12 Apr He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!
Good News Anyone?
April 12, 2020, Easter SundayMichelle Fincher
Calvary Presbyterian Church
News update…Headlines….533,000 cases; 20,580 deaths
In our new reality of a virus-infected world, has there ever been a more desperate need for good news? When Mary Magdalene, Salome, and Mary the mother of James head to the tomb on Easter morning, they aren’t expecting to have their hearts lifted by good news any more than we are today when we collect the morning paper or scour online news outlets. The three women are bringing spices to anoint the stone-cold, dead body of Jesus, a solemn and depressing task, and as they walk in the early-morning light they are worrying about how they will manage to muscle the heavy stone away from the entrance to the tomb.
Imagine their surprise to discover the stone already rolled to the side.
They enter the tomb and spot a young man, dressed in white, sitting on the right side of the cave. Who is this guy? A guard? A gardener? A grave robber? Not knowing who he is, they understandably feel alarmed.
“Do not be afraid,” says the mystery man; “you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.”
There’s good news and then there’s Good News. This is all-caps, exclamation point Good News. Imagine if we heard today that the CDC has developed a vaccine for COVID-19 and they have enough to inoculate every person this week, so that we could all return to school and worship and work and our normal lives by the weekend. That’s the kind of good news this stranger delivers to the women. He is risen!
But that’s not all. “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee,” continues the white-robed messenger. “There you will see him, just as he told you.” Jesus is going ahead of them, always ahead of them, and he will be waiting for them in the future. That’s a second piece of spectacular news. Jesus is alive and Jesus is ahead of us. That’s the Good News front-page headline for the story of Easter.
It’s a good thing the Bible records the story of the resurrection for us, because you won’t find this headline in any of the other publications of the day. Look at the records of Jewish leaders and the reports of Roman generals, and you won’t find any account of Jesus rising from the dead. As far as the official writings of the era are concerned, there is nothing particularly newsworthy about the first Easter morning. It’s a day like any other: criminals are being crucified, uprisings are being squelched, businessmen are bribing politicians, the poor are being ignored, and the iron fist of the Pax Romana is keeping everything under its heavy-handed control. For the average Jerusalem resident, the day of resurrection is the typical grind—breakfast is quickly swallowed, household chores are checked off the list, grueling manual labor is performed, injury and illness take their toll, and conflicts flare up with spouses, relatives and neighbors. It isn’t a big news day for anyone outside the small circle of Jesus’ followers.
You have to wonder if the same can be said today. Is Easter a big news day, or a day like any other? When times are going really well, when our lives are full and busy, it’s easy for Easter to be overshadowed, for the emphasis to be on Easter egg hunts, chocolate bunnies, a fun Easter bonnet or a new pair of shoes. But in this time of crisis, when a pandemic has upended our lives and anxiety and fear are constant companions, when we’re desperate for some good news, perhaps we’re more open than normal to hear the Easter message.
The good news is that Jesus is alive, and he is waiting for us in our futures. That’s a story too big to be overshadowed by reports of corruption and conflict, injury and illness, violence and viruses, death and disaster. When Jesus is raised, he succeeds in putting death to death. He smashes the status quo and turns the tables on those who see violence and corruption and disease and destruction as unchanging constants in the world in which we live. When Jesus walks out of the tomb, leaving it abandoned and empty, all bets are off and all expectations shattered. He races ahead of us into the future that he is planning for us, and he invites us to follow him in the direction he is going.
At the core of the Christian faith is the “gospel”, the good news of Jesus Christ, which invites us to ask why there are so many “bad news” Christians wearing the clothes of the “good news” Christ—and whether we are one of them. Easter is a call not only to celebrate the good news but to actually be the good news:
- How can we receive mercy, but not give it in return?
- How can we accept forgiveness, but not forgive the person who has hurt or wronged us?
- How can we be loved, but not love others?
- How can we reconciled, but not reconcile?
- How can we be accepted, but not accept?
- How can we hear Jesus say, “be not afraid,” “my peace I give you,” but fail to impart calm, reassurance and hope to those who are frightened?
- How can we know the truth of God’s presence in these uncertain days, but not share that truth with those who feel alone and vulnerable?
After 9/11, churches were packed with people looking for peace and connection and longing for consolation and hope. I sense a similar opening for the church in these unsettled days. The coronavirus has unceremoniously exposed our frailty as individuals and as a society, and it has reminded us of just how little we actually control. Haven’t we all discovered that we wield much, much less power over our lives than we thought? One virus, from a beginning point thousands of miles away has brought our economy and the economies of numerous countries to their knees. One droplet passed from one person to another not only drastically alters our family life, social interactions, sports and hobbies, shopping, medical care, education, careers, and worship, it can be the difference in life and death.
COVID-19 has forced our mortality into the very center of our private and public conversations. Usually, we work very hard to avoid these conversations, but that is a luxury we no longer have. The hardships, the challenges, the ethical dilemmas and choices we face, the rising cases, the exploding death toll—these are all realities that demand our attention. And I want to be honest with you—at an emotional level, I don’t particularly feel a lot of warm fuzzy Easter delight this morning. I’m grieving. I feel the strain of being separated, from not being able to see my church family, my extended family, my friends and colleagues eyeball-to-eyeball. The phrase “virtual ministry” feels like an oxymoron to me. I’m not built to care for and about people while being deprived of human touch. Like everyone, I’m adapting and learning to do it, but I don’t like it.
And all of that is why I need to hear the good news of Easter today more than I ever have. Right in the middle of all the disruption, the worry, the separation from loved ones, the illness and death, the good news of Easter is that Jesus is alive, and he is leading us to a good and glorious future. It was true when the women visited the empty tomb, and it is true today.
- The Christ who was tortured, ridiculed and exposed knows our deepest personal fears and anguish
- The Christ who was crucified knows the pain of separation and loss
- The Christ who was lifeless in the grave knows the complete desolation of death
- The Christ who was raised knows the life-giving power of God
- The Christ who goes ahead of us knows that the future is full of promise and possibility
Oh, men and women, this news, the Good News of Easter morning trumps all the reports of death and destruction that fill our daily news cycles. Christ is risen! Christ is ahead of us! Christ is leading us forward! Let us cling to and live into the truth of this good news in these days of horrifying headlines, and then, when we are reunited for worship together, we will experience resurrection like we never have before. Of that, I am absolutely certain.
He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.