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2018.4.01:“Why Are You Weeping?:” When Real Life Catches Up with the Resurrection

Preached at First Presbyterian Church, East Aurora, NY, April 1, 2018, Easter Sunday, by Langdon “Buddy” Hubbard

“Why Are You Weeping?:”

         When Real Life Catches Up with the Resurrection

I Corinthians 15:1-22; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

John 20:1-18

 

            I was really tempted to begin this service like this:

“The Lord is risen!”

“The Lord is risen indeed!”

“April Fool’s!”

 

Of course, I didn’t.  Oh dear, I just did!

 

            I got to thinking this week that I couldn’t remember ever having Easter on April Fools Day.  And for good reason:  the last time we had Easter on April 1 was 1956, four months before I was born.  No wonder I didn’t remember that.

 

            Having our holiest day of the year on April 1 is just a bit awkward.  I’m sure there is plenty of joking around especially among those who don’t believe our Christian story, that we are a bunch of fools for believing that a human being could rise from the dead, and that we would call him our Lord and Savior.  Paul grapples with such a dilemma in I Corinthians 15, the Resurrection Chapter, when he says, “If there is no resurrection from the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.  We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ – whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.  For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised.  If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have died in Christ have perished.  If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”   Paul is telling us that if Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead and we’re saying he did, we’re fools.  And that is why for some folks, Easter coming on April 1 seems entirely appropriate:  “Christians, you are just a bunch of April fools!”

 

            I have to say, it does seem quite incredible what we claim to believe.  We speak of things beyond understanding.  We speak of faith not sight.  We speak of a hope beyond imagining.  Can it really be true? 

 

            Paul concludes his thoughts by saying we would certainly be fools if Jesus did not rise from the dead, and then he exclaims, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead!”  How does he know?  He didn’t actually see the resurrected Jesus, like the others claim to have.  But he had a vision of the risen Christ coming to him, and asking him why he was persecuting the Christians, as he had been trying to destroy the Christian church and relegate its message to the dustbin of history.  But one day while going to Damascus to destroy the church, he saw the risen Jesus and heard him speak.  And he was never the same.  He became a believer.  And the testimony of those who actually knew Jesus, confirmed his own experience.  They had no doubt that Jesus had risen from the dead and neither did he. They were all willing to die for their faith, and most of them did.

 

            A new movie is out right now called Paul: The Apostle of Christ, and Jan and I went to see it last week.  The movie tells Paul’s story at the end of his life, while in prison and on the way toward his execution.  While I didn’t think the film really captured the spirit of Paul, such as his strength and joy – he seemed a bit depressed and despondent – the film nonetheless lifts up much of Paul’s teaching that galvanized the church to grow from a fledgling group of outsiders to become the worldwide church it is today.  And all of it, this faith of ours, is based on this one thing:  we believe Jesus taught the way of God, the kingdom of God, and was crucified, dead, and buried, but on the third day rose up from the dead to resurrected life. 

 

            It’s interesting that as Paul tells us in I Corinthians 15 he has simply handed down to us what he first received, and that Jesus appeared first to Cephas, that is Peter.  Paul’s works were actually written in the 50’s, before the Gospels were written.  But the Gospels give us a different picture, of women being among the first witnesses, Mary Magdalene being the primary one.  Maybe Paul had a hard time with that at first as women weren’t considered to be the best witnesses to anything at that time.  The fact that the Gospel writers highlighted the women actually is a testimony of the likelihood the stories were true because if they really wanted people to believe them, they would have altered the stories to say it was the men who were the first witnesses.  To include the women must have been done for only one reason:  they were actually there and were the first to the tomb, and they couldn’t get around it.  It is likely Paul cited Peter first because he was the first to corroborate the women’s testimony.  As we have seen, the rise of the Me Too movement has been so significant because women are still not believed today.  Somethings haven’t changed.  But I hope now they are changing.  Women have always been believable witnesses.  The Gospel writers knew it. And we would do well to believe them, too.

 

            Which brings us to our Gospel story.  Mary Magdalene truly loved Jesus, for he had set her free from many demons we are told.  She was not a prostitute as people sometimes imagine, but she was a deeply troubled person in need of liberation.  It was possibly mental or emotional distress, but definitely spiritual in nature.  Jesus liberated her to life again.  She was eternally grateful. 

 

            And so when Jesus died she was devastated.  Her lifeline was gone.  Her story in John moves us with her passion.  She has gone to the tomb early in the morning to be as close to Jesus as she possibly can be, when she discovers to her horror that the stone has been rolled away and Jesus’ body is missing.  Who would have stolen it?  This is horrible.

           

            She rushes back to tell the disciples what terrible things have happened, and they run to see for themselves. And just as she said, Jesus is gone, but they didn’t see him. It says they believed, not that Jesus had been raised from the dead – they weren’t there yet – but that he had gone missing.  They all returned to their homes, obviously dejected all the more.  Their grief now must have been unbearable.

 

            Mary, though, stayed behind at the tomb, weeping.  Before she left she had to take just one more look inside, and was startled to see two figures, whom she perceived to be angels, one at the place Jesus’ head had been and one at his feet.  They asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She told them her story, and then sensing someone standing behind her, turned around.  There was a man standing there at the entrance of the tomb.  He asked her the same question, “Woman, why are you weeping?  Whom are you looking for?”  It was Jesus, but she didn’t know it; she thought he was the gardener.  Somewhat relieved now, figuring he had something to do with Jesus’ body, she asked him to tell her where he had taken Jesus’ body.  She would go and take it.

 

            And Jesus, so simply, so lovingly, called out her name, “Mary!”  She knew that voice.  It was her Rabbouni, her Teacher.  He was alive!  She ran to tell the others, “I have seen the Lord!”  And later in the day, he would appear to them, too, demolishing all their fears and doubts.  He was alive.  Their real lives had finally caught up with the resurrection.  And now they all knew, the risen Lord had been with them all along, even when it seemed he had left them forever.

 

            I think there’s an important lesson for us in this story.  All too often in life, we find ourselves feeling alone as we face life’s trials.  As we pondered on Thursday night, Jesus’ words that he was broken and poured out for many, we know all too well how broken life can be and how poured out we are, sapped of life’s energy and hope.  As your pastor, I am so fully aware of this in many of your lives.  Some of you are facing the loss of jobs and homes.  Some of you have had surgeries on backs, and knees, and hips, and feet, and internal organs.  Some of you are facing cancer.  Some of you have heart conditions, and have even faced heart attacks, that threaten to change your way of life.  Some of you have known the pain of broken relationships, betrayals of trust, and divorce.  Some of you are mourning the loss of a loved one, and some of you are facing your own mortality, and it is frightening.  Many of us are facing the challenges of aging and bodies that don’t work like they used to.  And some of us are facing wonderful new beginnings of new babies, and all the challenges that brings to your life, both wonderful and difficult, like the loss of sleep and the loss of space you once had in your life for just you.   

 

            Here’s the point.  You are Mary in the story.  Whatever your challenge may be, you stand at the door of that empty tomb wondering what has happened.  Something has been taken away from you, and that’s all you can see.  But at the same time there is the possibility that something else is going on.  In that very same space of emptiness, is the presence of a fullness, the presence of the risen Christ who has already risen into your very real and challenging life.  He is there, even when you can’t see him.  You see an empty place, and he wants you to know he is already filling it. 

 

            Recently, one of our college students came to see me, and told me of her struggle to know whether or not she should stay at her college or leave.  It brought back memories of when I was a freshman at Houghton College and was struggling so much with my studies I wanted to run away from it all.  I went home for Easter vacation determined to transfer.  My parents had moved up to the mountains of North Carolina during my first semester and I didn’t know anyone, so I had no one to hang out with.

 

            Feeling completely depressed and depleted, I headed out into the mountains to hike.  As I walked, I prayed, asking God what to do with my life.  I felt so alone.  But then a strange thing happened. The more I prayed and walked, the more I felt God’s presence.  And suddenly my walking picked up, and I started jogging and singing lightly.  My pace kept picking up as I ran straight up the mountain and I sang at the top of my lungs.  I was overcome with the Presence of God.  As I crested the top of the hill I came to a screeching halt.  There in front of me was an incredibly beautiful waterfall.  I just sat on a rock and watched it, mesmerized by it’s beauty. 

 

            In that place, where I had perceived to be my emptiness, I was suddenly filled with a new sense of life.  And in that instance I knew what I was supposed to do:  go back to college and face my fears and struggles, and with God’s help, conquer them.  And that is exactly what I did, and what God did for me and in me.  What happened to me is what happened to Mary.  My very real life finally caught up with the resurrection.  God was there all the time.

 

            And it can be true for you.  The risen Jesus is walking with you in your life right now no matter where you may find yourself today.  In all those empty or troubled places, he is there.  Maybe like Mary you can’t see him, at least not at first.  But if you take the time to listen, you may just hear him calling your name, so lovingly, so longingly.  He wants you to know he is there.  And that is my Easter prayer for you, that your very real life may catch up with the resurrection, that you too may know God is there for you, with you, every step of the way.  You are not alone, and you will never be alone.  Whether you see God’s presence or hear God’s voice you can count on this:  the risen Lord is there, for you.

 

            And so we affirm and remind each other every Sunday morning when we walk into this place, what we have discovered.  In our very real lives, we have found the risen Christ.  He has been there all along.  We are no fools for believing.  We too have seen the Lord.  And so we say with confidence and trust, and total joy:

 

The Lord is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed!