(Easter sermon 2014 at Liberty Hill Church http://www.libertyhillumc.org)
This past week as I was preparing to preach on the holiest of days in the Church calendar, I was having an ongoing conversation with an unbelieving friend. There was a time where she claimed belief in God and the supernatural. But those days are behind her and now she has moved on to less “superficial” pursuits. The story of a God who comes to earth, dies on a cross, and is raised from the dead three days later is stuff of mythical fantasies, she would declare.
However, she is not alone. The Apostle Paul says that some see the message of the cross as “foolish” (I Cor. 1:18). Add the story of the resurrection to the message and you get a tale that is difficult for many to believe. A lot of skeptical authors are making big bucks on writing against the fact that dead people don’t rise from the grave.
But they are not the first to raise doubts. Matter of fact you don’t have to go very far from the original story to discover that even those closest to Jesus had their reservations. The women go to the tomb on that first Easter morning not to see if Jesus is playing hide-n-seek but to anoint his dead body. Women went expecting to find a dead body behind a big rock. They come to the tomb because that is where they saw the body of Jesus being placed after he had died. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” the angels ask. They weren’t looking for the living. They were looking for the dead. What they discovered is that he was not dead. The rock had been rolled back. The tomb was empty. Jesus was missing. According to other gospel accounts, the first place they let their minds go is to the fact that someone must have stolen the body of Jesus. The angels remind them, “Remember how he told you that the Son of Man must die and on the third day rise again?” “Oh yea, just before he came riding into Jerusalem, he did mention something about that,” they thought. They run back to tell the other disciples. But the men found their words to be nothing short of “idle tales,” the scripture says. The root word means “delirious.” They thought the women were nuts. When he does reveal himself to the disciples no one says, “Welcome back,” Or, “We knew you come back,” Or, “What took you so long?” Jesus told them he would return but no one believed it and when he did show up, everyone doubted. So, if you find it difficult to believe in the resurrection, you are in great company. Even the disciples found it difficult to believe. Jesus has come to rescue the doubters on this Easter morning.
Besides the whole rational argument, why do we find the resurrection so difficult? Why is it that a lot of Christians are simply practical atheist? We claim to believe in a God that raises dead people but do our lives reflect it? It requires nothing short of conversion to declare that life is more powerful than death and love more lasting than hate. When you are steeped in a world where death seems to have the final word and hate rules over love then it is difficult to believe that their could be another alternative. Experience teaches that death wins. If we were all honest this morning then it would appear that the influence of death’s power is all around us. We see it in division and conflict. We read about it in war. We experience it in the breakdown of our body. It is witnessed in the break-up of marriages. It is seen in the brokenness of families.
If the angels stood before us today and asked, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” We would holler back, “We ain’t. We didn’t come thinking anyone was alive.” Go ahead follow in the footsteps of Peter and the other disciples. Run to the tomb. Peer into the empty darkness and see for yourself. Don’t be afraid of the dark. Stay as long as you need. But let your soul be calm and hear the words, “He is not here. He is risen!”
It takes courage and faith to believe in the resurrection. It is more than saying “yes” to eternal life. It is at the same time saying “no” to the power of death. It means more than choosing not to hate. It means at the same time loving your enemies. It means more than just moving on. It means at the same time choosing to forgive. It means choosing mercy over revenge. It means walking in humility instead of drowning in pride. It means believe that fear will not be the guide of my steps. It means that guilt will not keep me in the past. It means that shame will not hold me behind a rock. It means evil will one day be conquered and tears will be wiped away and death will be no more. Believing in the resurrection accepts as true that new life is possible.
Jesus is risen has brought down empires. It has reconciled families. It has sent martyrs to their graves. Jesus is risen started a revolution of Civil Rights. It has restored dignity. Jesus is risen has been the motivator to pull millions of lives out of tombs. It is the belief that puts joy in the hearts of the persecuted. It restores the righteous. Lifts up the stricken and gives comfort to the lonely.
If the story ends in death then it is the end. It is finished. But if it ends in resurrection then it is just beginning. In the resurrection our story is just beginning. Our salvation is not just something we can look forward to in the future. It is something that is here today. Salvation is near.
When the angels show up and ask, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” Tell them because we are resurrection people and we believe that life can be found even in places that smell of death. We are resurrection people and we will go to the places that have the look of death and speak life. We are resurrection people and we will not be afraid to speak life into death. We are resurrection people and we are not afraid of shadowy tombs because we know a light that can pierce the darkest of places. We are resurrection people and we will not stop until the world knows that “He is risen!”
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you” (Isaiah 60:1).