March 31, 2013, Easter – When You Go Out, You Will Meet Him
To listen to this sermon, click here: When You Go Out, You Will Meet Him
I love the truthfulness of God’s word. If a person had written the story of the empty tomb it would have been much more full of faith and awe, and much less full of confusion and unbelief.
The made-for-TV movie would have had the several Marys, and Joanna, arrive at the tomb and find it empty of all but the angels. And then they would have dashed joyfully off to tell the disciples that Jesus was alive, and the disciples would rejoice to hear the news, and everyone would be just full to bursting with faith.
But that’s not how Luke writes it, because that’s not how it happened. Luke’s story begins with the tired and sorrowful women, who have been waiting all the long Sabbath day to bring the spices and linens to anoint Jesus’s body. And here they arrive at the tomb, and it’s empty. Luke says they found the stone, rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. And just like real people, which they were, their first thought was not “He is risen from the dead!” They were simply astonished, astonished and confused, and to compound their confusion two men in dazzling garments appeared out of nowhere and said, “What are you doing here?”
“Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” It was a huge question. There they were, with their arms full of spices and linens to honor their Lord, just like we’ve been running around polishing brass or buying flowers or getting dressed up or cooking special food or writing sermons, all to honor our Lord. But we miss the point entirely if Easter is about remembering him. This isn’t like President’s Day or Fourth of July, where we celebrate something that happened a long time ago or honor someone who died long ago. Because Jesus is not among the dead. Jesus is among the living. On that first Easter Day, the women and the disciples, confused or not, were about to come face to face with Jesus. What they thought was the ending was just the beginning of a whole new world for them. But here’s the thing – he is still among the living, and that means he is among us, not as a beautiful memory, not as some kind of spiritual presence like good feelings or a cosmic energy. He is among the living, among us, and confused or not, we can expect him to speak to us, to take part in our lives. And that is the beginning of a whole new world for us.
Life after the Resurrection is a little bit like the arrival of Dorothy in Oz – if you’ve seen the movie – coming from her gray existence in Kansas and opening the door to a world of color. Suddenly we’re not in Kansas anymore; we’re not lonely human beings crying out to an empty sky, hoping the gods hear us, and we’re not desperate human beings making sacrifices and pouring out offerings hoping to appease their anger. We are beloved children, and just as he promised he has not left us alone.
There are a lot of people in the world who have never heard the Good News, but I think for us the real danger might be that we’ve heard it too much, and that it’s become something dead that we commemorate, something we put on a plaque on our walls, or something we wear on a T-shirt, or something we read in a book, instead of someone we expect to hear from any minute. Do we really understand what it means to us that because Jesus rose from the dead, the power of sin and death has been vanquished forever? I think that if we really believe that, which we do, we might still feel just as bewildered and confused as the women in the empty tomb. It was too big a thing for them to take in all at once. And I think for us it’s too big a thing for us to take in all at once, too.
The Good News doesn’t become real Good News to us as long as it is an idea or a theological belief, it becomes Good News to us when we bump into Jesus and realize he’s actually here. I can tell you that I know Jesus is here when I hear the still small voice in my mind, comforting me or teaching me or reminding me of God’s promises, and I know he is here when I see him act in my life, healing and protecting people, bringing people into my life to bless me and speak his word to me. Those things are true, and I have experienced them, but I can’t make a list of all the ways you might experience his presence because that would be like trying to list all the ways your husband or wife might be present to you. I could say to a woman who is about to be married, your husband will be there to cheer you up when you are sad and to cook dinner for you when you are tired and to take out the garbage. But the real truth, and what she would really want and need to know, is that her husband will be there. And when she is married, her life will be changed forever, because he is there.
And that’s the real Good News. All that we preach – the power of sin and death is crushed forever, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, in Christ we are new creatures, the kingdom of God is among us – those are all true truths, the huge truths of the Gospel that the women hadn’t even begun to grasp when they stood bewildered in the empty tomb. It wasn’t until the women and the disciples saw and heard and touched and ate with Jesus that they began to understand, and the joy of the Resurrection began to dawn on them. And it is as we meet with the living Jesus in the midst of our real lives that those huge truths will become really Good News to us, not as propositions, but as living words, words that bring us life because Jesus lives.
We expect to be joyful on Easter, and we come with flowers and our nicest clothes and good food, the church is beautiful and the music is wonderful. But we should expect much, much more, because Jesus isn’t a memory or a creed or a spiritual force. He isn’t here, the angels said, he isn’t where you put him, he is risen, he is among the living. Go out and you will meet him.