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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
April 9, 2023
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Grace to you and peace from our risen Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Several years ago, I listened to a story on the radio about a young man whose grandmother had died. Before her death, he’d had a conversation with her that made him question his assumptions about God. So, while he was at work one day, he decided to put God to the test.
He worked at a golf course and spent most of his time in a long, narrow garage where the carts are stored. So, he told God that he was going to throw a golf ball, and if it hit a cabinet at the other end of the garage, 50 yards away, then he would believe forever. But if the ball missed, he was done with the whole God thing.
So, he threw the ball, and it bounced off of a floor drain just a few feet in front of him and ricocheted back to the wall behind him. He walked slowly toward the cabinet at the other end of the room, in shock that his assumption had rather decisively been confirmed, and wondered how that could be.
He wondered whether everything his grandmother told him was a lie, whether her life was a lie. And what was he supposed to do now that God was proved wrong?
But as he walked, he heard something moving along the floor. And he looked and saw that it was the golf ball, rolling steadily from the back wall 50 yards away – missing the carts and drains as it went. And as he watched, the ball rolled straight up to the cabinet and hit it smack in the center.
His grandmother died a few days later, and as he told this story he said that he knew without a doubt that she’s with God.
Whether or not God actually won that bet isn’t for me to say. But God does do the unexpected.
When we read the stories of Jesus’ resurrection in the Bible, many of the details vary. But two of the things they have in common are that nobody was expecting Jesus to be raised from the dead, and no one quite believed it right away. Several times in his ministry, Jesus told the disciples how things would play out. And still, on that first Easter morning, not one person said, “Alleluia!!” when they first heard the news.
They were still wrapping their heads around the fact that their friend and teacher had been killed three days before. And on the day he died, there was barely enough time to get his body off the cross and into the tomb before the Sabbath began.
So, on that first Easter morning, I imagine that all of them were still in a little bit of shock.
Matthew’s gospel doesn’t tell us why the women went to the tomb that morning. But it’s safe to assume they weren’t expecting the experience they got. We know the guards that were posted there weren’t. When the earthquake happened and the angel appeared and the stone rolled away, they were scared nearly to death.
But the angel kept right on going. He told the women, “Do not be afraid. He isn’t here. He has been raised, as he said. Look and see for yourselves. Now, go quickly and tell the disciples.”
And they did. And as they went to tell the disciples, the risen Christ met them on the way and told them the same thing, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell.”
Whatever expectations they might have had about how their day was going to go, it probably didn’t come close to what actually happened.
On that first Easter morning, no one was expecting the empty tomb or to hear that Jesus had been raised from the dead. But on that first Easter, God did an entirely new thing. And the way that everyone thought things ought to be got turned on its ear.
But the shock and disbelief of the people who first experienced it didn’t have an impact on the outcome of the story. God broke through a sealed tomb and raised Jesus from the dead anyway.
That’s the story we claim. That’s the story we tell when we leave here today.
There are people who say that having faith in Jesus means that our lives will go swimmingly all the time and that nothing will ever go wrong again. If only, right?
When Jesus told the women to not be afraid, he knew that they already were and there would be times when they would be again, even as they went to tell others that he had risen. In that moment, not even the resurrection could take their fear away.
What it did instead was enable them to keep their faith and share the good news despite whatever they might be facing. It gave them courage.
It gives us courage, too, for our own lives and whatever we might be facing. It gives us the guts to keep moving forward even when there doesn’t seem to be a reason to.
And it helps us understand that we have a place in the resurrection story, too. That more than 2000 years later, God still does new things in our world and in our lives. And we bear witness to that in the way we live.
We show others that Christ’s resurrection is for people who don’t believe it right away and who need time to come to terms with it. It’s for people who are angry enough to throw a golf ball at a target 50 yards away.
It’s for people who live in a literal war zone and worry about when the next shelling will happen and whether they’ll survive it. It’s for people whose lives have fallen apart and don’t know which piece to pick up first so that they can rebuild.
Christ’s resurrection is for people whose children have died from gun violence. It’s for people who have to leave their homes because of human-caused climate damage. It’s for people who work tirelessly to bring about lasting change that promotes and sustains life for everyone.
Christ’s resurrection is for each one of us. It gives us the courage and the strength we need when things don’t go the way we think they should. It gives us the hope and the assurance that whatever the worst thing is that we’re facing, it isn’t the last thing.
Because it gives us the promise that the risen Christ will meet us, because God will break through whatever that worst thing is and bring new life out of it.
And it doesn’t matter what we expect to happen or what we think ought to happen. Because God does the new thing anyway. That’s the story we claim, that’s the story we tell when we leave here today. Thanks be to God! Alleluia! Amen.