The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
April 9, 2023
Each of us has been blessed by something – say, a mountain vista, a piece of great music, a look of love in a friend’s face – that we like to think about often in order to appreciate anew the wonder and joy of it.
For some of us, Jesus’ resurrection is like that. We come to church on Easter to appreciate anew the wonder and joy of it.
Not all of us come to church this Easter for that reason, but many of us pray Easter will today get under everyone’s skin and touch everyone’s heart as never before. For we believe that Jesus’ being alive here and now is the key reality of today.
The first Easter day, some dejected, disappointed women came to Jesus’ grave 30-some hours after His execution. They didn’t expect to see Him alive again. They only expected to complete the preparation of His stiff, cold corpse for final burial, a job they’d been prevented from finishing earlier. Though they’d heard Jesus speak about rising from the dead, everyone took His words, not to be literally true, but to be a poetic way to talk about His having a life after death in another world, like we all do. The women just wanted to get their job done and go home to continue their grief work.
They must have been startled when a “great earthquake” struck – and shaken up even more when a scary figure, looking “like lightning”, appeared before them. He stunned them by telling them that Jesus had risen from His grave and by inviting them to see His empty tomb for themselves. Once they had, the angel gave them a mission: They were to “go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him.’” So the women “left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell [the] disciples.” As they sprinted off, hearts skipping with excitement, they “suddenly” bumped into Jesus Himself! Unable to curb their exuberance, they “took hold of His feet and worshipped Him.” But soon enough He hurried them off to pass on the good news to the despondent disciples who as of yet knew nothing about His resurrection.
When, however, those men in their sorry sexism dismissed the women’s testimonies as the rantings of hysterics, Jesus decided not to wait until they all got to Galilee but to visit the dull dolts that very evening.
Once they came to believe Jesus was alive, they changed dramatically. They became no longer downcast, but cheerful; no longer cowardly, but courageous; no longer weak, but powerful; no longer self-centered, but concerned about everyone, even strangers.
If we come to believe He is alive and there for us, we too will change dramatically. First, we will become happier people than we used to be. For example, we – while enjoying as we always have sunrises and sunsets, symphonies and rock concerts, friendship and family – will enjoy them all the more as foretastes of the infinitely stronger pleasures they’ll become in the fulfillment of our resurrection in Jesus. Second, we will become better people than we used to be. For example, we will grow more resolute in fighting the good fight to save this delicate planet, to supplant injustice with equity, to lift up the poor and to give folks hope they can count on; because we will believe Jesus is still on the battlefield fighting the good fight with us. We won’t then lose heart, give up and go AWOL from the war for righteousness.
Believing in Easter can do us a lot of good. But is the Easter story true? There are reasons to think so, though no proof; and compelling evidence, though no decisive evidence. There’s just enough evidence to cause us to doubt our doubts some and maybe risk a little faith.
Consider just one piece of evidence. There are folks, and a fair number in this room, who swear they’ve met a living Jesus and interacted with Him. Are we lying? Maybe, but do all of us look dishonest? Or are we simply deluded? Maybe, but do all of us look emotionally and mentally disturbed?
Easter, however, doesn’t give sceptics an intellectual question to solve so much as a relational invitation to resolve a response to. Some of us say Jesus is alive and wanting to strike up a friendship with each of us. Are we intrigued enough to check Him out and see if we hit it off? Are we open to giving Him a chance to make Himself known to us? We can give Jesus a chance by the spiritual, non-romantic equivalent of going out on a date with Him. We can read about Him in the Bible and watch what that stirs up in us, by praying and listening for some kind of response, or even by going to church!
But church is so boring, I can hear some of you think! It’s not boring if you’re wondering whether Jesus will show up. After all, He said in the Bible He’d always show up when two or three are gathered in His name. But if Jesus does always show up at church, why are half the people there falling asleep? Why aren’t more breathless with excitement over the prospect of meeting up with Him?
Well, the truth is most people can’t take much of Jesus, and thus He has to hold Himself back a bit. One father explained it this way to his young son. He told the boy we’re all like Fluffs, the family pet hamster. If you hug Fluffs too tight, it hurts him and he runs away. Jesus doesn’t want to scare anyone off. So He approaches us gently and speaks softly – so gently and softly we can easily miss His being there when He’s right in front of us!
The second thing is that most people, even at church, don’t want much of Jesus. They’d prefer for Jesus, like Fluffs, to stay in His cage most of the time. They fear His taking charge of their life. They just want Him to help them a little here, and forgive them a little there, and leave them to stay in control of all the rest. They want just a little of Jesus; but the little of Him they allow isn’t enough to catch their attention, let alone their heart.
Anyone can better know the resurrected, living Jesus if it’s the real Jesus they seek to know – a Jesus big enough to inspire deep wonder and full joy!
Will you this Easter give Him a fair chance to show you just how big He is?