So in the words of First Peter, he writes, We have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. That is true. If Christ is risen, if Jesus is alive, there’s no time to waste. We must run, like the disciples, like Peter and the beloved disciple, we must run. There’s no time for long introductions. There’s no time for stories of fluffy Easter bunnies. There’s no time for pastors chiding you about next Sunday (ya’ll come back).
No, it’s a time to get right down to business. And that is to articulate the most urgent and ancient of questions that lies on our hearts, the question that runs through all of our hearts. The question that is the struggle in life, the question that lays on our souls, the question that is in every breath we take. And the question, my friends, is this: do we dare to live with hope, or not? Do we make peace with death and the demise of God? Or, do we dare to live for God’s promise of (and you can fill in the blank) of life, of hope, of love. And it doesn’t matter what word you pick to fill in the blank because they’re really all different colors of the same painting. Which is to say that to have faith in God is to have faith in life, which is to say that to have faith in love. Because our God is a God of love and it is through the power of love that we are raised from death to new life. As it was so long ago as it is today and yet is still to come in ways we have not even yet seen.
Now you may already be thinking, you know, I don’t know if the preacher’s right about that. I’m not sure that that’s the most important Easter question that should be laid before us this morning. You may be thinking to yourself, You know, I’m not sure, because this is the essence of it. For the truth is that many of us from time to time are quite satisfied to be remaining in a state of sleep, of not paying attention, to such weighty matters. Almost as if there is some diabolical force out there that makes us sleepy, and right now I have an image of the Wicked Witch of the West with her poisonous spell. My beauties, sleep. Poppies, sleep, poppies. And now they’ll sleep.
But I believe you are here this morning because you want to be awoken. You are here this morning, or you’re listing on the radio or the internet, wherever you are, because there’s something in you that wants to wake up. Something in you that says: if God wants to wake us up, then so be it. Then let the word be preached. Let God speak to us this morning. Let us come to life.
You see friends, there’s no missing the fact that Easter is a struggle. It is a struggle between life and death, and it’s a struggle that we find in the Easter story this morning, the story of John’s account of the empty tomb. That story that begins with that line, “Early in the morning of the first day of the week while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb…” While it was still dark is an important phrase because it not only signifies a time of day but it is in John’s view a spiritual condition, that of despair, while it was still dark. And perhaps we’ve all known those times in our lives when it feels like hope had died: when the cancer returned; when at last we had to pry the car keys out of dad’s hands; when a person at the prime of his life succumbed; and when yet the mother of all bombs was dropped this last week. Moments in our lives when it feels like hope had died.
So Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb while it is still dark and may it have been the case that in her heart that same question we’re pondering this morning was asked in her heart? That question about do we make peace with death? Or do we dare to live for God’s promise? And we know the story, we know that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and she looked and she was weeping outside the tomb and she looked in and she saw angles there in the tomb. And then she looked and she saw a man, it was Jesus but she didn’t know it was Jesus. She thought it was the gardener. And she said to the gardener, where did you lay the body? Because Mary was going to go and anoint the body. And then Mary heard her own name on the lips of her beloved, the one she loved that had died, that had be tortured and crucified. And she heard her own name, “Mary”, and she turned and at last she recognized it was the risen Christ. It was Jesus. And her heart was so filled with joy, and she went from grief to joy in a half a second. And in a few moments we’re going to sing a “Hallelujah” chorus and we’re going to leave here the sanctuary this morning with our hearts filled with joy and happiness. But friends it’s not that easy. It’s not that easy in life.
So thank God we had more than one version of the empty tomb story. We have four different versions, in the different Gospels. None of them agree with each other but that’s not to say that one is more accurate than the others, they’re all true. In Mark’s version, the disciples come and they come to the empty tomb and they come inside and the see the angels there. And the angels say, “Do not be alarmed, for you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, and he is risen.” Do not be alarmed? The disciples and Mark are terrified. And the Gospel ends with these words, “terror seized them, and they ran away afraid.” I think that’s an important ending that Mark gives us because in so many ways it seems it would be easier to make peace with death than to try to get our minds around the promise of God’s resurrection. So many ways it would be easier for us to make peace with death. There’s something so honest about the disciples reaction, because perhaps it’s like our own reaction at times. Is it not the case that sometimes it’s easier just to be cynical? Isn’t it easier at times, my friends, just to brace ourselves for the next shoe to fall? To say that’s the way life is?
Yes, it’s easier to make peace with death and the demise of God, than to dare to live for God’s promise of resurrection. It’s easier to do that. It’s easier, really, to stay asleep and not think that a battle is raging out there between good and evil. To think to ourselves if we don’t know something, then we’re not responsible for it because we’re not responsible for what we don’t know. It’s easier. It’s more comfortable for us to get our minds around death than dare to live for the promise of God of new life. Indeed, why not make peace with death? Why not? You know, sometimes it’s only when our comforts are stripped away, my friends, that we recognize the struggle that is in all of our hearts. The struggle between whether we’re going to make peace with death or dare to live for God’s promise of new life. It’s only when it’s laid open for us and it’s bare like the covers ripped off of our bed on an Easter Sunday morning, then we’re faced with that choice, that either or choice that Easter presents us this morning and it’s a struggle, I tell you.
There’s nothing more beautiful than when Mary hears her name on the lips of Jesus. There’s nothing more wonderful in this world than love and reconnection and reunion. There’s nothing more life giving than the power of love. But we dare believe it? Do we dare trust it? Oh, in so many ways it’s easier for us to make peace with death.
There was a man who lived and suffered in Auschwitz in a concentration camp. And at the end of his experience of the camp he wrote a book, and when he had died in 1997 that book sold over 10 million copies. It was translated into 24 different languages. And the premise of his book was his observation of the people that suffered in the concentration camp in Auschwitz, that those people who were able to make meaning out of their lives, were able to find a purpose in their lives, were the ones who survived, were the ones who were able to endure that terrible ordeal. I’m talking about the author Victor Frankel and the book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” published in 1946.
In so many ways his own experience of being in Auschwitz was an experience in his own heart of deciding, “Do I make peace with death? Or do I dare to live for God’s promise of new life, and the power of love?” And he writes in the book about his own experience where he found meaning on a very dark day. Here’s what he writes: We stumbled on in the darkness over big stones and through large puddles along the one road leading from the camp. Accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Hardly a word was spoken. The icy wind did not encourage talk. The man marching next to me whispered suddenly, “If our wives could see us now!” That brought thoughts of my own wife to my mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said. But we both knew each of us was thinking about his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me. I saw her smile. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun, which was beginning to rise. A thought transfixed me; for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it had been set in song by so many poets. The truth – that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which human beings can aspire.
You see, friends, if we strip away our comfortableness, we recognize that we are all in our own way stumbling though the darkness on the road of life. And perhaps it is enough on this Easter morning to say that from time to time we are offered a glimpse of God’s glory. We are offered a glimpse of God’s Easter promise when love breaks through the clouds like that little rose in the morning, and forgiveness comes unexpected, a reunion we did not anticipate and there’s enough to hope to live for another day. It is a glimpse that is offered, but it enough – enough for us to keep on going – as my brother says in the Army, to keep on pounding. For friends, the battle may be over but the war is not won. We got a glimpse of what is yet to come. And so with courage and guts and determination, we are called to respond to God’s Easter call. That God is with us to finish the task, to do the work that needs to be done, knowing that someday, someday every tear will be wiped away and there will be pain and suffering no more. But in the meantime, in the meantime we struggle and on this Easter Sunday it is enough to ponder that one question. That one question – are we going to make peace with death, and the demise of God’s reign? Or are we going to dare to live for God’s Easter promise, for life and for love? Amen.