Rev. Jeff Bacon
April 21, 2019
Let’s open our hearts together in prayer. Let us pray: Gracious and loving God, open our hearts to the amazing fullness of new life through Christ, who you rose from death, and in whose name we pray. Amen.
What day does an Easter egg hate the most? Good Fry-day.
Why does the Easter Bunny hide? Because she’s a little bit chicken.
Why shouldn’t you tell a good joke to an Easter egg? It’ll crack up.
What do you get if you pour boiling water down a rabbit hole? A hot cross bunny!
It’s fun to start off Easter morning with a laugh – but the first Easter morning sure didn’t start that way. It started with grief. Now that the Passover celebrations are over, it’s time for the women to anoint Jesus’ body with the spices they have prepared. And when they arrive at the tomb, they’re amazed, Jesus was raised from death.
The earliest references to the resurrection occur in the Apostle Paul’s letters to the churches at Corinth, Philippi, Colossae and Rome. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he records a creed, an early statement of faith like the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. Paul recites, “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter] and then to the twelve … Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.” The events of the resurrection were later recorded in all four gospels. There is a consistent pattern of the discovery of the empty tomb by the women, followed by various accounts of angelic appearances and encounters by the women and disciples with the risen Christ, and then efforts to share their witness, testimony and faith with others.
Theological scholar, N.T. Wright asks “Why did Christianity arise, and why did it take the shape it did?” He says, “The early Christians themselves reply: We exist because of Jesus’ resurrection…. There is no evidence for a form of early Christianity in which the resurrection was not a central belief. Nor was this belief, as it were, bolted on to Christianity at the edge. It was the central driving force, informing the whole movement.”
In the gospel according to Luke that we read this morning, there are two men in dazzling clothes. They’re similar to the two men in dazzling clothes at Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain, when God pronounces, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Today, the Son of God is raised from death. It’s amazing, and for many, it’s hard to believe. That’s not surprising, because it was hard to believe for the women, and then it was hard to believe for the disciples, and then it was hard to believe for each and every Christian who didn’t see the risen Christ for themselves. And it’s hard to believe for us too. That’s where personal witness, testimony and faith come in.
It was hard for the women and the Disciples to believe that Jesus had died, let alone risen from death. Grief is a pain in your heart that your brain can’t yet acknowledge or understand. Joyce Smith’s brain couldn’t acknowledge that her fourteen-year-old son John had drowned after falling through the ice of near-by Lake Ste. Louise at 11:33am on Monday January 19, 2015. It was the Martin Luther King holiday Monday and John and two of his friends were playing on the thin ice. First responders searched the mucky bottom of the lake, and miraculously found and recovered John’s lifeless body in ten feet of water more than twenty minutes after John fell in. “His skin had a greyish-blue tint. His body was as limp as a noodle, yet was getting frigid from the conditions. His nostrils and mouth cavity were full of lake debris. His hair was rigid with icicles, his fingers and extremities were stiff and unyielding, and his skin was so frozen that the paramedics were unable to get any lifesaving device to stick to him … John was dead.” The paramedics performed CPR, and tried to warm up his body on their way to the hospital. When Joyce arrived at the hospital, the ER doctors were ready to officially pronounce the time of John’s death. John had been dead for more than 60 minutes. Intensive CPR, electric jolts, oxygen, drugs, heat; nothing they tried would get his heart started again. For Joyce and her family, and for all of the first responders, it must have felt like Good Friday.
The resurrection of Jesus is God’s response to Jesus’ death; God’s validation of Jesus’ teaching; and a glimpse of the amazing power of God working in and through Jesus. The women are confronted with an unexpected experience of God’s profound love and grace. Love and grace that lets us know in our hearts that death is not the final reality of our human existence. The women who witnessed the risen Christ, testified to others and it grew to become our Christian faith.
There are no witnesses to the actual resurrection of Jesus and the exact nature of new life is not clear. Jesus did not just return to life as we know it, but appeared and disappeared at will, moving in and out of our human perception of his presence. If there was a 21st century surveillance camera in the tomb, what would it have captured on that first Easter morning? Jesus waking up, taking off the linen wrappings, folding them and laying them to one side, rolling back the stone and walking out of the tomb? Or would the image on the recording device be obliterated by a brilliant light from a great energy source? Or does Jesus’ body simply disappear in an instant of our time? We have only vague 21st century understandings of different dimensions of reality and the interrelationships of mass, energy and time.
No one witnessed the resurrection and all of the gospel accounts point forward to post-resurrection appearances of the risen Christ. It was personal experience for the women, followed by their compulsion to testify to what they had witnessed. The ancient witness and testimony of the women, the disciples, and the early church has been successively updated by our own witness of God’s presence and our own testimony about God’s gracious acts. Witness and testimony of the everyday truth and reality of our Christian faith.
When Joyce Smith arrived at the hospital, she was not ready to give up on her son John. She mustered all her faith and strength into one force and she bellowed out to God in a voice that echoed throughout the Emergency Department, “I believe in a God who can do miracles! Holy Spirit, I need You right now to come and breathe life back into my son!” Miraculously, at that instant, John’s heart began to beat and the machines started their rhythmic bleep, bleep, bleep.
John had been dead for a long time. His lungs were full of muck and his internal organs had started to decompose. His heart was going, but God still had a lot to do to heal John. The doctors feared that he would have permanent mental and physical impairments. His brain needed to heal, his lungs needed to heal, his whole body needed to heal. Joyce and her family, their friends and their whole church community, and thousands of other Christians continued to pray for John, and their prayers were answered. Sixteen days after John fell through the ice and his lifeless body was brought into the ER, John “was walking through the hospital doors without hesitation and under his own physical strength – completely normal, totally healed.”
Joyce Smith wrote a book about the miraculous raising of her son John called The Impossible, published in 2017. It was re-released as Breakthrough earlier this year. John wrote the foreword to Breakthrough, which has just been released as a movie this week, with the role of Joyce played by Chrissy Metz.
Can you imagine what it must have been like for Joyce, to see your beloved son drowned, cold, blue and lifeless in the ER? Can you imagine what it must have been like, to see your beloved Teacher, the Son of God, crucified and laid lifeless in a tomb? And then to be amazed three days later when he is missing from the tomb, hearing from angels, and then the amazing joy of being reunited with him? This miraculous act of God, overcoming sin and death with the promise of new life, is so amazing that it’s at the centre of our Christian faith. It’s at the centre of Joyce and her family’s lives and without hesitation, they bear witness to God’s miraculous raising of John through testimony and faith. Christ is risen! It’s amazing! Let’s bear witness to God’s miraculous love for us and testify to others with faith! Thanks be to God. Amen.