April 4, 2021 “God Is on the Loose” Easter Sunday
“God Is On the Loose”
Mark 16:1-8/ John 20:1-18
“Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people; praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” ~ Psalm 30:4-5
“Easter is hope on a rampage. The world comes alive with possibility.” ~ unknown
Why do we love Easter so much? What is it about this particular celebration that captures our imaginations and always will? For hundreds of years – long before the idea of Christmas was ever born – the celebration of a risen Christ has always been the key, the focus, the reason – and I mean the real reason – of why we are here. As Christians and as the Church, Easter is enormous, but I’d ask once again: why do we love Easter so much? Well, the list is long and if I were to ask 20 folks this same question, I would get 20 different sets of answers. The traditions of Easter would top the list: the music, the pageantry, and the fact that Winter is finally giving way to Spring; not to mention the family traditions that we’ve come to know and love. Next, I imagine that folks would say the very act itself is what makes them love Easter. The fact that Jesus of Nazareth would willingly go to his death at the hands of the powers that be and the church and the state all working together leaves us sick to our stomach. The fact that he died from torture makes us angry. So when we read the gospel stories of the empty tomb and hear the words, “He is risen!” there’s a certain satisfaction on our part; a certain satisfaction that the Son of God and the Son of Man was able to have the last laugh in this story filled with tragedy and betrayal and greed. But that’s not why we love Easter.
In the past 5 weeks, we have seen Jesus baptized only to suffer in the wilderness. We watched as he was tempted by Satan, the master of temptation. We have heard his conversation with Nicodemus explaining that “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” We heard a spoken truth to the villagers glorifying the Father’s name. Before that he was tricked, tested, and finagled by powerful men whose greatest fear lay in the fact that he couldn’t be controlled. And finally we shouted “Hosanna! Save us!” along with the crowds as he entered Jerusalem, only to witness total chaos at the temple as Jesus chased out the corruption that had invaded the temple of God.
And all this time, the Son of God was preparing his disciples for the things to come. (Mk 8:31) The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead. It seemed an outlandish thing to say, but when Peter spoke up saying, “You’ve got to be kidding!” he found out that Jesus was dead serious. It was only later when Peter found out how serious he really was. My point is that the events of Christ’s final days on this earth seemed to be anything but a random set of circumstances. This was hardly a case of rotten luck or bad choices or even poor planning. No, and for as many times as we have heard the account of Christ’s arrest and conviction followed by his death, it is clear – he was bound for the cross. He could have weaseled out of his fate numerous times. He could have sucked up to Pilate, glad-handed the Jews, or appealed to the crowds, but he didn’t. Jesus was bound for the cross. But that’s certainly not why we love Easter.
The disciples had been told in advance, and numerous times, that after all these terrible things had happened, Jesus would be killed and buried, but then on the 3rd day after his death, he would rise again. Jesus had looked them right in the eye and told them how things were going to happen. But think about it: if we are told something so outlandish and unbelievable, even if we trust in the person who tells it…well, it’s going to take a while to process. The disciples who wanted to believe in the divinity of Christ and who were just getting used to the idea that the Messiah had finally come – to these men who had traveled with him and witnessed many amazing and miraculous things, this was almost too much. That’s what I like about John’s gospel story today. When Peter and another disciple raced to find the empty tomb, it was Peter who first looked inside. But it was the other disciple who believed. John doesn’t tell us exactly what it was that he believed, only that he believed. And that’s what we love about Easter. Of all the mysterious happenings and even miraculous things we experience in our short lives, none of us can claim to have seen a person rising from the dead. But someone did.
And all of our faith, this whole thing we call church, is based upon a handful of people from long ago who saw and experienced something so unexpected and enormous that it radically changed everything we might understand about our existence on this earth. And all it took were three words, “He is risen.” That’s why we love Easter.
There’s another reason to love Easter, and this is the point I’d like to make here today. Before the coming of Christ, God spoke to us through the prophets and dealt primarily with the nation of Israel. Then our God came in the flesh to spread the Good News of the Gospel – a gospel of righteousness, a gospel of peace, and a gospel that preached and reached out to the hearts of all men and women, not just a select few. But the Son of Man was constrained. The Son of Man who came to bring salvation to the world was well aware of our nasty habit of destroying those who might save us. But our faith is defined by the fact that God would save us despite the fact. God was determined to save us, but not through the law; not through threats of judgement and punishment, but through the most outlandish expression of love that we could ever imagine. That is the beauty of the Resurrection because when Jesus rose from the grave, that is the moment that God was let loose into the world. Think about it: all the logical and rational minds of the world offer endless debates on this one singular event, but when it’s all said and done, the resurrection is when God was let loose upon the world. And it all began with three words: “He is risen.” It all began with three words, and the world has never been the same.
Amen & Shalom