April 16, 2017

He Is Risen

Author Eugene Peterson, reflecting on the Easters of his youth, remembers the preacher in his church launching a sermon on the thirteen absolute proofs that Jesus rose from the dead. “Proofs with which we could wrestle to the ground our unbelieving friends,” he says. Painfully, Peterson remembers that it took the preacher an hour and a half to finish that sermon, “by which time nobody much cared anymore.”

Some of the good news for us on this day is that I will not put forth thirteen proofs that Jesus rose from the dead, nor will I labor on for an hour and a half--there are Easter brunches to get to and hams to bake. The point of this day, after all, is not to prove the resurrection of Christ. The point of today is to let this story of new life enliven us.

Author Frederich Buechner puts it this way: “[The Easter story in the gospels] is not a major production at all…. It’s not really even much of [an elaborate] story when you come right down to it, and that of course is the power of it. It doesn’t have the ring of a great drama.... If the Gospel writers had wanted to tell it in a way to convince the world that Jesus indeed rose from the dead, they would presumably have done it with all the skill and fanfare they could muster.” Buechner continues, “It has always struck me as remarkable that when the writers of the four gospels come to the most important part of the story they have to tell, they tell it [simply] …..The gospels are not trying to describe it as convincingly as they can. They are trying to describe it as truthfully as they can. It was the most extraordinary thing they believed had ever happened and yet they tell it so quietly that you have to lean close to be sure what they are telling. They tell it as softly as a secret, as something so precious, and holy, and fragile, and unbelievable, and true, that to tell it any other way would be somehow to dishonor it.”

The story begins on Friday, when a man named Joseph asks permission to take the body of Christ and to give him a proper burial in his tomb. Pilate agrees.

The women follow Joseph and watch as he places the body of Christ in the tomb. The Sabbath is approaching, and so they return to their homes.

On Sunday, while it is still dark, the women return to the tomb in order to place oils and herbs on his body, as was their custom.

When they arrive, they find the stone rolled away and the body is gone.

The women are frightened, even more so when two men in dazzling white clothes ask them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead?” He is not here, but is risen.”

Terrified and in shock, the women return to room where the disciples had all gathered, hiding in fear for what might happen to them now that Jesus had been crucified.

The women tell the men what they had seen. The disciples dismiss their report as an idle tale, the ludicrous ramblings of women who are in grief.

Peter, compulsive as he often is, hopes that there might be some truth in their story, so he runs to the tomb, looks in, sees no body, and returns home amazed.

The women and men who followed Christ came face to face with death on that day, an experience that we all must face on some occasion in life--coming face to face with death.

The late William Coffin, pastor, preacher, chaplain at Yale, when he came face to face with his own death, wrote this, sprinkling in some dry humor as he often did:

Without death we’d never live.... Consider the alternative.... Life without death would be interminable.... We’d take days just to get out of bed, weeks to decide “what’s next?” Students would never graduate; faculty meetings and all kinds of meetings would go on for months. (Credo, p. 167)

Without death, we could take as long as we wanted, we would never get anything done, never make a difficult decision.

But death is a reality, one that we all must face.

But in the face of death, the message that we hear on this day is that neither life nor death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our lord. That is the good news of this day.

Christianity is about life after death, it is about a love from which not even death can separate us. But even more, Christianity is about life before death, a life that is full, rich, rewarding, complete, and whole.

The life abundant that is offered to us in Christ does not begin at death. It begins today and continues beyond death. As Jesus said, “I have come that you have life and have it fully; I have come that my life—my joy—may live in you.”

Long-time activist for children's rights, Marian Wright Edelman once said: “Do not die before you die. See and listen. Bask in the countless miracles and beauty all around you. Stay awake and alert to the incredible currents of life everywhere.”

Essayist Henry David Thoreau said he wished to learn what life had to teach now “and not when I come to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Be alive, is the message of Easter. Live everyday of your life with open eyes and mind and heart and soul. Take in all that life gives you. Do not put off for tomorrow that which can be done today. Love those around you and let them know through word and through action. Let the abundant life of Christ spring forth in you on this day and may it continue with you to the next life.

This past week, a dear friend of ours passed away from cancer. Holidays such as today often remind us of those in our lives who have gone before us. Our friend's husband is a professional photographer and an amateur poet. Throughout these past few years, he has used these forms of art to attempt to capture and share both the sorrow and the joy of their journey.

This past Thursday he posted a photograph of a bright yellow daffodil, bent so that its face was toward the ground, which was dark and wet from the rain. Below that image he wrote this:

after a night rain

the daffodils bow their heads

moment of silence

soon they will look up

lift their faces to the sky

drinking in the light.

That is the good news of Easter: death has been overcome. Though the earth should grow dark, we need not fear, for there is a light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness will never overcome it.

Alongside this Good News is a challenge to us, and perhaps the most important question in life: "what should we do with the time we have left?"

Leave behind everything that binds you, everything that limits you, everything that keeps you from being who God created
you to be. Even when life overwhelms you, look up, lift your face to the sky and drink in the light.

On the occasion of his mother's death, Henri Nouwen wrote, "The resurrection is God’s way of revealing to us that nothing that belongs to God will ever go to waste. What belongs to God will never get lost. The resurrection doesn’t answer any of our common questions about life after death such as: “How will it be? How will it look?” But it does reveal to us that love is stronger than death. God’s love for us, our love for each other, and our love for those who lived before and will live after us is not just a quickly passing experience, but a reality transcending all time and space."

The light has overcome the darkness. Rise up. Live deeply. Give your life to others.

Christ is risen and nothing in all creation, not even death, can separate you from the love of God—in Christ Jesus our Lord.


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