Christ is risen!
Christ is risen, indeed!
I love hearing that! That sound. Those words. Those songs.
We’re saying those words a lot this morning,
and I don’t think we can possibly say them enough.
Christ is risen!
But its an Easter thing, and I love that about Easter.
Karl Barth, who was a major theologian of the 20th century,
argued that the question to ask, though, is “is it true?”[i]
To be fair,
Barth thinks that question hangs in the air
every time we gather for worship,
perhaps more so on Easter Sunday than on any other day.
Is it true?
The nice thing about our Gospel story from Luke, today, is that
Luke offers a broad spectrum of responses to that question.
–There are the steadfastly faithful ones,
the women who discover
so much more than they could have ever imagined
that day they went to the tomb
to anoint their Lord’s body
incense and herbs
to do their duty
only to be confronted by two messengers
in dazzling clothes who ask them
this question that makes no sense:
Why do you seek the living among the dead?
Well, they weren’t. They were seeking the dead among the dead.[ii]
They had come to give Jesus a proper burial.
But it was the Sabbath, after all, and their lives had been shaped
by a lifetime of observing the day of rest,
so they had put down their spices,
they stopped dealing with death and they rested.
All of that pain,
all of that anxiety to make sure Jesus had a proper burial,
all of that desire to do something useful,
they had to let it rest with God.
On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment, says our text,
but on the first day of the week.
Easter morning arrives with that one little word – but.
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb.
And the stone was away, and the messengers were there
and they asked that ridiculous question,
and they remembered,
these women they remembered what Jesus said
and they believed it to be true,
becoming the first witnesses to the resurrection.
That’s one response, the women believe.
And they returned to tell the disciples and “all the rest” everything that had happened.
Is it true? The women believe.
The apostles don’t believe its true.
They think it’s an idle tale. Leiros.
That’s the colorful Greek word translated “idle tale”
in our NRSV translation this morning. “It seemed to them an idle tale.”
Truth be told, that’s a gentle translation.
It’s more of a slang term than that.
Anna Carter Florence translates this phrase as “a bunch of bull.”[iii]
But even that’s pretty cleaned up. She describes leiros as,
and I quote, “a locker room word.”
We know what she means. Right?
Its what fans chant at sports games in response to a bad call.
Maybe in the Cauldron at Sporting Park
or some choice sections of Arrowhead
against the Broncos.
My KU friends might have uttered it a few times last night.
Is it true? Leiros. Say the apostles and all the rest.
Ok, but then there’s Peter.
Hearing the women’s witness, Peter gets up.
He goes outside, turns left, down the hill, and runs to the tomb.
He has to go and see for himself if its true.
Something within Peter stirred him,
to rise up from his angst and despair following his friend and master’s death,
to rise up from his guilt in the wake of those three denials,
to rise up from a resignation to the world as it always has been,
to rise up and run to that tomb, to see, for himself, if it is true.
Is it true? “Could it possibly be true?” wonders Peter, on Easter morn….
That’s the whole spectrum of faith, right there in Luke:
from the faithful women who REMEMBER and BELIEVE and GO and TELL,
to the deniers, the disciples and the apostles and the rest who see it all as leiros,
to Peter, running in hope that maybe it just could be true
from faith to unbelief to hopeful seeker.
Where do you find yourself in the story?
Where are you, dear friend, on this spectrum of belief?
There’s no test, I’m just curious.
At various points in my own life, I’ve been at many different places on that spectrum.
Even for the most faithful, we don’t ever stay in one place.
But its all there, here in this Easter story in Luke.
Christ is risen!
That’s the sound of Easter.
Truth of the matter is that our culture, too, is all over the spectrum of belief.
It may feel like there’s less conviction about it lately, and perhaps that’s true.
I’m not sure it is.
I think its more likely that we’re just more honest about our struggles
with more competing for our attention.
Even so, there’s no shortage of news reports that talk about Christianity in decline.
This past June I had the chance to speak on a local NPR program
to discuss, in part, how our world reflects this spectrum of belief.
Steve Kraske of Up To Date was looking for a local pastor
to join a journalist on the religion beat at The Atlantic magazine
to talk about the most recent Pew Research Center study.[iv]
It was a good talk, and I was able to affirm that
there’s a lot in these studies that isn’t new to any of us here.
There are those around us who, with the women, remember and believe
becoming witnesses to the faith.
We live in a culture where a growing number of people
are checking the “leiros” box, like the disciples,
before they saw the resurrected presence of Jesus.
One in Four Americans attend services regularly.
More and more people claim they are religiously unaffiliated
though most of them still claim to be seeking God,
yearning God, in some way.
And those of us who are regulars within a church feel decline of the institution
we see churches who are our neighbors close
and its fair to ask whether it means
more and more disciples today consider the core story
of our faith an idle tale.
But there are plenty of Peters in our world,
perhaps more than we realize,
those somewhere between faith and doubt running in search
of some sort of PROOF that the story is true
or people with a spark in their hearts
that sets them running and searching—
seeing enough to keep them wondering,
but not yet enough to settle the matter.
Is it true?
Not everyone believed that first Easter morning.
Not everyone believes two thousand years later.
But here’s the thing: the range of responses, that Easter morning,
did not define the reality of what was going on.
The fact is, Easter is not dependent on our response to it,
because God’s power to bring life on the other side of death
does not depend on where we are on the spectrum of faith.
The reason that Christian faith has survived
and at times has thrived
for almost 2000 years
in spite of what the church has done to it
is because our core story is true.
Its truth does not depend on our response. It doesn’t depend on polls.
It only depends on God.
At the heart of our faith is the story of CROSS and RESURRECTION.
–The cross, it embodies the story of suffering, hardship, injustice and death
That part we know is true.
We know the cross if we’ve lived enough life—
it’s the kind of thing that can leave you saying “leiros” to the world.
The cross reflects the brokenness and sinfulness of our world
the reality of evil in our lives, in our relationships.
That part we know.
But the cross also asserts that God is with us in our suffering.
It asserts that neither life, nor death
nor heights, nor depths, nor addiction, nor depression
nor cancer treatment, nor Multiple Sclerosis,
nor macular degeneration, nor unemployment
nor poverty, nor terror attack,
nor political rhetoric, nor supreme court decision,
nor dictators in Syria, nor rumors of war,
nor bullies at school,
nor anything else in all creation
can separate us from the love of God
we find in Christ Jesus our Lord.
That’s also part of the truth of the cross,
the truth of the one who went all the way for us.
That’s the good news of Good Friday.
–Resurrection, well, resurrection asserts the truth that God REFUSES
to let THAT sin and brokenness and evil and death get the FINAL word.
Resurrection asserts the power of God
to bring new life on the other side of every cross we face.
That’s true for everything:
whether its loved ones on the other side of earthly death
or for every cross we endure in this life.
Its true at every level of existence:
in our relationships
in our marriages
in our communities
in our classrooms, at our offices
its true in community
its true socially
its true biologically
its even true cosmically
attested by our ever expanding universe that has been
growing for over 13.6 billion years.
That undergirding, life giving force
that brought the cosmos into being with a mere word
refuses to let death define our existence.
That’s the truth of Easter, the truth of resurrection.
No matter what people of faith do
no matter the responses of the disciples
that reality lives on in our lives, in our relationships, in our world.
“The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice!”
–said Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The arc of history bends towards life
towards love. We cannot stop it.
–First century church fights
about whether or not Gentiles could join the church couldn’t stop it.
–Gnostic heresies of the first two centuries couldn’t stop it.
–The Constantinian takeover of the church couldn’t stop it.
–The fight over where the capital of the church should be
that led to a Great Schism the first one, between the Eastern Orthodox
and the Roman West, couldn’t stop it.
–The evil of the crusades couldn’t stop it.
–The Spanish Inquisition couldn’t stop it.
–The corruption of the intuitional church during the renaissance couldn’t stop it—
it birthed the protestant reformation, and the Presbyterians with it!
–The Salem Witch trials couldn’t stop it.
–The Scopes Monkey trial couldn’t stop it.
–Faithless support for slavery and segregation and our failures in
acknowledging the equality of women didn’t stop it.
God’s love won. Each time.
–God’s power for new life on the other side of every cross just keeps opening tombs
and opening eyes
and opening lives
and opening possibilities
and opening new tomorrows because THAT’s who God is
and THAT’s what God does
again and again and again and again.
That’s the good news of Easter.
And its true, whether we believe it or not.
You may believe it, with every fiber in your being.
If that’s you, thanks be to God.
You may think it’s leiros, and that’s ok. The universe is still expanding.
You never know when God will open a window and let herself in.
You may leave here with all kinds of thoughts running in your mind
wondering what it all means, and go home amazed.
God is in charge.
That’s not dependent on the quality or the depth or the current status of our faith.
God REFUSES to yield to the power of death.
God REFUSES to accept that the things that bind us, today, will have the final word.
That’s the truth of the Gospel.
It’s true for those faithful women.
It was true for those despairing disciples.
It was true for peter.
It’s true for you, and for me.
Its true for the true communities of faith that seek to follow the risen Lord
set free to dream of empty tombs.
Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed!
And nothing in all creation can stop it. What a glorious sound indeed.
Thanks be to God! Alleluia. Amen.
[i] Rev. Joe Clifford raised this question and noticed this three fold response in his sermon “Is it Truth?” from 2013. I’ve adapted his work for our context here this morning.
[ii] This observation comes from the Rev. Jeff Carlson.
[iii] See Anna Carter Florence, Preaching as Testimony (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2007) p 118.
[iv] See http://www.pewforum.org/
Image Credit: The Rev. Richard Hong, depicting the sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church of Englewood, following a fire during Holy Week, 2016. The fire didn’t keep them from gathering for worship during holy week and Easter morning.