I don’t know about you, but I am rather weary of empty promises. You know what I mean — those expressed by political candidates, those uttered by a family member who has one too many times bailed on you, those said by friends in whom you just simply cannot believe anymore, those institutions, including the church, that make promises for God they have no business making.
And, you know how it feels. The breaking of a promise, a promise not fulfilled, goes beyond disappointment, beyond a sense of sadness, beyond mere frustration. It is, instead, heartbreaking because you needed to believe, you gave in to trust, and you allowed yourself to be vulnerable to another’s actions. The end result is not only trying to figure out how to negotiate your feelings about the other, but also how to figure out what to do with the self-exposure you wish you had not risked. That is, the breaking of a promise is at the same time both cause for a reevaluation of the one who broke the promise and also of yourself — why did I think I could believe in this person, this system, in the first place? What’s wrong with me? Why couldn’t I see the truth?
Then there is the recognition of the other side, when you begin to remember and realize the promises you have broken. And you know that what you feel is what you have potentially made others feel — and that is not a good feeling. Not at all.
What does promises broken have to do with resurrection? Resurrection is a promise that was not broken, cannot be broken, will not be broken — ever. God stakes the incarnation, God’s love, God’s commitment, God’s very self on this promise.
If there is just one thing that our people might remember about resurrection, one thing we need our people to hear on the last Sunday of the season of Easter before the summer’s scattering, one thing that maybe you need to remember as you wind up another Easter season? Resurrection is promise — plain and simple. There are a lot of empty promises that make up our lives, but resurrection isn’t one of them. And some days, perhaps many days, all we need is one promise we know won’t be broken to make it through the day.
We might say, well, of course, that’s all well and good. You are stating the obvious, Karoline. But think about it. What difference might it make that at the end of the day, this is a promise that is real; that when no one else comes through, God does; when there seems to be little to count on, you can count on resurrection — for both your future and your present.
Resurrection is often relegated to a belief of the church to which we simply comply and that which we by rote confess. We go through the motions each Easter, each time the creed is said, but how often do we stop and say that resurrection makes a difference for how I live my day today? What might it feel like to know that the promise of the resurrection is mine now?
I think that’s in part what Jesus is praying for — for the disciples to be able to hear that his resurrection is a promise to believe in. I suspect that Paul and Silas weren’t just praying to God for something to do to pass the time in prison. Rescue from prisons, rescue from death, are promises God makes and God comes through. Why? “Because Light dawns for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart” (Psalm 97).
So, what if we preach that resurrection is promise, is our promise, is your promise? That it is a given. It’s the one thing you can count on. How does that change your present? How does that shape how you live? How does that influence your own promises to others?
This latter section of Jesus’ prayer in John is a clue to what the resurrection promise might mean. Here, Jesus prays for those who have yet to believe. God loves the world (John 3:16), you see, but how can the world know this promise that will indeed be kept without us living this resurrection promise on a daily basis? That is, God counts on us to embody God’s promise in a world of broken ones. God needs us to give witness to the ultimate promise kept when our experience, and that of those with whom we do ministry, knows only empty promises. God invites us to live in the promise that is truly ours forever — that is the resurrection difference.