My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I know it’s a long way to remember back this far, especially if you’re like me and it’s a challenge to remember what you did three weeks ago. But in the 1992 movie Unforgiven, there is a scene towards the end of the movie that features and interaction between the characters William Munny and Little Bill. William Munny was played by Clint Eastwood; and you may recall that Little Bill was played by Gene Hackman. In this particular scene, Little Bill is about ready to meet his maker. He’s laying on the ground as William Munny, (Clint Eastwood) towers over him rifle in hand. Little Bill protests “I don’t deserve to die like this.” And he goes on to describe how he’s building a house, protesting the injustice of it. But in the characteristic manner of Clint Eastwood movies, his protests fall largely on deaf ears. Just before Little Bill meets the end courtesy of William Munny, Clint says these famous words: “deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”
In a far more positive vein, when we come to the celebration of Easter, we are also reminded that deserve’s got nothing to do with it. The track record of God’s dealing with humankind is that we do not get what we deserve. As a matter of fact, and sadly despite the kind of preaching that one can often hear, the track record is that God is the God who desires to save.
That track record is demonstrated in the choice of readings for the Great Vigil of Easter: God’s dealing with humanity is that he lovingly creates; he lovingly recreates after the flood; he saves those who are in slavery; he gives life to a pile of dead bones in the vision of Ezekiel. He shatters the bonds of death and sin in the resurrection of Jesus. God bestows upon us the promise of new life in His Kingdom and He outpours upon us the generous gift of His Holy Spirit.
The New Testament is a far more radical book than most of us realize. That’s because most of us do not have a great familiarity with that collection of books that testify to the power of the Risen Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. For those of us who do have a certain familiarity with it, we tend to encounter it piecemeal—a snippet of a passage of scripture here and a piece of scripture there, becoming so enmeshed with the minute details that we don’t see the big overarching themes.
Those themes are that God does not deal with us according to what we so roundly deserve. What we deserve is condemnation (and you all know it). What we deserve is what we are making the earth to be on a daily basis—polluted, corrupted, violent, filled with tragedy, and all that.
But what does God do? He takes the greatest tragedy that any of us can imagine—the condemnation of one who is innocent, who is shamefully abused and killed, left naked to die on a cross—he takes that tragedy and he redeems it. The means of shameful death becomes a sign of life—the road to Calvary that we must all follow becomes the gate to full and abundant life. You see, life changes when you take Easter seriously. Because even in this age of uncertainty you become very aware that nothing can separate you from the love of God in Jesus Christ, our Lord.
One last thing on this wonderful day. The resurrection of Jesus is a fact, it is not a theory. It is not an opinion. It is not a cleverly devised fable. There were too many witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus to dismiss it as a story.