It’s a bad lectionary week when we’re sitting in Preacher Group, and we’ve read the Hebrew Bible lesson and the Psalm and the gospel, and I say, heavily, “What’s the Epistle?”
I almost never preach the Epistle.
Mostly they annoy me. I’ve been skittering around the progressive edge of mainline Christianity for years now, ever since the Unitarian wannabe phase I experienced in seminary. As recently as three years ago, I was arguing away from the cross and repentance, I really was.
But this year I am drawn to it, because I’m feeling again the truth of the trope, “There is no Easter without Good Friday.”
You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. (Ephesians 2:1-3, NRSV)
I know this one probably isn’t written by Paul, and it sounds absurd and condemnatory and extreme and … truthful.
“You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived.”
You were dead.
It’s a way we feel sometimes, isn’t it? Laid down under a weight of disconnection and despair roughly equal to that of the stone that seals a tomb.
There is no rebirth without a death.
I’m in a place in my life where everything feels new, almost literally everything. I am driving on the same roads and looking at the same water and the same trees and even seeing the same crocus bulbs send up their tiny little shoots, the shoots that last year this time were still underground and under a foot or so of snow. I am seeing all these familiar sights of mud season in Maine, and they are made new.
There is nothing new without the end of something old.
What was old was my sense that I already knew everything, that I had myself and the world and maybe even God figured out, that my life experience and my study of scripture and my deep thinking and playful writing had unearthed some meaningful truth.
I was stopped right there, stopped by a recognition that some of the things I knew to be true were, in fact, not. I was stopped, right there, by a dawning realization that life held other possibilities and likelihoods and gifts and healings and miracles — yes, miracles — beyond my wildest expectations.
Because I was dead, you see.
Lying under a stone I had effectively rolled onto myself.
Then, like the little shoots of the crocus, I began to poke my way up through the earth, eyes squinting against unfamiliar sunlight, ears muffled first then overwhelmed by songs of beauty and joy and love.
But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7, NRSV)
I most likely first read this passage in high school, from a copy of “Good News for Modern Man.” It looked like this:
But God’s mercy is so abundant, and his love for us is so great, that while we were spiritually dead in our disobedience he brought us to life with Christ. It is by God’s grace that you have been saved. (Eph 2:4-5, GNT)
I know I found this annoying, as I said above, because I was nothing if not obedient. I was an obedient, good, probably annoyingly pious teenage girl. I wrote songs and played them in church on my guitar. I never missed Sunday School or youth group or anything else that a super-good Christian young lady could do at church.
I read my Bible.
But I did not understand it. I did not understand it. All I could see was this part: “we were spiritually dead in our disobedience.” I stopped right there.
I did not see the part that mattered:
God’s mercy for us is so abundant, and God’s love for us is so great.
I think I’ll stop there, for now.