“Remember that life is precious and ephemeral, and love like there’s no tomorrow,” unequivocally states the founder of Utne Reader, Eric Utne. After Jesus’ crucifixion, Mary went home and wondered if the promise Jesus made about the tomb being empty on the third day would happen. Like Mary, who did go to the tomb on the third day, many come to church on Easter Sunday really not knowing what they’re looking for. We “…come weighed down with grief and disappointment, hungry for hope…We are all like Mary, somewhere between grief and joy, somewhere between despair and faith.”Whatever forms of despair, discouragement and doubt you bring to church this day, a new way of living is available to you, because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. There is hope, because God is connecting to us and us to God. And, we are connecting to one another. It is God’s unconditional love that stirs us to a new way of living. What drives your interest in Easter? My friends, I ask that question too.
Three individuals are at the pearly gates of heaven. St. Peter tells them that they can enter the gates if they can answer one question. St. Peter asks the first, “What is Easter?” He replies, “Oh, that’s easy! It’s the holiday in November when everyone gets together, eats turkey, and is thankful…” “Wrong!” replies St. Peter, and proceeds to ask the second the same question, “What is Easter?” The second replies, “Easter is the holiday in December when we put up a nice tree, exchange presents, and celebrate the birth of Jesus.” St. Peter looks at the second, shakes his head in dismay, tells her she’s wrong, and then peers over his glasses at the third and asks, “What is Easter?” The third smiles confidently and looks St. Peter in the eyes, “I know what Easter is.” “Oh?” says St. Peter. “Easter is the Christian holiday that coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover. Jesus and his disciples were eating at the last supper and Jesus was later betrayed and turned over to the Romans by one of his disciples. The Romans took him to be crucified and he was stabbed in the side, made to wear a crown of thorns, and was hung on a cross with nails through his hands. He was buried in a nearby cave which was sealed off by a large boulder.” St. Peter smiles broadly with delight. Then he continues, “Every year the boulder is moved aside so that Jesus can come out…and, if he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter.”
It is clear in the reading from The Acts of the Apostles that Jesus being raised from the dead changed everything. Everything we thought to be true needed to be rethought. All suspicions about who’s in and who’s out were shattered. Strangers, foreigners, profane, unclean were included.The story told in John 20 demonstrates Mary’s hope that all would be included, because that is what Jesus taught and lived. While it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. The tomb was empty. Jesus was not there. James C. Goodloe writes, “This is the good news of Easter that God has raised Jesus Christ from the dead. This is the very content of the gospel…the major affirmation of the Christian faith…the great hope of all humanity that God has raised Jesus Christ from the dead…This is the courage, by which alone we live that God has raised Jesus Christ from the dead.”And the psalmist confidently asserts that it is God’s love that endures forever. It is God’s unconditional love for humanity and creation that defeated death that early Easter morning.
Death, the end of all life as we know it, the destroyer of all dreams, the breaker of all hopes, the crushing burden of all life, and the loss of all love was defeated. Its power has been broken. The empty tomb by itself is not sufficient for faith, but it is necessary to the faith. Without the resurrection there is no hope. Whether it is love, peace, self-confidence, health or meaning, we’re all looking for something this Easter.
Our pain in the brokenness of death, despair, discouragement and doubt is fertile ground for hope. God’s unconditional love for humanity is real. God is good and his goodness is the basis for our thanksgiving. God freely gives mercy and steadfast love to those who rely on God for help and grace. Joseph A. Donnella II writes, “Our hoped-for future with God is made possible by what happens to Jesus in life, death, and resurrection.”It is true, my friends, God does offer hope, restoration and salvation to all people.
Jesus is alive. Jesus is building a new intergenerational community in which we belong with God and others in significant relationships and communities to experience unconditional love. Randy Frazee writes, “In all places of effective community, the various strata of generations spend structured and spontaneous time together. Intergenerational life isn’t a luxury to be tried just to see if we like it, to see if it’s “cool.” No, it is essential for members of true community to grow and mature.”Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we are given hope.
Easter is a celebration of hope. In Jesus Christ there is new life. Psalm 118:14, 17 and 24 read, “The Lord is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation…I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord…This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” O Jesus didn’t come out of the tomb, see his shadow and declare six more weeks of winter. No, he came out of the tomb and declared that because he lives, so can we. Death loses. Life wins. You are loved, so love like there’s no tomorrow.
Amy Plantiga Pauw in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), 191.
Some ideas adapted from A. Katherine Grieb in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 2, 185.
From James C. Goodloe’s sermon “Why Seek the Living Among the Dead?”
Joseph A. Donnella II in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 2, 182.
See Randy Frazee, The Connecting Church 2.0(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2013), 138.