Acts 10:34-43 Psalm 118:2, 14-24 I Corinthians 15:1-11
I heard a story about a first grader who started school a few weeks late in September because his family had just moved to town. His teacher was pleased to meet him on his first day. His parents had followed all the instructions. He had his new books, his lunch money, and his nametag on a string around his neck. The teacher looked at the nametag, and was puzzled because it read “Fruit Stand.” The school in northern California was multicultural, so she had seen some unusual names before, such as Moonbeam and Sunglow. So she accepted the fact that his name was Fruit Stand and began giving him instructions. Fruit Stand, this is your desk. Fruit Stand, it’s time for recess. Fruit Stand, it’s time for lunch. Finally, at the end of the day, she took him out to his bus and introduced him to his driver. “Fruit Stand, this is your driver.” The bus driver asked, “Where do I let him off?’ The teacher answered, “I don’t know.” The driver said it was on the back of the name tag. The teacher turned over the name tag and found the word Anthony.
Isn’t that what happened to the disciples? They didn’t read the signs correctly. They didn’t really know who Jesus was until after the resurrection. They didn’t understand. They didn’t get it. That awareness didn’t come for them until they ran head-on into Easter.
Alleluia. Christ is risen. We get it now, but the disciples didn’t. Have you heard the word, “serendipity”? It is the wonderful surprise of looking for one thing and somehow finding something better. Life is full of these kinds of experiences. Hank Ketcham, the cartoonist, was trying to come up with an idea for a new comic strip, but was having no luck. Nothing clicked until one night when he came home and found his wife in tears. “Hank,” she said, “our son Dennis is a menace!” and the rest is history.
I heard a story of a man who missed his bus in Longview, Texas. Disgusted and discouraged, he went to a nearby café to get a cup of coffee while waiting for the next bus. Suddenly and delightfully, he found the woman who became his wife. Fifty years later, they are still happily married and still living in Longview, Texas. He never got on that bus.
Serendipity – looking for one thing and finding something better. That is what happened when Mary Magdalene and the others set out that morning – to say their good-byes, and to pay their respects, and honor the dead. They came to the tomb in search of a dead body but instead found an empty tomb – a living risen Lord. They came to anoint the corpse of their crucified teacher but instead found hope in the resurrection. They came to mourn a death – but found a new life.
Mary Magdalene had seen the anguish of Jesus. With her own eyes she had seen him betrayed by a close friend, deserted by his disciples, falsely accused by the authorities, nailed to a cross by the Romans, placed in a tomb by Joseph of Arimethea. Now she had come early on Easter morning with her friends to visit his grave, to care for his remains, to anoint his lifeless body with oils. But while they were worrying about who would roll away the stone, they found the tomb was empty!
Their response – their hearts were crushed even more. They thought someone had stolen the body of Jesus. “How cruel! How ruthless! How awful!” they thought. “They have stolen my Lord. They have robbed the grave. They have even stolen his body. Have they no respect for anything? Is nothing sacred to them?”
Jesus was not there. Gathering up all of their courage, the women entered the tomb. It confirmed their nightmare. Jesus was gone. Then a man wearing a white robe gives them a message – gives us a message – “Don’t be afraid”. Jesus has risen and is going on to Galilee and you will see him there. At that moment, Mary realized the great truth of Easter morning – Jesus Christ lives. Jesus Christ has conquered death. There is no grave deep enough, no seal imposing enough, no guard powerful enough, no stone heavy enough to keep Christ in the grave. He is resurrected! He lives! He wins!
Sometimes, we forget, don’t we? We often hear people say things like: “Well, love is nice, but it won’t work. You have to have power and clout to make it in today’s world. Kindness is a wonderful virtue, but when crunch time comes, you need a big stick. Sure, goodness is a fine thing to strive for, but when evil rears its ugly head, you’d better fight fire with fire.” Might, force, power, intimidation – those are the things that win in our world today.
Then along comes Easter to remind us that, ultimately, evil doesn’t have a chance. Wrongdoing eventually leads down a dead-end street. Hate and hostility are doomed for failure. God is still God and God’s truth and love can’t be defeated. God’s truth and love are the most powerful things in the world. Once each year, Easter comes around to tell us that again.
Time and time again, the world tries to crucify God and God’s love. Time and time again, the world tries to crucify God and God’s goodness. Time and time again, the world tries to crucify God and God’s truth. Then Easter comes and grabs us by the back of our necks and says, “Look! God wins! You can’t kill the things of God. They will not die! They will not be vanquished! They can’t be defeated! You may push them down for a while, but they resurrect. They rise again! They survive! They endure to end of time.
Church spires outlast spears. Altars outlast armies. The eternal goodness of God outlasts the Golgothas of human history. This is the incredible, amazing, exciting message of Easter. On Good Friday, evil had its best chance to defeat the light and cover us in darkness. Christ conquered death. He came out of the grave. God wins!
That is what Easter is about. The good news is that God wins and God wants to share the Easter victory with you and me. God wants us to join the march. God wants us to share in the triumph. God wants to be in relationship with us. So we have to open our hearts wide, like the stone rolled away from the empty tomb, open our hearts for more of God’s love, grace and mercy to flow into our hearts, our relationships, our lives.
God calls us to love, expecting nothing in return. God wants us to give money to people who will never say thank you, to forgive those who won’t forgive us, to come early and stay late when no one else notices. God wants our hands and feet at work in the world around us. Service prompted by duty - is the call of discipleship.
The lesson that the women at the tomb teach us – three words, don’t give up. Is the trail dark? Don’t sit. Is the road long? Don’t stop. Is the night black? Don’t quit. God loves us and God is waiting. For all we know, God may be trying to move a stone right now. The check may be in the mail. The apology may be on our lips. The job contract may be on the desk. Don’t quit…. Don’t forget to love… for if you do, you may miss the answer to your prayers. God still moves stones so we can experience the joy and hope of the resurrection, each day, every day. The Lord is risen. Alleluia, The Lord has risen indeed! Amen.