The Rev. Adele K. Langworthy, preaching
Easter Courtyard Service — April 1, 2018
Today, we celebrate the gift of the resurrection. We have the wonderful gift of living it for over 2,000 years. We see new life seemingly come out of the impossible, we have years filled with evidence of the living Christ, and we remember what God has said and done.
Faith is a like a raft, that can carry you across a river that you can’t swim, taking you from the banks of your own weakness and inability to the banks of a new life filled with the power of the resurrected Christ. To entrust yourself to the raft you have to believe that the resurrection really happened. You remember the historical event of 2,000 years ago and you believe that it can make a real difference in your life and the world today. It is not a matter of closing your eyes and wishing but rather opening your eyes to the signs of the presence of Jesus all around you.
Two men in dazzling white who spoke to the women who went to Jesus’ tomb on that first Easter, just days after his crucifixion, were signs. They were signs to the women that God was present with them in their time of mourning. Their first word to the women was “remember”. What a powerful word! It appears 144 times in the Bible, 34 of which are about the act of remembering, marking its importance.
What were the women to remember? They were to remember how Jesus, while he was still in Galilee, said “that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” It was in remembering these words that the women were able to understand that the empty tomb was a gift from God, and that no one had stolen his body — but that Jesus had risen from the dead. In remembering, they believed and they ran to tell the others.
We might struggle with remembering to pick up milk at the store or where we put our keys (which those of you who know me know that remembering where my keys are, is a big issue), but in the scheme of things—these are little things to remember.
If we put our focus on remembering the God who has loved us since before the beginning of time and how his love has been demonstrated over the years, and allow that remembering to penetrate our very being, we can’t help but believe. And in believing we see each moment as an opportunity to encounter the living Christ.
Singer and songwriter Jennifer Rothchild shares this story about herself in a Billy Graham publication, Decision: “As a little girl, I was captivated by colors. I loved to get the biggest box possible and read the titles of each crayon. I would study the differences between garnet, scarlet, maroon, and burgundy. My dream was to be a commercial artist. I remember taking a crisp white paper from my dad’s office, and with a black felt-tip pen, learning to draw caricatures.
“When I was about 12, I began to have some difficulties with my sight, but they were subtle and I didn’t immediately associate the struggles with vision problems. As my junior-high years unfolded, things that most students in my grade could do so easily—like opening the combination locks on their lockers, reading from the chalkboard, or catching a ball on the softball field—were becoming really hard for me.
“I remember sitting in class and feeling a wave of anxiety when the final bell rang because I had to navigate the crowded hallways. I would constantly run into students, and that was so embarrassing. I couldn’t understand what was happening; no one else seemed so clumsy! It took me forever to realize it was because I couldn’t see the students, and my classmates could see much better than I.
“I’ll never forget the night my mom and I were visiting a friend who lived in an upstairs apartment. I was probably 13 or 14, and as we were walking up in the dark, I was stumbling. My mom asked, ‘Jennifer, can’t you see the stairs?’ I asked her with just as much curiosity, ‘What do you mean? Can you see the stairs?’
“By ninth grade, my eyesight had worsened. The glasses I had worn since I was a little girl were no longer compensating for my sight loss. After several visits to the eye doctor, he told my parents and me that there was something wrong and recommended we go to an eye hospital. I had no idea what I was about to discover.
“At the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, the doctors told us that I had retinitis pigmentosa, which essentially meant my retinas were deteriorating. The prognosis was total blindness. I don’t remember the exact words that were used that day, but I do remember the word ‘blindness,’ because that’s not a word I expected to hear. My parents and I had the same response: silence. We knew something was wrong with my eyes, but even so, we were shocked.
“In the silence of that difficult ride home from the hospital, my mind was racing. I thought, I’m not going to be able to drive a car. I’m not going to be able to be an artist. I remember the disappointment of that. And I questioned, Are boys going to want to date me? How am I going to finish high school? Will I be able to go off to college? Sitting in the back seat of our family car, I felt my fingertips and wondered if I would have to read Braille someday.
“Finally, we arrived home. I went straight to my old upright piano in the living room, and the silence of the hospital and the ride home was broken as I began to play. I had taken a few years of piano lessons and could sight-read in simple keys. But on this day I could no longer see the sheet music. Instead, I played by ear for the very first time. The song that filled my living room that day—the song that fills my heart to this day—was that beloved hymn ‘It Is Well with My Soul.’
“It was a miracle that on that very dark day, God gave me hope and light through the gift of playing by ear—an unmistakable sign. But the greatest miracle wasn’t that I played “It Is Well with My Soul;” the greatest miracle was that, because I was a Christian, it really was well with my soul. With such a concise statement, God gave new color to my life. Blindness has remained with me; it’s still not well with my circumstance, but God has made it well with my soul.
“One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is that God uses painful circumstances in our lives for good. My hero, Joni Eareckson Tada, who has been in a wheelchair since she was a teenager, makes this point well when she says that God allows what he hates in order to accomplish what he loves. I know that God’s heart is broken when he sees our hearts break. I believe that just as Jesus wept at Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus weeps when he sees us cry tears of loss. I’m convinced that God is well acquainted with the sorrow and struggles that I experience. Yet, at the same time, he loves me enough—and this is why I’m so loyal to him—to let me encounter sorrow, taste bitter emotions, and feel loss. He trusts me to be a good steward of that sorrow. He loves me enough to let me experience that pain so that he can accomplish something he loves—which for me has been a deeper character and a more eternal perspective.
“I am convinced that God’s grace has sustained me. If healing were sufficient, God would have provided it. If deliverance were sufficient, God would have delivered me. But he’s allowed me to live with blindness, yet live equally with the sufficiency of his grace, and that grace shows up in different ways on different days. But in whatever way it shows up, it has always been truly sufficient. It may never be well with our circumstances, but through God’s grace, it can always be well with our souls.”
Jennifer had signs all along the way that God was with her, caring for her and making for her a way in life to grow ever closer to the living savior, Jesus Christ. Being able to play by ear after receiving the news about her looming blindness was a dramatic sign, there was resurrection life for her to grow in and live.
There is resurrection life for you and me, as well—today.
Just as Jennifer rode the raft from the banks her own weakness and inability to the banks of a new life filled with the power of the resurrected Christ, so too can we.
Remember and believe — you will land on the banks of new life filled with the resurrected Christ and dance with him.