SERMON EASTER SUNDAY 4/21/19 St. Monica’s Naples

Acts 10:34-43; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; John 20:1-18

Foolish and Slow of Heart

When I was a kid I used to ride along with my father on trips to make house calls to repair people’s television sets. Along those dusty gravel roads of East Tennessee,  we listened to the local AM radio station, which played bluegrass, country music, local news and a syndicated radio series called, “The Rest of the Story,” a Monday-through-Friday radio program hosted by Paul Harvey that consisted of stories presented as little-known or forgotten facts on a variety of subjects.  Each day, Paul Harvey would tantalize his listeners with little story details, but would hold back some key element of the story until the end. The broadcasts always concluded with a variation on the tag line “And now you know the rest of the story.”

Paul Harvey entertained us with his intriguing and fact sharing series, but he went further by giving us something we all desire.  He gave us a story conclusion that surprised us, drew us deeper into the circumstances of the story, revealed a new truth about a subject and in so doing, he shared with us renewed hope.  We all need a little hope today, especially as we live in a world fraught with increasing division, uncertainty, suffering, and joylessness.  We need a little hope, and all of us want the stories of our lives to have a happy end. The story of Jesus’ resurrection has brought hope to billions over the centuries, but that story is actually much more than just a good tale with an intriguing conclusion.

Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the story of the empty tomb, but hang with me here, because there is so much more to the rest of this story.   After his death on the cross, scripture records events where Jesus appeared to his disciples alive and transformed, which was something the world had never experienced before.  In Mark’s gospel, a “young man discovered in the empty tomb, instructed the women to go tell “the disciples and Peter” that Jesus will see them again in Galilee.”  (1)  In Matthew’s gospel there are “two post-Resurrection appearances, the first to Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” at the tomb, and the second, to all the disciples on a mountain in Galilee, where Jesus claimed authority over heaven and earth and commissions the disciples to preach the gospel to the whole world.”  In Luke’s rendition, “Jesus appeared to Cleopas and an unnamed disciple on the road to Emmaus, and to Peter (reported by the other apostles), and to the eleven remaining disciples.” (1) In the Acts of the Apostles there are “appearances to Paul on the Road to Damascus, to the martyr Stephen, and to Peter, who heard the voice of Jesus.” (1)

In John’s gospel, which we heard today, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, but Mary initially failed to recognize him, and only later, remembered her teacher, master, and Lord.  Her experience of the Risen Jesus was so overwhelming, so real, and so outside the norm of every day life, that she immediately ran to the other disciples and proclaimed, “I have seen the Lord.”

It should not surprise us that like Mary, his other followers did not recognize the risen Christ initially. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, his followers seemed confused and uncertain about him.  Some saw him as merely a prophet, a local rabbi with a new “old” message.  Some saw him as merely a healer and restorer and miracle worker.   Some saw him merely as a rabble-rouser and over-turner of tables and religious systems. Even to the end of the story, they remained skeptical and uncertain of the facts that stood alive before them.  Maybe even we find ourselves confused, uncertain, and skeptical about this Jesus we call Lord. 

Skeptics and Science

Today, the world certainly remains skeptical about who Jesus was, let alone unconvinced about his resurrection.  Some have even claimed that “Jesus’ followers are just delusional.”  Discovery and the Science Channel have made several attempts to bring scientific evidence and historical research to bear on the mystery we Christians stake our lives on.  However, the empty tomb and the promise of God ( the promise that nothing, not even death stands between us and the love of God) is not something that science can prove.  The mystery of God’s grace poured out onto us is a fact we must trust in through faith, but what is faith?  Is it merely an ascent to specific facts, or following a certain dogma, or participating in a weekly ritual, or is faith something totally different?

Faith, or a more accurate definition, trusting in God’s promises, is about living into the mystery that we like Mary can recognize the Risen Christ.  We can have hope in the Risen Christ, because we see him in ourselves, in others, and in the every day events of life.  When doubt, uncertainty, skepticism, and rejection of this mystery troubles us, when we become afraid, “Jesus himself stands among us and says, “Peace be with you.”

As if it is true

Over the years as a priest, I have met people of great faith, and others who have struggled with faith.  I mentioned in last night’s sermon a parishioner who had trouble with the resurrection, but yet she remained faithful to her journey with God. A couple of years ago, I managed a renewal of campus ministry in our diocese, and I remember meeting a young man at a university gathering, who said to me, “Father Eric, I cannot believe in a bodily resurrection, because there is no proof of it, so I don’t think I can be a Christian.” I said to him, “but what if it is true?” I asked him if he had a partner or someone he loved and he answered yes. “Do they love you and do you love them,” I asked.  “I guess so,” he replied.  “Prove it, scientifically,” I prodded.  He said, “that is impossible.” I said, “You can’t prove it, yet you live your life with this other person as if the love you claim is true.”  He said, “Yes.”  “So you love them right, and you cannot prove it, and so, you trust in something you cannot prove, and you live as if it is true.”

He looked at me and smiled widely as I said, “living in love as if it is true is what faith and trust and hope in the resurrection is really all about.”  I continued, “None of we so called Christians have 100% proven scientific certainty about the empty tomb, but we all have decided to put our trust in the mystery of God’s love, and live each day, as if the promises of God are true, and that changes everything, including us.”

Although the world is skeptical about the story we stake our lives on, maybe the tiny spark of faith (trust) that we really need today is not DNA evidence, carbon dated tests of nails and wood, or even newly discovered historical recordings of an ancient community.  Maybe all we need is to trust that the truth of the acts of the God of love is beyond our mental comprehension, but the truth of it remains. Maybe all we have is just that trust, trust in the God who somehow came among us as one of us to show us love in action, and despite our rejection of that love in his death on a cross, God’s love overcame death then, overcomes death now, and will overcome our own deaths. In the resurrection of Christ, death has lost its sting.

Now, If we can merely live as if that is true, I promise you everything will change, including ourselves. So take a risk and give it a try.  The truth of the matter is this, you only need a little mustard seed size faith to be a Christian, just a little trust in that promise and live every day as if it is true., and “now you know the rest of the story” and nothing will ever be the same.    “Alleluia Christ is Risen, the Lord is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!”

REFERENCES

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-Resurrection_appearances_of_Jesus

Published by

The Rev. Eric S. Cooter

Episcopal priest, Certified Flight Instructor, USAF Auxiliary Chaplain.

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