Sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
May the wonder of Christ’s rising be seen in every dawn, the love of God as wide as the skies, and the power of the Holy Spirit invite us into each moment. Amen. Did they get it right? Did it really happen? We’ve just heard the account of that morning—written within fifty years of the resurrection of Jesus that clearly named witnesses to this spectacular miracle.
At about the same time as John’s Gospel was written, Paul wrote to the first Christians in Corinth assuring them that after the resurrection Jesus appeared to Peter and then to the twelve and, after that, to more than five hundred people, most of whom, he noted, were still living. “If Christ has not been raised, Paul concludes, “our preaching and our faith is useless.” Did they get it right? Did it really happen?
In a recent PBS documentary, a Professor of Scripture at Boston University said that—forget any other miracles—the fact that these disciples, given the obstacles presented by the culture in which they lived and the opposition by the authorities to their mission, the fact that they were emboldened to preach the Risen Christ and would thereby change the world is the greatest miracle of all.”
Still, is it asking too much of people like you and me, who live in this post-modern age where information and technology are off the charts and where, even as I speak, thousands have lined up outside stores—some of them for days—to purchase the new Apple iPad—is it asking too much of us to believe in something so astonishing and so wondrous as the resurrection?
Alister McGrath writes in What was God Doing on the Cross? “If resurrection happened regularly, there would be nothing different about Jesus being raised from the dead. He would be among many, just another statistic. If his resurrection is unique, then by definition, there will be no analogous events. That makes it a lot harder to believe. It also makes it worth believing.” Harder to believe, yet worth believing—quite a challenge!
Before he was a famous chaplain at Yale University and senior minister of the great Riverside Church in New York City, William Sloane Coffin Jr. was himself searching for faith. He described a crucial transition on his journey this way: “Slowly, I found myself changing from the seeker who looks hoping something’s there, to the kind who knows something’s there, if only he can find it.”
We have come here this morning to worship for different reasons. Some of us have come in doubt, some in certainty, many of us, perhaps, somewhere in between but, at the very least, I would venture to say that all of us, to a person, has come hoping something’s there—for without hope we are dead. Hope is the anchor that keeps our feet firmly planted in this life—no matter how difficult our life may be. Hope is what gives us the strength to go on—even if that means just putting one foot in front of the other, to keep on keeping on.
And, while some of us may wonder about the experience of resurrection, all of us are familiar with the experience of the tomb because we are no stranger to brokenness, fear, sadness, loss, disappointment, betrayal, and rejection. We are no stranger to poverty, addiction, prejudice, violence, and injustice. Alive as we may be, I suspect that most of us have had our own share of “small deaths” and know that deep sense of longing to be raised up from them.
Into the midst of the good news of the Easter story, we bring the stories of our families and friends—stories of foreclosures, job losses, health worries, fractured relationships, and more.
Is this just one day off from the bad news before we return to the reality of those stories—an isolated day for marshmallow bunnies, chocolate eggs, Easter baskets, and a festive dinner? Or is it much, much more?
If Easter is merely a breathtaking and astonishing event that happened a long time ago—something God did once, but never again since—then all of it has little consequence on our lives today. But if we see Easter as a once-and-for-all time certainty, then whatever tomb has marched into your life and holds you captive, wherever you expect a dead end and have given up hope, the power that took Jesus through death and beyond can and will raise you up. If we can live into the assurance of that power, we will come alive in hope.
Perhaps we need to begin to be less preoccupied with the things in our world that have gone wrong and be more aware of the way God brings energy and new life into our everyday existence. Yes, the Resurrection of Jesus was a spectacular miracle. But who says all miracles have to be spectacular? Maybe we need to have eyes-wide-open to God’s signature of resurrection in the signs around us all the time—the springtime greening of the planet and the splendid and diverse chorus of blossoms bursting out of their winter graves.
Or the birth of a newborn baby or even a little puppy or kitten, a magnificent sunrise or sunset, falling in love, enjoying a fabulous meal, tending your garden, listening to splendid music, raising kids—in the words of Garrison Keillor, “all the places where the gravy soaks and grace shines through,” –are all evidence of God’s creative power to give, sustain, and even restore life.
Recognizing those little resurrections gives us hope that bigger, more astounding forms of resurrection are also possible. Easter is, after all, a cosmic event— a once-and-for-all time certainty—that is pervasive throughout all of creation.
Did they get it right? Did it really happen? Like William Sloan Coffin, I am also a seeker who knows something’s there, if only I can find it—and so I keep looking for resurrection all about me and often it appears without any warning and as complete surprise. Like so many of us I yearn for a solid spiritual foundation for my life that has stood the test of time and I find it in the resurrection story—a spiritual anchor of hope for me and for people in every age.
The story is told of a conversation between a member of Trinity Church, Santa Barbara and the then retired and elderly Episcopal Bishop, Daniel Corrigan, one of those mid-twentieth century liberal princes of the pulpit whose stirring preaching and passionate commitment to social justice pushed Christians to enact God’s shalom toward the oppressed and the outcast.
“Bishop Corrigan,” the person asked, “Do you believe in the resurrection?” He looked at the questioner and said firmly, without pause, “Yes. I believe in the resurrection. I’ve seen it too many times not to.” And so have you. And so have I. And so have we all. Thanks be to God! Alleluia! Alleluia!