Easter Sunday – April 12, 2020
Video is here.
I believe that one of the most gifted presenters of our time had to be Steve Jobs, the co-founder and CEO of Apple, Inc. For over a decade, he gave keynote addresses at various annual or semi-annual trade shows in which, he unveiled Apple’s new products. These keynote addresses were eagerly anticipated by the tech world. People would line up for hours to enter the auditorium where the presentation was to be made. Websites would post in real time each and every little announcement that Steve Jobs made. Those presentations were broadcast over the internet, and then made available for download, which people did thousands of times. Jobs’ abilities in those presentations have been described as a “reality distortion field.” An associate of his once remarked that Jobs could convince people to believe almost anything with a mix of charm, charisma, bluster, exaggeration, and marketing. If that associate only added perspiration, a top hat, and butterscotch ripple, Jobs would be a real life Willy Wonka. Each time he spoke, he affected the stock price of his company.
A trademark of his presentations for over a decade came at the very end, when it appeared that everything had been said and everything had been done, all of the good news had been shared, all of the stories had been told, all of the new products have been announced, all the guests have been thanked for their attendance, and all of the good-byes have been said, almost as an afterthought, Jobs would would say, “Wait: there is one more thing.”
On that very first Easter morning, it appeared to those who knew and loved Jesus that everything was over, and there were no more things. There was nothing else to hope for, nothing else about which to be certain, no plans, nothing to trust. The disciples had spent three years leaving behind family, home, livelihood, and security to follow Jesus, the one who they believed to be the Christ, the Anointed one, the Messiah, the King of the Jews, the liberator whose reign would have no end. The one who would defeat the occupying Roman forces and the puppet King Herod Antipas who they had placed over Perea and Galilee.
It was only seven days, seven short days ago, that Jesus entered the holy city of Jerusalem hailed as a king, with people shouting “Hosanna!” which means “Save us!” They waved palm branches in the air and lay their coats on the ground, so that he might pass over them, something only done for those who deserved the highest honor. They had sang part of Psalm 118: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father, David!” Yet as this week wore on, the voices around Jesus changed their tone. Judas Iscariot, one of his twelve disciples, betrayed Jesus into the hands of the authorities for thirty silver coins, those who referred to Jesus as “prophet” and “king,” Pontius Pilate and his minions, do so mockingly as they beat him. The crowds who on Sunday had cheered “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” on Sunday by Friday were shouting “Crucify him! Release that insurrectionist Barabbas! Crucify Jesus! Caesar is our King.”
The one vote taken in the New Testament—the people vote, and as a result, Jesus is sent to the cross.
By Friday afternoon, Peter had denied that he even knew Jesus three times. Jesus’ critics had said of him, as he hung on the cross, “He saved others, yet he cannot save himself.” By Friday night, only six nights after the loud cheering of Palm Sunday, there were no voices. Jesus was dead and in his tomb. Jesus’ followers had been silenced.
Death, if nothing else, means no more things. For Jesus, and especially for those who believed him to be the Lord, death must have had the ability to invalidate everything Jesus had said and done. If you’ve ever experienced a betrayal of trust, you find yourself not only thinking about that specific betrayal, but reconsidering everything else that person ever said and ever did. If Jesus said he was the Messiah, the Son of God, and then was killed by the oppressors, well, you wonder what else he was wrong about. Can we believe what he taught us about forgiveness, the Sabbath, the law, loving our neighbors, loving our enemies, giving ourselves for others, or each of us taking up our cross. If the oppressors could kill him, how can we believe anything he said to us about anything, even about God?
What I would be wondering when I went to sleep on Friday and Saturday nights would be “On what authority did he say and do all those amazing things he did, if he can fall victim to the powers that be, just as you and I can?”
In our scripture readings during Lent, we have heard our gospel readings each Sunday as though they were separate scenes in one act of a sacred drama. We began on the Sunday before Lent, Transfiguration Sunday, with the prologue to this drama where Jesus appears on a mountaintop with Moses and Elijah, and then we witnessed Jesus tempted by Satan in the wilderness, having a conversation with a religious leader named Nicodemus in the cover of night, all the way to watching Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, watching Jesus celebrate the Passover with this disciples, and then retelling the story of his betrayal, arrest, crucifixion, death, and burial.
And that is how the drama appears to end. Jesus dies alone and is buried as people rush home to begin observing the Sabbath. When, early Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene arrives at the tomb, it’s not to see what Jesus would do next. It was to pay respects, because by all appearances, the last scene of the only act of Jesus’s life was over, his ministry was over, his mission was over, his teaching was over, his compassion was over, his power was over, and everyone’s relationship with him was over.
No more things.
But sisters and brothers, the house lights do not come up and the ushers do not begin directing us to the doors. Mary Magdalene, and then Peter and the other disciple arrive at the tomb and they notice that something strange and confusing has happened, the stone has been removed from the entrance to the tomb, the linen wrappings have been removed from Jesus’ bruised and battered body, and Jesus is gone, and just when it appears that this tragedy has one more scene, when those who knew and loved Jesus the most discovered that he had suffered one last indignity— his body being stolen from his tomb— when in desperation, Mary looks around, and sees who she thinks is the gardener, and weeping she says to him, “Where is he? They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
As Mary is anguished and racked with pain and grief and loss, knowing that Jesus is dead and gone, and that as bad as she wants to see him one last time that seeing him cannot possibly change the permanence of this tragedy, because it is over, over, over, God shows up on the scene and says to Mary and says to you and me and says to all of the generations past and all of the generations to come, “Wait! There is one more thing…”
And that one more thing is life, and it is a promise that is made in and through Christ and which extends to us as well, as Jesus said to his disciples in John 14, “Because I live, you also will live.”
Then, if God has raised Jesus from the dead, then can God not make a difference in what is going on in our world right now? If God has conquered death and sin and done so willingly, can we honestly say God is indifferent to the things that are making us suffer right now? What in our lives are you and I not fully entrusting to God? Is it a child, a job, money, work, family, health, life, or death, or even the outcome of a global pandemic? If in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has conquered the foe of death, then God can do anything, and if God can do anything, God can be alive and vital and life-changing in the here-and-now of our daily living, come what may.
In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, more has happened than simply the validation of Jesus’ life, teachings, example. The resurrection of Jesus Christ means that all of the powers in this world that oppress us have been put in their proper place. It means that we are not a people without hope. It means that we are never alone. It means that God is not aloof or disconnected from our present lives, needs, circumstances, and pain.
It means that when you get to a point in your life when it all seems to much, when you feel like there is no hope, when it seems like all the bad things that are getting you down are going to stick around forever, when it seems like life is nothing more than pain and death, you and I can remember that we are the people of the resurrection, and as such, we can look at those powers of injustice and oppression, those things within us and around us that are running amok in our lives and in our world, those things that mock our sense of God’s love and mercy, fairness and justice, the things that seem to threaten the very foundations of our faith, and we can remember the time when by all accounts our Savior was dead and sealed in a tomb, and death itself was dancing on his grave, but the God who is always right on time showed up, and said “Stop! Wait! There is one more thing.”
And that is the good news for Easter, good news for all our tomorrows, and hope for the world. Because if Jesus is not in that tomb, then Jesus is in all places. Easter means that Jesus is not in the tomb, he is in the midst of our lives. He is not in the tomb, he is working through people like us, attending to the sick and the dying. He is not in the tomb, he is at the graveside, attending to the grieving. He is not in the tomb, he is working through his church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
He is in all places, in all situations, in each and every broken heart, in every tear shed, and in each and every parched and barren place where justice is yet to roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
And when it seems like there is no hope and the forces of evil and death have won, I tell you, there is one more thing. Easter people raise your voices and let not your eyes be downcast. God is with us and this God has vanquished death forever which means that sin and death do not triumph and love wins. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s great “one more thing” and that is why we gather, and that is why we worship, and that is why we sing the worlds of the old hymn saying “He arose, he arose, hallelujah! Christ arose!”
Gloria In Excelsis Deo.