Those of us who grew up Christian have a pre-understanding of Easter, just as we do of Good Friday and Christmas. That understanding shapes the way we hear of these stories. To be sure, it makes them beloved stories of our affection. They remind us of years past when we heard them told….of people we were with and places we were at. The remind us of plays and musicals performed over the years. They have become a beautiful part of our memory that will live with us forever.
And our pre-understanding also shapes our hearing other ways. It has a tendency to make the stories familiar, and familiar can mean mundane, routine, old and even stale (if we’re honest with ourselves). Familiarity can prevent us from seeing new insights because we may believe we have heard it all. Familiarity can lead to apathy, blandness, overlooking and failing to notice the the truth and beauty and joy.
Probably most of us, if not everyone of us, in the room have heard the Easter story many times. And I am sure that our familiarity with it causes us to miss the utter miraculousness, the awe and wonder of the resurrection…a story, a key moment in God’s story that shows us the depth of God’s love, a Love that always wins, even in the midst of death.
Can you imagine if you were hearing it for the first time today? What would you notice? What words and phrases would stand out to you? How would you feel? What would you think?
Will you try that with me? I know it’s difficult….but just try…
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb [of Jesus who had been killed just days before].
And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.
But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”
So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!”
And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:1-10)
What did you hear? Who were the first people on the scene? What happened? Can you imagine how they felt? What were they told? Was it believable….or not? Who did they see? Was that even possible given what they knew?
First and foremost, we hear that a dead man has come back to life. Utterly astonishing! Can you imagine going out to the graveyard to visit your mother, father, your aunt, uncle, or a good friend….and someone just appears gleaming in the sunlight saying, “You won’t find Aunt Sally here. love has won! She has been raised from the grave. In fact, if you head on down to Erwin you should run right into her.”
That is the kind of scene we’re taking about here. This was not just some, “oh, god needed another angel and she’s with God singly in the heavenly chorus now.” No, this was more than that. This was “she is alive and you can walk right down and see her” kinda moment. This is a Love Wins story.
Aunt Sally is alive. Uncle Ben is on walking down the street right now. Your friend Mary is living. your brother Bill has come back to life. Your husband is not dead, he is living. Your sister is not in her grave, she is alive. Your grandpa…alive! Your child….alive! Your Mama, your Papa, your mentor, Your teacher….all alive and well! Not to be found among the dead. No, raised up, lifted up from the pit, woken up from sleep, picked up from despair, filled up with a new spirit, patched up from all his Brokenness, mended up from all her bruises, healed from every sickness, brought back to life, restored to his right mind, replenished her strength, rehabilitated from addiction, rejuvenated from being so burned out, reconciled within every damaged relationship, put back together, made whole from every fragment, revived, repaired, renewed, revitalized, recovered, rekindled, resuscitated…
Yes, resurrected! Love Wins! Love Wins! Game Over! Love Wins!
That’s is what this story is about. That is the awe we must hear. That is the amazing sight we should see. That is the kind of fresh perspective we need about Easter.
And, while I hate to be saying this in 2017, but you know the single saddest indication that people of faith no longer hear this Easter story with fresh ears, new eyes and open hearts?
Who were the first folks to learn of the resurrection?
The two Mary’s.
Who were the first folks to go out and spread that good news, to preach that gospel, to serve as pastors during a difficult time by bringing a word of hope, to bring others into fuller understand of what Jesus had done?
Yeah, the two Mary’s again – two women.
And folks, we still today have churches and faith communities that believe women should not and could not be pastors. Clearly, they cannot read this story for what is says because of the staleness and lifelessness of its familiarity in their lives. Because when you read it and study it as if for the first time, for all the beauty and wonder that it offers, for all the lessons that it has to teach us, then you realize that women were the very first preachers and pastors…and I’d venture to say the one’s chosen by God for this moment, the one’s gifted for this moment, the best one’s for this moment.
It is realities like this one where the very first preachers and pastors are today still fighting to be accepted as preachers and pastors – realities like this that remind us how far we still have to go, how we need resurrection today, how much we still need God’s love to win in our lives and in our churches.
We need to be reminded how the Easter story is a Love Wins story. Love Wins when you serve the least of these, when you sacrifice as Jesus did, when you do justice, love kindness and walk humbly. We need not only to be reminded….we need to see how Love Wins for ourselves, we need to hear it again and again, we need to live it today and everyday in the future.
No matter how the world treats you for living the resurrection – for follow Jesus in ways which may cause you to give away more than you keep for yourself, which may cause you to be ridiculed, which may cause you to do crazy things like forgive the very person that the world would condemn or offer mercy to the persons the world would sentence to death, or offer acceptance to the people the world would cast out, deny or judge – no matter how the world treats you, God’s Love Wins
Think about a place or program, a person or policy, an message or an action that so clearly follows the way of Jesus that there is simply no doubt in your mind. Now, be careful…it would have to be marked by those things that mark Jesus’ teachings…love, grace, serving, generosity, forgiveness, mercy, justice and humility, placing the last first, the weak in charge, that lifts up the poor, that releases those who are bound. Think of omething or someone that so follows these teachings that you believe it is Jesus-centered.
Now, I hope you have a good one. When you do that, God’s Love Wins. Despite what the world says. Despite what may happen to you that may look like defeat and death…God Love Wins.
Friends, you cannot say the same thing for those people and places and program and policies and messages and actions that are not the ways of Christ. They are ways that have become familiar, lifeless and prevent us from seeing, hearing and living the true Easter message.
No one is alone in being sucked in by the familiar. In fact, we are in good company. You see, the disciples lived and worked, ate and slept, walked and talked with Jesus. And yet they never seemed to be able to understand Jesus or what his life and journey were about (probably because they weren’t listening to the women!)
Yet on Easter morning, they discovered Jesus had risen, they had no clue what had happened. They could not comprehend it. They had no idea this was the plan all along. They were utterly surprised. None of them expected the tomb to be empty.
So even at their best after years of being physically and spiritually present with Jesus, the disciples still struggled to comprehend a messiah who died, a king who served, a Lord who offered mercy, a prince who brought peace not through a sword but by forgiving, healing, and loving, a savior who saved by conquering death instead of conquering people.
We are those disciples today. To often not understanding or comprehending because of what we know, because of what is familiar.
And we need an Easter story just as the disciples did….to pull us out of familiarity and complacency, of despair and lifelessness, of status quo and missing the point. We need an Easter story that awes us, that confounds us, so that we will come to understand more clearly the truth of the life and teaching, the death and resurrection of Jesus. A truth marked by humility, servic to all, support for one another, and being full of love and grace for all people.
Brothers and Sisters, this year may Easter show us with fresh perspective, through new ears and new eyes, as if for the first time that Love Wins. May Easter bring us a true resurrection of life right now, in this moment. A resurrection that is about living and learning each day with one another through your church family to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. For following his way means resurrection from a path the leads to death and despair into a path of life and life abundant…
a life that will not always be easy,
but a life that will be joyful because there is a family of faith to walk it with us,
a life that will be full because we will not be alone,
a life that will be full of support because there are brothers and sister in Christ praying for us, encouraging us, nurturing us and holding us in the presence of God’s light,
a life that will be overflowing with of love and mercy despite what the world tries to give us in return,
a life that will be about rising to the challenge,
about rising to serve,
rising higher and higher to join God in His kingdom.
A life that will be about resurrection, a life that tells the Easter story this day, everyday and especially in that final day when death will try to have one last say in our lives…and God will defeat it forever and ever…for you and for me.