Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Christ is risen!
He is risen, indeed. Alleluia!
“I’m gonna love you like you’ve never been loved/ I’m gonna kiss you like you’ve never been kissed/ I’m gonna hold you like you’ve never been held/ I’m gonna miss you like you’ve never been missed.” That’s from an 80s rock band called The Call, but it may as well have been written in this passage we heard today from Jeremiah, which I think may as well be a pop song. I mean, who says “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” Johnny Cash did when he sang, “Because you’re mine/I walk the line.”
How everlasting is God’s love? One of my favorite legends of Jesus is the harrowing of hell. This tradition comes from one of the stranger passages in 1 Peter. Wherever it comes from, the tradition holds that, between his crucifixion and resurrection, Christ descended to hell to free those who were caught there. There are visions of him romping around, breaking chains, scaring the bejeezus out of the devil and the demons, and generally making merry wherever death rules. And then, according to some legends, Jesus took the hand of one of the unfortunates in hell, and said, “Let’s go.” And that one took the hand of the next unfortunate, and so on, until every hand in hell held another hand, and every person in death’s domain walked straight out into life. All that is left in hell is a miserable emptiness, and the devil himself chained to a post, right in the middle of all his broken furniture.
Whether or not that’s completely orthodox, I don’t know, but rescuing the damned seems exactly the kind of thing our Lord and Savior would seem to enjoy. That’s the everlasting love; that’s the faithfulness of God. Are you frying in the fires of hell? God loves you even there. God loves you with an everlasting love. Or, as Blue Oyster Cult may sang once, “Don’t fear the reaper.”
In some parts of the medieval church, on Easter morning, the penitent would gather on the porch of the church. They had fasted during Lent. They had publicly renounced their sins. And before the service, the hairy old bishop came out, and grabbed each a hand. And every penitent would grab the hand of another, and together they walked straight into the church. I imagine there was some singing and some tears. “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”
There is nothing that we can do that can separate us from God’s love, not hell, not death. If anyone has ever used the idea of hell to scare you, well, that just means they hadn’t thought of how faithful God is to you, just how everlasting God’s love is for you. There’s nothing on earth or under the earth, no power above or below, nothing in life and nothing in death that can separate you from God. God’s love is an everlasting love: God’s going to love you like you never been loved, and God’s going to just keep on loving you that way. Or, as the Reverend Al Green once sang, “Let’s stay together.”
Death can’t separate us from God’s love: Christ has already died and is raised from the dead. In fact, we are already dead. Did you hear that in the Colossians letter today? Paul says, “…for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Our lives are hidden in this everlasting love, and revealed to us again in God’s faithfulness to us, the faithfulness that persists despite death and evil.
Faithfulness. Staying true. Love is nothing without faithfulness, and God is sure to tell Israel that because of God’s love, God also continues in faithfulness. God keeps God’s promises. But faithfulness is doing what you promise—in God’s case, saving his people from destruction, from slavery to sin, from the powers of darkness. The angel reminds the Mary Magdalene and the other Mary that Jesus said that he would be raised on the third day. God’s faithfulness of to this promise is the ultimate sign of his love, and is in some sense the exact meaning of Easter: God will stick to the love God promised to give us.
And so in our own lives, when we hear that we are to look for our lives in the hiddenness of God, we are to look for life in this everlasting love and faithfulness of God. We are not to look for God in the good parts of life, but rather expect that God will be with us in the bad and the good, in both our living and our dying. And we should expect, that we will live with God, because God has chosen to live with us.
Do not be afraid, Jesus says to the women who meet him at his rising. And I think, finally, freedom from fear is one of the great gifts of Easter. Christ is raised, and our lives are with him. What could this world possibly throw at us that can take us from that? Love gives freedom. It gives you ground for standing. It gives shape and meaning to your days. It gives you something worth dying for. Bruno Mars claims he would take a grenade for love. God’s love is love that leads forever into life. Amen.
The Reverend John Zachary Flack