Sermon: "Not a One-time Deal," Easter Sunday March 27, 2016

St. George’s United Church
Isaiah 65:17-25, Luke 24:1-12
Sunday March 27, 2016
The Resurrection of the Lord

“Not a One Shot Deal”[i]
by Rev. Ryan Slifka

On the occasion of the baptism of Denise Heather Hutt,
Riley Shannon Bloomfield andTucker Marc Bloomfield

                It’s my second Easter as the pastor of St. George’s. My second year as a pastor, period. And I will tell you that even now only two years in, I have discovered just how stressful Easter can be for those of us who have to lead worship. How many hours spent staring at a blank computer screen, trying to come up with something new to say. Worried about how to say something meaningful and profound. This might be the one shot you’ve got in the year to convince everybody gathered that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is true, and makes all the difference in the world. One shot in a year. A twenty minute shot in an hour-long worship service. Yikes.

But, to be honest, I don’t know how on earth I, or any other human being could convince you that resurrection is real or what it means. That today I will somehow expound or explain or explore the mystery of the resurrection in some way that will move you all to some new conviction or even, dare I say it, conversion. It’s not only stressful for us preachers, it seems downright impossible.

                But as unrealistic as my expectations may have been, though, I find great comfort in this morning’s passage from the good news according to Luke. Because the very first Easter sermon didn’t seem to live up to these great expectations, either. In Luke’s account, it’s a group of women who deliver this first sermon, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, another Mary who is the Mother of James. (The first Easter preachers were women, which is an interesting detail in of itself). At first they’ve come to the tomb where Jesus’ body lay to pay their final respects to prepare the body of their teacher, their friend, their lord, for the long haul of death. But when they arrive at the tomb it’s empty and they’re confused. And then they are met by these two met dressed in dazzling white. So now they are not only confused, they are terrified. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” these incredible figures ask these terrified women. “He’s not here. He’s risen. Remember how Jesus told you this would happen?” He’s not here. He’s risen.

                And so when the women head back home from the cemetery on Easter morning to deliver to their some incredible news: “he is not here but has risen!” A pretty simple, dramatic sermon for Easter drawn from some great sermon material. I mean, an empty tomb, two angels. But the sermon falls flat. “But these words seemed to [the disciples] an idle tale, and they didn’t believe them.” The first Easter sermon falls flat. It fizzles. The words are dead on arrival. Different translations go even farther: the disciples though it was “empty talk,” “a silly story,”, “a foolish yarn,” and even, “utter nonsense.” The first Easter sermon is delivered, delivered to the people who’d known Jesus first hand, people who Jesus told this would happen, people should have been prepared, and expecting something like this. Even my worst sermons have been greeted with words like “thank you,” or even “good try.” But when the first Easter sermon is delivered by the women who see it first hand and people think its total B.S.

                But you can’t really blame them. Because what happened to Jesus just confirmed everything we believe about how the world works. When someone dies, it’s over. They stay dead. You don’t wait around for them so you can pick up where you left off. You say goodbye. You go home, and you try to get on with things as best you can. I mean, we might look back at these pre-modern, ancient people and just think of ourselves as less gullible than them. But you don’t need microscopes, penicillin or a smart phone to know that dead people stay dead. So no wonder the sermon fell flat. Everything that lives dies. Might makes right. Evil, injustice, violence triumph in the end. No surprises. Because this is how the world works, whether ancient or modern.

                This is the way things work for us and our world. But… says the story. But… Easter is not about us. Easter is not about us. Easter is about God. Easter is not about the most we can imagine, the resuscitation of a dead body. Resuscitation is not resurrection. And Easter is not about the “immortality of the soul,” some divine spark that endures after the end. That’s Greek philosophy, not Jesus. Easter is about God, not God as an empathetic but ineffective good friend, or some inner experience. No, God who creates a way when there was no way, a God who overcomes every obstacle to love, and justice, and mercy. A God who raises dead Jesus to show us that death is not the end, not the final word. Not the victorious power that will hold the world forever.

                The women come to the cemetery to write one more chapter in the long line of life’s facts. The victory of violence and injustice. But somehow on Easter Sunday, God inserts a new fact. God takes a cruel cross and makes it in to a loving victory. God, the same Creator who brought light from darkness at the beginning of all things, takes the worst that we as human beings can do, the violence that marks human life. And somehow inverts it. And brings from it new life. In a world of death, violence, suffering, hate, vengeance, and injustice, we are presented with a whole new world. One of forgiveness, not vengeance. One of mercy, not indifference. One of hope, rather than resignation. The world is about life, not death.

                Now I know that some of us have gathered this morning, if not many of us, who will respond to this sermon, and the news of Jesus’ resurrection much in the same way Jesus’ disciples responded to the first Easter sermon. But I’m not going to try to talk you in to believing anything. Not only because I think it’s beyond my preaching abilities, but because it’s clear that from the first Easter sermon that words alone couldn’t convince anyone of the truth of the risen Christ. You’re in good company. Did you notice? The tomb is empty, but nobody sees Jesus. Even for the people who were right there, there’s no air-tight evidence, no knock-down blow fact, no sermon, that blow that forms anyone in faith. Words alone can’t do it.

Words alone can’t do it justice. And not only that, when the women search the tomb to try to figure out what has happened, the figures in dazzling white ask “why are you looking for the living among the dead?” “He is not here,” they proclaim, “but he is risen.” The power of the resurrection isn’t found dead in the tomb. It isn’t found in historical facts, or archaeological data, or rules of probability. Or even just in the pages of holy scripture. The women are sent back out in to the world, to meet the risen Christ on the road in their lives. He is not here at the tomb. But he is risen.

                You see, I don’t think I have to convince you of the reality of the resurrection, of love’s defeat of violence’s, life’s defeat of death. Because my guess is that you’re here because you already somehow know it. You’ve seen it somewhere. Inexplicable hope in the middle of sorrow. Somebody who everyone else gave up on and left for dead on account of their addictions somehow stands before you as a new person. You saw somebody who looked like they had nothing able to give of themselves in ways you never thought possible. If you’ve seen this, you’ve already encountered the power of the Risen Christ. I don’t have to convince you of the resurrection because we, you already long for the kind of life, and the kind of world that Jesus taught about, lived and died for, and was raised for. This power for life, this newness is already at loose in the world, making all things new. Easter isn’t a one-shot chance for the preacher. Easter is just the beginning of a whole new world. In our lives, in my life, if your life. Here and now.

Because, the resurrection isn’t an event from the distant past, or a scientific problem to be solved, or a fact to be convinced of in a sermon. It is the continuing, transforming power of God to bring back from death all that was lost – that ever-renewing love at work changing ourselves, our relationships, our communities, and our world. It is Good News. And it’s too good not to be true.

So why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here. Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Hallelujah! Amen.

 

[i] I am greatly indebted to my colleague, Rev. Michelle Slater for her 2013 sermon “Looking for the Living” as the basis for this sermon.