Acts 10:34-43, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, John 20:1-18
Alleluia, Christ is Risen, The Lord is Risen indeed. The Gospel story of Resurrection is a message that for some folks may be a difficult thing to accept. Somewhere, even here, there may be some of us, who may not fully understand the mystery of resurrection, or even accept it. Some may struggle with the idea that Jesus was raised from the dead, passed through walls, and was lifted up to heaven at the Ascension. So some folks may ask, “Is New Life really a possibility?” Can there truly be a sequel to the story of death? Is there something on the other side of despair?
Personally, I stake my very life on this hope, even if I cannot fully comprehend the mystery of Jesus’ resurrection. Scripture leaves us a little wanting for information too. Mary Magdalene’s words to the other disciples after his death and burial was merely, “I have seen the Lord.” So, new life beyond death seems a hard thing to fathom for postmodern, techno-savvy, scientific, folks to comprehend, understand, or even to accept as a real possibility. We wrestle with the prospect that even when it comes to death, there is more to the story. Even so, the entertainment industry and even science is exploring more and more the after life. Television shows about the paranormal are fairly popular these days. Books about heaven seem to be on the top seller list. There is even one television network that has for eight seasons, presented a unique series about a post-apocalyptic world in which, an unknown mystery disease changes people into walking, decaying mindless carriers of a life-draining infection.
The survivors of this apocalyptic place constantly struggle with hunger, lack of shelter, lack of safety, and despair and death abounds all around. There doesn’t seem to be much hope in that story, but in one particular episode of the show, when all hope seemed lost for the group, there was a scene in which, the challenges of faith took the spotlight. Many of the group had been lost in a recent attack and in a brief moment of despair, Rick the hero, said something profound to Herschel one of the more religious characters. Herschel was in despair and was ready to give up and said, “I’ve lost my farm, I’ve lost my wife and maybe my daughters.” Rick chastised him and said, “Herschel, you’re a man of God! Have some faith.” Even television tells us that we should trust in something beyond our current circumstances, and even in the midst of tragedy, when we tend to lose hope there is a new day, a new way, and a new life.
Mary Magdalene trusted beyond the cross and death of Jesus. To her fellow disciples, she said, “I have seen the Lord.” The truth of Jesus’ resurrection is God’s promise that new life, unlike anything we have known before, stands on the other side of our despair, our fears, our struggles, and yes, even our death. When all seems lost, when all around us is falling apart, we still have hope of new life. I know it may be difficult to prove or even understand, 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.
“Alleluia Christ is Risen” proclaims that when our circumstances are beyond our power, we can trust that God is faithful. The promises of God are not just nice little things to believe in, because billions of people over the centuries have faithfully relied on the promise of new life, which became a reality at Jesus’ 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 live boldy knowing that it has lost its hold on us as well.
This truth of the resurrection is the promise 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. Even in the shadow of death we have hope, but we still fear death, because we live as if we are detached from our own mortality. The difficult truth of life is that we will not leave this world without passing through death in all its forms: emotional, spiritual, and relational and yes, eventually physical death. We must accept that there are doors in this life, through which we must pass, but on the other side, there is something else awaiting us. If we can live into that possibility, it changes how we live and how we love.
There is a country music song I love. If you play a country song backwards, you know you get your dog back, your house back, your wife back, and your job back. This one is different. It is a story of both tragedy or hope, loss and recovery, death and life. The song “Live like you were Dying” by Tim McGraw 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 and his family. He eventually faces the future and makes up his mind to live the life, which he has left and to live it to its fullest. He decides that he would do all the things he never did before. He committed to go skydiving, Rocky Mountain climbing and to 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 song is this, “Someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying.” Today’s gospel proclamation, “Alleluia Christ is Risen,” is an invitation to live, not as if we are dying, but to live as if, by the unfathomable mystery of resurrection, death is no more, so that by God’s grace and promises we can love deeper, speak sweeter, and give the forgiveness to others we have been denying.
Over a few months (a few years ago), I had an ongoing conversation about faith with a young man who was a self-proclaimed atheist. At one point in one of our conversations he said to me, “I love this Jesus way of 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, “Wow, I guess it would change everything.” I paused, looked him deeply in the eyes and said, “For many of us, it already has changed everything.” I added, “If you can have just a little hope that it is true my friend, then you will have a better grasp on the hope of the resurrection than you may know.” He smiled and said, “Huh, what if it’s true.”
You see, living in the hope of resurrection changes us. It will make us cherish each relationship we share, accept each bump in the road we hit, it will make us accept every creature as brother/sister, and it will cause us to not take the great gift of life for granted any longer.” 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 I will honestly say, “I’m hurting here, I’ve messed it all up, and things seem hopeless.” Maybe that is the exact time I, and many of you will need to pray, “OK Lord, please show me a little glimpse of resurrection right now, today, this week, and at this very moment.”
When that happens my friends that is living into the hope of God’s promises. To even ask for a glimpse of resurrection is the beginning of a glimmer of faith into its possibility. “Eric,” you ask, “how can you be so sure God is faithful?” Well, I believe it to be true because I have experienced God’s grace. I believe it to be true because I have witnessed the example of the faith of those who have gone before me. I believe it to be true because you all, my sisters and brothers, who stand together in this place, proclaiming the hope of resurrection in your daily lives. I’ll stake my life on it and so can you. “Alleluia, Christ is risen ….” “The Lord is raised indeed, Alleluia.”