Easter Sunday 2017
University Congregational Church
April 16, 2017
“New Life Bursting Forth”
The first Easter 2000 years ago, it looked like a big win for the Romans. Jesus was dead and buried. Even on Monday, Caesar and Herod were still in power. And on Tuesday, the chief priests were still the chief priests. It looked like the worst thing had happened. But meanwhile, in a tucked-away corner, at least 12 people were transformed.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” John 20:1-15
We know “the rest of the story”, but they did not. For them, it was over. There was no such thing as Easter. There was no such thing as resurrection. There was no such thing as life after death.
Mary Magdalene made the discovery that Jesus’ tomb was empty. Peter and John came themselves to see with their own eyes what Mary Magdalene had described to them. They, like Mary Magdalene, assumed that Jesus’ body had been removed from the tomb and placed in some less pretentious grave. They forgot he had told them that he would rise again from the dead. They thought their time with him had ended with his crucifixion. It looked like the worst thing had happened. Death had won. They had no idea they were about ready to give birth to a new movement, which would be called Christianity. They had no plan to evangelize the world, but new life burst from them (in spite of their disbelief) as they told the stories of Jesus.
Mary remained in the garden, more concerned than ever over what had happened to the body of her Lord. She had discovered the empty tomb; but like Peter and John, she had not discerned the reason why it was empty. Yet, in spite of her grief and loss of hope, Mary Magdalene was about to blossom as a follower of Jesus. New life would soon rise up in her and cause her to tell her story over and over again. She would soon give birth to a life-changing faith which would be remembered for centuries after her own death.
This was also true of Christopher Columbus. He discovered two continents that much of the world didn’t know about, but he did not realize it. Imagine his initial disappointment that he had failed to find what he was seeking! He had sailed from Spain expecting to find a new route to the Indies. We know the rest of the story; but he didn’t. It looked to him like his goal was a failure. What he found was not the Indies, but the Western Hemisphere. Two more continents, as a result of his voyage, were added to the western geographers’ map of the world. He did not know it at the time, but he gave birth to a new era of discovery, settlement and development of new life.
When you stand at the empty tomb on Easter, it is natural to feel panic and even hopelessness. It looked like the worst thing had happened.
• It’s like standing at the casket of your loved one
• Or staring at a blank piece of paper on which you are supposed to
write something profound
• Or waking up the day after an election when your candidate didn’t
• Or picking up the phone and hearing bad news on the other end
• Or hearing you have a disease
It could be Easter – but we don’t know that yet. And we may not know it the next day or even the next week or month later. Mary’s only thought on Easter was where the body of her friend Jesus had been taken. She wasn’t thinking of resurrection. Peter and John rushed back to the other disciples with the news – but they didn’t declare Easter morning or resurrection. Resurrection is what happens later. It is a process. It looked like death won.
Resurrection is about the bringing to life, in new ways, shapes and forms, of something which was once lifeless. Easter is not about death and burial, or even about empty tombs. Easter is about celebrating the new life in each of us because of our dynamic faith. The Church is not about history, past events and death. The Church is about bringing new life and hope into lives of people. We don’t know the rest of the story yet, because we are creating it!
What about you? Are you standing at an empty tomb not knowing what to think or expect? To be an Easter person is to discover the joy of giving birth to new life, new relationships, hopeful beginnings, and exciting adventures. What is straining within you to be born? What is warm and helpless, like a baby chick, pushing to break free from inside and be welcomed into your world? Is it poetry? A new venture? A dream? A relationship which is budding? Is it music waiting to be written or played? Is it a new skill waiting to be developed? Your faith anxious to be shared?
Arunima Sinha was a volleyball player. She was pushed off a train by thieves. Her injuries included an amputated leg. That is when she stood at the edge of an empty tomb. Her life hung in the balance. It looked like the worst thing had happened. But she created a new life for herself. She became the first amputee to climb Mt. Everest! She wrote the rest of the story – and it is a resurrection story. www.quora.com
Raj Alakshmi was a budding dentist who met with an accident which shattered her spinal cord and her dreams. She had always wanted to be a world class dentist. She stood at the empty tomb and was afraid. It looked like the worst thing had happened. Today, she is the winner of Miss Wheelchair 2014, & runs her own dental clinic. She wrote the rest of the story with her very life – and it, too, is a resurrection story. www.quora.com
16-year-old Chauncy Jones was hungry and there was no money or food at home. He took a bus in Memphis to a Kroger store and asked people if he could carry their groceries to their car in exchange for a small item of food. Little did Chauncy know that he was about to change his life.
That’s when he met Matt White. Instead of giving him one item, Matt went back into the store and bought cereal, pizza, milk, soap, toothbrushes, and more. And then he gave Chauncy a ride home. That’s when he discovered Chauncy and his disabled mother were truly living with nothing. They didn’t even have beds or furniture. They were sleeping on pads made out of sleeping bags; they had two lamps and nothing in their fridge.
White decided to help the family even more. He found out that Chauncy is a straight A student who is doing his best to make it in a world with no money and very few resources. He wants to work and help his mother financially. White set up a GoFundMe page to raise $250 so Chauncy could buy a lawn mower and start mowing lawns for money. More than $273,000 has been raised. The money will be put in a trust for Chauncy’s education and perhaps a new home. Easter came to Chauncy and to Matt White. Lives have been changed and Chauncy has hope for the first time. Matt White became part of the Easter transformation for someone else and was doubly blessed. www.newser.com/story/227225
Easter is the beginning of the rest of your story. You may be standing next to an empty tomb not knowing what is next. It may look like the worst thing had happened. But I can tell you: Easter is coming next! Get ready! You can blossom and grow – giving and accepting new life – and allow the hope inside you be shared with others. Easter is looking into the empty tomb and then starting the process of discovering life again. It is about giving birth to newness of life. What is within you, bursting to be born?