March 27, 2016
TEXT: "He saw and believed" (John 20:8).
When the Christian Martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was in solitary confinement in a Nazi concentration camp, he said he appreciated, as never before, the gift of just being with Christian brothers and sisters; just being together. He said he had a hunger for it that was greater than his intense hunger for food. Now we must hunger to be in a community of peace, in harmony with our brothers and sisters everywhere.
We're here to celebrate the Good News of Easter as it's happening now. We're here to rejoice together in the Presence of the Risen, Living Christ now. We're here to celebrate the Good News that death's terror no longer can intimidate or defeat those who live in the Lord by faith.
If truly we believe that our Redeemer lives now, we must act upon that belief so that all who observe us may feel the power of Him who teaches that to love is to live His New Life.
There are people who say, "I will believe if God will do so and so. I will be happy if God comes through the way I want Him to. I will keep the Faith if God heals the way I expect Him to heal." We are constantly laying down the conditions and the rules, and demanding the gift on our own terms. One of the hardest things any of us has to learn is that the gift that is given on God's terms and in God's way is always the best way -- always the best for us.
On that first Easter morning, the Apostle John tells us in today's Gospel Lesson, Jesus' dear friend, Mary of Magdala, "came to the tomb. She saw that the stone had been moved away from the tomb, and came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved. 'They have taken the Lord out of the tomb' she said, 'and we don't know where they have laid Him'" (Jn. 20:2).
We should be careful not to misunderstand this matter of the empty tomb on Easter morning. When Jesus' disciples first discovered the empty tomb, it was not good news. It was bad news, because they thought that Jesus' tomb had been desecrated. Their Lord's dead body was gone. It was still dark when this discovery was made, and we can only imagine how desperately they longed for the light of dawn to break.
And then it came. Gloriously, the morning came. Bright and beautiful it came, filled with the Resurrection Power of God, filled with the loving Presence of God. And Mary Magdalene, the Mary who had loved Jesus so terribly much, was the first person to experience the wonder of that day.
It was believed, in ancient times, that after a person died, his spirit hovered near the body for three days before it departed. Consequently, Mary had gone to the tomb to be near Him and to prepare the body for burial with dignity and respect. Most probably, she had been unable to sleep. What to do then, but to get up and go to Him, even while it was still dark. And He appeared to her, but she did not recognize Him. Why? Perhaps she was blinded by her tears. Perhaps it was because she had come looking for a dead body. Perhaps it was Jesus' Resurrection Body that confused her. Then, He spoke her name: "Mary." There is magic in your name when you hear it spoken by someone you love. And when Mary heard her name spoken by Jesus, the memory of all they had been through together flooded through her being. She remembered how he had given her a new sensitivity to life all around her and a new sense of her own worthwhileness. And then she knew! She recognized her Lord!
A talented public speaker was asked to recall his most difficult speech assignment. "That's easy," he answered. "It was an address I gave to the National Conference of Undertakers. The topic they gave me was, How to Look Sad at a Fifty Thousand Dollar Funeral." Now, that's a difficult assignment. But I can think of an assignment that would have been even more difficult: "How to get the early Christians to look sad." The spirit of joy in the early Christians is one of the dominant characteristics of the New Testament writings. Something so tremendous had happened to those people that it permeated their lives, filled their cup of joy to overflowing. And, as you read about it, if you try to put a lid on it, it just comes bubbling up again. There's no way to hold it back. It's contagious! It's healing! It's beautiful! They were filled with joy because this Jesus who had lived among them, this Jesus who had brought them hope and life, this Jesus whom they had seen die, this Jesus whom they had put in a tomb, this Jesus was alive! And it wasn't an hallucination. It wasn't something they had dreamed up. They report it as fact, incontrovertible fact! He was alive! They had experienced it!
Those first disciples didn't keep this to themselves. They passed it on -- all the enlightenment and all the understanding and all the joy generated by the Resurrection Power of God in Jesus Christ. And it is ours now: our Gospel, our Good News. Ours is the joy that comes when we realize what Jesus was getting at in all His miracles, and in all His works of healing, and in all His parables, and in all His discourses. He was saying that God is always and everywhere a God of Resurrection Power; and that God is always acting to transform sorrow into joy and death into new life.
The world of nature is constantly dying and being reborn. The forms, the organisms, the shapes of nature are constantly being renewed and transformed into greater and newer kinds of beings and organisms. Not only nature, but history. The structures of government and industry are constantly dying, being reshaped, being reformed. The Resurrection Power of God is there, at every level of life, and this is why we are, essentially, a celebrating people. It's why every Sunday is Easter Sunday. It's why we are an Easter people.
In today's Gospel Lesson, John tells us that when the disciple who had reached the tomb first found it empty, "He saw and believed" (Jn. 20:8).
Often, our eyes see dimly, and it is midnight. And midnight means the end. But, with eyes of Faith we see and believe, and the dawn breaks through. And it is Easter Morning, when life springs from the tomb, and our eyes open to new light, and our spirits are gifted with new life!
The famous German play, "Faust," was inspired by a sixteenth century magician who claimed to be in league with the devil. In one version of the legend, Faust sells his soul to Satan. The reason he sells his soul is not for wealth, nor power, nor immortality. Rather, it is because he is overcome by his inability to discover the meaning of life. Consequently, he bargains with Satan to reveal it to him in exchange for his very soul. In the play, there is a very moving scene in which Faust is in a state of final despair. He is so frustrated and discouraged about his problem with life that he decides to commit suicide. He is about to drink from a beaker of poison when suddenly he hears a tremendous choir singing beautiful Easter music. And it gets through to him. He drops the poison and begins to weep. As the author says so beautifully, "His tears gush forth and earth takes back her child."
That is precisely what happens to us when we remain faithful to the blessed Community of Christ. The glory of Easter music, Resurrection music, is always breaking into our darkness and despair. And we drop the poison of fear and doubt. We embrace the Resurrection Power of God's Love.
A little girl wrote a letter to God about something that apparently was bothering her a great deal:
Instead of letting people die and having to make new ones, why don't you just keep the ones you've got now?
Well, Alice, there is Good News for you today from God Himself: "Because I love them so much, I do keep the ones I've got now. Because I love you so much, Alice, I want to keep you for My own, always!"
Jesus Christ died on the Cross and was raised from the tomb because God, our Father wants to keep each and every one of us for His own. Together, let us proclaim the Risen Lord! Hallelujah! He is risen! Hallelujah!