Sunday, March 27, 2016

Christ is Risen! Pass the Ham.


24 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!

Death is defeated!
The debt of sin is paid!
Hope is rising for the world this morning!

And I confess resurrection is something that I sometimes take for granted. The ritualistic words come so easily and naturally I forget how powerful they really are.

It’s easy to forget how shocking this Good News of Easter really is. We proclaim the resurrection from thousands of years of ritual and distance. We can say, "Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!" and it doesn’t change our world view. 

We can sing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today!” and then go eat a ham dinner as if nothing has changed in the world. Today, we embrace the promise of resurrection, but we don’t stop to think about the reality of it. I mean what would you do if your dead mother, brother or father walked in and sat down beside you? Would you say, “Oh hi, I wondered when you would be resurrected?” Or would you flip out?

Luckily, when we read the Bible stories of the resurrection we are reminded about just how “out there” the news of someone being resurrected eternally from the dead really is. When we read the resurrection stories we are reminded that the resurrection of the body of Jesus Christ is mind-blowing and figuring out what it really means for our own lives isn’t always easy.

If you have your Bible open to Luke 24, do a quick scan. Do you see words like Alleluia? Joy?
No, the Easter story isn’t full of people singing and celebrating. The resurrection stories in the Bible are full of frightened people who are confused by what they are experiencing. The story has skeptical people who don’t believe what the witnesses tell them. And the story has faithful people who proclaim the mystery of resurrection even though they can’t prove it. Resurrection morning shows us people who are frightened, skeptical and faithful—sometimes all at the same time.

Let’s look closely at this powerful witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ in Luke.

Early Sunday morning Mary and the other women get to the tomb and do not find Jesus’ body. The tomb is empty. But there are not hoorays or high-fives. It’s more likely that one turns to the other and asks, "Is this the right tomb? Did we turn left when we should have turned right?"

"Oh no, I recognize that bush," another one might say.

So they are puzzled and maybe a little bit nervous as they wonder what happened.  Suddenly two men in dazzling clothes appear to the women. They hit the ground bowing down in fright. The appearance of angels and the announcement of resurrection scare the women—not just in Luke, but in Matthew and Mark, too.

In Mark they are alarmed, trembling and bewildered.
In Matthew they are afraid (and filled with joy).

The women at the tomb didn’t know what was happening or would come next in their lives. They had spent the last few years following Jesus and they had no idea where their journey would take them now that he was dead. Even in the face of resurrection they still don’t know what to do. They don’t know how to explain it or what to make of it.

Perhaps you’ve been to this place where you are frightened because you don’t know what comes next. Maybe you are on a path heading toward graduation or starting a family. Maybe it’s getting to be time to retire or you are about to battle cancer.  Maybe you suffer from addiction and want to get clean. Or maybe you are at the end of your life and wondering what physical death will be like and what comes next.

We all come to these points in our journey where we are at the end of something and we can’t see beyond it.

It’s as if life is a path in the woods, green trees and shrubs line each side we come around a bend and suddenly there is a huge rock blocking the path. It looms in front of us, big and frightening because we know we will have to go off the path to get around it.

It’s like the giant stone that covered Jesus’ tomb. It blocks our view of everything else. We can’t see over it or around it. We don’t know what is on the other side.

Our friends and family try to talk us around the stone and through these big life transitions. They’ve seen the what’s on other side. But it can be so hard to explain it. 

Our words can’t really capture the experience of getting married or having a baby or changing jobs or going through chemo.  Our imaginations have trouble picturing what we have not personally experienced, like death.  And so we are like those at the tomb. Frightened about what is next.

The Bible has a promise for us when we are frightened by what’s happening in our lives. The Good News is that fear doesn’t get to have the last word. Trust that people have walked that unknown path before you and angels may guide you (maybe these are one in the same?). Jesus himself has walked that path and will accompany you.

In the story, the angels are the guides. They ask the women why they are looking for the living among the dead. Jesus has passed through death. The tomb is not the end. The stone is rolled away. A new path is becoming visible for them. The men in shiny clothes remind the women that Jesus promised that he would rise again. The women remember Jesus’ words and rush back to tell the other disciples the Christ is risen.

When they get to the disciples and they breathlessly share the amazing news that Jesus is risen, all they get are raised eyebrows. The disciples think, “Really? “

"Surely, these women must be overreacting and telling idle tales," the men think. "Nobody would trust a woman with this important information. God would not choose a group of women to be the first preachers of the gospel or to instruct us on what God is doing next." 

The disciples don’t believe the news.

In Luke’s gospel, only Peter goes to the grave. After which the Bible tells us he leaves wondering what had happened. He doesn’t know what to believe!

The people at the tomb are frightened people. The disciples are our second group—the skeptics.

Those who had been at the tomb are trying to explain the unexplainable to people who were not there. Their words can’t capture the way the angel’s clothes were shining. They couldn’t fully describe what it felt like to see the empty tomb and hear the announcement that Jesus is risen.

The gospels show us people who are frightened and skeptical about the resurrection. But you’ll notice that even through their fear and bewilderment some of them are faithful. Even though they didn’t see it with their own eyes, they begin to proclaim resurrection.

They tell the crazy news that Jesus’ dead body was raised up and somehow walked out of the grave. Even today, the world is full of faithful people who say crazy things because that’s what God calls them to do. 

Like me for example. I am here to tell you that Christ is risen. Not as a soul flying off to heaven, that’s easy to believe. But as a body that walks and talks and eats. If you aren’t a little bit incredulous, a little bit skeptical, you are not realizing the impact of this event.

In one way another, I seek to proclaim the mystery of faith week after week:

The church founders say it this way: 
Christ has died
Christ is risen
Christ will come again

But my way sounds something like this:
The birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us hope.

The mystery of resurrection is not something that I can prove to you with facts, but share with stories and experiences. Sometimes when I try to puzzle out resurrection for myself, my brain starts to hurt because there are so many questions—If we are made up of atoms and molecules that get reused over time, who gets which atoms for eternity in heaven? Which body do I get in the resurrection—my six-year-old body? My 19-year-old body? My 80 year-old body? A new glorified body?

There is a difference between proclaiming truth and proving it.

As witnesses we can proclaim God’s truth. And in faith, that is what I do. But, I really wish I could prove it! I wish that I could put it a neat package and deliver into your hands. I wish I could gift wrap all the proof you would ever need to believe in the resurrection, but I can't. Because that’s not how faith works.

In our life of faith, we can describe what we see even if we can't wrap it up and hand it to someone. It’s like these bubbles floating in the sanctuary. I can see them. I can point to them. I can describe them. But the moment I try to grab one so that I can hand it to you—it’s gone.

I can offer you proclamation. But I can’t give you proof. You'll have to take it on faith.

I can offer you my witness and my faith. I can tell you what I glimpse on the other of that big stone of ignorance that blocks our path. And it’s beautiful.

My proclamation is there is nothing like knowing that through Jesus Christ you are loved, you are forgiven, and you are called to be in the presence of an amazing God. For me, the resurrection means that I am forgiven of my self-doubt, which is really a form of self-centeredness. I am free to live without the guilt and negative thoughts that can hold me back sometimes.  I can let go of my worries, mistakes, and insecurities because they are not of God. I can take a deep breath in prayer and know that my biggest fears are tiny in God’s vast universe.

But your life is different from mine. Your sins are different from mine. Your glimpse past the stone that blocks the path comes from your own experiences with Jesus. Your proclamation is unique to you. 

And if you don’t know what your proclamation is, today is a good day to pray about that. If your proclamation is generic like Christ is risen! or Christ died for my sins! you may want to dig a little deeper. What are your sins that Christ forgives? What frightens you? What are you skeptical of? 

God is calling all of us here to the most important work in the universe: loving God more intimately and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves, and maybe for you that means learning to love yourself. God is calling all of us to live and proclaim s new life in Christ. We do this most effectively when we use our own words from our own experiences.

When we do this. When we talk honestly about our experience of God and resurrection, when we describe our fears or questions in our own words, we proclaim  the risen, active Christ who is at work today in our own lives. And we grow in faith.

When we proclaim from our hearts, we can help each other see past the big tomb stones that block our path. We can help people know that when they are facing death (or graduation or job termination or cancer treatment) that it is not the end. Because of Jesus, there is something on the other side.  Because of Jesus there is hope.

Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

What does it mean for you?

Alleluia. Amen.

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