Easter Sunrise (Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, April 24, 2011
We were in Nevada, on our way to a backpacking trip, and my dad, my cousin, and I were driving along on the highway, through the desert-like landscape, flat, dusty, hot, with some arid hills off to the sides. Then up ahead we saw something off to the side of the road, off in the ditch really. There was a boat, a pontoon boat, off to the side of the road. It wasn’t on a trailer or anything, just kind of shoved off to the side of the road into the sand and dirt, shoved there as if it was waiting for the desert to flood.
I always wished I had stopped to take a picture, take a picture of this strange sight, this boat in the middle of the desert, this boat abandoned there not anywhere near water, without a way to get to water, without any hope of doing what a boat is made to do—float. And I wish now that I had taken a picture, because then I could show you the picture today because that’s what being abandoned looks like. That’s what being abandoned looks like.
Have you ever felt like a boat abandoned on the side of the road in the desert? Have you ever felt like you were abandoned, left without a way out, a way home, a way forward, a way back? Have you ever felt like you were abandoned, left in a desert without any hope of doing what you were made to do—float, rise up, do things, do great things? Have you ever felt abandoned?
I mean, there’s the feeling of being abandoned that we get when we’re little, when Mom or Dad walks away, and we feel as if our heart will burst from the sadness of seeing Mom or Dad go away leaving us with the babysitter or sending us off to school for the first time. There’s that kind of feeling of being abandoned. We’re not really being abandoned, but it feels that way, it’s hard to believe that they’ll come back, it’s hard to know anything but that lonely, lonely feeling, and so we panic and cry.
Then there’s the feeling of being abandoned that we get even as adults, the feeling of panic of being lost, unable to find our way, lost without directions as we’re driving to meet someone, or being separated from our family and friends in a big crowd in Grant Park and no one is answering their cellphone. Even as adults, we can have that panic feeling, that panic that we’re lost and we’re not sure where to turn, and we feel abandoned, waiting on the train platform in the freezing cold for a train that apparently isn’t ever going to come, there’s a panic and feeling of being abandoned.
Then beyond all of that, there’s the deep feeling of being abandoned, being emotionally abandoned, the feeling when someone you love neglects you, the feeling when it seems like no one loves you, the feeling of a child when Mom and Dad are fighting, the feeling of a teenager whose friends left her out of the party invitation list, the feeling of an adult who can’t seem to find the right mate, the feeling of someone who was just told that they are being let go from their job, the feeling of someone who is in an abusive relationship. That’s a deep sense of being like a boat in the desert. That’s a deep sense of being abandoned.
And then there’s the times when the doctor says, “It doesn’t look good,” the times when the police officer knocks on the door and says, “Ma’am, I have some difficult news,” the times when we face death all day long, those are definitely times when the hot wind blows around us as we sit like a boat lost in the desert.
Jesus cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” My God, My God, why have you abandoned Me? Why have You left Me on this cross to die? Why have You left Me like a boat in the desert? Why have You left Me like a lost child, a lonely teenager, an abused wife, a dying husband? Why have You abandoned Me in this most awful way?
And yet, even in that moment of being abandoned, even in that moment of experiencing every kind of abandonment we can imagine, even in that moment of being separated from God the Father, still Jesus trusts the Father, still Jesus says, “Father, unto You, I commend My Spirit,” Father, I give You My Spirit, I leave My Spirit in Your hands, I trust You to watch over Me. Even in that awful moment of being abandoned, of being like a very forlorn boat in the desert, even in that moment, it would seem that Jesus still could’ve said the words of Psalm 16, the psalm we read today, a psalm of trust, the psalm that says: “You will not abandon Me to the grave.”
You will not abandon Me to the grave.
In the mind of Jesus, in His faith and trust of the Father, Jesus can hear the water rushing in to lift Him out of the desert. He will not be a boat abandoned in the desert. He will be raised up again in the water of life. Jesus will not be abandoned forever in death. He will be raised up again.
This morning, that’s what we’re hearing—the rushing water coming to fill in the desert, coming in to lift up that boat, coming to make sure that boat isn’t abandoned in the desert forever. That’s what we’re hearing—a mighty rushing water, water rushing in to lift Jesus up. Jesus may have once been abandoned for our sake on the cross, may have been separated from God the Father on the cross, may have been left like a boat in the desert, but He trusted that the Father wouldn’t leave Him there, wouldn’t abandon Him to the grave, wouldn’t leave Him there forever. The Father would send a mighty rushing water to raise up the boat, the Father would raise Him from the dead and bring Him out of the tomb.
This morning we still hear the echoes of Good Friday, the echoes of Jesus crying out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” My God, My God, why have You abandoned Me? We hear that crying echoing still this morning.
Yet, we can also hear Psalm 16 chiming in, Psalm 16 declaring trust in God the Father, Psalm 16 declaring, “You will not abandon me to the grave.” Jesus wasn’t abandoned to the grave, and we won’t be left for dead either. Jesus was raised to new life, and we will, too. We hear the echoes of Good Friday being washed out by the sound of the water rushing in to raise up that boat in the desert, Good Friday’s sounds being washed out by the sound of joy, the sound of declaring, “You will not abandon me to the grave.” Jesus Christ didn’t remain a boat abandoned in the desert. Jesus Christ didn’t remain abandoned in the grave; the Father raised Him up to life. Jesus Christ may have experienced the worst kind of abandonment—like a combination of being a lost child, a lonely teenager, an abused wife, and a dying husband all at once; Jesus Christ may have experienced the worst kind of abandonment—being abandoned by the Father; but He trusted that the Father wouldn’t let it end there, that the Father wouldn’t abandon Him to the grave.
And today we celebrate that we can also say those words of Psalm 16—“You will not abandon me to the grave.”
When we feel like a boat abandoned in the desert, well, through faith, we can hear the mighty rushing water, the water coming to make us float again. When we feel like a lost child, a lonely teenager, or a grieving spouse, or maybe when life is so overwhelming that we feel like all of that at the same time, when we feel like we’ve been abandoned, today, Easter morning, today is the reminder that we will not be abandoned, that the Father will not leave us like a boat in the desert, that He will not leave us without any hope. We can trust in Him as our refuge, we can trust that He will not abandon us to the grave, we can trust that death will not hold us, that we will be raised to new life through faith in Jesus Christ.
Today is about the water rushing back in, rushing in and raising us up.
Last year I was involved with a program called Doxology, a series of conferences and retreats about how pastors can care for people while also making sure that they themselves receive care.
I started the three-part series a year ago in Colorado in the Rocky Mountains. That Colorado gathering was located at a beautiful retreat at the base of a mountain with a chapel built right into the side of a cliff. In that small chapel, experiencing multiple chapels and devotions each day, in that small chapel, I heard that mighty rushing water coming to lift me up. I experienced God’s Word, His grace coming to lift me up, lift me up because I was in a spiritual desert. At Doxology, I experienced reminders of God’s tremendous promise that He won’t abandon us to the grave.
Pastor Hal Senkbeil, who preached at my installation here at Bethel, is the director of Doxology. He speaks God’s Word with a gentle determination. He’s gentle, but determined to ensure that the Gospel is proclaimed in all its sweetness, to ensure that the Good News of Jesus is heard. When he preached in that chapel in the mountains, I heard the mighty rushing water coming to lift me up like a boat abandoned in the desert.
What I heard was that I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t abandoned. I heard that God the Father had sent Jesus to die and rise again for me. I heard that God the Father was sending Jesus back to come get us. I heard that there’s hope beyond our momentary troubles, beyond whatever challenges were facing me. I heard the Gospel, the Good News, of forgiveness, life, and salvation come pouring down around me, lift me up, and give me new life. I heard the reminder of my baptism, the reminder of God bringing me into His family. I heard that the Spirit is working in my life. I heard that I can trust that God is my refuge, stronger than any mountain that surrounded me. I was a boat in the desert, and the Word of God came to lift me up and make me float again.
Today, this morning, that mighty rushing water is coming to find us again, coming to lift us up, coming to lift us up like boats in the desert that need water to make us float again. The Easter Gospel, the Good News that Jesus has risen from the dead, that Good News is the mighty rushing water. There’s the gracious promise that there is life after death, the promise that you will not be abandoned to the grave. Whatever leaves us feeling like we’ve been abandoned, whatever leaves us feeling desperate and alone, however our sins begin to shake our confidence, whatever it is that leaves us like boats in the desert—well, there’s a mighty rushing water today, there’s Good News for our souls, there’s rejoicing over the Resurrection of Jesus, there’s rejoicing over the promise of our resurrection from the dead, there’s the mighty rushing water coming to lift us up, lift us up, and we will not be abandoned to the grave.