(Originally preached at Alger First UMC)
Easter Sunday, Year C
I think all of us, throughout our lives, have had some kind of life-changing, paradigm-shifting moment. Something happens to us, we go through something, we meet somebody, and life is never the same again. We look at everything through a brand new lens, we see the world differently.
I had one of those when I graduated from ONU with my music degree and became a student at my seminary in Delaware. This was a huge change. I went from my identity as a music student to a new identity as a seminary student. I went from practicing my trumpet all the time and playing in 5 different musical ensembles to sitting in my seminary’s library and just reading all day. And there’s a whole new knowledge base required. No one at seminary cares that I can play a F# harmonic minor scale in two octaves. No one at seminary cares that I’ve basically memorized Antonin Dvorak’s 9th Symphony. You all probably don’t even care about that! So this is a whole new identity, a whole new life. I now have to split my time between Delaware and here, I’m around a whole new group of people. It’s life changing. I can never again look at the world like I did before I graduated.
I know that we’ve all had experiences like this: life-changing, paradigm-shifting experiences in our lives. Maybe for you, it was getting married. Maybe your world changed irrevocably when you got your driver’s license. Maybe it was when you graduated from high school or college. Maybe it was when you had kids, or became grandparents. Maybe it happened when you started a new job. We’ve all gone through these life experiences, good and bad, that have absolutely changed our life and made us into a different person, right?
This is what the resurrection did for Jesus’ disciples, and this is what the resurrection can still do for us today. This changes everything.
“Very early in the morning on the first day of the week, the women went to the tomb, bringing the fragrant spices they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. They didn’t know what to make of this. Suddenly, two men were standing beside them in gleaming bright clothing. The women were frightened and bowed their faces toward the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He isn’t here, but has been raised. Remember what he told you while he was still in Galilee, that the Human One must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words. When they returned from the tomb, they reported all these things to the eleven and all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles. Their words struck the apostles as nonsense, and they didn’t believe the women. But Peter ran to the tomb. When he bent over to look inside, he saw only the linen cloth. Then he returned home, wondering what had happened.” (Luke 24:1-12, CEB)
All four Gospels-Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John-have this story, of course. None of them have exactly the same story, each Gospel writer put their own spin on it. But one thing they do have in common, besides the empty tomb, are two emotions.
Is that strange to you? Because I think it should be. Our Easter celebrations never talk about fear and doubt. We focus on the joy of the resurrection. Christ is risen from the dead, death has been defeated, the shadows of evil have been driven away by the Light of the World, Alleluia! But the Gospel accounts say it differently. When the women at the tomb and the other disciples hear about it, the two most common emotions are fear and doubt. That should sound weird to us.
But maybe these emotions of fear and doubt are just as appropriate as the joy and happiness we normally feel today. Think about it-if someone can rise again from the dead, what in the world does that mean?
The only sure things in life are… death and taxes, right? But one of those two are not certain anymore.
If the dead don’t stay dead, what can you count on anymore?
Maybe the disciples were filled with fear and doubt because they saw that this changes everything. Could you say that with me? This changes everything. Maybe they realized that Jesus wasn’t just a miracle worker or a great teacher. This proved that Jesus was the Son of God, God in Godself in the flesh. This guy who they’ve been hanging out and traveling around and eating with for three years is God.
Everything has changed-That brings fear. The world used to work in a certain way. Everything was headed toward death, mortality was everywhere. You could count on the fact that, sooner or later, death would come knocking. But this guy Jesus-he broke that fundamental rule. How can any of the other rules that govern our existence be trusted? The dead don’t stay dead. How do we know that gravity is going to continue working? This changes everything. Can you say that again? This changes everything.
I read a commentary that had this great quote about resurrection (found here).“If it’s not hard to believe, you’re probably not paying attention.” It went on to say “Resurrection isn’t simply a claim that Jesus’ body was resuscitated; it’s the claim that God entered the stage of human history in order to create an entirely new reality all together.” This is a huge claim. If there’s not even the smallest bit of doubt in you, if you’re not even in the least bit asking the question “This isn’t for real, is it?” then you’re probably not really paying attention.
But despite how hard this is to believe, we as followers of Christ are a people of the Resurrection. We are the crazy people who believe that at a specific point in the history of the world, something happened that shattered all of our normal expectations for how things are supposed to work out. We are the people with the insane belief that the world is not actually marching toward death and destruction.
We believe that new life is coming, there is a bright horizon ahead of us.
The night is almost over, dawn is on the horizon.
This changes everything. Can you say that with me? This changes everything. We are now living in a new reality. The old rules don’t apply anymore, the dead don’t even stay dead. And each Easter, this new life begins again and again and again and again. It is always new, always being reborn. Death is being defeated, right as I speak. The shadows are being chased away right at this moment. It’s just like the trees that die every winter but come alive again every spring. This changes everything. Say that again-This changes everything.
But I wonder-do you really believe this? Maybe you celebrate Easter every year, maybe you say you believe, but do you believe? Do you understand?
There’s good news here-this story tells us that fear and doubt are totally understandable. We do not and cannot understand this completely. But that’s ok. If you are overwhelmed by this idea of Jesus rising again; if you are overcome by this idea that our lives don’t have to be a steady march toward death, but can actually be a climb up the mountain toward new life, then maybe you actually understand this story better than most people. Because this changes what? Everything. We don’t have to totally understand it. Be we can believe it. We can have faith in Jesus’ resurrection and our own resurrection. And we can even experience it.
For the season of Lent that just ended yesterday, for the past seven weeks, we’ve been preparing to remember and reaffirm our baptisms today, at this service, in celebration of the resurrection.
You see, in baptism, we participate in Christ’s death and resurrection. In baptism, we are washed and cleansed of our sins. We are born again into new life. We are liberated from our old life of death and brokenness. And we are initiated into the body of Christ, the church, the community of people who live in this brand new world of the resurrection where everything has changed and the rules no longer apply.
Even if we don’t understand the Resurrection, we can still participate in it as baptized followers of Christ. Today, in celebration of the glory of Resurrection, we are going to remember our baptisms and reaffirm who we are, what we believe, and who we believe in. Then we are going to celebrate Communion. Because you see, in baptism, we are initiated into a new life for which God has created us. But baptism is made complete in Communion, where we receive the nourishment that enables us to continue to live that life.
(The service continued with remembering our baptisms and then celebrating Communion.)