Easter Sunday 2016
One beautiful, spring Sunday morning, a pastor decided to take the long way to church. Passing by the local golf course the pastor admired the vibrantly green grass, freshly cut and looking like soft carpet. He noticed with a certain amount of pride that there was no one playing on the course that morning—it was Sunday, after all, everyone was in church where they should be. But taking a second look, the pastor noticed one solitary man bending down to tee up his next shot. The pastor pulled over to the side of the road and prayed: “Dear God, change the heart of this sinner. Teach him that it is better to be in church on Sunday than on the golf course.” Satisfied that he had done his job, the pastor pulled back on to the road and proceeded on to the church.
Now up in heaven, St. Peter and God had been watching this whole thing. St. Peter looked back down to earth just as the man on the golf course took his swing, connected with the ball, and sent it like a rocket into the air. Just then a gust a wind kicked up, carrying the ball all the way to the green, where it landed gently, rolled slightly to the right, teetered just on the edge of the cup, and fell in. A hole in one! St. Peter couldn't believe his eyes! But he was confused. “Lord, instead of answering the prayer of that faithful pastor, you allowed this man who would rather golf than be in church to shoot a hole in one? How can this be?” God smiled, and said, “Fear not, Peter, who’s he going to tell?”.
That is my way of saying how glad I am that you’re here today. I’m glad that you’re here today, to worship and to pray, to sing and make music to God. I’m glad that you’re here today because your presence, your voices, your prayers…that’s what I imagine heaven is like, and it is a blessing beyond measure to experience heaven here today instead of having to wait for it in the here-after. I’m glad that you’re here because I know you’ve got a million other things to do, but for now you’ve made a good and faithful choice to be in God’s presence and to worship. I’m glad that you’re hear today because on your smiling faces, in the way everyone brushes up a little more for Easter, by the sincerity of your joy, I feel like I am looking at the risen Christ, and I believe!
I’m glad that you’re here today because on no other Sunday of the year, on no other day of the year, is God’s deep, deep love for us on such full display. It is true: God’s love is the same today as it was yesterday, and as it will be for all time. But on Easter, there is just something more intense, more intimate, more vast about God’s love than I can explain. The Apostle Paul says, “…God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Christ not only died for us, he lived for us. The whole purpose of his life and ministry was to show God’s love to us. From healing the blind and the sick, to welcoming outcasts and sinners to his table, to blessing the bereaved and the poor and the hungry and the thirsty, Christ’s life showed us God’s love. When he said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” he was showing us God’s love. When he said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you” he was showing us God’s love.
When Jesus cried out from the cross, “It is finished,” he was showing us God’s love. And when he walked out of the tomb, unable to be held down by death or bands of cloth or a heavy stone door, he showed us God’s love. God’s love for us comes in the forgiveness of our sins, in how we don’t have to be anything other than what God created us to be, in the way that there is nothing in heaven or on earth, above or below, nor any rulers or princes or powers, and certainly nothing out of hell that can separate us from God. The life, death, and especially the resurrection of Jesus cements all of this and makes it real in our lives.
There is no rational explanation for it, no elegant or profound words that can explain it. But think of resurrection as a rose in full bloom. After the seed has been planted in the ground, and has grown leggy branches to form a bush, the bud appears. With plenty of sun and water, and at a time known only to God, the bud begins to open, slowly at first, then more rapidly. The petals unfurl, the color of the flower is revealed, and fragrance fills the air. That is resurrection. That is God’s love. I’m glad you’re here today to see God’s love in full bloom!
I’m glad you’re here today because Easter is an eternal reset, a wiping of the slate clean. When Jesus took up his cross and walked the lonely walk to Golgotha, he took all of our sins, all of our darkness, all of our shame and suffering and pain with him. The cross was heavy, that’s for certain. On the hill at Golgotha Jesus was crucified and died, and everything that he took with him, all of our stuff, was crucified and died as well. All the times we turned our back on God because we thought we knew a better way—that was crucified and died. Each time we passed by someone who was in need, or failed to offer assistance to someone because they look or speak or believe differently—that was crucified and died. Those moments that we felt ashamed of who we are, all the sickness and disease that takes away our life, all the pain, self-inflicted or otherwise—that was crucified and died.
When Jesus rose from the grave that first Easter morning the slate was wiped clean, God reset all of creation. If not even death could hold Christ down, there is no sin or darkness or evil that can or ever will. And because we have faith in Christ, the same is true for you and for me. No matter how far we fall, no matter how many cheap or glittery baubles we chase after, God is there to welcome us home. No matter how weak our faith, no matter how uncertain our lives, no matter how often or how little we darken the doors of a church, God is faithful, God is certain, God is present. No matter how hard we might try, God will never let us go. God was willing to sacrifice his only son to make sure that you and I know today, tomorrow, and forever that God is going nowhere. From Easter morning on, we can walk, run, with confidence into God’s future because what is behind, is behind. The past is in the past. Christ did not walk out of the tomb backwards, and he certainly did not stop to look at what was behind; he leaped forward into the marvelous light of God. I’m glad you’re here today to hear the marvelous good news that the slate has been wiped clean.
And I’m glad you’re here today because as you and I walk or run into God’s future, blessed by the full bloom of God’s love and confident that all has been made right, wherever we go, Christ will be there. When the two Marys went to the tomb early on the first day of the week, they were scared stiff by the appearance of an angel who rolled away the stone door of the tomb. The angel said, “Look, I know you have come to see Jesus. But he is not here…he has been raised just as he said. Go and tell his disciples that he is going ahead of them to Galilee.” The women ran from the tomb in fear and joy, and while they were running Jesus met them. He said the same thing as the angel: “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
This is perhaps the most profound result of Christ’s resurrection: he is going ahead of us, wherever we go. You see, Galilee was both a place and a state of mind for the disciples. Galilee was an unknown place for them, full of exotic and unusual people and customs. Galilee was also a state of mind, where they were unsure what they might find, what they might experience, how they will be challenged or asked to change. Galilee was a source of anxiety for them, of fear. But Jesus told them not to be afraid because he was going ahead of them to that place of the unknown, and there they would see him.
We know what that is like, to be unsure where we are going or what we might find when we get there. We know what it is like to live in fear and anxiety of what tomorrow, or the even the next hour might bring. It seems that most things we experience anymore are founded on fear, whether it is of other people, of other religions, or of the possibility that something might change. We know what it is like to hear the calling of Christ, the good news of his gospel, then have to deal with his radical way of life and difficult demands. Galilee is not just a place of unknowns and fear for the disciples; Galilee is an everyday thing, right here, right now. Each and every day, at every moment, the reality of human life is that there is enough uncertainty, enough fear, enough of the unknown to go around with plenty to spare.
This one thing is certain: where we go, Christ is already there and we will see him. If Christ had lived, died, and rose from the grave, then disappeared into the dusty volumes of history, this story, this day would not have much meaning. But he kept going, after he walked out of the tomb. He went to Galilee and the disciples timidly followed his instructions and met him there. Christ goes to the places where we have fear, where we have anxiety, where everything is uncertain, and there we will see him. When we go into the unknown of lost faith, Christ is there. When our belief in God is turned off by religion gone wrong, Christ is there. As we step into the doctor’s office, the psychiatrist’s office, the principles office, Christ is there. When we go back into the world today, a bit unsure of what we’ve seen and heard but filled with joy from the good news, Christ is there. In each conversation, at each meal, in the good times and in the bad, at home, at work, in the Church, and in the places we find holy throughout the world, Christ is there. Just as he said, and we will see him.
I’m glad you’re here today. I’m glad you’re here today because today is a day of hope, of holiness, of celebration, of irrational and unexplainable joy. I’m glad you’re here today to take into yourself the deep, deep love of God which has been yours from the moment you took your first breath. I’m glad you’re here today to hear the good news that the past is in the past, that you can move forward into God’s future with confidence. I’m glad you’re here today, so that you can know and believe once again that where you are going, Christ is going to be there to meet you.
This is the day that the Lord has made, and we will rejoice and be glad in it! This is the day of Christ’s resurrection; the powers of sin and death have been trampled; you and I have been set free. In all things—the thoughts, words, and deeds of your very life—sing out and shout this very good news. And remember, unlike the golf course and the golfer who hit the hole in one, there are plenty of people to tell. Amen.