The hidden God
Lectionary blog for April 20, 2014
Texts: Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24;
Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-18
By Delmer Chilton
About 15 years ago I attended a funeral in Nashville. It was for the sister of a parishioner who was also an acquaintance of mine. It was a lovely and unique service, because this particular United Methodist Church was a lovely and unique congregation.
As I sat there listening to the prayers and the sermon and the family eulogies I thought to myself that Holy Saturday was a perfect day for a funeral. Just as the church sits uneasily poised between Jesus’ death on Good Friday and the joyous news of the empty tomb on Easter Sunday morning, these family members and friends sat in church that day, precariously balanced between the facts of her life and the hope of her resurrection.
The service was a little long by Lutheran standards and the room was a little warm, and some of the eulogizers took a little while to get to the point, and my folding chair was a little hard, and well, I started to get a little sleepy and distracted.
Anyway, I shifted my weight and stretched my neck and when I did I spotted something: up to the right, high up on the wall, almost to the ceiling, was a big, black, square speaker, tilted out from the wall. And there was something red squeezed in behind the speaker, wedged in between it and the wall. I stared at it for a while until I finally figured out what it was — a big, red, heart-shaped balloon. No doubt it had drifted up there during some congregational event and no one had been clever enough or brave enough or industrious enough to get it down.
Those familiar with Roman Catholic piety will easily figure out what popped into my mind: the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It was a strangely comforting thought for a Protestant minister, the love of Jesus peeking down at us, half-hidden behind that speaker.
As we gathered and shared very human thoughts and feelings about life and death and grief and hope, that red, heart-shaped balloon helped me remember that God was there too, mostly hidden, lurking in the background, looking in on us with love.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that that balloon behind the speaker was a metaphor for the life of faith we live each day. We are here this Easter Sunday to celebrate an unusual thing — an empty tomb. We are not here because of what the women and the disciples found on that first Easter morning. We are here because of what they did not find. They did not find the body of Jesus.
Martin Luther frequently talked about what he called “Deus absconditus,” “the hidden God.” He said that all of us try very hard to find God in the world, but God plays a game of peek-a-boo, of keep-away, of hide-and-seek, with us. We look for God in happiness, or success, or in healing power, or in financial security, or in material bounty. And then our health fails, or we lose our possessions, or we become depressed or unhappy and we cry out like Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We wonder, sometimes to ourselves in the middle of the night, or out-loud with our friends and loved ones: “What did I do to deserve this? Where is God in my misery?”
And it is at this very point that the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection — the awful cross and empty tomb — begin to speak to us and reveal to us the hidden God who saves.
God is hidden from us, and will be until we are able to let go of all else and place our trust in the love and power that emptied the tomb. When we have turned that corner we will begin to see signs of the risen Christ all around us. Not in wealth, or power, or even human happiness; not in success in the world or applause from the world.
No, we will begin to see the signs of God in the risen body of Christ in the world, in the community of saints and sinners gathered around the word of love and sacrament of hope. We will see God in the unconditional love that parents have for children and that the rest of us try to have for each other. We will see God in the selfless sacrifice of friends who come to our aid in times of desperate need.
We will see God in the lives of saints like Desmond Tutu and Teresa of Calcutta and in the lives of saints like you and me, we whose sinful humanity often hides the risen Christ who now lives within us. We can and will see God in the saints behind us, before us and beside us.
We will see God in the little miracles that fill all our days, like red balloons at funerals that shout out to the heavens, Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed!
Amen and amen.
Delmer Chilton is originally from North Carolina and received his education at the University of North Carolina, Duke Divinity School and the Graduate Theological Foundation. He received his Lutheran training at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C. Ordained in 1977, Delmer has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.