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A Gift of Peace

(a sermon for May 26, 2019, the 6th Sunday of Easter, based on John 14:23-29)

I was 35 years old before I had ever been on an airplane.

I realize that’s not all that surprising or unusual thing to say; but trust me, at the time this represented a truly momentous occasion in my life!  I mean, I’d never really traveled very all that much when I was growing up; and even as an adult where I did go usually involved a road trip across the highways and byways of the northeast corridor!  So now, at age 35, to be asked to not only attend a week-long caregiving seminar in Orlando, Florida (and in the dead of winter, no less!) but also to fly there was a welcome and exciting opportunity!

However, I must confess that having never flown before I was a tad nervous about the prospect; in fact, if I’m being honest, the closer I got to the day of departure the more anxious about it I’d become!  To be fair, it did seem like practically every other day I’d read something in the news about a plane crashing somewhere in the world; nor was it particularly helpful that friends, family and even fellow clergy had regaled me with their own nightmare stories of air travel gone bad! And the true “icing” on the cake was that on the morning I was to leave, overnight there’d been snow, sleet and freezing rain (!) which required the plane to be de-iced before takeoff!

But the flight actually went very well; just before takeoff I’d decided that a silent prayer was in order (and not just for me, mind you, but also for the pilot, co-pilot, flight attendants and every other person on that airplane, with a side order request for good weather the entire way; hey, it never hurts to ask!), and my journey was as smooth and uneventful as one could hope.  And so by the time I’d landed in Philadelphia to make a connecting flight to Orlando, I already felt like an experienced frequent flyer!

Which lasted until just about the time my second flight was on the tarmac…

But on the last leg of my journey I was seated next to this young woman who, once she’d heard I was a minister, immediately and nervously asked if I ever got nervous about flying and I said, lying through my teeth, “Oh, no, not really!”  And she said, “Wow, that’s good, pastor, because I hate flying!   I don’t even want to be on this flight, but I’m going to visit my sister in Florida because she’s in trouble and to tell the truth, I’m pretty nervous about that!”  And for pretty much the remainder of the flight (!) she told me all about it.  Now, all these years later, I don’t remember much about the conversation, but I do remember what she said to me as we were landing:  “But you know what?  I guess I’m not all that worried because I’ve got God with me.  I’m not much of a churchgoer,” she went on to say, “and I’m – no offense (they always tell me, “no offense…”) – I’m not even all that religious.  But at times like this, I just know that God is there, because there’s this peace that I can feel all over.  It’s like… a gift. Do you know what I mean?

Yes, I did… and I do.

In our text for this morning, we continue in what’s referred to in John’s gospel as Jesus’ “farewell discourses” on the night of his betrayal and arrest.  So again, what we have here is Jesus essentially saying good-bye to those closest to him while preparing them for what’s to come; reminding them one last time of the importance of love and how that love is forever linked to “keeping [his] words,” words that are not in fact his, but “from the Father who sent [him].”  But more than merely words of farewell, these are also words of promise with Jesus offering up the assurance of an “Advocate, the Holy Spirit,” that would teach his disciples, both then and now, everything they would need to know and would “remind [them] of all that I have said to you.”  And it all culminates with Jesus offering up what perhaps the most deeply touching assurances we’re given in the gospels:  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”

That in and of itself is an amazing promise, isn’t it!  I mean, think of it; the same Jesus who is now facing the certainty of a violent death has not only already promised to go on ahead and “prepare a place” for his disciples in his “Father’s house,” (John 14:1) now gives them his assurance that, because of God’s sure and certain promises of life, everything will be alright and that they will know the same kind of peace that he himself possesses. It’s no wonder that these words are so often read at graveside services; because if there’s one thing of which we need to be reminded in times of loss it’s that this – the here and now – is not all that there is, but that there’s another place for us when this life is done; a home in heaven that Jesus has already gone to prepare for us by his death on the cross.  It is an atoning act of redemptive love, and it is Jesus’ gift of true peace for today, tomorrow, for all of life and beyond life: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”

And as I said earlier, that in and of itself is amazing; but you’ll notice that that’s not all that Jesus promises here; he goes on to say, “I do not give to you as the world gives.” Just a little addition to the promise, a few added words that at first read almost come off as a bit of a qualifier to the promise itself; and yet, friends, I have to tell you that for me it’s that second phrase that not only makes the promise amazing, but also life changing.  It’s the assurance that what Jesus is giving us is not what the world gives that makes all the difference!

And what does the world give?  Lindsay Popper, UCC pastor and writer in Massachusetts, addresses this question quite honestly: she says, “The world gives us simple beauties: the full moon on an early morning, the feeling of a sweetheart’s hand in ours, a strong cup of coffee before a day of work. But so often, the world gives trouble. The world gives disappointment.”  The world, Popper goes on to say, creates famine and war and leaves “shattering trauma” in its wake; it brings forth broken relationships that “leave us feeling bitter and alone… [so often] this world with all its fragile beauty leaves us feeling like the floor has fallen out from under us, feeling utterly alone, numb and helpless.”

And to this, Jesus says, “I do not give to you as the world gives.”  Or maybe more to the point, as this verse is translated in The Message, “I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left – feeling abandoned, bereft.” It’s my peace that I’m giving you, says Jesus, so “do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

Two bits of translation here that need to be addressed:  first, the Greek word for “peace” that’s used here is eirene, which is pretty much the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew word shalom; meaning peace not just in the sense of the cessation of war and conflict, but a whole peace that includes security, safety and prosperity as well as a sense of an inner rest, well-being and harmony, and above all, a state of reconciliation with God now and eternally.  As a matter of fact, this word eirene has its roots in the word eiro, which means “to join or bind together that which has been separated;” it’s actually where we get the expression of someone who “has it all together!”  What this all means is that the peace that Jesus offers does not in fact guarantee an end to the struggle and hardship that exists in the world; how could it when even as Jesus spoke the words he was about to be sentenced to a brutal death on the cross at the hands of those whose hated him!  No, this peace is not the faltering peace of a hurting and sinful world, but it is a true peace that gives comfort in the face of all that world brings forth!

David Lose of Lutheran Seminary says it this way: “The peace Jesus offers is more than the absence of something negative. Indeed… it has its own presence and gravity… [it] testifies to a sense of wholeness, even rightness, of and in one’s very being. It’s a sense of harmony with those persons and things around us. Peace connotes a sense of contentment, but even more fulfillment, a sense that in this moment one is basking in God’s pleasure. And that,” Lose concludes, “can come even amid hardship, struggle, conflict, and disruption.”

In other words, it is the knowledge that even in all the difficulties the world brings forth and in whatever troubles beset us, God is with us; and when we let God take on the burden of the troubles that we cannot change or control, when we “place ourselves, our loved ones, our fortunes, and our future in God’s hands,” that is peace… true peace, and it’s a gift; not as the world gives, but as only Jesus can provide.

So… “do not let you hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid;” which brings us to the other matter of translation:  the Greek word that’s used in this verse: tharseo, which is probably better translated as “take heart,” or even better, to “have courage.”   In Jesus, you see, in no matter what the world and life is throwing at us, we can take heart and have courage and not be afraid!  That’s how my seatmate on the airplane that day could take a flight she was terrified to make to face a family situation she felt utterly ill equipped and unprepared to handle.  That’s how those of us who have had to deal with the grief of losing a loved one can find hope for life, now and eternally.  That’s how you and I can manage to face down the times and situations of heartache and struggle and oppression and darkness and fear that sooner or later will come our way; and that’s how we “keep the faith,” even when the world around us  (and within us!) seems to be spinning helplessly out of control.  The peace that Jesus offers us gives us open and courageous hearts; the ability to live fully and boldly as his disciples; truly being “in” the world but not “of” the world, living with strength, joy and ever and always keeping his command to love our neighbors as ourselves.

It’s true and lasting peace, girded in saving love… and it’s a gift.

At a funeral recently, an older gentleman came up to me after the service and asked where he might find the verse I’d read about Jesus going to his Father’s house “where there are many dwelling places… to prepare a place” for us, because, he said, he’d not ever really heard that before and it was something he felt he really needed to think about.  I explained, of course, that these were verses from John’s Gospel; shared with him all about how these were Jesus’ “Farewell Discourses” and also how those particular verses have always been helpful to me in knowing what happens to us when we die.  And to this he simply smiled and said, “I just feel like this is something I should really know about!”

I’ve been thinking about that ever since… and it seems to me that while what Jesus said to his disciples and us on that fateful night has everything to do with our Lord’s “sure and certain promises” of life eternal and how he is “the way, and the truth and the life;” (14:6) but it also expresses the truth of our Lord’s presence and power in the here and now of our lives!  It reminds us that there is nothing we face in this life that God in the person of Jesus Christ hasn’t also experienced.  Jesus knows how we’ve been hurt in the life; he knows our disappointments, our struggles and all the ways in which our hopes and expectations for our lives have fallen far short of what we wanted.  Jesus knows how easy it is to become discouraged by life and the world and how swiftly weakness gives way to temptation and losing our best selves along the way.  Jesus knows us all too well… because he lived as one of us.

Before you and I ever began to live, Jesus already knew what life is all about… but he also knew what it can be… what it should be… and that’s how he can continue to offer us the gift of his peace; how in whatever happens, whatever trials and sorrows and temptations there might be – even in death itself – he can offer us the peace that passes our human understanding… because he’s already been there.  Our Jesus can and does provide a peace that the world can neither give nor ever, ever take away!

In whatever comes this week, beloved, I pray you will know that kind of peace as your own.

Thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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Posted by on May 26, 2019 in Easter, Faith, Jesus, Life, Ministry, Sermon

 

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Burning Hearts and Open Eyes

(a sermon for April 28, 2019, the 2nd Sunday of Easter, based on Luke 24:13-35)

Every once in a while you come across a story that just says it all regarding the conundrum of human existence; and such was the case for me this week, courtesy of Max Lucado’s book In the Eye of the Storm, from which comes the tragic tale of Chippie the Parakeet.

Chippie, you see, “never saw it coming,” writes Lucado.  “One second he’s peacefully perched in his cage, the next he’s sucked in, washed up and blown over.” What happened is that Chippie’s owner decided to clean Chippie’s cage… with a vacuum cleaner! (Don’t get ahead of me here!) She’d removed the attachment from the end of the hose and stuck it in the cage, and wouldn’t you know, at that moment the phone rang and she turned way – just for a moment, mind you (!) – to answer the call.  But, as Lucado puts it, “She’d barely said ‘hello’ when ‘sssop!’ Chippie got sucked in!” (Actually, with all due respect to Max Lucado, the better description might be courtesy of Tim Conway’s Mr. Tudball:  “She got sucked up into the Hoooover!)

Of course, immediately the bird’s owner knows what’s happened; she drops the phone, turns off the vacuum, rushes to open the vacuum cleaner bag, and… there’s Chippie, stunned but still alive!  And of course, the bird is covered with dust and soot; so the woman grabs him and races to the bathroom sink, turns on the faucet and holds Chippie under the running water.  Then, Lucado goes on to say, “realizing that Chippie was soaked and shivering, she did what any compassionate bird own would do – she reached for the hair dryer and blasted her pet with hot air.”

Poor Chippie never knew what hit him!  In fact, a few days after this happened, the reporter who’d initially written about this event contacted Chippie’s owner to ask how the bird was recovering.  “’Well,’ she replied, ‘Chippie doesn’t sing much anymore – he just sits and stares.’”  And it’s not hard to see why, is it; after all, when you’ve been “sucked in, washed up, and blown over… that’s enough to steal the song from the stoutest heart.”

Actually, it’s an all-too familiar scenario.  I mean, one minute you’re going along smoothly in this life; maybe things aren’t perfect but at the very least you know where you are, things are moving forward and the horizon looks pretty good… but then, out of nowhere it hits.  The notice comes that you’ve been laid off.  The doctor’s office calls with bad news about the blood work you had done.  A rejection letter comes in the mail.  A policeman comes to the door to inform you of the unimaginable.  In an instant, everything changes:  the life that had once seemed so normal to you and so predictable is now full of turmoil and utter uncertainty.  To quote Lucado once again, you’re “hailstormed by demands.  Assailed by doubts.  Pummeled by questions.  And somewhere in the trauma, you lose your joy.”  You discover that somewhere along the way your song’s been stolen.

And if you’ve ever been there – or if you happen to be in that place right about now – then I’m here to tell you that this morning’s gospel reading is for you.

In fact, Luke’s story of the two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus is, in a very real way, the resurrection story for “the rest of us;” that is, an account from the point of view of all of us who weren’t there at the empty tomb to experience firsthand the good news of Christ having risen from the dead.  But even more than this, this is a story for those of us who tend to carry around Good Friday darkness even though the light of Easter Sunday has dawned!  Thomas Long says it well when he writes that the Emmaus Road story is “about ordinary despair, and ordinary Monday morning drudgery.” This is about what happens after the trauma’s hit; how when your heart is broken and your life is shattered somehow life still has to go on.

And that’s how it was for these two disciples, walking along and “talking with each other about all these things that had happened;” lamenting to one another about all that they’d lost over the past few days.  Oh, sure; earlier that morning a couple of the women had returned from the tomb in hysterics, talking about how “they did not find his body there,” speaking some nonsense about “a vision of angels” speaking good news of resurrection.  But they knew better than to give any credence to something like that; no one was going to convince the two of them Jesus was alive; because they’d seen him die on the cross! The pain of their grief and despair was far too great for them to ever dream otherwise.

And we can understand that.

Nothing hurts quite so much as the wounds inflicted by shattered hopes; nothing nearly as painful to the soul as the cold, stark reality of what’s been left behind in a dying dream.  As far as these two disciples were concerned, it was over and done, all of it: and honestly, the best thing they could do under the circumstances was to just get out; and really, what other choice was there?  So they embarked on this long, seven mile walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a pathway that interestingly enough was known by the people of 1st century Palestine as “the Way.”

But then there was this stranger…

…a fellow traveler who came near them on the road and walked with them; one whose face they didn’t or couldn’t recognize, and yet whose words and whose very countenance felt strangely familiar; in fact, someone with whom they felt immediately wholly comfortable in pouring out their hearts, and from whom they seemed to receive all the kind comfort and healing they’d been needing so badly!  It was as though this stranger had somehow opened up the door of their hearts so that the heavy burden of grief within them could be released and the pain relieved.  And  not only that, as they were walking along something like a flame was being kindled within them and in the midst of all their confusion and sadness – perhaps in defiance of it (!) – they were feeling strangely warmed.

It’s only when they sit down at the table with this stranger for the evening meal – only in the familiar intimacy of breaking bread with Jesus as they’d done so many times before – that “their eyes were [finally] opened and they recognized him.”  Only in that familiar ritual of bread blessed, broken and shared do they realize that this was the Risen Christ in their midst; and, of course, then the truth of it all comes together for them:  “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”  He’d been with them all along, and they knew it because they’d felt it all along!  And almost immediately, the two of them are on their way back, no doubt running back, to Jerusalem (no small feat, because remember it was seven miles to Emmaus and then seven miles back, and all on the same day!).  A journey that had begun in such deep despair and utter hopelessness is transformed by faith and filled with renewed joy:  there was good news to tell, a new life to begin, and an incredible song to be sung; so why wouldn’t they run!

Do you see what I mean about this being the “resurrection story for the rest of us?”  Truly, the traumas and storms that come barreling at us in this life seek to take away our faith and joy and to drive the songs from our hearts; but even as we’re on the journey trying to make some sense of it all, even as we’re seeking to get as far away from our pain as we possibly can the risen Christ comes to encounter us “on the Way,” even and especially in times and ways when we may not be aware of at all!

The glory of the resurrection and our infinitely “good news” is that whatever darkness we face along the way, both around us and within us, Christ is right there with us to assure us that there is light to be found, that the storms will pass and the traumas will subside in time.  Granted, in the midst of such trauma, we might not always recognize him, but nonetheless Christ is there. For this is true revelation, beloved:  for in the end, we come to recognize our Lord not by the limits of our sight but by the abundance of warmth we feel within our hearts; truly, it’s by the graceful love which burns in our hearts that opens our eyes to that which has always been there before us, making “the Way” ahead wide open and full of promise.

This is actually what the 19th century English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins was talking about when he spoke of the miracle of our being Eastered. Now, I realize that it may sound strange grammatically, but I’ve always been fond of how Hopkins used the word “Easter” not as a noun but as a verb.  It’s there in his poem entitled The Wreck of the Deutchland: “Let him easter in us, be a dayspring of us, be a crimson-cresseted east.” 

I love this because it’s a reminder to us that Easter is not merely a day on the calendar, nor simply a celebration of the church but rather something that happens in us: Easter in us, O Lord!  It is the experience of the resurrection of Jesus Christ as it gets inside of us, comes to live where we live and permeates our souls.

This, friends, is the difference between talking about “resurrection” and “atonement” and “eternity” as high theological concepts, on the one hand, and actually coming to understand what God raising Jesus from the dead really means for you and for me, on the other;  this the radical difference it makes for our lives and living!  The former might well address our questions of how and even why the resurrection took place, and that does have value, but as you and I are walking along our own personal roads to Emmaus, it will always be the latter experience that burns within our hearts and leads us to open eyes that embrace the power of God’s great and infinite love for our lives and living.  When you’ve been “eastered,” friends, the road still might not be easy to walk at times but you will always still be able to sing; and at the end of the day it’s the song that matters.

The fact is, unless I miss my guess there are a great many of us here this morning who can relate to Chippie the Parakeet – I know I certainly can – and I know I’m not alone in feeling at times as though we’ve been sucked in, washed up and blown over; as though all the stuff of life that is unfair and unjust and unmanageable and uncontrollable has beaten us down to the extent that we wonder if we can ever recover.  In truth, a whole lot of us will leave here this morning and immediately be back on our own roads to Emmaus; because as Marcus Borg has put it, “Emmaus is nowhere.  Emmaus is everywhere.”  Emmaus, you see, is wherever you and I happen to be on life’s journey: at home or at work, at school or at the dinner table or out in the yard, in church and out, in the company of friends and family or dwelling amongst strangers, facing the challenges that are taxing but seem manageable, as well as the crises that appear to be so burdensome and insurmountable as to undo us.  Emmaus is to be found in places such as these and in so many more:  because ultimately, Emmaus is wherever those places in life where you meet the risen Christ and by God’s grace become “eastered.”

I hope and pray, beloved, that wherever that journey takes you and me this coming week, we will indeed find ourselves in Emmaus; and at that place and in those moments we’ll feel the burning of our hearts within us, recognizing the risen Christ there in our midst, knowing not only that he is risen but also that he is risen for us; and that because of this, we’ll be moved to sing  loudly, and “loverly” and with all the joy that’s been set within us!

Thanks be to God who in the risen Christ, has indeed “eastered” us, now and forever!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2019 in Easter, Jesus, Life, Sermon

 

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From Perplexed to Amazed

(a sermon for April 21, 2019, Easter Sunday, based on Luke 24:1-12)

Whatever else one can say about Easter, it’s to say the least – the very least (!) – it’s perplexing.

Or maybe not; you see, you and I have the advantage of, as Philip Yancey has put it, “reading the Gospels from the other side of Easter;” that is, we’ve come here this morning well aware of how the story turns out.  The moment those women discover the empty tomb, we already know what’s happened; such is our familiarity with the story that we don’t think twice at the thought of angels “in dazzling clothes” suddenly standing there beside them, nor do we feel the women’s terror at their question, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”   We’re not even particularly concerned as to what Peter might find when finally he runs to the tomb and stoops down to look inside, because – spoiler alert (!) – Jesus isn’t there, but has risen!

We’ve heard the good news and it’s that God has raised Jesus from the dead; and that not only sets the stage for the whole rest of the Gospel story – the two men on the Road to Emmaus who encounter the Risen Lord, the utter stubbornness of one “Doubting Thomas” because he hasn’t, the disciples’ grilled fish breakfast with Jesus on the beach, Peter pleading with Jesus three times over(!),“Yes, Lord, you know that I love you!”  (John 21:16) – not only all that and more, but there’s also the aptly named “Great Commission,” Jesus’ command to his disciples, and us, to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” (Matthew 28:19).  We know what happened there at early dawn on the first day of the week: Jesus is alive, and that says everything about who we are as believers and it’s the central truth of faith that makes us who we are as the church.  Because of the resurrection this is us, beloved, and that’s what we’ve come here on this Easter Sunday to celebrate and for which we give our God thanks and praise!

But as I said before, we know and understand this because we know the story inside and out; but what about those who were there on the day itself?  David Lose points out that despite all the variables on how the story gets told in scripture, “one of the common elements of the resurrection stories across the gospels is that no one expects the resurrection… and no one, quite frankly, believes it at first.”  It’s true; no matter our familiarity with the story or how much of centuries’ worth of faith and tradition has been layered upon the gospel accounts, the fact remains that Easter begins not with loud praises and triumphant songs of “hallelujah,” but  rather with some women bringing spices to the tomb in order to anoint Jesus’ dead body; these caring, grieving friends of the deceased seeking to do what needed to be done and have it be finished, only to encounter something unexpected, something unsettling, something terrifying, amazing and even hopeful all at once; but ultimately something that’s altogether impossible and utterly… perplexing.

And why wouldn’t it be?  I mean, the very thought that someone who was dead – three days dead, mind you – could have possibly risen to life; well, that’s just not possible, that’s against the laws of nature, because death is irreversible!  Dead is dead; and in a wonderful quote I read this week from Anna Carter Florence, “if the dead don’t stay dead, what can you count on?” Indeed, the logical response to anyone suggesting otherwise is disbelief!  So it’s no wonder at all that the rest of the disciples quite literally dismissed this news brought forth by the women as “an idle tale,” which, by the way, in the original Greek is leros, which is where we get our word “delirious,” and was understood by the people of that time as something akin to crazy talk; in other words, what these women were saying was nothing more or less than utter nonsense!

And as Luke tells the story, at least, that’s pretty much the end of it!  We do read about how Peter was moved to run and go check out the empty tomb for himself, stooping in to look inside at the grave clothes that were there, but even then we’re told he left wondering what might have happened; as The Message translates it, “He walked away puzzled, shaking his head.”  That’s it; Peter just goes home and nothing else happens!  You know, I have to confess that as someone who likes his stories to come to a clear, definitive, and triumphant conclusion, that’s kind of disappointing! I mean, I really want to have that scene from John’s gospel with Mary weeping outside of the tomb and mistaking the Risen Christ for the gardener (!); or at the very least, I want to hear Matthew’s account of a great earthquake and how “the angel rolled the stone away!” (As the song goes, “Alleluia, what a happy day!”)  Even in Mark we get the image of the women having “fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them.” (16:8)  But in Luke, all we’re left with is a not-so idle tale and unbelieving disciples; all in all an Easter story without much of any real, first hand evidence of the resurrection whatsoever!

Like I said, it’s perplexing, to say the least…but maybe that’s not such a bad thing.  Perhaps our being perplexed is in fact the first step toward… amazement… and even believing!

It should be said here that the lack of, shall we say, empirical proof as to Jesus having risen from the dead is nothing new. In fact, for over 2,000 years now, thinkers and teachers and scientists and theologians have discussed, debated and literally fought over seeking to provide some sort of historical “proof” of the resurrection; from the very beginning there has been skepticism as to the truth of what is the core belief of our Christian faith!  And yet, despite the lack of any kind of real physical evidence, we do believe in the Risen Christ!  We know in our heart of hearts that’s it true, to the point that our very lives both now and eternally are brokered upon it; indeed, the proclamation that we make as Christians that God is even now bringing forth his kingdom into the world is all because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead!

We believe, you see… even though we weren’t there to see it happen, we still know it’s true; and we know it is because we’ve experienced it.

Ultimately Easter is more than a mere moment in history that took place just outside of Jerusalem two millennia ago on a morning not unlike this one; there is more to the resurrection than historical fact and empirical data and our understanding of what happened amounts to more than simply finding agreement in the differing accounts of the four gospel writers.  Easter, you see, is about what God has done in declaring once and for all that life is more powerful than death and love is more enduring than tragedy.  Easter is all about the overwhelming effect of God’s love to the world; a loved offered without partiality and in more abundance than the world had ever known can ever begin to comprehend.

Easter is the inevitable result of God reaching out to the whole world through Jesus, who died and rose again to demonstrate God’s love to those who don’t know about it and can’t begin to understand it because they’ve never really felt it as their own.   Easter is about love unwarranted and love undeserved but love that’s wholly offered; it’s about love extended, but not merely to the righteous uprights and those who already believe they’ve already proven themselves, but also and especially to those who believe themselves to be devoid of life and without any hope of redemption.  Easter says to each and every one of us that there is life for all from the Lord of all, demonstrated by the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Savior who has given us his victory over sin and death forever!

Actually, you know, at the end of the day this movement from being perplexed to feeling utter amazement comes down to a distance of precisely 18 inches!  That’s right, eighteen inches; that is, the distance from here, the head which insists on facts and evidence and provable data, to here, the heart, which knows the love of Christ and the truth of the resurrection.  Those eighteen inches are the difference between Easter being merely an interesting story and an intriguing possibility, and it being the key to our faith and hope in Jesus and his kingdom as well as our very lives as his disciples.

It was, after all, those eighteen inches that moved Mary and the other women from confusion to fear to utter amazement.  It was those 18 inches that compelled Peter to leave the other disciples behind, so to run to the tomb to look inside for himself, and led him to be “wondering to himself what had [actually] happened,” which turned out to be the first steps of a far greater journey of discipleship.  It was 18 inches that opened the eyes of two travelers on the road to Emmaus so that they could actually see the Risen Christ who’d been walking with them all along; and it was 18 inches that a week later led Thomas to no longer doubt but believe, confessing from his heart that right before his eyes stood his Lord and his God!

And it’s the same 18 inches that will move you and me today from perplexed to amazed.  The good news of this day  and every day is that resurrection was not just some one-time-only event breaking of the laws of nature as we know them.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ is an on-going gift of grace that is fresh and brand new with every heart that is transformed and every life that is made into something glorious by virtue of his victory over death.  That’s how, as Craig Barnes has written, that despite the world’s constant attempts to make it into something else, Easter can never really be about bunnies, springtime or girls in cute new dresses.  Easter, he says, is “about more hope than we can handle,” because first, last and always it’s about our encounter with the risen Christ here and now and how Jesus is ever and always in our midst and in our hearts; ever present in the words we speak, in the love we show, even in our questions and our doubts.  Christ is risen, and he is here now to share his power – his truth, his love, his strength, his faithfulness, his glory, his victory over death and the grave – with you and me and all those who would receive it.

This is the gospel that we proclaim and  that we believe.  We may not fully grasp the depth of his Passion, or fathom the meaning of the empty tomb; but we stand amazed at it, shouting in wonder and amazement at his glory and embracing his love; rejoicing in the truth that whether we live or we die, we belong to Christ!

So let us rejoice, beloved, in the power of the risen Christ and in the power of transforming hope; let us proclaim the truth of how death has indeed been swallowed up in victory, to the praise of our brother, our teacher, our friend, and our Savior, Jesus Christ, crucified and risen!

Christ is risen, beloved…. He is Risen Indeed!

Alleluia!  And AMEN!

c. 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2019 in Easter, Jesus, Joy, Life, Sermon

 

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