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A Welcoming Church

The most astonishing and important story in history ends with this: – When they came to the tomb early in the morning, they found the stone rolled away. When they went in, they did not find the body. The tomb was empty.

HAPPY, HAPPY EASTER! Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.” (John 11:25) “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Easter is that day in the church year that most confronts us with the question, what do we believe? I will share with you what I believe, a sort of catechism according to me. We all pack our suitcases differently. This is just what I believe.

Belief here is not something we do with our brains. It is not a process of evaluating an idea dispassionately and then assenting to its being true. Nor is it an abject surrender of our God-given faculties that demands unquestioning faith. 

Instead, as it did for the man born blind in John’s gospel (9-38) who said, “Lord, I believe,” belief comes through personal experience of the love of God. Also from John (20-29), Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

I believe we are all beautifully created and endlessly loved by our Creator. That’s what makes sense to me. To be Christian, we believe that we are all made in the image of God. And that means love is the most powerful force in the universe. 

God is love; love is what God does. Love is where it all began, and love, in the end, will have the last word.

We know that God loves us because of the Crucifixion, by what he did for us on Good Friday. He sacrificed his Son for us; he experienced all that suffering and despair and pain and betrayal and confusion and humiliation for us. “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me!” Love so amazing, so divine.

That is how we know God loves us: as we say, He lived and died as one of us.  By his precious death and sacrifice, he paid the price for us; our sins are all forgiven. The Father’s forgiveness is a full pardon. All the stuff that makes us flawed is forever and totally redeemed.

Sin is real. The Crucifixion tells us that we are all guilty. That is the takeaway from all the details about the chief priests and elders, Judas and Pilate and the soldiers, the baying crowd and the disciples who fled. The point of the Crucifixion is, we are all capable of great cruelty. It is the story of all mankind.

From his cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He meant not just the players in his death; he included all those standing by and watching. He included all of us. We were all there at the foot of the Cross. The good news, the greatest news in history, is that, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ dying for us, we are saved.

That is how we know God loves us. And we know that he is God by what happened on Easter, by the Resurrection. Jesus rose from the dead, and that means if we believe in him, we have life everlasting. “Hail thee, festival day! Day whereon Christ arose, breaking the kingdom of death.”

On Good Friday, evil triumphs over good; good is sacrificed and evil wins. Death triumphs over life. On Easter, all that is reversed: – good triumphs over evil; life triumphs over death. Death is conquered, we are free, Christ has won the victory.

What can we say about life after death? There is a hereafter. Of course there is. We don’t know much about it; we have no details, just as fish don’t know much about life on land. We don’t have the particulars. But we know there is one.

We say so all the time when we say, “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” This belief of ours is not allegorical or metaphorical or poetic or speculative or suggestive of something. It is explicit; it is the cornerstone of our faith.

Dede and I lost a close friend nine days ago. We know that she lives. She may or may not be playing bridge and golf – we don’t know – but we know that she lives. We are as sure of that as we are of anything.

The same is true of the tens of thousands dying in Gaza. Are they just dead, period? Of course not: a loving God would not have it that way.

Death is real. It is appalling and fearful and confounding and maddening, and it hurts and shatters and destroys. And it is final. Except that God, through Our Lord Jesus Christ, has dominion over death. God does not save us from death; he did not save his only Son from death. Instead, he conquers death.

But Easter is not only about life after death; life everlasting also means eternal renewal. It means newness of life now. There is resurrection going on now. Everything is reframed by Easter. All is made new in the light of Easter.

Easter brings to the world a new spirit; it imbues everything and everyone with importance and dignity and grace and beauty. God’s love in the Resurrection means that, if we believe in Him, we will find “the stone rolled away from the tomb”, and all our tombs are empty today. The stone is rolled away; the tomb is empty.

If we are suffering and in pain, Easter means that, as tragic and confounding and mysterious and dreadful as suffering is, Our Lord knew all about it. Suffering is an essential part of God’s plan. We don’t know why; it just is, and we can find some Easter peace in that. Jesus said to his disciples about the man born blind, “he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” (John 9:3)

Many of us, myself included, are terrified for our future: – our country’s future and our planet’s future. If we are not terrified, we are just not paying attention. What does Easter tell us about all that?

Good Friday absolutely confirms that all our concerns are real and formidable and justified. And they will be just as real and formidable and justified tomorrow as they are today. Easter is not a magic trick that makes them disappear. But Easter reframes them; Easter recasts them and puts them in a different light.

Easter says that at the end of it all, in God’s good time, everything will be put right. Easter says that evil does not have the last word; good triumphs over evil in the end; and life triumphs over death. Easter says that sin and death are conquered; we are free; Christ has won the victory.

How can we say all this; why is it not just outrageous sentimentalism, what the Greeks called enthusiasm? In that wonderful phrase from Luke’s resurrection account (Luke 24:11), “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” Why is it not all an idle tale?

We could describe the several different Resurrection appearances, which we will do in the coming weeks, appearances that still happen today. But in the end I can find no answer to that question that is not just circular. All I can say is that, for myself, faith and belief just seem more plausible than unbelief.

For those who believe, every day is Easter. Every day is Easter. Easter is the most blessed event in history. It brings new life to those who believe. It reshapes and recreates everything and everyone in a dazzling new light. It means the stone is rolled away, and all our tombs are empty today.

HAPPY EASTER! God be praised. Love your neighbor. Amen.