One of my favorite things about being a Lutheran is that we aren’t afraid to ask hard questions. We ask real-life, down-in-the-dirt, significant questions about real-life, down-in-the-dirt, significant things. We don’t mess around with fluff answers that fit only the questions we want asked. Nope, we take them all. We don’t have all the answers, but this is a place where we acknowledge up front that if the question is important to you, it’s important.
Lutherans recognize that life doesn’t always make sense, that there aren’t always easy answers. We know that things aren’t always black-and-white; that sometimes life is complicated; a paradox. There are lots of gray areas and cul de sacs in our life journey. No matter how comforting it might be to have a liar with the title of “pastor” tell us that it’s easy if we follow steps or the road is straight if we believe the correct things, we Lutherans know life just doesn’t work that way.
So we do things like openly talk about being “at the same time, saint and sinner.” This doesn’t mean that sometimes we are good and sometimes bad. It has nothing to do with whether choices we make are holy or evil. It doesn’t even divide us into part saint and part sinner. No, we Lutherans talk about every part of who we are is at the same time absolutely broken and absolutely redeemed. We talk about things like light present in the darkness and life coming out of despair of death. We proclaim that the God who can raise Jesus from the pit of death is the same God who brings life and hope and newness out of our deepest, darkest places.
That’s why Easter works. It makes so much sense and explains so much about our life experience. No matter how much of a scoundrel we are, God’s goodness and love can bring something new and beautiful out of us. That’s Easter. And no matter how wonderful and delightful we may be, our brokenness gets in the way. That’s why we need Easter.
Think about that next time your best efforts fail miserably. Doesn’t something valuable and even life-giving out of that? And when you are being praised for a doing something wonderful, don’t you always know deep down that you’ve somehow kept your inadequacies covered up–at least this time? That’s honesty. That’s the experience of real life. That’s Lutheran. That’s Easter.
Doesn’t this “saint/sinner,” “life/death” theology make sense for our faith community too? Sometimes I think we are harder on our congregation than we are on other organizations. Maybe because we somehow expect more saint and less sinner, more life and less death in the church. Maybe because the church can often be places where we feel we have to pretend saint-ness and hide sin-ness.
But the reality is that the church is made up of people. Not better than anyone; not worse than anyone. Just people. People who are, at the same time, saints and sinners. Congregations are real places with real people. The church is completely messed up, broken, and selfish. And at the same time, the church cant stop feeding the hungry, keeps showing mercy to the helpless, and walks with other saint/sinner people at major turning points in their lives. Jesus is Lord of all creation, not just the church, and yet we understand the brokenness and hypocrisy of the rest of the world. But we somehow expect something different from our church.
Because here in this place we do ask hard questions and do recognize hard answers, we know that this faith community will never, ever be whole and magnificent and holy. We will never reflect God’s love the way we should. We will fight and be divisive and mean. Everything we do will have selfish motives. Just like every single one of us.
And at the same time this faith community is amazingly forgiving and merciful. This congregation will go out of our way to love. God’s grace and compassion and new life of Easter are lived in and through this congregation. Just like each one of us. Lutherans know this happens! We aren’t afraid to admit both realities exist at the same time.
Easter is here, and we Christians celebrate the reality of life coming out of death, of newness springing forth in the midst of hopelessness. This is a time to boldly proclaim our confidence in the God of life, of hope, of mercy. In our lives, and in the life of our church, and in the world around us. We aren’t looking for pat answers here. We aren’t playing at phony holiness. If you’re looking for a fake community that puts on a show of holiness, that pretends to have all the godly answers, you probably won’t stay here for long. Because we’re too honest for that. We’re too authentic for that. We take the reality of Christ’s death and the gift of new life in him too seriously for that. Our hope is in him, so we aren’t afraid to admit that we are a broken and imperfect community that, because of Christ’s resurrection, at the same time reveals God’s love and grace and forgiveness in the world in ways that are more beautiful and more holy than words can ever describe. There is new life here; new life given to us in Christ. We are honest about that.
Christ is risen, which is why we live a new life right in the midst of our imperfection. Christ is risen. That’s where our hope lies. And we don’t have to fake that. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!