May the wonder of Christ’s rising be seen in every dawn, the love of God as wide as the skies, and the power of the Holy Spirit invite us into each moment. Amen.
You may have heard about the four-year-old in Sunday School whose teacher asked: "Does anyone know what today is?" The little girl held up her hand and said, “It’s Easter." "That's wonderful,” said the teacher. “Now, does anyone know what makes this Sunday Easter?" The same little girl responded, "Yes, today is Easter because Jesus rose from the grave," and before the teacher could acknowledge her answer, she added, "but if he sees his shadow...he has to go back in for seven weeks.”
A little confusion about resurrection? Why not? It’s a bind-boggling concept. Isn’t it asking a great deal of people like you and me to believe in something so astonishing as the resurrection of a dead person? Yet, if there is any one aspect of the Christian faith that stands above all others it is the Resurrection of Jesus. Writing to the early Church in Corinth, Paul says, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.”
So today we tell the story that has been told around the world for more than two thousand years. All four of the Gospels—ancient texts that teach us who Jesus was and what he said and did—give an account of what happened on the Sunday after Jesus died on the cross. No matter how uncertain we may be about the resurrection of Jesus, I think there is at least a tiny kernel of hope deep inside us that something’s there, that it’s not a fairy tale—for without hope we have little to live for. Hope is the anchor that keeps us planted in this life—no matter how difficult our life may be. Hope is what gives us the strength to go on when things get grim.
And, while some of us may wonder about the experience of resurrection, all of us are familiar with the experience of the tomb because we are no stranger to brokenness, fear, sadness, loss, defeat, betrayal, and rejection. Alive as we may be this morning, I suspect that most of us have had our share of “little figurative deaths” and know that deep sense of longing to be raised up from their grasp.
Each of the four Gospels that tell the resurrection story includes various details about that morning but they all contain words like “amazement,” “terror,” “fear,” and “confusion.” I find these keywords to be very appropriate on this Easter 2020. It is a time in our history that seems to earmark these feelings as we try to navigate the uncertain path of the present health crisis. “Fear” seems to abound—fear of infection and serious illness, fear of scarcity, fear of government, fear of what we know, fear of what we don’t. The New York Times headline on Friday: It’s Terrifying: Millions more out of work.
Into this reality comes Easter. The women who went to the tomb that first Easter morning were terrified. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’
The angel told the women not to look for death but to look for life, not to seek evidence of mortality but rather of an impossible possibility. Twice in this ancient Gospel account of the resurrection we hear these four words: “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid!
Do not be afraid! Be awake to the way God brings energy and new life into your everyday existence. Have eyes-wide-open to God’s signature of resurrection in the signs around you. Don’t dwell on endings. Look for what is beginning
It may be asking too much of us, who live in this age of dazzling technology to believe in something so astonishing and so unbelievable as the resurrection. Yet there is the undisputable and historical reality that these women who went to that tomb, given the obstacles presented by the culture in which they lived and the opposition by the authorities to their mission, were emboldened to preach that Jesus had risen. That message would change the world.
A member of a church study group that was discussing challenging Christian beliefs raised the difficulty of believing in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. They found this a far-fetched possibility. Life from death? How can that be credible? A woman in the group spoke up, “Well, I do believe in the resurrection. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it.
“When my husband walked out on me, I could have died. I did die. My life was over. Dead end. But then, by the grace of God, with the support of a wonderful church community and the coaxing of good friends, I came back. I came to life. I got a whole new life. It was a miracle. I believe in the resurrection because I have lived it.”
You and I are constantly faced with signs of resurrection—sometimes sudden and inexplicable. The Eastering of life did not happen just once on a Sunday morning in Jerusalem two thousand years ago. It happens everyday in all kinds of ways. You may have experienced resurrection in some healing around a relationship or painful memory. You may have had a renaissance in your life that has brought you to a new place—a new church home, a new baby, a new friendship, a new job or career, even a new perspective on life itself. God may be greening your life in other ways—urging you to look at fresh and creative ways to offer your gifts.
Whatever “tomb” we may be in, whatever emptiness we may feel or whatever fear or confusion or even terror is in our heart; wherever we may have given up hope, God can raise us up—for the power that took Jesus through death and beyond has the capacity to triumph over everything that is keeping us in that tomb. Episcopal priest and author Barbara Brown Taylor gives us this pearl for today: “By the light of this day, God has planted a seed of life in us that cannot be killed, and if we remember that then there is nothing we cannot do: move mountains, banish fear, love our enemies, change the world.”
And that is Easter. Thanks be to God. Alleluia. Christ is risen!