John 20:1-18
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
Easter Sunday

I realize that not everyone here is convinced it really happened; but, if Jesus did rise from the grave, it means something phenomenal: that there is out there a good and great God who, with enormous love and huge strength, brings life out of death – in fact, a new kind of life so potent and powerful that it’s better than the life we’d always hoped for, and so substantial and invincible that it endures for all eternity!

In his book Our Greatest Gift, my old professor from Yale, Henri Nouwen, spins an imaginary tale about twins in the womb, a brother and a sister who talk to each other.

The sister announces to her brother, “I believe there is life after birth.” “I doubt it,” he counters. “This is the only life we know, and it’s very nice. So let’s just enjoy it, and not bother about any crazy possibilities.” She protests, “But there must be something more than this present darkness which keeps us so confined. I’d hope that somewhere there’s light – and freedom of movement.” He shrugs in reply, “Maybe, but it’s enough to deal with what’s right before us now.”

After a long hesitation, she speaks up again: “I have something else to say which I fear you’re also going to dislike to hear: I think there’s a person out there called mother who’s behind all this and whom we will meet some day.” “Will you knock it off?” he replies. “I have never seen anyone else, and neither have you. We’re it. Why do you always have to look for something more? Let’s just make the most of what we have.”

“But,” she persists, “don’t you feel those unpleasant and sometimes painful squeezes every once in a while? Maybe they’re preparing us to move on to a different kind of life, maybe even one in which we’ll have a rendezvous with mother.” “You and your foolish dreams,” brother answers shaking his head. “Life is what it is, and it’s all we’ve got – and all we’ve got to deal with.”

If Jesus really rose from the grave, then dreams of something more are not foolish fantasies, and we don’t have to settle for the status quo. If Jesus really rose from the grave, then what the Bible says is true: that, just as there is life after birth, there is life after death; that there is a great Person out there with whom we can strike up a relationship; that that Person so loved the world that He gave us Jesus; that Jesus died to give us a full life, one that could start now, but that would never come to an end; and that Jesus Himself is still living, loving and enlivening anyone whose heart is open.

If Jesus really rose from the grave, we have good reason to aim for a better life here and now and a supremely better life hereafter! And, if we can believe that, we can begin to experience how that second life infuses the first life with foretastes of its greater joys – like a fresh, bracing breeze from a mountain summit or the aroma wafting out of a gourmet cook’s kitchen. Then we would, for example, appreciate the delights we’re relishing this glorious day – the flowers, the music, the warm fellowship of friends and family – not just as wonders in and of themselves, but also as samples of higher and deeperwonders still to come.

Would not the prospect of such wonders elevate our spirits with glad hope, with a song to sing in the face of trial and trouble, with a brave boldness to put everything we have on the line to do justice and extend compassion? Would we not shine with love, kindness and grace for others?

Two years ago, the San Francisco Chronicle ran an article about a bus driver named Linda Wilson-Allen, a bus driver who loves her riders. She smiles at everyone who boards her bus. She greets her regulars by name and asks about their loved ones! She cares so much about her riders she’s been known to get out of her seat to help a rider struggling up the steps, or to bring home-baked cookies to regulars looking downcast. You won’t be surprised to learn that some riders wave on earlier-arriving buses in order that they might ride Linda’s bus.

What with cranky people, traffic jams, troublesome gears, and gum on the floor – it’s an accomplishment to remain a composed, kind and caring bus driver. So how does Linda do it? The Chronicle notes, “Her mood is set every day at 2:30 a.m. when she gets down on her knees to pray for 30 minutes.” Because Linda spends time with a living and loving Jesus, she grows alive with His love – and it enables her to make Metro Transit bus no. 45 a little bit of heaven, even for those who don’t believe in it.

The still living and loving Jesus enlivens any who are open to Him, but some of us are afraid to be open to Him. For, even if we’re otherwise drawn to Him, we fear He might ask is to do something we don’t want to do – say, our money or time more generously with the needy – or to stop doing something we want to keep doing – say, over-indulging our appetite for food, sex or something else. So we close the door when Jesus gets too close. But in doing that, we may be missing out on the best friend and the best life we could have.

People who hold back from a great possibility because they want to hold on to some small pleasure are like the man who has a terrible illness and goes to a doctor about it. She tells him, “I have a cure for you: Follow the advice I give you, and take the medicine I prescribe, and you’ll live healthy and happy for a very long time. There’s only one condition to making this remedy work: You have to give up eating chocolate, for there’s an ingredient in it that counteracts the cure.” The man stares at the doctor in horror and exclaims, “Life without chocolate! That’s not a life worth living! If I have to give up chocolate, I’ll stay with the disease even it kills me.” Wouldn’t you shake your head in astonishment at such foolishness, at such a loss of a sense of priority?

But isn’t it just as foolish to refuse to give the Person Jesus might be for you a chance to prove to you He’s alive and able to give you a better and more enduring life? Wouldn’t that relatively small sacrifice required for giving Him a shot be worth the a possibility of the far larger benefit He promises?

Let us all this Easter be wise and be open to Jesus’ enriching our life more than we ever thought it could be. Let us allow Him the opportunity to show Himself anew by bringing us a new and better life. Let us pray.

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