’t put on a stiff upper lip and try to whistle through the darkness. Don’t stay with your friends – the way Mary could’ve stayed with the disciples and bravely put on belief. No. Go to that land of despair, that land of hopelessness with Mary. See that even the dead body of your faith is gone. Even the cold comfort of a lost faith is not there for you to take comfort in, for you to anoint and bury.
Mary goes to the other disciples. You notice it says ‘other’ disciples. She’s a woman, is one of the disciples, ‘the apostle to the apostles’ she’s called. She goes to the other disciples full of despair. “They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.” Peter and John come to investigate the tomb, also full of heartbreak and loss. They get to the tomb. They do not see Jesus. One, John, sees the grave clothes lying there and he believes, remembering Jesus’ words, but he’s not much good. He doesn’t tell anyone of his faith. He just goes home. Peter also sees the empty tomb. He also goes home. It doesn’t say he has any faith. He’s not much good either. Perhaps they are just trying to get back to life, to pick up where they left off before they ever met Jesus. Perhaps they have decided to live by Jesus’ teachings even though they know he’s dead – the devoted followers of a dead teacher.
Doesn’t it make you mad – that possibility? Doesn’t it make you mad that we are put in that position – the devoted followers of a dead teacher? So often Jesus seems dead to us, his teachings seem dead to us. And we are put in the position of having to have a stiff upper lip and live by his teachings like Peter and John, even though he’s dead to us because so much misfortune and death has come into our lives. What a rip off – the way God has played with our lives, giving us the possibility of hope, the possibility of faith, the possibility of love, and then yanking it away.
I lost my faith once. I had been a Christian for about five years. Then I wanted to date this girl and she didn’t want to date me. I prayed about it and still it didn’t work. She didn’t want to date me. So I gave up on God. Who needs him, I thought, if he doesn’t come through.
These days as I struggle with uncertainty in my life, as I cope with the death of my father and the fallout from it that I could not imagine – these days I wonder about faith and I try to retain the belief of John, and the stiff upper lip of Peter, But I realize I cannot. I cannot.
So I have reached another conclusion. Do not maintain the faith and trust of John, if you don’t feel it. Do not maintain the stiff upper lip and the getting back to life of Peter, if you do not have the strength.
Mourn. Mourn like Mary. Mourn the death of faith, the death of Jesus, the possibility that none of it was ever true at all ad faith is a ruse and Jesus was a liar or at least was well intentioned but wrong anyway.
Experiment with a loss of faith. Feel what its like when its gone from you. Don’t follow the examples of Peter and John, of getting back to life as if life still mattered. Don’t have the stiff upper lip, the remnants of faith, the ability to go on in spite of the odds and the broken spirit within you.
Mourn. Mourn like Mary. Your faith is dead. You’ve had one too many knocks from life, one too many killer blows. You’ve stood up to it one too many times – but there have been one to many sicknesses in your family or in you, one too many deaths of those close to you, one too many jobs lost, one too many of everything and you just can’t take it any more. So you mourn, lie Mary.
And someone comes up, and thinking they have the body of your friend even though its not a living body, you ask if you can visit it one last time, and you cannot. And Jesus says to you, ‘Mary’, ‘Steve,’ ‘Margaret,’ ‘Barbara’, ‘Sam,’ ‘Alexander’ – the name of the boy we baptize today. And the personal voice and the personal message wakes up something inside of you and you can go on. But it only happens because you went to that place of mourning and death,
So its okay to be frightened by the death of faith. Its okay to mourn. Its okay to be sad for everything that has died in you, for that is where we find Jesus. So maybe its necessary to be sad, frightened anyway. For it is the faithful and brave – Peter and John going on about their lives and being strong in their religion – who miss out on Jesus. It is only Mary, mournful Mary, who sees him and believes and runs joyfully to the disciples to tell them what she has seen.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen. But we only experience that because first we thought he was dead.
This is the Christ we introduce to Alexander today, who gets baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. It is a tough Christ and a tough faith that can stand the hard knocks of life. It is a faith that can be lost and can die, and be raised again. So it is a faith we can have confidence in. It is a faith that can sustain us and can sustain this church, for it is a faith that has died before and lived again.
So Alexander, like anyone of us on the journey of life, can let his faith go at any moment, can experience its death at any moment. But its important, when he does that, to mourn its loss and dreams denied and deferred. For only in that experience of mourning will he encounter Christ again.
It is only with the faith of Mary, the faithlessness of Mary, that we experience Christ. It is only when we give him up for dead that we experience him alive once again.
Alleluia, Christ has risen. He has risen indeed, alleluia. Come and experience him at the grave of your faith. Do not bother with putting on the brave face ever again. Christ is alive. He will come to you in whatever mood you’re in. Praise god. Praise Him. He does not depend on us, on our faith and good spirits. He depends only on himself and we on him, for he has risen, just as he said.
Now into that personal presence of Christ we baptize Alexander, knowing Alexander can depend on him to be there for him, and not the other way around.
We worship a Risen Christ, not a dead teacher of dead precepts, not someone to visit on Sundays and then get back to life the way Peter did, not someone just to be believed in but not lived by like John, but one whom we can meet in all our times, happy and sad alike. Praise be to God that he can come to us in all these times, for he has risen, just as he said.