The following is adapted from Pastor Chad's sermon on April 28th, 2019. You can view the original sermon in its entirety on our YouTube channel.
Today, the worldwide church celebrates the Ascension of Christ, when he took to the skies for good and left all the disciples scratching their heads. The celebration of Easter Sunday is a memory now, and it has me wondering again how the resurrection of Jesus can continue to be a source of comfort for us who have never seen Christ standing in our midst.
I recently heard a story about two people who know too much about hope in the resurrection. Pastors Karla and Peter Coen-Tuff of Grand Forks, North Dakota, have devoted their whole lives to sharing God’s love together as parents and co-workers in the church. Last summer after their adult daughter, Rachel, had returned from taking a group of high schoolers to the ELCA’s Youth Gathering in Detroit, the family was all together for vacation. It was there that Rachel collapsed and died almost instantly from a pulmonary embolism. She had shown no signs of illness before this. Her death came out of absolutely nowhere. She was only 29 years old.
In April, the two of them talked about this devastating loss with the Grand Forks Herald. The whole article is worth a read, but here are two pieces of wisdom from them. Karen writes, “Grief brings every conceivable emotion and a hundred questions. We felt frustrated because there's no fixing this. But we also trust that God can handle our anger and our frustration, that God is greater than any emotion or question.”
Her husband, Peter, added this: “Faith is not about having all the answers. Faith really helps us acknowledge our grief, continue on in life and continue to struggle with all the questions and the heartache that goes with it."
By losing a child, these two now have a wisdom that no one should bear. And yet they model so well what it means to have abundant and full life in the resurrection. For them, faith isn’t about blind optimism or trust that nothing can ever go wrong. Rather, their faith acknowledges that God is with us every step of our lives, comforting us in our pain and reassuring us through our doubts.
Faith in Jesus doesn’t deny that death is hard. Rather, it proclaims that death has no power over us. This kind of hope can prepare us so that when the inevitable day comes, we can die well, ever trusting in the one who conquered death so that we can live fully in God’s love now, and after the resurrection.
Our whole lives are spent in this world that’s nestled between Jesus’ resurrection and our own. Though we have not seen resurrection with our own eyes, we are Easter People. Easter is not simply a day or a season, but the reality of every breath we take. Faith in such a thing is not easy. Some days it can be like wind in our sails, and on others it can feel like a mere life preserver keeping us afloat above the waters of turmoil. That is precisely why we proclaim that Christ has risen, even when we cannot muster the celebratory energy of an Easter Sunday morning. We proclaim this faith to give ourselves hope. This kind of hope can sustain us in dark times, and in all others it propels us to boldly live in Christ’s love and compassion for the world. Christ rose so that we may have life, and have it abundantly, confident that death will never have any power over us.
Pastor Chad McKenna