In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Although Easter comes every year, this Easter Sunday feels like it has been a long time coming. Too long in fact. So long that I’m not sure my heart is as open to the joy of it all as it should be. It has become too accustomed to brooding about the world, its recent problems, and altogether too much death. In the words of today’s scripture, I have become too accustomed to seeking the living among the dead. It does not take long at all for most of us to feel like you know how the world works. It turns out that it is fairly easy in life to think you know what it possible and what is impossible, what tends to happen and what can never happen. Yet life is full of surprises because on the whole none of us are as good at predicting the future as we think we are. Most of you are old enough to remember oh so many predictions made in the past about our future that had no truth in them at all. Where are the flying cars, why don’t we control the weather, and where is world peace? What about all the plans we made before the onset of the pandemic which none of us expected? Our unimpressive record of predicting the future doesn’t however stop any of us from making plans based on our predictions and talking about the future as if it is a place we have already been. But whenever we look back we realize how little we knew in the past. We seem to know so much until we are surprised by the world we live in. As often as we are surprised, it is odd that we don’t usually live with the expectation of being surprised. We go back to the predictability of our own plans, forgetting how flimsy and easily disrupted they are.
We also frequently give up all hope of getting what we want the moment we come to believe that what we hoped for isn’t going to happen. I remember being 13 years old and enjoying the first concert from a band a really liked. I remember when they said “goodnight” and walked off stage, I was really disappointed. I couldn’t believe it was over. All sorts of negative feelings went through my body as I thought about how long it would be before I could have this experience again. It was over! The crowd kept on cheering and howling and I assumed it was because they were also as disappointed as I was that it was over. We were grieving and howling together in our sad protest to the end of our joy. It went on and on as the disappointed crowed refused to leave. Being new to these things, it took me completely by surprise when the band came back and played another half an hour. It wasn’t over after all. I didn’t know that could happen because my experience of these things was too limited. Now I have to remind myself that it is good for me to be surprised and that I don’t have as many things figured out as I may think.
Jesus’ followers thought being with him was the greatest thing they had ever experienced. And it truly was great. All that love everyday. All that hope everyday. Hearts of stone softening daily. New possibilities opening before their eyes everyday. What always seemed impossible was suddenly achievable. The future was so bright because they were with him and with him all things were possible. After all, Jesus used to say, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
Then it was over. At least they all thought they knew it was over. Jesus was killed and they were left alone with their empty dreams. If anything is the end, it must be death. What they had hoped for, would never happen. They were never going to get what they wanted. Death does seem like the end of the story. Death seems to always have the last word. What could be more final than death.
But they were wrong about that. We know they were wrong about that. Not a single one of them ever imagined that you all would be here tonight. I’m not sure how well they would understand that a couple thousand years later one in three people on the planet would be a follower of Jesus, which is more than two billion people. There are more than two billion people celebrating Easter this weekend [and the upcoming one our Orthodox brothers and sisters observe). The life and love of Jesus were more powerful than they knew.
Would they be surprised that the love hasn’t gone away yet? Would they be surprised that the hope is still here? Would they be surprised that hearts keep changing? We still experience these things at All Saints’. And it is still about Jesus. It is still about his ministry. The short-sighted Romans didn’t win. Who you may ask? What forgotten empire was that? Executing Jesus did not stop anything. It didn’t even slow down his movement. Yes, the sort of violent, brutal, tactics that the Romans used do often enough put an end to a story. But they didn’t this time. No one knew that at the time, because they didn’t have enough experience to be able to predict. This time death was not the end. It didn’t have the last word. Jesus is alive and still overturning expectations and working miracles. It is an astonishing story that is not even close to being over despite so many predictions otherwise.
It is likely a wise and good thing to be invested in predictability, in the value of every day hard work to bring about a world we can expect, in an incrementalism where one thing leads to another. There is another story line, however, in human history that is undeniable. It is that of sudden disruption, of intrusions of what feels like fate, where what was previously never questioned changes entirely.
However uncomfortable such volcanic eruptions make us, however rare they are, their reality and force should not be denied just because we have not seen them yet in our short lives. The resurrection of Jesus is one of those things, intruding and interrupting the long sequence of death after death that is too often unquestioned.
The most fundamental reason to be a Christian (and not something else or simply a good person) is this peculiar conviction of Christianity that death not have the last word, that life is the more fundamental truth. When it comes our living and dying, we are so much like Jesus’ first followers just trying to figure it out day-by-day based upon our limited experience. They trusted the experience they had of Jesus and that love overcame more than they ever imagined possible in our world. They found Christ’s love to be stronger than death and came to believe that to follow Jesus was to believe in the resurrection. The big story of the world, and each of our individual stories, doesn’t end in death, but in love and life. To be a Christian is to believe this–no matter what the experts, pundits, and cynics of all kinds claim to know.
This Easter morning, let this Easter faith live in you. Be persuaded by Easter. Let it lift the weight not only of the events these last difficult years, but all your grief, loss, and fear because you can be confident that the world is likely more wonderous and beautiful than we assume based upon the limited facts we have at hand. If you are burdened by the recent troubles in our world, both near and far, listen to the one who said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Let the power of Jesus’s love live in you. Let it prove you wrong when you have abandoned hope. Let Jesus surprise you! Let that experience change you. Let it mend what is broken in you. Let it loosen what is struck in you. Let it awaken in you your own capacity to love and to forgive. Let it connect you to others here at All Saints’ who are also seeking life in its fullest rather than death. Open your heat to joy. Let the unexpected new life of the resurrection lift your hearts, open unimagined possibilities for you in the present, and give you hope for the future. And may the Father who spoke the word and there was life, and who raised Christ from the dead, also enliven your souls and bodies with the power of the resurrection. Happy Easter! Amen.