Job 19: 23-27a, I Corinthians 15: 1-11, and Mark 16: 1-8
Running into the house after church, a little boy couldn’t wait to share what he had learned in Sunday school that morning. “Did you know that they tried to kill Jesus?” he asked his mother.
“Where did you hear that?” she replied.
“I heard the preacher talking about it in church.”
“Well, what do you think about that?”
“Some people tried to kill Jesus; but he sure fooled them, didn’t he?”[i]
Perhaps the best April Fool’s joke ever: Easter is the joke God played on the powers of the world and the forces of evil. God limited death on Easter. Easter means that the powers of this world do not have the last word – YES! And that is wonderful! But there is more to the meaning of Easter than just the vindication of Jesus with God raising him to life after the world’s powers put him to death. … It’s more than just a reversal of what the power of the world decided would be his fate. (Dramatic pause) …How we see Jesus affects how we understand the Christian faith, and Easter is at the heart of it. If there were no Easter, Jesus would just have been another Jew executed by the Roman Empire because they thought he was a threat during a century that was extremely bloody by anyone’s standards. Easter makes things different. Easter shapes how we see Jesus – and for those of us who seek to follow Jesus, it affects what we think the Christian life is all about.
What makes Easter so important? God is in charge. Vindication.
In the midst of the different gospel stories, Paul’s claims about the resurrected Jesus without any stories, and the interesting apocalyptic imagery – what does Easter really mean? Why is it important? This event has much deeper meanings than just a resurrection of a body or an empty tomb.The meanings behind the stories are more important, and offer us more help and insight than perhaps the stories themselves.[ii]
- God vindicated Jesus. The tomb could not hold Jesus. The powers of the world tried to shut him down, and God raised him up and set him loose in the world. Easter is God’s “yes” overturning the “no” of the powers of the world that executed him. Easter is not about the afterlife, or we would have some kind of description of heaven. Easter is not about happy endings to the story either, or Jesus being alive again would be enough. (J. is not among the dead…)
- Promise of Jesus’ presence with the disciples. The disciples would see Jesus — they have to go back to the beginning again. (Galilee) It’s not just that Jesus was raised to life with God – Jesus came back to the disciples. The mission isn’t finished! We’ll talk more about that later.
- God is God. No matter what. In the midst of trouble and tragedy, God is God. That important truth is why we read Job this morning. You know a bit about this teaching story. Job’s life includes a full panoply of disasters. And yet, Job sings this hymn of praise to God from his ash heap while scraping his oozing sores. His situation is beyond hopeless, and yet he sings, “I know that my Redeemer lives…” with confidence in God redeeming him, God having the victory, even if it is so far off that he can’t see it. God is Job’s Redeemer, valuing him no matter what has happened or is happening. It is a foretaste of the Easter story, where hope lives because no matter the circumstances – God is the Redeemer. God is still God. And death is not the end.
Fear and death are overturned. We don’t have to live in our fear. This is a really big deal because we are a fearful people. The fact that most of the things we worry about don’t ever come to pass doesn’t seem to slow down our worrying at all. The experts say 85% of the things we worry about don’t ever happen. [iii] We still worry. Some of it is a natural human tendency. Some of us name worrying as a part of our identity, “I’m a worrier.” Science has now shown that worrying actually takes away our health and vitality. The stress caused by worrying “causes serious problems. The stress hormones that worry dumps into your brain have been linked to shrinking brain mass, lowering your IQ, being prone to heart disease, cancer and premature aging, predicting martial problems, family dysfunction and clinical depression, and making seniors more likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s.”[iv] But if God overturned even death, what are we worries about?
Jesus in Gethsemane said: Your will God, not mine – his trust was not in the outcome of the story, but in God who held him despite the outcome. As Michael Williams explains in Spoken Into Being, “My trust is not in the outcome of the story but in the One who accompanies me through the story, no matter the outcome. Trusting in the divine presence is not an insurance policy against tragedy. It is, however, the assurance that we do not walk through tragedy alone, but are accompanied by a God who knows loss and grief and knows us better than we know ourselves.”[v]
Goodness is stronger than evil.
Love is stronger than hate.
Light is stronger than darkness.
Life is stronger than death.
Victory is ours through The One who loved[s] us.–Desmond Tutu
So yes! God overturns death on Easter! Nothing is impossible with God! God is God no matter what else is going on in the world – and we are ultimately in God’s hands — no matter what happens.
US. Being Saved is a continuing process. It’s not a 1-shot deal. That’s lucky for us – since we don’t seem to be ALL-SAVED just yet. We may be a little saved, for some of us even “rather more than less saved,” (wiggle hand back and forth) but none of us have reached spiritual perfection. We’re not “DONE” in this being saved process.
This is why Jesus keeps showing up with the disciples – they aren’t completely ready for this either. They are still being saved – just like us. So he shows up especially at times when they are having a meal together. In their time, perhaps in ours too, eating together was one of the best ways to show forgiveness and reconciliation. So Jesus is revealed, disclosed really, in Emmaus at the breaking of the bread. And Peter knows he is forgiven when Jesus is on the beach cooking breakfast – and then Peter is given a job to do.
Jesus kept appearing to the disciples – and especially Peter, who denied him – is so they knew that they were forgiven. And now being recruited to continue the mission of Jesus in the world. The disciples who fled, denied him, hid – THOSE disciples are the very ones Jesus wanted to meet him in Galilee where they could start again. And they DID! Jesus wasn’t finished with them yet. They learned and are re-commissioned and with Jesus’ presence with them, they continued his ministry – doing the things that he had done.
- Just as God keeps working on us. And In us. Easter two thousand years ago may have broken through what we thought we knew about life and the world with something very different. (We call it resurrection.) But God isn’t done – God is still doing this. The presence of the Living Christ still surprises us – is still disclosed in unexpected moments. Often in the breaking of bread. Often in acts of reconciliation. Surprising us with moments of God’s presence in the midst of our grief. Easter continues to burst into our lives where we had thought death had the last world. And comes in our moments of fear and confusion, upsetting how we think the world words, using unaccustomed words – and unexpected messengers, just as on that Easter so long ago.
Will Willimon tells a story about visiting a man as he lay close to death. He asked the man if he was fearful, and the man said, “No. I’m not fearful because of my faith in Jesus.” Willimon replied that “We all have hope that our future is in God’s hands,” but the man corrected him emphatically. “Well, I’m not hopeful because of what I believe about the future….I’m hopeful because of what I’ve experienced in the past…I look back over my life, all the mistakes I’ve made, all the times I’ve turned away from Jesus, gone my own way, strayed, and got lost. And time and again, he found a way to get to me, showed up and got me, looked for me when I wasn’t looking for him. I don’t think he’ll let something like my dying defeat his love for me” .[vi] All his life, he was being saved. All our lives, WE are being saved. We aren’t perfect – far from it. We aren’t dedicated enough, selfless enough, wise enough yet…so God is still working on us — we are being saved. Continually. Still.
You see, God’s kingdom is still the endgame – and we aren’t there yet. It’s all about the mission. God’s mission is unstoppable – and we are forgiven and invited to take a part . God’s not done – and we aren’t “done” yet either.
Becoming New – an invitation. US.
Easter reveals God’s purpose of LIFE – new life – and nothing, not power politics, not religious institutions, and not even death will be allowed to stand in the way of what God wants to do for us. Easter reminds us that God is about the business of making all things new. We too can be new.
CONTRA. That’s VERY good news! Despite the sorrow and pain and all the things that are wrong in the world – despite the fact that even those of us who have pledged our lives to follow Jesus mess up with frightening regularity, and our tendency to lose God in the midst of the activity of our lives – God is still inviting us to come and be new. Even in the midst of the dying that is a daily experience for many of us – God is inviting us to new life. . Easter life can break into the world again!
But — full disclosure here — the new life to which we are invited does involve some dying. After all, new life begins with the story of a cross. God reminds us in Easter that dying to our old ways of being is a part of experiencing new life. We are dying and being raised with the one who was crucified by the rulers of the world. This transformation doesn’t come without a loss – a cost. But, we are also reminded, this is not an ultimate cost – what we gain is FAR greater than what we lose!
We are invited to come and be made new, transformed, reborn into a new way of life – into God’s dream of the kingdom – and it’s possible. It’s REAL. It is even happening now unseen, like the seeds that begin to sprout before they break the surface of the soil. Death doesn’t have the last word – new life is here among us. Easter life is breaking into the world again!
All of these Easter stories, not just the ones of Easter morning, and especially the appearances of Jesus to the disciples and later to Paul, help us understand that God is still at work through Jesus making us new. Our becoming new is a process, just as being saved is a process. It doesn’t happen all at once. It is like gradual unfolding of a blossom. And were we begin, what we look like now, is nothing like the end of the story.
Paul says that the resurrection reveals a whole new order “as different as a grubby dead seed from the glory of a flowering plant.”[vii] Easter wasn’t just an unusual day two thousand years ago. It is still breaking in to our world with the presence of Jesus. Come and hear the stories, as we consider their meanings for our lives. Come hear stories of Forgiveness and new purpose, stories of healing, of growth, of new relationships – of new life in many ways! Imagine this: God inviting us to a part of “Becoming the New Creation!” Part of the NEW ORDER! New life began as God broke through the normal boundaries of death to raise Jesus to life again, to do something wondrously new!
And it continues – Jesus is alive – and in ministry NOW through disciples forgiven and called again. God’s never-ending story of new life, new opportunities, new growth to help us reflect the one we follow and help the world reflect God’s kingdom dream. The words echo down through time and find fresh voices today, “Go and tell. Tell the story of lives made new.”
As Ellsworth Kalas said, “Easter is not simply a holiday to be celebrated with church attendance and a festive dinner; it is a new power let loose in our world that enables us – to the degree that we are willing – to live a new kind of life. Why? Because the very power that raised Christ from the dead now dwells in us”[viii] — saving us, helping us to become new.
Friends, God is God – and despite the look of things, still at work to bring about new life. Easter reminds us that fear and death are overturned – new life, unexpected, surprising live is let loose among us. The presence of Jesus is among us, and disclosed when we share a meal, when we forgive each other, when we act to serve others. And God is working in us to make us new as we are forgiven and claimed as the new generation of disciples empowered to carry out Jesus’ mission.