It’s only a 3-letter word, but it runs through Luke’s whole account of what happened on Easter morning. That 3-letter word is “but”–a “conjunction,” if you remember that from grammar, a word that joins phrases.
Luke’s account in chap. 24 actually begins with “But”–which you’re technically not supposed to do–but it’s a “defiant conjunction,” as one writer puts it [Theo. Wardlaw] –“BUT on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, BUT they did not find the body…. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, BUT the men [in dazzling clothes] said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, BUT has risen…” So “Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them told this to the apostles. BUT these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. BUT Peter got up and ran to the tomb…”
The whole Easter message might be summed up with that “defiant little conjunction, ‘BUT’” We thought he was dead, and he was, BUT we have seen him. We betrayed him, abandoned him, we thought we were doomed, BUT he is in our midst, forgiving us, breathing peace into us, forgiving us. BUT, “anyway,” “nevertheless,”
We know the world is a mess, we worry, we fail, we fall into depression, we die any number of deaths before we die a final death…BUT, nevertheless, we are not lost, we are loved, we are given another chance…and another, and another. We are part of a new creation, born again, born from above. “Never place a period where God has put a comma,” Gracie Allen said, and the United Church of Christ professes it.
Alice Walker’s book The Color Purple, is told through the voice of the narrator, a poor black woman named Celie, who writes letters to God. Celie is horribly abused by her husband Albert, but Celie is loved by her sister Nettie, whom Albert drives away. Nettie goes away to Africa as a missionary and writes letters to Celie, but Albert intercepts them and hides them. Even though she never receives a reply, Nettie keeps writing to her sister. One day, Celie finds the stash of letters hidden under a floorboard, and is finally able to read them– “Dear Celie, I know you think I’m dead. But I am not. I been writing to you, too over the years, but Albert said you’d never hear from me again and since I never heard from you all this time, I guess he was right. There is so much to tell you that I don’t know, hardly, where to begin….but if this do get through, one thing I want you to know, I love you, and I am not dead.” [cited in sermonseeds, 3/27/16]That’s the Easter message in a nutshell: You may think I am dead and the you are not loved, BUT I am not dead, and you ARE loved.
That is what we are reminded of every Easter. Those words spoken at our baptisms–You are God’s beloved–after all we’ve been through, after all we’ve done, NEVERTHELESS, BUT, ANYWAY– “I love you and I am not dead. You may think the world is going to hell in a handbasket, but I’ve been to hell, and not in a handbasket, and I have already begun to redeem and heal even those in hell. You ARE beloved, a precious child of God, beautiful to behold. So live as people fully alive. Amen, and amen.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark