Congregational Church of Grafton UCC, April 16, 2017 Easter Sunday
Jeremiah 31:3b – I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
John 20:1-18 – Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
There are mornings, these days, when it just doesn’t seem worthwhile to turn on the radio, open the newspaper, and hear what’s happened since the last time we checked in on the news.
Yet another prep school has admitted they tolerated decades of teachers abusing their students.
A highly respected judge in New York City died in what looks like a suicide.
A shooting in this place, an assault that one, a bomb dropped on an enemy.
It sure seems as though, most of the time the world is stuck is some sort of Groundhog Day-type Good Friday.
We exchange insults and engage in violence. We are mired in despair and without hope – all because it just doesn’t seem as though anything we can do will make a real difference in our world.
It’s as if it’s a jungle out there – a figurative one, to be true, but a literal one as well. Figurative because, well, Massachusetts isn’t a jungle-type climate. But literal because whatever our climate, we’re behaving like a gang of unprincipled predators.
What other way is there to describe a world where a 69 year old physician can be dragged off an airplane, one where he’d bought and paid for a ticket… dragged off with such violence that he ends up losing two teeth, breaking his nose and incurring a concussion?
What other way is there to describe a world where the airline then goes on to blame the paying passenger, and helps spread the false word that the doctor is actually a convicted felon, as if that would excuse this level of brutality.
And as I watched the video of this terrible event, the thing that struck me was this: not one passenger stood up in the aisle and said “no more.” Not one person tried to stop the police. Yes, a number of folks made videos of the violence and those videos have made a difference, but when it was happening, no one said, “not here, not now, not ever.”
It’s as if we sit there muttering like the disciples at the empty tomb: “they have taken all the good away, and we do not know where to look…. Or what to do, or how to live.”
The temptation is to turn away from today’s realities, and to look back to what we fondly remember as the time when everything was good, until, of course, we remember that those good old days had their own set of challenges, and were no better than today in many ways.
We have, in our pain, in our distress, lost sight of God’s everlasting love.
We just want something to go right. In our lost-ness, we look in all the wrong places for that missing joy.
Maybe our children will make up for the sore spots in our souls by being so good in school????
Maybe having the latest gizmo will fill in that empty yearning to be acceptable.
Maybe a new kitchen will put a better front on our lives.
Maybe if we drink enough, or take another of those pills that almost made us forget the pain of our last operation.
Maybe the only way is – if we think someone was mean to us, we’ll just go ahead and be mean in return. Or we’ll attack the powerless, and make sure everyone knows they’re the scapegoats for all that’s wrong in our world.
But the thing is — none of it works. None of it makes things better. Self-indulgence doesn’t make things better. Self-medication doesn’t do it; disdain, contempt and hatred won’t do it either.
Here’s the good news: today, the hatred ends. Today we step away from that eternal repeating Good Friday life. Because Christ the Lord is risen, and the power of indifference, the power of cruelty, the power of death…done, defeated.
Say it loud, say it strong: God has changed the world, evil will not triumph over good, death does not have the last word, nice guys will not finish last.
God has come back again, to give us another chance to catch the vision, to see how God’s world works, to recognize and respond to God’s mighty love.
This story wouldn’t work on tv. It doesn’t begin in glory, like some sort of heavenly Super Bowl victory, complete with swaggering disciples like the Patriots after the last Super Bowl. The Duck Boat parade? It was last week… a week too soon, and celebrating power rather than love.
This week the story begins in obscurity, powerty, contempt and dismissal. The story doesn’t move on to triumph after triumph. Jesus is a poor carpenter, from the land of losers.. an uneducated rube from the back side of acceptable. This isn’t the story of some poor white son, born in a log cabin, orphaned at an early age, who by dint of charm, smarts, and a Yale education manages to make himself into one of the power brokers of the world.
No, God’s love is shown to us in the story of a man who was betrayed by his friends, beaten by the authorities, executed in shame and disgrace, buried in a borrowed tomb. God’s love is shown to us in a failure.
The story is all too common. Jesus was betrayed by a friend, yep, I’ve seen that. The power brokers of his world run him thru a rigged trial; yep, seen that too. He’s killed, brutally, <sigh> yep, that too. And all his companions ran away — really, it wasn’t safe, so smart of them to have quietly disappeared. That all that happened to Jesus is so believable.
What’s hard to believe is what comes next, today, the story of resurrection, re-birth, beginning.
He was dead. He was buried. The story was over. But this is a whole new story. This story doesn’t fit our experience. This story doesn’t match our expectations. It fights with our understanding of how the world works, and so we struggle to understand what really happened and what it means for us today.
It was a morning like this one, a cold and damp start to the day when the women came to the tomb. They were still lost in the pain of Friday, in the emptiness of Saturday, and the damp chill of the morning fit their mood perfectly.
As they peered into the tomb, though, the axis of their world shifted. From that moment on, nothing was what it had seemed. There were no answers to the pain of the world, and then, they began to understand that violence had been defeated by peace, that hatred had been laid low by love, that nothing had been replaced by something.
This story makes no scientific sense. Dead people don’t rise. Sometimes we think, well, this was easier for those folks back in the day to believe. They didn’t know what we know about bodies and death, so of course they could really pick up on resurrection. Unfortunately, it’s just not so. They may not have understood the circulatory system back in the day, but they were really familiar with death in ways we’re not. In Jesus’ day when someone died, their family took care of the body. They knew exactly how final death was. Resurrection, a risen Christ, made no more sense to them than to us.
We know there’s lots in life that’s beyond scientific explanation. Science can’t explain why we love; heck, we can’t explain why we love. So, why should science be asked to authenticate this even deeper mystery of God’s love for us?
So, don’t get lost in the science; the story of the Resurrection isn’t a science report. It’s a faith statement that, despite all the evidence, despite everything that happens, we do not believe death is the final answer. Love has destroyed the power of death.
Something about this story rang true: that this whatever-it-was, this resurrection, was the power of forgiveness, was the power of love. This Resurrection shows us how to start again when all else fails… Resurrection makes the deep, true nature of God abundantly clear.
Those people, those people who were there, who had known Jesus, came to understand that the best, most accurate word to describe what they’d seen and experienced, was Resurrection. Jesus had been dead, They knew that for sure. And now he was not in his tomb; now they found themselves surely led, as surely as when he had been with them before.
While he was dead, they too had felt dead, stripped of all belief, all power, huddled together in fear. But now, they stood up and stepped out. Now they were strong again. Now God’s everlasting love had acted through Jesus Christ, to bring life out of death.
The Resurrection is the active power of God’s love, transforming and saving the world. The disciples were changed by Resurrection. It changed them, changed their world, and still is changing us today. They saw God’s love, and shared it, built on it, followed it.
Now, today, we who follow the Risen Christ are called to take hold of that love as well and to use it to change this world, our world.
“Life has a centrifugal force that pulls us apart. The flow of our days draws us away from each other” unless we work actively to choose differently, writes Connecticut pastor Milton Brasher-Cunningham. He goes on to suggest that it is the little acts of love, little signs of resurrection which counteract that force… that the force of love is draws us together to build community.
This is the core of our faith. In the midst of the worst that life can send, we serve a risen Savior, one who conquered evil and death, who endured torture and execution, , and through it all, taught us how to live, how to love.
Easter is a day that begins at the bottom of the ditch, lost in failure, despair, defeat — and comes back, begins again, climbs back up, Easter is a day of new beginnings.
Easter doesn’t end fear; it makes it possible for us to overcome our fear with our joy. Because the promise of the resurrection is that this wasn’t just something that happened once; it is a sign to all of us that there is always new life and possibility, forgiveness and love.
Good Friday does not rule our world. We are not defeated by pessimism and failure. We walk in the way of Christ, in peace, love and joy. This time, we’ve all won.
Christ the Lord is risen today.