An Idle Tale

a sermon for Easter Sunday

Disbelief is how we respond when things don’t fit what we know about the world. There’s no shame in that.  We know from experience that life follows a pretty predictable path – that power conquers love; that the poor will always suffer; and that the dead stay dead.  Or do we?

Alleluia! He is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

That is the most amazing claim that anyone has ever made in the history of the world. It has been translated into every language on earth and written in millions of books in every country. What must it sound like to God today to hear God’s people all shouting these same amazing words. A cry of unimaginable joy. A cry of unshakable faith. A cry that is totally unbelievable.

What makes a room full of intelligent people shout such an amazing, impossible, incredible thing?

When the women got up early that morning and walked to the tomb carrying the spices, they were going to anoint a dead man. They fully expected to find the body of Jesus. They had seen him crucified. They watched him die. And they were there when Joseph of Arimathea put him in the tomb on Friday afternoon just before sundown. Because it was Passover, they didn’t have time to give him a proper burial, and so they were going back to anoint the body of someone they loved.

Now these were solid women, respectable women. They were not groupies. They knew the way of the world – that power conquers love; that the poor will always suffer; and that the dead stay dead. After all, that’s how the world works, right?

And so when they got to the tomb and looked inside and found that it was empty, they were confused. In fact, Luke tells us that they were PERPLEXED. (Now the last time that Luke used the word “perplexed” was when Gabriel told Mary that she would bear a son, Jesus.)

They were perplexed when they saw the empty tomb because they knew that there are only two things you can count on in this world: death and taxes. And they knew that taxes weren’t going to go away. Besides, and dead people don’t just get up and walk around, do they?

But then they remembered something that Jesus said back in Galilee – about his suffering and dying and rising again. So they went back to the others and told them what they saw.

But the disciplesw didn’t believe them either. They were no fools. They knew how the world worked – that power conquers love; that the poor will always suffer; and that the dead stay dead.

They knew Jesus was a great teacher, of course. And they knew that he was an amazing healer. They knew that he could feed thousands of people with a few fish and a couple of loaves of bread.

But to rise from the dead? That was just an “idle tale”. It was foolish talk, utter nonsense, a silly story. They were spinning a yarn, an old wives tale. After all, if you can’t count on the dead staying dead, what could you count on? What would happen next – not paying taxes?

The fact is, nobody believed it, even in Jesus’ day. The women didn’t believe it, at least not at first. It wasn’t until the strangers reminded them what Jesus had said that they began to connect the dots.

And the menfolk didn’t believe it either. Did Peter immediately jump up and say, “Halleluia?” Did James slap his knee and say, “I just knew it?” Did John shout out, “Jesus said it, I believe it, and this settles it!”

No.

Nobody expected the resurrection and nobody really believed it. In spite of all that Jesus had said to them, they all thought it was an idle tale. Even Peter, who finally did go to see for himself, only went because he didn’t, or couldn’t, believe what the women had told them.

The same is true for many of us today. Disbelief is how we respond when things don’t fit what we know about the world. There’s no shame in that. After all, God gave us brains to use so we can look at all the evidence and decide what’s true for ourselves. We know from experience that life follows a pretty predictable path. We know, for example that power conquers love; that the poor will always suffer; and that the dead stay dead.

I think that if we don’t find the idea that God raised Jesus from the dead a little hard to believe, we’re probably not taking it very seriously in the first place.

But what if it were true? What if God really did raise Jesus from the dead?

This would imply that God’s promises are true: that love can overcome power, that sometimes the poor are given hope, and that death is not the final word on our existence.

If God really raised Jesus from the dead, it would mean that all that stuff Jesus told us – about how he came to bring us eternal life – was true. Not some dull, boring, life ad infinitum where every day looks just the last one. But a life that is full and rich and abundant. A life of boundless love. A life in which we live as children God who are worthy to stand face to face with one who created us.

If God really raised Jesus from the dead, it would mean that we are already living in the kingdom of God – not some far off, never never land way off in the future, but right here and right now. And that God created us to help make the world into a place were love prevails, the poor no longer suffer, and where death is transformed from the end of everything, to simply a gateway to larger life.

The disciples did not believe in the resurrection at first. The thought it was an idle tale. But as they gathered and prayed (as we do), as they talked together and worshipped together (as we are), as they loved one another and served each other (as we do), and as they reached out to all the people Jesus loved and served as well, they came to believe. And as they believed, the began to act. And their actions became the proof that it was so.

My friends, we came into this building, this empty tomb, today for the same reason that Peter ran to the tomb that day. Because we have heard an idle tale that we just can’t help but wonder: What if it’s true? What a powerful, amazing, life changing, energizing tale that would be!

And we would not help ourselves but to stand up and shout out once again:

Alleluia! He is risen!
The Lord has risen indeed. Alleluia!

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