Matthew 28:1-9
10:30 a.m. & 1:00 p.m. Easter Sunday
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching

The resurrection of Jesus was the grand reversal. What looked like defeat turned into triumph; what looked like degrading humiliation turned into decisive vindication; what looked like the end of a joy ride turned into the start of an adventure of happiness and holiness.

The first Easter changed the world. Evil had given its best shot, and goodness won. Death had given its best shot, and life won. Despair had given its best shot, and hope won. Let me explain.

When at Calvary evil had its foul hands around the neck of the one perfectly good human being and the Son of God from whom all good derives, evil brought all its dark powers and vile energy down upon Him to annihilate Him and to eliminate any chance good had for victory.

But from its Good Friday assault, the God-Man emerged triumphant at Easter, exposing the fraudulent illusion of evil’s might. Evil couldn’t keep Jesus down, and thus it can never keep down justice, compassion or goodness in any form.

But, skeptics ask, did Easter really break the back of evil and disable it? Did Easter really turn the tide in the war between darkness and light? One wonders when we still see so much violence, injustice and wrong.

Here is a picture that may help us grasp the way in which Easter changed the world: One day, into the home of a missionary couple stationed in the deep African jungle, an enormous snake – much longer than a man — slithered. Fearing for their lives, the couple ran out of the house.

A heroic, machete-wielding neighbor came to the rescue. He marched into the house and decapitated the snake with a mighty chop. When he stepped out, he told the missionaries that the reptile was taken care of, but warned them that they must wait a good while before reentering their home. That was because it takes some time for a dead snake to act dead, since a reptilian nervous system keeps firing signals for body movement after the body’s been separated from the head.

For the next several hours, the missionaries were forced to wait outside, queasy and sweating, while inside the snake thrashed about, flailing against walls and smashing furniture as its life ran out of it. The couple consoled themselves by holding on to the promise that its wrecking rampage would eventually come to an end.

Suddenly they saw they had a picture of what Jesus had accomplished at Easter. He entered where we live, decapitated evil and assured its ultimate destruction; but evil still thrashes about in its death throes doing damage.

Unlike the neighbor, however, Jesus – who is not content just to assure that evil’s days numbered – stayed on the premises and stayed in the battle to expedite the end of its activity. Moreover, He invited His friends to come along side of Him in fighting that fight.

We join the fight to finish off evil when we believe it’s only a matter of time before it is rendered utterly harmless. We join the fight when we believe that, though our contribution to the cause may seem inconsequential, Jesus’ contribution is so consequential that with Him we can make a difference in the course of the war. Easter means that every act of love and kindness we take, every protest against oppression we make, every piece of trash we pick up, every drop of water we conserve, will somehow add something to the new world Jesus is bringing. Our smallest acts have infinite significance.

Easter means that despite the ongoing activity of evil, goodness will win. Second, it means that despite the inevitability of death, life will win.

The Christian poet George Herbert once said this to death in light of Jesus’ death. He wrote, “Thy curse being laid on him, makes thee accursed. / Spare not, do thy worst. / I shall be one day better than before.” In Christ, we shall live after we die, and we shall, after we die, become better than before.

Because Jesus entered the grave, we can by Him come out of our grave. Because He was made ugly on the cross, we can by Him become magnificently beautiful, even glorious.

C.S. Lewis expressed it this way: “The dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw them now, you would be tempted to worship….If we let [Christ] – for we can prevent Him, if we choose – he will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a…dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright, stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) God’s own boundless power…and goodness.”

Because Jesus rose, all who unite with Him shall rise better than before. That will be an everlasting glory one day, and the thought of that is in these days an unceasing comfort. We can let go of loved ones who have died in the Lord, because we know that doing so is not forever, and because we believe we will spend all of time together in the hereafter and will have them there in their purest, truest, best form.

Despite the ongoing activity of evil, Easter means goodness will win in the end. Despite the universal inevitability of death, Easter means life will win in the end. Finally, despite the unending temptation to despair, Easter means hope will win in the end.

Rick Warren, the author of The Purpose Driven Life, and his wife Kay were driven to the brink of despair following the tragic suicide of their 27-year-son Matthew after years of battling depression and mental illness.

About a year after their devastating loss, Rick said, “I’ve often been asked, ‘How have you made it? How have you kept going in your pain?’ I’ve always replied, ‘The answer is Easter.’ You see, the death and the burial and the resurrection of Jesus happened over three days. Friday was the day of suffering…and agony. Saturday was the day of doubt and confusion and misery. But Easter Sunday was the day of hope and joy and victory.

“It is a fact of life: you will face these three days over and over again. And when you do, you’ll find yourself asking – as I did –three fundamental questions: ‘What do I do in my days of pain?’ ‘How do I get through my days of doubt and confusion?’ ‘How do I get to the days of joy and victory?’ The answer is always Easter.”

If I believe in Easter, I believe Jesus is still around to pour His resurrection life into me, that I might have what it takes to put my suffering to good use, to keep moving forward even in the worst of times, and rest in the thought I’m on my way to a wonderful destination.

Though I will undergo failures and setbacks, anguish and pain, I can keep heart and stay hopeful, knowing I face nothing alone and face everything with a risen Lord will make every best dream come true at last.

Easter encourages us to persevere in fighting the good fight and in rejoicing even in the tough times. After all, Easter means goodness wins, life wins, hope wins — we win!

Let us pray.

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