Thomas J Parlette
“Marking the Moment”
Luke 24: 1-12
There once was a Baptist church in Bangladesh that was showing a film about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus to an audience filled with people who had never heard the Gospel before. Little children sat in front and in the aisles. The adults stood in the back. As the story of Jesus’ crucifixion unfolded and Jesus’ broken body was laid in the tomb, there were tears and audible gasps. As the affected audience watched, one young boy suddenly spoke up. “Don’t be afraid, I’ve seen this before. He gets up again!(1)
Surprise! He’s not dead – not anymore. That’s the story of Easter.
Or, consider a story told by a pastor named Phil Callaway. He tells of driving with his 5 year -old son past a local cemetery. Of course, 5 year-olds sometimes have an interesting perspective on things. Noticing a large pile of dirt beside a newly excavated grave, the boy pointed and said: “Look Dad, one got out!”(2)
Surprise! One got out! That’s the story of the Resurrection.
Many emotions swirl around this story from Luke. We start with grief, as the women make their way to Jesus’ tomb in the early hours of the morning. Then terror, as the men in dazzling clothes stand before them. Then excitement, as they hurried off to tell the disciples about what has happened. Then disbelief, as the disciples dismiss the women’s story as an idle tale. And we end with a sense of amazement, as Peter sees the grave clothes, but no body. He leaves surprised. Not yet full of faith, just wonder and amazement.
This is the start of a whole new world.
The resurrection marks the moment when life overcame death. That’s the primary reason most of us are here today. Death has been conquered.
Professional golfer Paul Azinger was diagnosed with cancer at age 33. He wrote about that experience: “A genuine feeling of fear came over me – I could die from cancer. But then another reality hit me even harder: I am going to die eventually anyway, whether from cancer or something else. I am definitely going to die. It’s just a question of when. Suddenly everything I had accomplished in golf became meaningless to me. All I wanted to do was live.”
And that’s when he remembered something that his friend Larry Moody had once told him: “Zinger, we are not in the land of the living going to the land of the dying. We are in the land of the dying trying to get to the land of the living.” That’s what Easter is all about.
Paul Azinger wrote about how his perspective on life changed as he underwent his cancer treatments and then returned to the PGA tour. He wrote, “The only way you will ever have true contentment is in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I’m not saying that nothing ever bothers me and I don’t have problems, but I feel like I’ve found the answer to the six- foot hole. I know I’ll spend eternity with God and I have a promise that as a child of God, he’ll help me deal with anything. God promises to offer me contentment regardless of what life brings, even cancer.”(3) The resurrection marks the moment when life triumphed over death.
The resurrection also marks the moment when hope overcame grief. The power of death and loss and grief can destroy a person. It can make us lose hope.
Pastor Stephen Brown says he was devastated after his younger brother, Ron, died suddenly of a heart attack. Ron was only in his forties, a popular district attorney, a terrific father. Stephen never even got the chance to say goodbye.
Several weeks after Ron’s death, Stephen decided to visit his brother’s grave. It was a cold, rainy afternoon in late winter. Ron’s grave was not yet marked, and Stephen couldn’t find it. As he trekked through the mud, his grief overwhelmed him. Standing in the rain, Stephen began sobbing. “God, this has been the worst month of my life, and now I can’t even find my brother’s grave.”
Suddenly Stephen sensed a presence near him, as though Christ had drawn alongside to help. The words that the angel spoke came to his mind like a burst of light – “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
“Those words comforted me,” Stephen later wrote, “and I haven’t been back to the cemetery since. I don’t need to go back. The One who knew and loved Ron came to me in my grief. He promised never to leave, and that has made all the difference in the world.”(4)
Even death cannot destroy the hope of those who believe in Jesus Christ. The resurrection marks the moment when hope overcame grief.
And finally, the resurrection marks a moment when we have to make a decision. Not whether the resurrection is true or not – but whether we will live like the resurrection happened in the PAST or whether we will live like the resurrection is happening NOW.
At the entrance to Jerusalem’s Church of All Nations, next to the Garden of Gethsemane, there is a sign warning every visitor: No Explanations inside the Church (5)
The warning was meant to discourage tour guides from disturbing the church’s prayerful ambiance with loud lectures and explanations inside the church. But that’s actually some pretty good advice about how to approach Easter Sunday.
Easter Sunday is a time for proclamation, not explanation. This is not a day to lay out the evidence that once upon a time Jesus walked out of the tomb, alive and well. This is not a day to argue those who have doubts into belief. No – explanations in the church are not allowed, especially on Easter.
This is a day not to convince, but to invite – to invite the mixed crowd of believers, seekers, hopers and even the doubters, to embrace the Easter experience and appreciate it’s transformative effects. (6)
Easter isn’t something we remember once a year in the springtime and then get on with life. Easter is something we live and breathe all year long. Resurrection is about the healing and restoration of wounded and severed relationships – between God and humanity, between human persons and, ultimately, among all the elements of creation. The resurrection is more than a proposition we believe. It’s something we prove by the way we live it out.
The best evidence of the reality of resurrection is a community that lives with the steadfast hope that God will conquer all the powers of sin and death – God has done it before and God will do it again.
As the Orthodox theologian Patriarch Athenagoras has said, “The Resurrection is not the resuscitation of a body; it is the beginning of the transfiguration of the world.”(7)
Will you join me in marking this Resurrection Moment by joining together in the Festival of Resurrection litany printed in your bulletin…
1. Dynamic Preaching, Vol. XXXV, No. 2, p22.
5. Jim Friedrich, Christian Century, April 10th, 2019, p10.