Sermon: “A Simple Story to Change the World”

April 16, 2017: Easter Sunday

Matthew 28:1-10

Author Frederick Buechner has written: “It has always struck me as remarkable that when the writers of the four Gospels come to the most important part of the story they have to tell, they tell it in whispers. The part I mean, of course, is the part about the resurrection.”

He has a point. Matthew, whose account you’ve just heard, told the story of the resurrection in just ten verses. That’s one percent of his entire Gospel. John gave it twenty-three verses, but that’s still only two and a half percent of his book. Luke wins the prize for the longest description of the first Easter at fifty-two verses and four and a half percent. Mark wins for the shortest account of the resurrection at just eight verses, one percent of his gospel.

Is that enough numbers for Easter Sunday?

There is certainly drama in the way Matthew told the story. He described an earthquake shaking the stone away from the tomb entrance, and the descent of an angel, an angel shining in the dawn. In Matthew’s account we see strong men paralyzed with fright and astonished women standing, waiting for the angel’s urgent message.

Yet that message is the same, simple story repeated later by Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph. It’s the same, simple story repeated later by Simon Peter and his fellow male apostles who hadn’t come to the tomb. It’s the same, simple story repeated later by the next, growing generation of Jesus’ followers, and repeated later to the Gospel writers and by the Gospel writers, and it’s the same, simple story repeated over the centuries, over and over again, right down to us. This simple story:

“You are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here [in this tomb]; for he has been raised, as he said.”

Just this simple story: “He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.”

Now me, I’d like to know more: More than Matthew’s ten verses or John’s twenty-three or even Luke’s fifty-two. Truthfully, I sometimes feel as if the Gospel writers chose to tease us with all the stories they didn’t tell us; all the things that they left out.

I can’t imagine, for instance, that when Jesus appeared to Mary and Mary, that their conversation was as brief as Matthew tells it. Just two verses for that? Really, Matthew?

Can’t you just hear those women’s voices across the centuries: “Jesus! How did this happen? Why did this happen? What has happened? Jesus! You have to tell us! How are you alive?”

And back-to-back, over and over: “Oh, Jesus! How wonderful!” and “Jesus, tell us: Are you really all right?”

Matthew didn’t feel the need to tell us that.

He didn’t tell us much about the male disciples’ first encounter with the risen Jesus, either. He gave ten verses to Easter, and then there’s only ten more verses before he ended his book. The night Jesus was arrested, his closest friends abandoned him. When he stood with them again, what did they say to him about that? Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph followed Jesus all through the terrible events of Good Friday. They watched him die; they saw where he was buried. Jesus’ male friends didn’t. What did they say, what did Jesus say, about that?

Matthew didn’t tell us.

The Apostle Paul recorded that the risen Jesus appeared early to Simon Peter, probably his closest friend among the twelve. Simon Peter, who had fulfilled Jesus’ prediction that, when the going got tough, he would get going – as in run away. Simon Peter, who denied that he knew Jesus three times. What did Simon Peter say to Jesus? What did Jesus say to him?

But none of the Gospel writers, not even Luke with his fifty-two verses, have told us.

They just tell us this simple story: “He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.”

“He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.”

Just that is enough, according to our Gospel writers, to change the world.

“He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.”

Well, not change the world exactly. Not exactly.

A quick glance around the globe, whether you do it via the Internet or with the headlines of the Tribune-Herald, tells us that the world is not a paradise, not even here in a tropical paradise. People committed grievous evils against one another before Jesus’ resurrection, and they’ve continued to do so in the centuries since. We’ve seen violence and war – we’ve seen it just this week. We’ve seen theft and fraud and we’ve heard too many lies. We’ve known systemic oppression and we’ve seen personal prejudice based on race, gender, or who someone loves.

Jesus’ resurrection didn’t prevent his friends and followers from being persecuted by the Roman Empire, the same one that had crucified him, for the next one hundred years. Neither his resurrection nor his teachings prevented his own followers, once they became the official religion of the Empire, from persecuting others – though they should have.

Jesus’ resurrection hasn’t prevented us from developing weapons that can end human life on this planet. Jesus’ resurrection hasn’t prevented us from changing our climate in dangerous ways, and it hasn’t prevented us from ignoring evidence of the danger when it suits us.

No, despite the title of this sermon, I can’t say that this simple story of Christ’s resurrection has changed the world.

I can say, however, that it changed Christ’s disciples. Those same men who abandoned Jesus and hid, who forsook him and denied him, suddenly came out into the light of day and told this simple story:

“He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.”

Suddenly those frightened men and less frightened women found their courage. As Karoline Lewis puts it, they found a new perspective, a new way of understanding the world. The world remained the same, but they saw it differently.

The world hadn’t really changed. God loved the world just as much on Good Friday as on Easter Sunday, and God loves the world just as much tomorrow, on a Monday.

The disciples had changed. “He is not here; for he has been raised” – in that simple story, they knew their new selves.

They were able to hold God’s astonishing love in their hearts, to let God’s astonishing love move their limbs, and to let God’s astonishing love open their voices to praise.

In this simple story, “He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said,” they welcomed the transforming love of God. And it changed them.

The fourth century bishop John Chrysostom put it this way in his brief and powerful sermon for Easter:

“Hell took a body; and discovered God.
It took earth; and encountered heaven.
It took what it saw; and was overcome by what it did not see.”

This simple story can transform you.

In this simple story, “He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said,” reach out the hand of your faith, and find it grasped by the strong hand of God, a hand to comfort and guide you through all the trials and the triumphs of life.

In this simple story, “He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said,” see the formerly invisible: See that the world has possibilities that are greater than what you had imagined.

In this simple story, “He is not here; for he has risen, as he said,” let your courage be fed and filled. Death itself cannot come between you and the wondrous love of God.

In this simple story, “He is not here; for he has risen, as he said,” let yourself be changed.

And then, blessed soul, go out and change the world.

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!



Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on April 16, 2017

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