EASTER SUNDAY SERMON 4/8/12
1 Corinthians 15:1-11 John 20:1-18 Alleluia, Christ is Risen, The Lord is Risen indeed. This message of Good News for some folks, may be difficult accept. Somewhere, even here, there may be those who may stand in the midst of pain, tragedy, loneliness, or isolation. Even in circumstances such as these, is “New Life” really possible? Can there truly be a sequel to the story of death? Is there something on the other side of despair? We have hope my friends; great hope. After the trial, beatings and crucifixion of her Lord, Mary Magdalene’s words on that third day were, “I have seen the Lord.” Jesus’ message of love may have been squelched by the religious and political leaders of that time, but it was quieted for only three days. There was another story to be told on the other side of the cross; the story of resurrection, an empty tomb, and new life.
New life beyond death seems a little difficult for us 21st century post-modern, techno-savvy, scientific, folks to comprehend, understand, or even to accept as a real possibility. We can’t seem to get our minds wrapped around the possibility that even through death, there is more to the story. Our culture seems to wrestle with death and resurrection, and our exploration of this topic can be set in the context of some really strange notions. I am quite intrigued by some of the attempts by the entertainment industry to explore the issues of mortality. Television shows about the paranormal are fairly popular these days. Books that are about what heaven is like, seems to be on the top seller lists. There is even one television network that has found great success with a new series about a monster infested, post-apocalyptic world in which a disease changes people into walking, decaying mindless carriers of a life-draining infection.
The survivors of this apocalypse struggle, as they are constantly plagued with hunger, lack of shelter, lack of safety, despair, and death abounds all around. For them, there doesn’t seem to be much hope. You may ask, what does this have to do with Easter. I’m glad you asked because on one recent episode of the show, when all hope seemed lost for the series’ group of heroes, there was a particular scene in which , in the midst of death, resurrection took the spotlight.
I nearly missed that scene, as I got up from the couch and headed for that last snack of the night, but when it happened, my ears perked up, my theological alarms went off, and my clergy radar turned on. In the season finale, the group had come to a major turning point in their journey, and they were at their wits end. Many of the group had been lost in a recent attack and in a brief moment of reprieve, Rick the hero, says something profound to Herschel one of the solid, ethical, unmovable characters. Herschel had given up hope and Rick was chastising him as he said, “You’re a man of God! Have some faith.” Herschel, out of this dark place, in his moment of unimaginable despair, replied, “I can’t profess to understand God’s plan. Christ promised a resurrection of the dead, I just thought he had something a little different in mind.” Wow! When I heard that I said, “I gotta work this into a sermon someday.” Well, here ya go!
The point I think of Herschel’s profound statement is that in the midst of his personal tragedy, when he had lost hope, Christ promises a new day, a new way, a new life.
Resurrection is God’s fulfilled promise that new life is unlike anything we have known before. Resurrection is where hope abounds, joy emerges, grace showers upon us, and love bursts through. When all seems lost, when all around us is falling apart, we still have hope. Mary Magdalene said, “I have seen the Lord.” I know it may be difficult to believe, but even in the worse moments of life, maybe when we experience job loss, maybe when our beloved abandons us, maybe when our portfolio’s value drops to zero, maybe when our own health fails, and maybe in that last moments of life, when our very breath is slipping from us, we do have hope. The resurrection is an unpretentious claim, “I have seen the Risen Lord.” The promises of God are not just nice little thing to believe in, the promise became real at the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene, the first apostle realized that death had lost its grip on Jesus, the promised One of God and thus, and we too can know that it has lost its hold on us as well.
In the resurrection of Jesus, something new had happened. Something world changing has broken through and things will never be the same again. This story of resurrection is the story of a new way of life, a new beginning each and every day, a reclaiming in Christ the beauty, grace, and the blessed, original intent of creation.
The great hope we have is that a new way of living began in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, Messiah, Rabbi, Teacher, Rebbouni, God in Flesh. Death the great enemy of humanity has forever been defeated. In Christ, we now have hope.
We sometimes live so detached from our own sense of mortality and yet, death is all around us. We have to accept the fact that will not leave this life without passing through death in all its forms: emotional deaths, spiritual deaths, and relational deaths and yes, eventually physical death. What we sometimes forget is that through death we truly learn to live. We must accept that there are doors in this life, through which we must pass, and yet on the other side, there is something else awaiting us and that fact, changes how we live.
There is a country music ballad I heard the other day. It is based on the story of a young man who in his mid 40’s, discovers he has a terminal illness. The news is devastating for him, but eventually he faces the future and makes up his mind to live the life he has left to its fullest. He decides that he would do all the things he never did before. He committed to himself and others that he would go skydiving, Rocky Mountain climbing. He promised he would go 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu. He decided that from that point forward he would love deeper, speak sweeter, and he would give the forgiveness that he’d been denying. The chorus to this insightful little tune ends with this simple yet profound admonishment, “Someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying.”
Resurrection, that empty tomb, gives us the hope into which we can surely rest our lives. We are invited to live not as if we are dying, but as if by the unfathomable mystery of resurrection, we can live into a new reality in a distant future, and most assuredly, we can live into it now, today, this moment. Resurrection is absolutely a hope for the future, but it is without a doubt, hope for us now, today, here, this very minute. The promise fulfilled in Christ is, “God’s love lasts beyond the grave and nothing can stand between us and God’s love. The hope is that even in the midst of some of the great tragedies of life, we are not nor will we be abandoned to sting of death, in any of its forms: spiritual, emotional, relational or physical. God does not nor will God ever abandon us.
This Good News is life changing, because it changes the way we approach life. I sat in a coffee house one day and had a great conversation with young man about faith. At one point in our conversation he said to me, “I dig this Jesus life you talk about Eric, but I just can’t accept that resurrection thing.” I asked him, “What if it’s true? What if God’s love is forever? What if we have hope that none of the tragedies in the world is the end of the story? What if none of the death, none of the loneliness, none of the brokenness is the end of the story? What if we lived like death is not the end?” The young man said, “It would change everything.” I paused, looked him deeply in the eyes and said, “Then my friend, you have a better grasp on the hope of the resurrection than you may know.” He smiled and said, “I get it. Maybe I can live with that kind of hope. It changes me, so that I may give the forgiveness I have denied, I can speak sweeter, and I can love deeper.” He went on to say, “Because of the hope of resurrection, maybe with indifference, I won’t pass by the homeless man/woman on the corner, maybe I won’t forget to call my aging grandparents and tell them I love them, maybe I will cherish each relationship in which I share, maybe each bump in the road I hit won’t be so devastating, maybe I can look at every creature and know they are brother/sister, and maybe I won’t take the great gift of life for granted any longer.”
The great hope of Resurrection not only changes how we live life, it changes us individually, and it has the power to change the world. Resurrection, the empty tomb, the Risen Lord. What if it’s true? I don’t know about you, but when we leave the presence of the beauty of this Easter Sunday, with its lilies, Easter suits and dresses, white banners and vestments, and the sense of hope and celebration that is ripe all around, there will be days down the road when we will honestly say, “I’m hurting here, I’ve messed it up, things are hopeless, and we will declare, I need a little resurrection now, today, this week, this very moment.” Even then, we can with hope, believe that there is new life possible, new life beyond the grave, new life beyond the tragedy, new life beyond the pain. I believe it because of the example of the faith of those who have gone before me, and those who stand beside me in this place, that have the courage and strength to begin each day with this assurance, this hope, and this great promise, “Alleluia, Christ is risen ….” “The Lord is raised indeed, Alleluia.”