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Dr. Jeffrey K. London
This morning’s Easter proclamation is intended for believers, part-time believers, non-believers, doubters, and seekers. In other words, for everyone here today. Because no one is here by accident.
So… What are you expecting this morning?
A defense of the resurrection?
No, that’s not going to happen. The resurrection doesn’t need defending.
• Or maybe you’re expecting a bunch of church talk about Jesus? Yeah, you are gonna get some of that ‘cause the language of Scripture is our native tongue.
• Or maybe you’re simply expecting to be bored while the ham is cooking at home.
Not sure if I can help you there. Bored people tend to have very little imagination and faithful imagination is a prerequisite on Easter morning.
• Or maybe, just maybe, you are expecting a party! A celebration of life and love, faith and hope! If that’s what you’re expecting — Good! Great! Because that’s where we’re headed.
But first, we have to admit the truth that Easter begins with fear. Easter is terror before it is amazement. The women who came to the tomb were coming to anoint Jesus’ dead body with spices. They were in mourning, they were grieving, they were emotionally fragile. Yet they were also thinking in very practical terms: “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” (Mark 16:3).
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They get their first real Easter scare when they see from a distance that the stone had already been rolled back — Did someone steal the body? They get their second real Easter scare when they see that the tomb is empty, except for some young guy who is definitely not Jesus — Could he be a divine messenger, an angel? Then this young guy tells them, “Don’t be alarmed! Don’t be afraid!” He says he knows who they’re looking for; “Jesus, the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen. He is not here. Behold, the place where they laid him! But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He goes before you into Galilee. There you will see him’” (Mark 16:6-7)
Now that’s a little disconcerting. Imagine being one of the women and hearing that. It may be helpful to hear at this point the comforting words of theologian Pierce Anderson, “Some things can be confusing and not make sense, but that’s OK.” (Pierce Anderson, Statement of Faith, paragraph 3, sentence 2, April 8, 2012.). God’s ways are indeed mysterious, but God’s ways are also always leading us somewhere.
You know what all of this reminds me of? It reminds me of Christmas. It reminds me of the first words the angel spoke to the shepherds at Jesus’ birth. Do your remember those first words? “Don’t be afraid!” And then those words were followed up with a good news proclamation that led them to go to Bethlehem and see the one born Christ the Lord (Luke 2:8-20).
At first, those shepherds were scared. They were scared for their lives! They were terrified before they were amazed. It seems to me to be a fairly common human response to God’s intervening in our lives. First, we’re terrified because of the mystery, the power, the unknown. But such holy terror inevitably leads to amazement. And that’s just as true for the women at the empty tomb as it was for the shepherds who ended up manger-side. We know this because the women left in a state of panicked terror unable to say anything to anybody. But we also know that the terror they felt eventually turned to amazement because we have their story! Sooner or later they told someone! They told Peter and the disciples!
So… the Easter question quickly becomes, “Where in your life are you terrified?” Maybe, just maybe, that place, that fear, whatever it is, wherever it is, is actually a God-place, a God-thing? We don’t need to go any further than the one universal human fear — Death — to see that we all know a thing or two about the reality of fear.
What the resurrection of Jesus tells us is that death is now a God-place. In the resurrection of Jesus, God has transformed death into life, terror into amazement. I mean, here’s the thing — Easter, the resurrection, is about more than Jesus coming back to life. Easter, like Christmas, is about this incredible intersection between the human and the divine that continues to this day. If the resurrection is only about Jesus having a heart beat and inflated lungs, then let’s just say so and call it a day and go eat some ham. Theologian Becky Brown puts it this way, “Jesus isn’t a history lesson that happened long ago in some ancient land, (Jesus) wants to connect with us right now.” (Becky Brown, Statement of Faith, paragraph 3, sentence 2, April 8, 2012.)
Jesus’ resurrection becomes a model for our resurrection, not just in the sweet heavenly bye-and-bye, but here and now! Because it’s here and now that we’re dying of fear. It’s here and now that we all carry around dead corpse size feelings of guilt and shame. It’s here and now that we long to hear someone say, “Do not be afraid! Do not fear! I know you are looking for the resurrected Jesus that you yourself might know resurrection too.”
So… what exactly does it mean to experience the resurrection right here and now?
It means we come to know ourselves to be alive to God and dead to sin. It means we are forgiven. The resurrection of Jesus gives us a clean slate for starting over; for living a new amazing life free from fear.
A few years back, I sat with a woman in a hospital waiting room. Her husband was in ICU. Things were touch-and-go. We didn’t know what was going to happen. We didn’t know if he was going to make it. We prayed for the best and sat quietly in a tenuous state of hope. I don’t know what made me say it, but I broke the silence turned to her and said, “You know, whatever happens — it’s good news.”
That statement shocked her. She physically pulled back from me. I think what I said was both scary and revolting to her. But then something happened! It began to sink in and penetrate to the deepest depths of her being. And in an instant, she got it, she understood. You could see the fear melt away. She wasn’t afraid for her husband any longer. She believed, she really believed — whatever the outcome, whether he lived or died, it would be Good News.
But we have to be careful. Far too often the resurrection is proclaimed in selfish fashion as if to suggest that the saving grace of God is some sort of self-serve soft ice cream. And while the gift of salvation that is embodied in the resurrection is personal, uniquely personal, the purpose of our salvation is often left unspoken and un-addressed. Put simply: We are saved for a purpose; we are saved for service ( Ephesians 2:8-10; Genesis 12:2; Isaiah 49:9). We are saved so that we might be instruments of God’s life-giving love in this world. Theologian Madison Murphy confidently states, “I believe I can change a person’s life by doing one simple act of kindness; an act of God.”( Madison Murphy, Statement of Faith, paragraph 6, sentence 5, April 8, 2012.) We are saved to be living examples to others of the resurrection here and now. And to live as an example of the resurrection to others is live a life of faithful courage and service, it is to live fearlessly — believing in the promise that death has been defeated, we have been forgiven, and life begins anew today! But what we can never forget is that this new life IS a life of service, a life of doing, of doing ministry and mission in the name our Risen Lord!
The risen Jesus went ahead of the disciples to Galilee, where it all started. Our Galilee is here in the Church. Here is where it all begins for us. Here is where we are named and claimed in the waters of baptism. Here is where we receive the bread and cup of Hope that fuels our faith and keeps us going. Here is where Jesus meets us and sends us out to live the resurrection and be servants to the world. Theologian Abby Moshiri reminds us that, “The church is a place where you don’t have to be afraid to be yourself, because we are all a community.” (Abby Moshiri, Statement of Faith, paragraph 5, sentence 1, April 8, 2012)
Look, there are really only two possible responses to the resurrection. The first is, “So…” As is in “So what.” That response leaves you going through the motions of insisting on finding only that which you expect. That response is only going to leave you alone with your fears and an aching persistent sense of uncertainty as you wonder, “What if it really did happen? What if Jesus is risen? What if I don’t have to be afraid anymore?”
Or the second possible response to the resurrection is, “So…” As in “So…what happens next?” This response puts us in the story and calls us to dare to believe, dare to risk faithfully imagining our lives free from fear. Lives of forgiveness. Lives of grateful response. Lives of joyful service. Lives that live in anticipation of God’s promise that nothing in life or in death can ever separate us from God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. Theologian Zach Rainwater echoes this truth when he reminds us that, “God is always with us, supporting us through thick and thin.” (Zach Rainwater, Statement of Faith, paragraph 3, sentence 1, April 8, 2012.)
Friends, we are not called to believe in the resurrection. We are called to believe in God, the one and only God who raised Jesus from the dead in an act of love, not only for the Son, but for us too.
The promise is for us,
and for our children, and for all who are far away. (Acts 2:39)
He is Risen!
Death is defeated!
Do not fear, but be amazed!
Dare to believe that whatever happens —
it’s Good News
now and forevermore!
Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible
Copyright 2012, Jeffrey K. London. Used by permission.