Resurrection Hope (Noah, Elijah and COVID-19)

Title: The Story of Us: Resurrection

Text: Luke 24: 5-7

God said and there was…and it was excellent in every way until it wasn’t.  In an epic love story, we spend the whole of the Old Testament trying to buy back to what was lost in the Fall.  Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Moses, David, Elijah and Isaiah all play a role in The Story of Us but only one person could ultimately make things right; Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus spend thirty years in obscurity in the Galilee region of Roman occupied Israel and three years in ministry.  There is always a double edge to Jesus and we see it clearly when we read the Gospels.  He heals, delivers and saves but he can’t seem to leave the religious establishment alone.  The last seven days had been dizzying.  Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, rode through its streets like a king, taught at the Temple, reinterpreted Passover; was betrayed, arrested, denied, tried and crucified.  It seemed as if the Jesus run was over.  Suddenly, he was hanging three-quarters dead on a Roman cross just outside the city walls and all hope was bleeding out on the rocky ground below. 

Luke’s storyline goes like this with just a little Matthew added in for good measure:

Luke 23:

Noon to 3:00 Total Eclipse.

Jesus cried, “Father into your hands I entrust my spirit.”  It was finished.  Jesus was dead.  It was all in God’s hands now.

Matthew tells us the curtain in the Temple split down the middle, earth shook, rocks split, tombs opened and the righteous resurrected.  It appears Jesus took dead religion, the Fall and death itself down with him.  The crowds went home/Jesus’ friends watched at a distance.

Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body and wrapped it in a linen cloth, lay it in a new tomb and sealed it with a stone. The woman disciples saw where the body was entombed and went home to prepare spices

Sabbath.  Israel was under a stay at home order until Sunday morning.

Luke 24

Sunday morning, the women took the spices to the tomb

The stone was rolled away/Jesus’ body wasn’t there

Two men in white robes appeared, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead.  He isn’t here, he is risen!”

And they remembered all Jesus had said

They told the disciples what had happened but the disciples didn’t believe them

Peter ran to the tomb, saw it was empty and wondered what had happened.

That was the first Easter.  The most important chapter in The Story of Us and no one was even there to see it and those who should have believed it didn’t.

Monday morning Melissa and I had our usual cup of coffee and watched the sun rise.  Sometimes the emergence of the sun is a spectacular burst of blue, red, pink and yellow and other times the darkness simply yields to light.  Monday morning was a bit of both.  A fiery rim showed itself on the horizon and quickly disappeared.  My focus every morning is waiting on the light to emerge from the darkness; and every day it arrives. 

Two characters in the Story of Us come to mind this Easter morning.  They are as different as they are the same.  One is the account of a flood and the other a drought but more than that, they are both stories of hope.

The first story unfolds in Genesis 6-8 and is the account of Noah.  The earth was submerged in water and everything not muzzle loaded into the ark is dead.  It is a gruesome story.  Socially isolated with his family in a floating zoo, Noah is looking for a sign of hope.  He has survived but survived to what?  And then God “remembered” Noah and his family and a drying wind began to blow and the water begin to slowly subside.  After five months of isolation, the boat came to rest on Mt. Ararat and two and a half month later, other mountaintops began to appear.  Forty days later, Noah sent out a dove in search of dry ground.  The bird could not find a place to land and returned.  Seven days later, Noah sent the dove out again who returned with an olive leaf and seven days later the released dove did not return.  There would be life on the other side of the flood!  Are you hearing me?  There will be life on the other side of the flood!

The second account is recorded in I Kings 18 and concerns the prophet Elijah.  Three years into a devastating drought God told him to predict, Elijah has just called down fire from heaven and defeated the prophets of Baal.  God had won, apostacy lay dead by the river bed but the grip of the drought remained unbroken.  It is another gruesome story.  Elijah ascended Mt. Carmel overlooking the Jezreel Valley and began to fervently pray for rain.  And every so often, he sent his servant to look west toward the Mediterranean Sea for a sign of hope; any sign at all.  Six times the servant looked to the west and six times he saw nothing but a clear, blue, bone-dry sky.  But on the seventh trip, the servant reported a single cloud the size of a man’s fist in the sky and the prophet tells King Ahab to mount up and race for home before the torrents of approaching rain engulf him!  And God sent the wind and riding the wind was the rain.  The drought was finally over!  Are you hearing me?  After three long years of hunger and desolation, the drought was over!

Despite the “bad news” we are hearing concerning the COVID-19 Pandemic on a near constant basis; I am not fixated on the darkness, the flood or the drought.  I am watching and listening for something else; a rim of light, an olive leaf or a puff of a cloud.  I am not seeing much yet but like tomorrow’s sunrise, I can feel it getting closer by the minute.  My eyes are to the eastern sky, my ear is to the ground and my heart rests in the Word of God.  Today I come to you as a hope chaser and a proclaimer of a hope that is already on its way. 

I encourage you to join me in relentlessly looking for and pointing to signs of hope.  Any sign.  Every sign.  Signs that new infection rates are slowing, death is coming less frequently; progress on treatments and a vaccine are being made and that there will be life on the other side.  And until those macro signs appear (and they will); take heed of the micro signs of love, compassion, goodwill and community that are already so evident.

Today is Easter and things are not as any of us imagined.  This church should be so joyous, crowded and filled with Spirit energy right now but like the tomb, our four locations are empty.  Yet I can imagine no better metaphor to inspire hope than resurrection.  Today we live caught in the darkness that lies between the flood of a global pandemic and the drought of social isolation but these things will not have the last word.  I came here to proclaim a victory over darkness, over the flood, over fear, over the drought and over the grave!  I can sum my hope up in three words: Christ is Risen! 

Trade your fear of death for the hope of eternal life.  Focus on hope and life; not on fear and death. Keep patiently waiting for the light of the morning sun; send out a dove, keep watching for a rain cloud to end the drought and above all remember the tomb is empty.  “Why are we looking for the living among the dead?  He is not here, He is risen!”  LISTEN! Can you hear the curtain rip, the earth rumble, the rocks spit and the tombs giving up their dead? 

Fear is cast out!

Death is defeated! 

Christ is Risen! 

PRAYER

Resurrected Christ,

We have never been here before.

We are apprehensive and anxiety filled.

Forgive us.

Drive out our fear and unfurl your hope.

Come into our lives fresh and new.

Fill us with the spirit that raised Jesus from the dead.

We receive your forgiveness.

We receive your peace.

We receive your hope.

In your triumphant name…

Amen!

Rev. Shane L. Bishop is the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, IL

Published by Rev. Shane L. Bishop

Senior Pastor of Christ Church, Fairview Heights, IL since 1997. I am an orthodox Christian but I am not in a bad mood about it. A Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church.

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