The Resurrection Orchestra – Easter Sunday

Drew’s Easter Sermon is titled “The Resurrection Orchestra.” The text for the sermon is Luke 24:1-12. Hope that you and those you love had a wonderful time celebrating the miracle of the empty tomb!

The Resurrection Orchestra

It is 1992, we are in Sarajevo, in the midst of the longest siege in modern history. Shells are being fired indiscriminately, destroying swaths of the city. 500 year old churches have been reduced to rubble, and people huddle in their basements, leaving only to try to find food or help a neighbor. Looking down the street we see craters where buildings once were. Shards of glass and chunks of concrete litter the streets. A few people scurry down the avenue, moving from corner to corner quickly to avoid the snipers watching the city.

We are standing outside of a bakery, or rather, the remains of a bakery. It was a bakery yesterday, one of the few places in the city that still had food. Now it is the husk of a bakery, charred tables and chairs, chunks of concrete thrown across the storefront. 22 people were killed in the blast. It is a ugly sight, this city, once a paragon of diversity, now torn apart by ethnic nationalism, animosity and distrust. But on this particular street corner where we stand, something unusual is happening. A cellist, in formal concert attire, has placed a chair in the place where the shell hit yesterday. He has taken out his cello and his bow and begins to play.

The cellist’s name is Vedran Smailovic. He was at the bakery the day before, when the shell hit, and 22 members of his community were killed. He was tired of the shelling, and tired of the violence and tired of the brutality. So he decided to do something. But he didn’t go out for revenge or start making bombs in his apartment. He did something else. Every day, at exactly 4:00, he went to the corner where the bakery had been, and he played a beautiful, haunting melody. Although the shells continued to fall, and few people were willing to even stop to hear his song, he continued to play.  For 22 days. Once for each of the people who died on that day.  He took something horrible and gave back something beautiful, a reminder, in a dismal place, of what the world could be.

We don’t need to be reminded that the world can be an ugly place. Each of us has seen enough of it to know, and most of us have the scars to show it. This is especially true at the end of Holy Week, when we have once again remembered the ways that our Lord suffered at the hands of his enemies and his friends.

One can imagine what it was like for the women who went out early in the morning to care for his body. They knew the ugliness of the world as well. The events of Good Friday had made sure of that. And yet they went to care for the body of a friend. Perhaps they went because that is simply what you do, when someone you know has died. Or perhaps they went, in spite of the danger and uncertainty, because that friend had shown them how brittle the grasp of evil was upon the world. Because he proclaimed peace, and so the powerful called him dangerous, because peace was something they could not control.

I used to go caving when I was in high school. We would take trips into caves, and see incredible things, formations that had taken centuries to produce, waterfalls that cascaded down among stalactites, places only a few people had ever seen before. But I do not think that anything I saw could compare to what those women saw when they crouched down and stepped inside the tomb and found nothing.

They didn’t realize at first. At first they were confused, just as we all are when, for a brief moment, the devil’s lies are exposed for the world to see, and light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it. For a second the curtain is pulled back, and we realize that ugliness is not the defining characteristic of the world we were given, just the world we created for ourselves. In Jesus death and resurrection we have this moment in infinite. The curtain is torn in two, and divine light pours into the world from where we’d sealed it away for fear of its power.

In the midst of their confusion they see two figures, arrayed in dazzling white. And to their great horror these two figures speak, and say, “Remember how he told you, while he was still living…?” And they remembered his words. We don’t have to be reminded that the world is an ugly place. We have to be reminded that its ugliness can be overcome.

We are standing in a village in Paraguay, called Cateura. Or rather we are standing on a landfill, outside of Asuncion, on which a village called Cateura has grown. We see the people of this village climbing across the mountains of trash, looking for something useful. Things that can be recycled or reused, they sell. What they can’t sell, they use themselves, to build their homes and their lives. It is a forgotten town full of forgotten people dealing with our forgotten things.

And in the midst of such an existence, something unusual is happening .The people of this place have created something to be remembered. An orchestra. It was begun by a man named Favio, who thought that the children should have a chance to do something beautiful. He started a music school to keep kids out of trouble, only he only had five instruments to split among them, and the kids grew restless. They could not buy more, something like a violin would be worth more than a house in this place. Instead, he spoke with another person, who started experimenting with what they had on hand. Trash. And slowly but surely the members of this community began to build instruments out of trash. I’m not talking trash can drums or a washbasin string bass, I’m talking real, live, classical instruments, violins, and cellos, and more. If you close your eyes you would think you are at the Boston Philharmonic, but then you open them and you can see that the violins have been carefully molded from scrap metal, and that the cello is an old oil drum with a scrap wood neck and the tuning pegs are made from three spoons and an old kitchen faucet. A documentary has been made about this trash instrument orchestra, they’ve put out a trailer which tells this story, I’ll put it up on the website, if I can, but the title seems to sum it all up: Landfillharmonic.  The world gives them trash and they give back something beautiful.

At its heart, this is what Easter is all about. Everywhere around us there is destruction. Distrust, hatred, selfishness, and worst of all, indifference, seem to run the world. They strike fear in our hearts, they over power us, they wear us down. And just when we are giving up, when it seems that all we have left to do is mourn, a ray of light appears. The tomb is empty. A living body should be dead, but has risen instead. It bears the marks and scars of pain, but its very existence is a testament to His victory.

Jesus takes the brokenness and the bitterness and emptiness of our world and recrafts them into something wonderful. He takes the broken and the battered, the war-torn and the scarred, the discarded and the unwanted, and he breathes life into us and remakes us in His image, with His likeness, and His glory.

It is unbelievable. But it’s real. So real that Thomas could put his fingers into the marks, so real that He sat down and broke bread with them, that he came and joined them at the table and said put your fingers in the holes in my hands and put your hands in my side and know that it is true. He is risen.

In dying he defeated death. He takes the worst the world has to offer, he takes the ugliness, and the destruction, and the suffering, and he crafts something new: joy, forgiveness, life. He takes us, broken, defeated, sinful people, and creates something incredible. He turns our mourning into joy. He turns our ugliness into beauty.

The angels ask the women who have come to the tomb, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” Why do you look for beauty among the trash heaps? Why do you look for peace among the ashes of war?  Why do you look for grace among the unforgiven? Because that’s where it is.

We are standing outside a tomb, the place where they laid our teacher, our friend, our pastor. He taught us how to live, and now he is dead. The tears dry on our cheeks in the cold morning air, and we brace ourselves for the sight of his body. But in this place, something unusual has happened. The stone has been rolled away.

The stone has been rolled away. All that we are is made right through him. What more is there to say?


About Drew

I'm the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Pitman, NJ. I love camping, rhetorical criticism, and classic movies. I'm passionate about God's love, and the messy, beautiful ways it shows itself in our communities every day.
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