Imagine it, if you will. God had such high hopes. God had hovered over the darkness, breathed over it, and gathered all the creative energies of life. God hoped, and out of the darkness flowered light. And not only light: sky and earth, dry land and seas, fruit and flowers, leaves and grasses. Animals that walked and animals that flew; animals that crept and animals that swam. The skies, the seas, the earth, all of it teeming with the creative hopes of God. But there was more: the earth creatures, woman and man, to care for and rejoice in the earth, to be company and friends with God.
God had such high hopes. Hope for enjoyment and conversation, hope for praise and delight. God would be with them and nothing could go wrong. Until the snake and the fruit. Until the fruit was bitten, chewed, digested; until evil was bitten, chewed, digested. The snake knew, the earth creatures knew. Now was the time for death.
But in the midst of that betrayal, in the midst of the loss of hope, in the midst of deep fear, in the face of death, God does something that is beyond imagination, beyond hope. God gives not death, but life, not death, but promise, a promise that one day, one day, in the midst of death, there will be new life.
Imagine it, if you will. They had such high hopes. They had gathered their belongings, said goodbye to all that they had known, embarked on a grand adventure. They were pursuing a dream. A dream of freedom, a dream of a community, shaped by the character of their God. A dream of food grown by their own hand, enough to feed their children. A dream of communal worship. A dream of life in abundance, freed from slavery, freed from the violence that killed their children. They had a dream. At first the freedom was intoxicating. No more slavery. No more death. No more long, hot hours in the dusty fields, unable to stop for a rest, unable to stop for water. No more beatings. At first the days were shaped by stories of promise and by song. By a pillar of fire before them at night, and a pillar of cloud by day. Their God was with them. Nothing could go wrong. Until they camped by the edge of the Red Sea. Who noticed first? Who cried out as the dust cloud of the pursuing army rose in the distance? How quickly did the news spread throughout the camp: The Egyptians are on their way, and here we are trapped by this sea. God, we thought that you knew where you were leading us? How deep did the sense of betrayal go? God, why have you led us out here? Why didn’t you just let us die in Egypt? Is there some perverse joy you take in raising up our hopes and then dashing them? What kind of a story is this, anyway? We were already living in a story of death. Now it is also a story of betrayal. And in the midst of that betrayal, in the midst of the loss of hope, in the midst of deep fear, in the face of death, God does something that is beyond imagination, beyond hope. The waters roll back, the sea bed is dry, even the smallest feet walk safely, overwhelming walls of water framing dry ground. A path to new life opens in the face of death. And death itself? When the waters roll back, death is defeated. The powers of death cease to exist. Death no longer pursues this group of wanderers cautiously walking the path to freedom and new life.
Imagine it, if you will. God had such high hopes. “If only I could put these people in their own land. They would worship only me. They would show all the other nations what my kingdom looks like: what it looks like when the hungry are fed, when the poor are cared for, when the stranger is welcomed, when creation is cared for, and when enemies are forgiven. What it looks like when I live among people, on the earth.”
God had such high hopes. God would be with them, nothing could go wrong.
Until the people turned to the gods of their neighbors. Until they worshiped their military might, ground down the poor and took their land, ignored the needs of the earth, enslaved the stranger, and picked up the spear in the face of the enemy.
Until betrayal became the grief at the heart of God, and when faced with the choice of death or the choice of life, the people chose death.
And in the midst of that betrayal, in the midst of the loss of hope, in the midst of deep fear, in the face of death, God does something that is beyond imagination, beyond hope. God promises water for the barren ground, a living, pumping heart of flesh to replace the closed, cold heart of stone. In the midst of death, renewal and new life.
Imagine it, if you will. The disciples had such high hopes. The kingdom truly seemed to have come. Where Jesus walked, healing had come, sins were forgiven, the hungry fed, evil fled. Even creation rejoiced, where Jesus walked.
That heady walk to Jerusalem. The entrance on a donkey. The cheers of the crowd. The mounting hope of death overthrown.
If Jesus was with them, nothing could go wrong.
Until the night of betrayal. Until the night of death. Grief became their cloak, their place of refuge, as they remembered their own failures, their own scared flight, their own denials and fears.
And in the midst of that betrayal, in the midst of the loss of hope, in the midst of deep fear, in the face of death, God does something that is beyond imagination, beyond hope. Jesus is raised, death is defeated, life becomes the last word, the heart of flesh that stopped, begins again. With a steady beat life flowers out of darkness, death is destroyed, and new life begins.
Some parts of it we don’t need to imagine. We’ve all been there. That place of new dreams, that place of hope. We’ve all tried hard to walk the path to freedom, to leave behind the old slaveries.
We’ve tried to live in the abundance of creation, be the people who live in community with God, be the place of forgiveness and healing, be a people of hope.
We’ve tried, God knows we’ve tried.
And still we find our feet on that other path. That path of betrayal, that path of denial, that path of fear, that path of death. We’ve held the scabbard when the soldier pulled the sword. We’ve tried to look like we were giving the kiss of love in the midst of our collusion.
We have betrayed and we have been betrayed. And there is no health in us.
And we have forgotten, that in the midst of our betrayal, in the midst of loss of hope, in the midst of deep fear, in the face of death, God does something that is beyond imagination, beyond hope.
This story is our story, the pattern getting clearer with each turning of the page. If we can see beyond the range of normal sight to the life that God brings again and again and again, in the midst of deep darkness, in the face of death; if we have eyes to see new life in the midst of death, then we will be able to see the promise and hope of resurrection.
And perhaps if we can see that, we might also see that not only did Jesus rise again in the flesh but we too, even though we bind ourselves to betray, we too, can be the place where new life happens. And maybe then we can see that death is not the last word, not the only word, that betrayal is not the last word, not the only word, that denial is not the last word, not the only word.
Rather, we might see that the Word who became flesh gives us new words: forgiveness, hope, new life, resurrection.
These words become true in our flesh, as we walk the path of new life, as we, like God, live into a kingdom that is beyond imagination,