God's Best Rejection
April 17, 2022
Sometimes things aren’t where you thought you left them.
I have misplaced so many things it’s become a running joke in our house, but one that still stands out is one time that I lost my sunglasses. It was several years ago, and as Annie and I were getting ready to go on a walk, I just could not find them. We searched all the places I might have put them down—the bedside table, the kitchen table, the living room, even the car. They had completely disappeared. So I had to just grin and bear it going on a walk on a sunny day. Then, while she was getting dinner ready, Annie found my sunglasses in the refrigerator! I had apparently put them down amid the groceries and then they got put into the fridge with the lettuce. Sometimes things aren’t where you thought you left them.
The last time Jesus was seen before tonight’s events was when the women, diligently keeping track of him, saw his body laid in a tomb. They saw his lifeless body wrapped in a shroud and laid in the rock-hewn cavern, and saw the stone rolled down to seal the entrance. And they had done this so that they could come back after the Sabbath and do what families were supposed to do to honor the dead—anoint his body with spices. So imagine their shock when they return where they’d seen Jesus last, and the body is gone, the tomb is open, and angelic beings ask them the silliest question in the world:
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Well because as far as they knew Jesus was dead!
Sometimes things aren’t where you thought you left them. And isn’t that just how God operates? Taking what we expect to happen, and doing the unexpected? God does it again and again, bringing about an unexpected salvation to people who should have been doomed. And God’s astonishing actions are completely unexpected until God actually does it—then we realize that of course that’s what God would do! God is in the unbreakable habit of redeeming what should be lost, of saving what should be doomed, of bringing life where there should be death. God is in a long-term commitment to rejecting what should be inevitable.
Think of the stories of scripture, right from the beginning. The unformed chaos of the world was brought into order by God. When things start off as a disorganized mess, it’s pretty much a guarantee that they won’t get better—but God rejects the inevitable. And the stories of Israel, from the parting of the Red Sea to the survival of the nation through the Exile and the return to their homeland—the world would expect such a small and insignificant people to disappear under that kind of pressure. It should have been inevitable, but God rejects the inevitable.
The pandemic the past two years did a real number on the church. We couldn’t even meet in person safely for months at the beginning, and for a community where who are so tied to being together, that should have done us in. And even if we didn’t close our doors, we should have come out of the pandemic battered and weary and had a hard time scraping together any ministries worth doing. But the choir—the choir!—is singing an anthem for us this morning. And the kids marched in with palms last week. And the softball field is set to have its best season yet. And the coat drive was as full as it’s ever been. And we are coming forward to receive communion again. We should have closed our doors, cut back on our ministry, shrank from the needs of the world, but God rejects the inevitable.
And we see God’s rejection of the inevitable in the baptism of Knox this morning. The grip of the brokenness of the world should have claimed him, inducting him into the line of sinful people who cannot free themselves. What should be flesh condemned to be trapped by sin, beholden to death, has been redeemed. By water and the Word the inevitable march of sin and death has been halted in Knox—and for all of the baptized. God rejects the inevitable.
So you see, people of God, why the angels were right to ask the women why they were looking for the living among the dead. It would be a silly question—if God accepted the inevitability of death. But God doesn’t accept the inevitable. God doesn’t let what was dead stay dead. God rejected this world’s expectation that the savior who had been so publicly defeated by the Empire would remain in the tomb where he was laid.
But this is Jesus, the Son of God. Jesus, who healed the sick and cast out demons, who fed the five thousand and silenced the storm on the sea. This is Jesus, the one who proclaimed the good news to the poor and promised the kingdom to the lost, rejected, hated, and impoverished. Jesus is the enfleshed reality of who God has been throughout history—the same God who rejected Pharaoh’s certainty that he would wipe out Israel; the same God who rejected the end of God’s people Israel when they were cast into exile; the same God who rejected carried the church through a pandemic and gives new life to the baptized. Everything in Jesus’ ministry showed that he would reflect the will of the one who sent him. And Jesus did not stay where we thought he should stay. The tomb was bound to be empty because God rejects the inevitable.
And God continues to reject the inevitable. God redeems what should be lost according to the world. God restores people who have been broken by violence, pain, and tragedy—whether those caught up in the violence in Ukraine or those touched by deaths close to home—and makes them whole again. God lifts hope out of the ashes of destruction—whether a burned-down Temple or a burned-out community weary of so much disruption—and breathes in new life. God makes a new creation out of chaos—in a changing global climate or in a shifting cultural landscape—and dares to call it “good.”
Jesus was not where they thought he would be, because God does not accept the inevitable results of a broken world. The greatest disaster to happen to anyone—death—was not strong enough to undo God’s act of hope and salvation. When we pay attention to what God has done in the past—from creation, to parting the sea, to calling the exiles home—and what God is doing in the present—from restoring the brokenhearted, to inspiring generosity in the midst of hardship, to continuing to bring salvation through water and Word—we can see that there is nothing that can keep God from accomplishing the redemption God desires for all of us. God will always restore what is lost. God will always bring order and beauty out of chaos. God will always call the exiles home. God will always redeem those lost to sin and death.
And God will always see to it that the tomb is empty.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
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