Here's what I preached on Easter Sunday -
Scriptures were Luke 24 (the Road to Emmaus part) and I Corinthians 15:20-26 or so.
We are gathered here this morning because
Love is stronger than death,
because the Power of Life is trumps the power of hate,
because all the evil in the world cannot stop God’s grace from Raining Down,
because Forgiveness never Fails to win the Day.
But that first easter morning, the Easter victory was not all that clear. The first easter dawned slowly on the disciples . . . the huge implications weren’t apparent to the disciples right at first. In fact they even had trouble recognizing their resurrected friend and teacher. The Gospel of John tells us that Mary thought he was the gardener. The disciples on the road to Emmaus thought he was just a fellow pilgrim. People had trouble recognizing Jesus on the other side of the grave.
But Jesus kept showing up, listening to what was on their hearts, speaking to them through scripture, saying Peace and letting them touch him, and eating with them until they got better at recognzing him. And their biggest doubts and fears were resolved once they finally recognized the resurrected Lord.
At the same time that that process was happening, it was beginning to dawn on people like Paul what Jesus’ resurrection meant for the rest of us: That resurrection was also for Jesus’ followers. As he wrote in our passage for today: I Corinthians 15: “So all will be made alive in Christ. Each in order - Christ the first fruits, then those who belong to Christ.”
First Jesus gets resurrection. Then because of Him, we experience resurrection too.
The thing is, like the first disciples failed to recognize Jesus’ familiar face, we still have trouble recognizing resurrection. I’m not talking about beyond the grave. We look forward to that, and, once we get past dying, I think it will be easy to see. But Jesus always was very clear that the New LIfe he offers starts here and nowl
But just as recognizing Jesus’ resurrected was hard, recognizing resurrection in our midst can be a challenge, too. In her provocative study of the resurrection, Seeing the Lord, Marianne Sawicki defines the church as a community of those who have the competence to recognize Jesus as the risen Lord. It specializes in discerning the Risen One.
That made me wonder if we recognize resurrection life when we see it?
Where do we see resurrection in and around us?
The proof of it lies just in front of our noses. But sometimes we don’t quite see it for what it is.
Resurrection from the dead makes us unrecognizable. When the old life dies, we are resurrected strange and new.
A few years ago, my life, as I knew it, came to an end. I’d been a minister’s wife, shrink wrapped in expectations - my own as well as other people’s. It was a good life, I thought. And then, quite against my expectation and hope, it came crashing down. And I wasn’t the same person any more. It hurt. A lot. And when I came out on the other side, I noticed a very strange phenomenon: People that I had known before no longer recognized me. I don’t mean that they were being unkind, or anything like that. They just honestly didn’t know who I was. I’d see them on the street and greet them, and they’d look at me out of the side of their eyes, and I’d say, “Cindy Shepherd.” Ususally that was enough. Sometimes I had to add, “I knew you at First Presbyterian” which was embarrassing for us both. But they’d say, “Oh, of course! Wow! How are you? You look so different.”
I don’t know that I looked different. But I WAS different. I had been resurrected by the grace and forgiveness of God.
I think about the friend of this congregation who is now cheering us on from heaven - Roger. Who knows what happened to Roger that brought him to Philo and this church! He walked through these doors pretty much alone, freely admitting some self-induced setbacks that amounted to having it all and losing it all. But the life he made here was extraordinary. Don Rice has said, “I’ve never known anyone to come into a place and make such an impact in such a short time.” He died, and his family, with whom the reconciliation was occurring, came to the funeral here. His wife said, “We know you are telling us the truth about Roger, but, honestly, it’s hard to even recognize him as the same person.” His was a resurrection life - graced and forgiven and resurrected. She said, “God redeemed all those years he was lost.” It’s a resurrection story.
Proof of the resurrection - of the miraculous restoration of life - is all around us: I saw it far away, in Nicaragua, where a country devestated by war and poverty learns to love peace and justice. where villages and families are raised to new life through God’s love. That’s why I’m so happy that we are part of One Great Hour of Sharing during this season - because our gifts help make that new life possible for people all around the world.
But resurrection life doesn’t just happen far away. It’s right here, all around us.
In these pews this morning are (the hardest part of writing this sermon was trying to point to resurrection life without using names.)
A child whose very life is a miracle.
And at the other end of life, many examples of shining faith that burns brighter, clearer, warmer as darkness closes in.
A broken spirit that is stronger than it seems possible for her to be.
A marriage that is growing again - who but God can reconcile us that way?
Young lives blown open to the world’s beauty and pain by encountering Christ on mission trips.
We are a church that is becoming unrecognizable to itself, as God does his resurrection thing among us.
The whole world needs to to see us practicing resurrection and we need to look out into the world and see where God is resurrecting somebody so that we can celebrate and participate in that.
We’re here because of the resurrection of the dead - J’s resurrection, yes. But if J’s resurrection just meant that HE rose from the dead, that would be good, but . . . probably not enough for us to get up, 2000 years later to sing about. We’re here because J’s resurrection means the we shall walk in newness of life. We’re here because J’s resurrection means that we, too, can and will and must experience the resurrection.
Just as the people who saw Jesus’ triumph over sin and death had a little trouble recognizing him on the other side of Easter - so we may need to help each other recognize resurrection in our world, in our community and in our own families and our own lives.
Thanks be to God, Jesus is still providing that help -
still breaking bread with us -
still opening our eyes -
still helping us to recognize the miraculous power of God to bring life out of death - still making our hearts burn within us
by his amazing grace and death defying love.