Luke 24:36b-49

There was a dusting of early-season snow in among the trees, a sign that winter was sneaking up on us. The morning was chilly and bright. The early sun poked through the gathering clouds and glinted on the hillsides among long shadows. It was this beautiful light/dark play that can happen so wonderfully at that time of year.

It was November of 2007, and I was riding to preach in Hibbing for the “neutral pulpit” stage in the pastoral search process. It was my first time with the Pastor Nominating Committee, and we were all feeling each other out. As he drove, Dwight acknowledged the mine dumps we were passing. He commented, somewhat apologetically, that mining is more environmentally friendly than ever, and the process aims to minimize the impact of taking taconite out of the ground. Well, I knew this was mine country, I knew how people make their living, and I find no fault for it. Besides, I own too much steel to talk, even if I wanted to. Minimal impact is good, conservation is great, and that’s more or less what I said. But something else struck me as we drove along.

It struck me, as it often has since, just how beautiful those hillsides were. The sharp tree shadows were set off against the soft red-grey background, interspersed with spots of bright white sunlight. It’s what realtors might call a “taste-specific” beauty, one particular to this place and time. It’s not the same beauty as existed before the land was blasted and dug. There are other beauties more spectacular: the deep wilderness, the ancient granite cliffs, the sapphire lakes robed with emerald trees; the beauty that stills your soul. I was looking at a harder-won beauty: the trees growing out of a barren rockscape, busy with an early step of the soil-making process. I was looking at life returning. The land will never be the same, but the Creator is not deterred by this. He makes the world new regardless. Something beautiful was already emerging from the scars.

A powerful piece of the Easter stories for me is that Jesus keeps showing people his scars. It’s not to revel in pain and self-pity, but to show us what new life means. Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t mean putting everything back as it was. It’s not about doing away with the trials and sorrows of human life. Resurrection is not about some escape from death, it’s about life’s victory over it. The new creation is not about spirits and escaping from the body; it’s about eating, drinking, and sharing the good things of life with each other. Christ’s life is about a healing that is not limited by our wounds, but that embraces and transforms them. Christ knows our pains and scars, and wraps them in life again.

There’s a deep mystery in redemption, where we start to see suffering as a necessary part of the story. It’s not to be sought, much less inflicted, but it’s integral to life. That’s a story best told in the past tense, of course. You can’t tell someone in the midst of pain, “It’s for the best” (so please, stop it), because suffering is suffering and that’s all there is to it at the time. But later, we often see how we grew and changed from the experience. Those pits of despair can be transformed into deep wells of strength, places where hope takes root. It’s as if that scar, terrible as it was, had been planned all along. As if it was necessary that the mine be dug. As if God were in control. That’s the message of redemption, in one form: God is in control. The God of love and creativity never gives up and never stops making life new.

That’s the message of repentance. It’s a call to know where the pain is, to know where we’re part of the world’s brokenness, to know our sin so we can turn from it. On Earth Day, we know our complicity in the extraction of resources that can never be put back – iron, semiprecious metals, and fossil fuels. We’re challenged to know our footprint, measured as greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, sulfites in the water, or wounds in the lives of people we share this planet with. We’re challenged to bear witness to these things.

But bear witness to this too: Christ is risen; we are forgiven; we’re able to turn from a past we can’t change because God refuses to hold it against us. Instead, God intends to make life whole again. God’s healing power is lodged in every cell, every atom, and God will create us again. She may not take away our wounds, she may not give us the healing we wanted or expected, but she will be faithful. She has always been faithful. Even in the deepest darkness – even when death has swallowed us up – God is present, active, and able to transform our scars into something new.

As we sit with this message to let it dawn on us, let it highlight the grace and beauty already present in our broken and restored lives, we hear one more thing. We hear a voice sending us out to carry the message to others who need to hear it. To bear witness to where our life is redeemed from the pit. Start where you are. See and know the grace in the empty holes and piles of rubble all around you. Tend the trees that grow on the new hillsides. Bathe anew in the glistening light of morning. See the whole world sparkle in joy that is greater than sin, sorrow, and brokenness, and share that.

Share it with your presence, quietly acknowledging someone else’s pain. Share it with your stories of blessing, speaking peace into a world that desperately needs to hear that word. Share it with your transformed actions, oriented toward healing and giving to others. Share it, wherever and however you can, because we are witnesses of Christ’s new and blessed life. Thanks be to God.