Something that never fails to amuse me are the covers of the tabloid newspapers one sometimes sees at the supermarket. Their headlines make the most outrageous claims, and their photographs are, shall we say, rather sensational. If they’re to be believed, Elvis is alive and well, and our planet is populated with aliens from space.
Most of us scoff at such stories and recognize that they’re pure and utter nonsense. But what would we do if, one day, while standing in the checkout line, we read a cover story which proclaimed: “Thirtysomething Carpenter Rises from the Dead Three Days After Execution?” We’d do a bit of a double take, because that’s exactly what you and me and a billion other Christians around the globe believe and celebrate this Easter morning. And yes, like it or not, it’s as outrageous as any tabloid headline.
What we commemorate today with great joy and fanfare is the simple but astonishing truth that Jesus is alive. Jesus of Nazareth, born over two thousand years ago, raised by a simple carpenter and his humble wife, and who died the death of a common criminal, is alive, even as we speak! The Jesus about whom we read in Scripture is watching over us at this very moment, pleading on our behalf to his heavenly Father. In fact, he’s here with us right now, at this very church, because he promised us that whenever two or three are gathered together in his name, he would be there in the midst of them. And in just a matter of minutes, at the altar right behind me, Jesus will become present to us in a very special and real way, in the sacrament of his Body and Blood.
Jesus Christ, here in our town: Who would have guessed it? And yet it’s absolutely true: Jesus has broken the bonds of death, he has risen from the tomb, good has triumphed over evil, and we receive the gift of forgiveness and the hope of everlasting life. Thanks be to God! As we sung in today’s Psalm: “The right hand of the Lord has triumphed; the right hand of the Lord is exalted! This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful in our eyes.”
Nevertheless, many people shake their heads in disbelief, just as we do at absurd tabloid headlines. “How can Christians, in our enlightened, technologically advanced age, believe such foolish nonsense?” they ask. It’s not an unfair question. We have to admit that believing what we believe involves a giant leap of faith. Jesus’ disciples, his closest friends, who had heard him predict his resurrection, and who had witnessed his miracles- which included restoring the dead to life- even they scoffed when they first heard of the resurrection.
When Mary Magdalene ran and told them about the angels and the empty tomb, they dismissed her story as a silly wives’ tale, a hysterical delusion, perhaps even a lie. It wasn’t until Jesus appeared to all of them in person, as they sat down for dinner, that they finally accepted the truth. And just to make sure that they didn’t mistake him for a ghost or think that they were hallucinating, Jesus asked for and ate a broiled fish.
Like the disciples, there are many today who find talk of the resurrection a bit hard to swallow; they just can’t fathom the reason for our Easter joy. But yet here we are, gathered in this place to celebrate an event and profess our belief in something our neighbors may think utterly absurd. God has touched our lives in some way, and we have bowed our heads in gratitude and said, “Yes Lord, I believe!”
But you know what? Big deal! So what if we believe in the resurrection? As my mother often says, “That and ten cents won’t buy you a cup of coffee.” Or to quote Jesus himself: “Even the demons believe- and shudder!” You see, belief in the resurrection won’t do us a lick of good unless we allow the Resurrected One to change our lives. Our gathering here this morning is of no consequence whatsoever unless we allow the Lord to mold us into his image.
Those first disciples who had once found it so hard to believe: How did the resurrected Jesus change their lives? Most of them gave their life for him. Which begs the question: What is Jesus worth to you? An occasional Sunday morning? Or is he worth your life? There is no better day than today on which to renew our faith and allow Jesus to begin transforming us. As we heard
Allow the joy of this day to re-kindle the fire of your love for God; approach the altar with a renewed intention to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Receive the Body and Blood of Jesus with the resolution to go forth into the world, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to serve him wherever and whenever he chooses. Let Jesus take control of your entire life. Don’t, for heaven’s sake, pigeonhole him into a little corner at the fringes of your life labeled “religion.” Instead, let the joy of this day fill your hearts and minds with a new zeal for the faith once delivered to the saints.
Jesus Christ has indeed overcome death and opened for us the gate of everlasting life. Without a doubt, this is an outrageous, but most wonderful truth. The Lord is risen; He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.