Love at Large, Old First Easter Sermon 03.31.13

Love at Large, Old First Easter Sermon 03.31.13

Isaiah 25:6-9 and Mark 16:1-8.

Without Easter, it can be said, we wouldn’t know about Jesus.

I could mean without the resurrection, we wouldn’t really know him fully. But I’m speaking even more basically– if his story had ended with his crucifixion, he would have been forgotten.

A religious reformer,
trying to make the outward forms of the faith of his day more personal and spiritual —
to bring people into a closer relationship with God that would translate into:

~ deeper respect for others and
~ greater self-acceptance, and
~ more loving service to one’s neighbor.

But without the resurrection, it all would have only been,
admirable aims that garnered some followers for a time,
before it all ended with his crucifixion.
Without Easter,
he would have just been one more Jew crucified by the Roman Empire,
in a bloody century that witnessed thousands of such executions.

Indeed, without Easter, we wouldn’t even — essentially — have Good Friday,
because there would have been no abiding community
to remember or find meaning in his death…

I think the same argument can be made
for Easter and experiences of the resurrected Christ:
Had no one encountered the Risen One,
I’m not sure we’d know about Easter.

…Neither understood that the crucified One came back to life,
nor more basically really have recognized that resurrection is God’s promise,
much less have had an abiding faith community trying to live out
what resurrection means in and for our world.

We studied Mark’s retelling of Jesus’ last week during the season of Lent,
and in Mark, the first of the Gospels to be written, at least in its first ending,
(what we just heard Alice read),
there’s no appearance story at all.

Instead, the women go to the tomb.
Where the stone has been rolled away.
And the body is missing.

They meet an angel there who says “Jesus is risen.”
The angel then instructs the women to tell the others that Jesus is going ahead of them to Galilee, and there they will see him.

The women are frightened by all this,
and they run away and, Mark says, they tell no one.

End of story.

Besides the obvious problem with that narrative–
unless one of the women is the author of the Gospel…
if they told no one, how then would we know what happened?…

Beside that literary question,
I think it can be said that the empty tomb by itself wouldn’t have been enough. Wouldn’t have gotten most of us past the doubts, our disbelief.
People don’t just rise from the dead after all.

A missing body would have been too easy to explain away,
going with the theory that his disciples had taken the evidence
and fabricated the story
to suggest that the authorities hadn’t really defeated their leader.

But more importantly,
an empty tomb wouldn’t have been enough,
because we desperately need the help of a risen Savior.

That’s why, later, there’s another ending added to Mark —
wherein Jesus, we are told, did in fact appear to
Mary Magdalene and
2 disciples on the road and
the 11 disciples sitting around a table.

And the other 3, later Gospels all include appearance stories:

Matthew has 2 appearance stories.
1) To the women as they are leaving the empty tomb.
2) And to the disciples in Galilee where he gives them the Great Commission.

Luke has 3 appearance stories.
1) To Cleopas and his companion on the Road to Emmaus.
2) To Simon.
3) And to the disciples, though still in Jerusalem.

John has 4 appearance stories.
1) To Mary in the Garden by the Tomb.
2) To the disciples gathered in the locked upper room.
3) Later again to the disciples, but this time when Thomas is with them.
4) And finally, by the lakeshore when 7 of them have gone fishing.

Curiously, they are mostly different stories of encountering the resurrected One — perhaps the communities that created the oral traditions
that grew into the Gospels
knew and remembered their own experiences of the risen Christ?

Maybe even… the later the Gospel was written,
the more appearance stories,
because Jesus kept showing up!

Most immediately, appearance stories are dramatic illustrations,
meaning to show the most basic of Christian claims– that “Jesus lives.”

The latter New Testament writers go to lengths
to make sure their readers recognize
Jesus is REALLY raised from the dead —

Not an apparition,
nor a vision,
nor a longing,
nor a religious imagination —

But living again after having been completely, undeniably dead,
fully, really alive.

Just as in death, we could touch his lifeless corpse that was laid in a tomb,
but otherwise there was no other interaction possible but memory,
now resurrected,
we can touch him living flesh.
And talk with him.
Eat with him.
Hear his voice.
Worship him.

But even deeper,
the promise of these resurrection encounters with Christ,
they aren’t only more compelling, direct testimony —
not just more convincing details
than the empty tomb’s argument from the negative.

No, these appearances are more vital to our faith:
They mean not only that God vindicates Jesus
who was wrongly killed by world authority,
but that God has brought Jesus back to us.

Resurrection for the Christian community is not
some theoretical or philosophical or experientially inaccessible life
in some banished, disembodied, place of honor in heaven.

This is no resurrection outside of the world and life and people God so loved.
No resurrection that’s only known between God and Jesus.

Rather, God raised Jesus to be a risen Savior,
sent into and for the redeeming of the world,
a Savior still present to his followers,
God’s agent,
to reach and touch and turn us,
to be with us,
the continuing presence of Love.

God’s love at large,
in order to further the work of healing a broken world–
or better empowering said disciples to take up that work
and to carry it even farther than their Master did in his lifetime.

The risen One is still walking and talking and eating
…somehow even MORE with us
than he was or ever could have been in his earthly ministry.

Resurrection is a revelation:
God’s love can’t be killed anymore than it can be contained.

Jesus has not been defeated,
is not dead,
has not disappeared,
is not now distant or ethereal,
or been banished or stopped in any way…

Rather, resurrected,
God’s love accompanies us in new, more complete ways…
beyond the limits of the physical world and beyond our understanding.

No longer simply flesh and blood or limited by space and time…
the reality of God’s love can now enter locked rooms,
journey with followers without being recognized,
be experienced in both Galilee and Jerusalem or anywhere else,
even play with time itself,
appearing or vanishing in a moment of recognition,
coming and going and yet abiding with his followers always…
to the end of the age.

The increasing number of appearance stories,
of encounters with the risen Christ that we find in the Gospels
were just the beginning.

As John’s Gospel says explicitly:
“But there are so many other things that Jesus did,
I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

The truth of the affirmation “Jesus lives”
it isn’t just a record of a few encounters
that occurred for forty days between Easter and Ascension.

It’s the experience of Christians throughout the centuries.
That he is somehow present and with us and ministering to his faithful.
We may not always be aware,
we may only recognize him sometimes,
but he’s always there with us.

For the individual this awareness is a gift, but not essential:
John records Jesus reassuring,
“Blessed are those who have not seen, yet believed.”

But for the community, I suspect, these “Jesus lives” “aha” experiences,
the encounters with the risen One supporting, challenging, teaching, forgiving…
they are crucial.

…That people can witness to the whole
how Jesus is a living, loving reality.

That Jesus lives.

How Jesus Is.

When and where Jesus is seen still ministering to us.

Beloved, each of us still wonders sometimes.
Has our doubts.
The tombs that keep us in the dark.
The stones that haven’t seem to have been, can’t be rolled away.

But wherever you fear Jesus can’t reach you.
However you doubt he’s there for you.
Easter and its resurrection appearances are your answer.

I hope each of you will ask yourself this morning and on through the day,
Where’ve I met the risen Christ?

It’s important to remember. And you might suddenly see an encounter you hadn’t recognized. Or hear someone else tell of their experience.

It is important to tell people of these strange things that happen to us.

I asked the 19 people at the Dawn service this morning
who among them,
how many had had some experience of the risen Christ.

Remember, if you haven’t, you can still believe!
But as we dispersed from that early morning service,
hurried our different ways,
mostly rushing back here for Easter breakfast,
I walked back with 3 people,
and I heard from 2 people about the times the risen Christ had come to them…

I’ve said it before,
but I think we have more spiritual experiences than we usually tell others about.
And leaving them unarticulated, unshared, we all lose.
It’s sort of like staying in the tomb.
Or telling nobody.
You miss the wonder of hearing your own words communicate
the mystery and the miracle.
You also deny someone else’s chance to hear and believe
that there’s so much more in this world than meets the eye…

Maybe that’s why following Jesus is such a never-ending process
of losing the resurrected One the moment we have him captured.
Only to meet him again in a more unmanageable form?

Sometimes I think our insistence that “we know him,”
can tell where he will be
and what he will do or say,
all our expectations are our futile efforts to get him back in the tomb.
Where we can contain him. Keep him from changing. Under our control.
But he just won’t stay there.

Church, what we long for.
What we want to hold on to or miss and beg God to give us back–
it’s dead.
Easter doesn’t change that.
Jesus isn’t going to take us back to the way it was.

The only way out of darkness and from death is moving ahead.
The only one who can lead such an exodus is the risen Savior.
Not the old “Rabbouni” we once knew.
But someone new, who we don’t quite recognize,
can’t even imagine…
Even our past encounters with Jesus can become “the former things”
we now need to leave behind if we are going to journey on with him.

Beloved, I’m not asking if you believe in the doctrine of resurrection?
That’s in our heads.
And actually already in our pasts.

Before long, all dogmatic beliefs like that
are reduced to greeting card sentiments
about “the spirit of Easter”
or “a Springtime hope for new beginnings.”

Or our dogmatic beliefs get us caught up in the work of
making ourselves believe
the historicity of the resurrection…
which is just another way of begging the question.

The challenge of faith isn’t
“Do you believe Jesus crucified was resurrected on the third day?”

The Easter Gospel never asks,
“Do you believe?”

It surprises us with a far profounder question,
“Have you met the risen Christ?”

Nothing was ever the same for people who met Jesus after Easter.
They no longer had any confidence
in their grasp of their world,
or even in their hold on him.

Instead, our trust has to be in his and God grasp and hold on us, of us.

Seeing or experience or believing that, we’re ready for anything.

Beloved, seek a risen Savior,
one resurrected from your disappointments, failings and losses.

Because that’s where Easter is–
out in front.

After resurrection,
things aren’t going to return to normal.

That’s the change this risen Jesus makes… there is never again a normal.
We can’t even count on darkness and death anymore.

It’s the Good News.
It’s the premise for everything else the New Testament proclaims.

All we know is that the risen Savior is on the loose;
God’s love is at large.

He can’t be held still.
Or stopped from moving ahead.
And he knows us.
He shows up.
He stays with us, even as he expects us to move on.

Even when we aren’t or if we’re never quite sure where he is,
or how he’s so close,
or what exactly he’s asking of us
or why it is this way…

But he IS (in the most profound way possible)
that we can count on,
be changed by,
begin to really live through…