April 21, 2019
No story has power, nor will it last, unless we feel in ourselves that it is true and true of us.
Those are words from John Steinbeck’s novel, East of Eden. I read those words this week, and I couldn’t help wondering how they applied to today’s story. The great Easter story that has been told in Christian communities for over two thousand years. Does it still have power? Do we feel in ourselves that it is true and true of us?
Let’s start with the first part of that question…. Is it true? Is the Easter story—the story of the Resurrection of Jesus, true? We just sang these words,
He is risen, he is risen!
Tell it out with joyful voice:
he has burst his three days’ prison; let the whole wide earth rejoice: death is conquered, we are free, Christ has won the victory.
The resurrection story is the great Mystery of our tradition. Let me say that again…mystery. There is nothing that says we must fully comprehend howJesus rose from the dead on the third day. No one has yet provided scientific evidence for how that heavy stone was rolled away from the tomb. And even if we could prove those things, we would still have to wrestle with what overcoming death on a cross means for our own lives.
On the Buildfaith website this week, there was an article about preaching about Easter. And these words from that article really stuck with me. “Believing in the resurrection is indeed a small rebellion.” A rebellion against a society that likes clear-cut scientific answers and certainty. Perhaps it is countercultural to believe in truths that cannot be fully explained or theoretically proven. But first we must understand what we mean by believe. The truest meaning of credo, the latin word for believe, and where we get our word creed, is that which we give our hearts to. That’s what belief is really about…those things we give our hearts to. And giving our hearts to the mystery of the resurrection points us toward “awe and wonder, trust in God, and hope in everlasting love.”
Giving our hearts to the truth about the resurrection, is more than believing in what was or what is. It’s about believing in what is to be. Believing that even now, in this messy world that surrounds us, God is carrying out a plan of salvation and that we have a place in it. As we pray in our Good Friday Liturgy, “Let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection…”
If we are willing to embrace the mystery of the resurrection as true because we are willing to give our hearts to it, we can turn to the next question. How is the Easter story true of us?
We cannot separate the Easter story from all that comes before it, particularly the events of Holy Week. And if we take a walk back through those days and events that preceded his crucifixion, I think we will find ourselves there.
We will find ourselves in the crowds that lined the streets of Jerusalem to praise God and to welcome Jesus the King riding into town on his donkey. Finding excitement in the promise of a leader that believed in peace instead of war and cared for the poor, the sick, and the outcast instead of privileging the rich and powerful. A king who would turn upside down the way the world has always been
We will find ourselves in that upper room, gathered for the Passover meal with Jesus. Anxious about what is to come while still not fully understanding it. But enjoying the closeness of the time together and retelling the ancient stories of the salvation and redemption of God’s people. Our stories comfort us, even when we live in the anticipation and anxiety of an unknown future.
We will find ourselves in the garden too weary to stay awake to pray with Jesus as he asked. We can all remember a time when we let our friends down when they needed us most.
We will find ourselves even in the person of Judas, the betrayer. In what ways do we betray the love that God pours out for us every day, choosing our own gain or our own desires over what is right and good?
We will find ourselves in Peter who denied even knowing Jesus after his arrest. Peter who loved Jesus dearly and only the night before promised to be with him even to death. Just like Peter, in the face of our fears, our courage often fails us.
We will find ourselves in the religious institution and the Roman government that feared the kind of world that Jesus promised. A world where the powerful would be brought low and the lowly would be lifted up. Where are the places in our lives where we support unfair systems because they benefit us?
We will find ourselves at the foot of the cross with Mary, the mother of Jesus. Weeping. Distraught. Feeling as if the world will never be right again. When have you felt that kind of grief that punches you in the gut and leaves you breathless?
But most of all, I hope we will find ourselves in this Easter story with Peter on the morning of the Resurrection. In Luke’s Gospel, we learn that upon finding the tomb empty and being told by the angels that Jesus had risen, the women went back to tell the disciples. All of the disciples except Peter refused to believe them. “Their words seemed to them an idle tale” our text says. But Peter heard their tale and decided to see for himself. Luke says he got up immediately and ran to the tomb. When he got there, he saw that it looked just as the women had said. The stone was rolled away. Only the linen cloths used to wrap the broken body of Jesus remained.
And I love what Luke tells us next about this moment. He doesn’t say, Peter went away believing in resurrection. Luke says, “then Peter went home, amazed at what had happened.”
Peter was amazed. Startled. Surprised. Astonished. The Risen Christ was a mystery to be felt with the heart, not understood with the head.
The Risen Christ is indeed alive. The mystery of the Resurrection is that Christ now lives in us. And when Christ lives in us, we become Easter people in a Good Friday world. A people that proclaim hope in the face of despair. And new life in this world of death. And when Christ lives in us, we also see him in everyone we meet. Especially those who need our love: those we can feed, clothe, visit, heal, and forgive.
So when we go from this place today and out into the world, let us be like Peter. Amazed. Amazed at how the world looks when we realize that Christ has risen. And lives in us. Alleluia.