Easter is for the Hopeless

A rollercoaster of emotions. In the sunrise service this morning we began a little bit differently and instead of starting off with the joy of the resurrected Christ, we began with the despair felt by Mary and the disciples because their Lord and Teacher was no longer with them. You see, for the disciples, Easter morning began with a hopeless situation.

Of all the things I could preach about this morning, it is that hopelessness that I think we should address. Sometimes in the halls of this church, but more often around the dinner table, or in the grocery store, or in the varied and sundry places that we gather in our lives – there is so much talk of hopelessness. We gossip about neighbors who just can’t seem to get their act together. We watch the evening news and everything seems wrong with the world.

We sit through this long, cold and snowy winter… and to be honest, I start to feel a little hopeless myself. This year has been especially bitter, and isolating. So many of our lives have been disrupted by weather that has kept us home, kept us inside and kept us away from the lives we are used to leading.

Not that if the weather was better we could have gone anywhere! With gas prices escalating, heating costs rising, and the simple cost of food going through the roof, it is a wonder we have made it through this winter at all!

After a while, the daily grind starts to take its toll and we become numb to all of that stuff around us. We find ourselves settling into the rut and start to believe that this is just the way it’s going to be.

This past year we have gotten used to a lot of things. Besides our economic situation, the violence of the world almost ceases to phase us. Our lives were rocked and our foundations shaken by the shootings at Virginia Tech last April… and yet a similar incident, closer to home at Northern Illinois University in February barely seemed like a blip on the radar.

Not to mention the violence and human rights violations occurring across our planet as war-torn countries continue to destroy the lives of innocent men, women and children. This very week marked the five year anniversary of our entrance into Iraq and often that situation itself feels entirely hopeless. It seems that no matter what we do, or maybe because of what we do, new groups and new people spring up to fight, instead of searching for ways to work together and to rebuild lives.

Now, I know what you are all thinking… Pastor Katie, it’s Easter morning… isn’t this supposed to be a happy day?! You know what… it is! But I think we also get so bogged down in the problems of our lives, in the problems of our country and the problems of this world that we forget the real promise of Easter!

I think that too often, Easter morning comes with it’s beautiful flowers and it’s joyful music and lovely tables set with ham and we enjoy it for a few hours, but then on Monday morning – life is back to the way it was. Nothing has changed. Nothing is really any different.

A few weeks ago, as we shared with one another the story of Lazarus, I read a poem by Wendell Berry. And the last line of that poem said: “Practice Resurrection.” Time and time again in the Christian faith we are called to be a “resurrection people” to carry the joy and the hope and the promise of the resurrection with us throughout our lives. Both of those two things mean that what we experience on Easter Sunday has to stay with us longer than dinner time.

In our gospel reading this morning, Mary goes to the tomb and she is not going with expectant hope. She is going to bring spices and oil and to continue to prepare his body for burial. You see, Jesus was laid in the tomb just before sunset and the beginning of the Sabbath Day and so the women did not have enough time to properly lay him to rest. So as the sun rose on this Easter morning, Mary Magdelene went to the tomb to mourn, to pray, and to say her good-byes.

She was someone who desperately loved Jesus. He was her Teacher and her Master. He offered her new life and a brand new beginning when he cleansed the demons from her life. And ever since that time, she had followed him faithfully. Then, in one fell swoop, everything that she had begun to put her trust into was taken away. Her Lord was gone. The disciples who followed him had scattered and those who remained were hiding out in fear of the Jewish authorities. Mary had no one to turn to and no where to go.

The only thing she knew to do was go to that tomb and rehearse a ritual practiced by Jewish women for centuries. She would go to the tomb to honor Jesus and to mourn for him properly.

But as our scriptures this morning remind us, when she arrived, everything was in disarray! The stone was rolled back and her Master was no where to be found! His body was gone! Desperately, she ran to the house of one of the disciples for she knew that some of them would be there… They have taken away his body! She cried out…. They have taken him and I don’t know where they have laid him!

Two of the disciples, run back to the tomb with her and find her story to be true. They enter and find the burial clothes there also, neatly folded and placed on the stone. They know that something has happened… but none of them really knows what it means.

I think many times in our lives, this is how we experience Easter. We know that something happened a long time ago, and we know that Jesus was raised from the dead, and we know the whole story and how it is supposed to go. But we don’t REALLY know what it means. We don’t understand the pain and sorrow of Good Friday because we all know how the story ends. Jesus comes back to life, is raised from the dead, saves us all and goes to be with God forever. Amen.

But that isn’t the end of the story! That is barely even a glimpse of the reality of what God is doing! The disciples knew something had happened, maybe even understood that Jesus was alive, but none of them were prepared for how their lives would change.

The power of the Easter resurrection didn’t just bring Christ to life. The power of the Easter resurrection took a rag tag bunch of disciples who barely knew their left from their right as far as following Jesus was concerned…. And turned them into apostles. It turned these doubting, stammering, disobedient fools into the leaders of a movement that would transform the world! When Christ rose from the dead, the Body of Christ that is the church was brought to life – a community was formed that would love and cherish and carry on the mission and the ministry of Christ!

Each and every single one of us is a living testimony to the power that Christ’s resurrection had on our world. Each one of us is who we are today and is in this place this morning because those first disciples experienced the risen Christ. And because that experienced so radically changed their lives that they had to tell others.

This morning is so full of images – the empty tomb – the voice of angels –

Mary’s encounter with Jesus – the promises made through the prophets coming true. It is so rich – so full – so basic to who we are as an Easter People.

Friday – sad Friday – the day we call Good Friday – is brushed aside in one glorious moment of realization. As Mary stood in that garden weeping out of desperation she heard her Master call her voice. One moment of startling fear and overwhelming joy – a moment of holy awe – as the significance of what is seen – and what is unseen comes crashing in.

Jesus is Risen. Death could not hold him.

And if it cannot hold him, it cannot hold us.

All that Jesus said about life and death

all that was understood only as idea – as a concept – as a vision

is made real in that empty tomb

and in that encounter in the garden.

Those disciples heard Jesus talk SO MANY TIMES about his death and resurrection and it just never sunk in. They couldn’t understand the promise because they never believed it would happen. So when Jesus shared his final meal with them on Thursday night they let him down and failed to remain faithful. And when Christ was crucified on Friday afternoon, they were paralyzed by their unbelief and forgot the promises he made to them. They couldn’t see past their own pain to remember the promise!

All that Jesus said about life and death

all that was understood only as idea – as a concept – as a vision

is made real in that empty tomb

and in that encounter in the garden.

Today, we share in that promise.

We share in the promises made to Children of Israel and to the entire world through the Prophets.

We share in the promises made to the disciples and to all who listened to Jesus as he walked towards his death upon a slab of wood.

We share in it – for the word that he spoke to them – and to us — is made true and real by what we testify to this morn, it is made true by the resurrection.

And more yet – it is made true by the testimony of our hearts. Hearts here among us – this very day – who have been touched by the spirit of the living Lord. Hearts here which have heard Jesus knocking upon the door and have opened that door and had him come in and dine with them. Hearts that encountered the risen Christ even today, thousands of years after the stone was first rolled back and the tomb shown to be empty and our Lord risen.

Hear again the words from the prophet Isaiah… the promise to each one of us:

 

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the

former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But

be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about

to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I

will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more

shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of

distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives

but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a

lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered

a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered

accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they

shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not

build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat;

for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and

my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They

shall not labour in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they

shall be offspring blessed by the LORD– and their descendants as

well. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet

speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed

together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the

serpent–its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy

on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.

 

The prophet Jeremiah, even as his city was being ravaged and destroyed by foreign countries, even though he knew that his nation was being torn apart, went out and bought a small plot of land and planted a tree there.

THAT is what it looks like to trust in the promises of our God. THAT is what it looks like to celebrate the power of God and the power of new life, even when everything around us seems so hopeless.

 

 

So what is this Easter morn?

It is God’s promise of a new day

It is God’s promise of a new life

It is God’s promise of a new world

coming to pass in our midst.

 

Jesus is risen. Death could not hold him. And it will not hold us either.

 

Mary, in the midst of all of her desperation and mourning saw Jesus standing before her but did not recognize him. She couldn’t see the promise that was right before her eyes!

Jesus even called out to her “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” But she does not recognize him.

Jesus is risen. Death could not hold him.

I think that Christ is calling out to us all the time, every day. He asks us constantly what we are weeping for. He longs to wipe away the tears from our eyes. And he wants us to see him, to recognize him as the Jesus who is alive – the Jesus who is risen – the Jesus who has the power to bring a new creation to bear on our lives. But our hearts are often so slow to believe, to trust, and to accept that he is standing before us.

There are so many things in our lives that we could feel hopeless about. Loved ones who die too young, People who work away their lives for a wage that won’t even put food on the table. Homeless families… including the 700 children who are homeless in Cedar Rapids, Iowa alone.

But the promise is that “No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime… They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.”

Wherever in your heart there is weeping, Christ promises to turn your tears into laughter.

Jesus is risen! Death could not hold him! And the forces that tear us apart in this world will not defeat him either!

Christ has risen! And we… as the body of Christ, in this time and in this place… are called to continually live our lives as a beacon of that promise!

We are to be like the prophet Jeremiah, who planted a tree, even though the world around him was falling apart. We are to find small ways to live out and practice the resurrection power in our world today.

Christ is risen! Let us crown him the lord of Life, the Lord of Peace and the Lord of Love and may we believe in his power to truly transform our lives.

Amen.

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