Sermon: News to Come Back For
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15: 1-8, 12-14
April 20, 2014 – Easter Sunday
You know for a pastor, the two major holidays of the church, Christmas and Easter, are both incredibly exhilarating and also often discouraging. Because, on Easter, the church is packed. The music is wonderful. Everything is on a high note and you want it to never end. And certainly that is worship that is indicative of the incredible news that we proclaim today. The tomb empty. Jesus alive. But then it’s over. We spend the six weeks of Lent focusing on the cross and death, and then one day on new life and it’s over. While Easter Sunday is usually the highest attended Sunday of the year, the Sunday after Easter is often the lowest attended. Which leaves me wondering what we have done to make resurrection and new life not news that’s worth coming back for. I suspect that we might find the answer here in the writings of Paul. It seems to me that Paul and the Disciples spent a lot more time talking about resurrection and new life then they did the judgment and sin of the cross. Their message, which drew thousands to the church in those first few years, centered in the new life that Christ offered in the midst of the darkness and despair of their daily life. They celebrated every Sunday as a “little Easter”. They’re witness concerning the resurrection turned the known world upside down. Resurrection, not the cross, life not death, was the news to come back for. As the church developed, however, the focus shifted to the cross. The theology of the church became much more centered in sin and judgment, then forgiveness and new life. And so it should not surprise us that when people outside the church are asked about their impression of the church today they talk about the church being judgmental and exclusive. And I recently saw a poll which indicated that more people in the church believe in the Crucifixion of Christ then believe in the resurrection. One preacher writes:
A young man and his wife visited our church and had come to discuss membership with me. I asked him, “What’s holding you back?”He held up his thumb and forefinger so close to touching that you could barely see the space that existed between them, and said “I am this close.”I asked him what barrier was represented by the minuscule distance. He answered with two words: “the Resurrection.”
He was not only not close, he was not even in the neighborhood. No Resurrection, no hope; no New Testament, no church; and to quote Paul, we of “all people would be the most miserable.” I told him, “John, you are not close at all. There is more, much more, to making a commitment to Jesus Christ. The resurrection is the heart of it all.”
It is resurrection that is news to come back for because it answers one of the biggest fears, the biggest question of our earthly existence – and that is what happens after death. It is news to come back for when it is the heart of our faith. This is life changing, history changing, world shaping news. It is hope born from despair. It is love that transforms hatred. Light that illuminates the darkest places of our lives. It is grace that rolls away the stones that entrap us. Jesus did not come to earth to bring death. We already had that. Jesus came to bring life after death. That’s the news to come back for.
For those first Disciples, the news of the Cross drove them into their own tombs, hiding in the dark behind locked doors, but the resurrected Christ flung open the doors and brought them back into the world. The Apostle Paul, who went from militant persecutor to devoted follower of Christ says in his writings that there was not just one eyewitness to the resurrected Lord, but that he was seen by Cephas and then the disciples and then over 500 others. And not only is their testimony compelling evidence for the resurrected Jesus, but the witness of the resurrected Christ clearly transformed their own lives. Resurrection faith transformed the disciples from scared men hiding behind closed, locked doors to men who were willing to risk anything and everything, even their own lives, to tell everyone about their living Lord. And no matter what, none of them ever changed their testimony about Jesus Christ, the Son of God who appeared to them in resurrected glory. Their testimony started a movement which would eventually succeed in doing what the Jewish armies could never do – transform the Roman empire. Their witness subdued the barbarians of history, transformed humanity, and continues to change lives today, 2000 years later. It’s the resurrection that’s news to come back for.
But that was 2000 years ago. What does that have to do with me, today? It is not history that makes us want to come back but it is experience.
The news of resurrection is wonderful news based on the evidence of history. But it is news to come back for based upon the testimony of Christ alive today. All around this room today, there are stories of persons who have experienced the living Christ for themselves. And that has changed their lives, forever. The resurrection means nothing if we do not experience it for ourselves. So how do we do that.
First we experience resurrection as hope. Hope for our own resurrection. The Apostle Paul writes: in Christ all shall be made alive. Because Christ was resurrected, we can anticipate our own resurrection and that of our loved ones. As we draw nearer and nearer to death, resurrection moves from history to hope and then ultimately to reality. Children’s writer E.B. White wrote poignantly of the death of his wife Katherine. And he writes of how he watched her in the Fall of her last year planting spring bulbs, each of them knowing that she would not live to see them bloom in Spring. He writes:
As the years went by and age overtook her, there was something comical in her bedraggled appearance: the small hunched over figure, her studied absorption in the implausible notion that there would yet be another spring, oblivious to the ending of her own days, which she knew perfectly well was near at hand, sitting there with her detailed chart (of spring flowers) under those dark skies in the dying October, calmly plotting her resurrection.
Because Christ was raised, those who follow him can plot our own resurrection. We can know that even as death approaches on earth, new life is a waiting us in eternal realms. Because of the resurrection, Paul says: We do not live as those who have no hope. The news to come back for is that because of Easter we have hope for eternal life.
And resurrection is also news to come back for because we also experience resurrection as the hope of Christ’s presence in the midst of this life.
J. Nichols Adams writes:
Remember that the first Easter happened in the midst of life’s pain, sorrow, heartache, grief, confusion and fear.
Resurrection is the assurance of Christ’s presence in the midst of every circumstance of our life. It is the fulfillment of His promise that He “would be with us always.”Even death, his or ours, cannot separate us. Kurt Schuerman writes:
The good news is that in spite of all that happened Jesus Christ will not leave us alone. He has no intention of leaving us to our own devices that lead us to death. He simply will not abandon us to the lies, betrayals, and our participation in the ways of death. No matter how we try to crucify his influence, he continues to come back.
And finally resurrection is news to come back for when we experience resurrection as new life rising from the old. There are many ways, other than physical, that we can experience death. Resurrection tells us that if our faith has died, it can live again. If our hope has died, it can live again. If our spirit has died, it can live again. If our relationship with God has died, it can be made new. If our will to go on has died, Christ can bring it back to life. In the Book of Revelation God says to John: Behold I make all things new. It is resurrection that makes all things new – in this life and in the life to come.
A pastor calls this the “resurrection principle”and writes this:
What is the “resurrection principle”? God can bring to life that which has died. For example, a person becomes aware of the evil. He finds it enticing and appealing. He indulges in evil by surrendering to temptation. The result: he spiritually dies. He separates himself from God. He abandons God for a godless life. Spiritually, can he live again? God says yes. Jesus blood atoned for all sin. Redemption is available to anyone. How can he be spiritually alive again? By resurrection. . . He is given newness of life by being resurrected with Christ.
We can experience resurrection again and again and again as we die to the ways of this world and live again in the love and grace of Christ. It’s the great news of Easter. The news we must come back for and experience time and again in the midst of this often troubled life. The tombs, which threaten to entrap you, cannot hold you, if Christ is in you. Because He was raised, you can be raised too. What news! What great news! The question is, is it great enough to bring you to Christ, is it news worth coming back for. Only you can decide that. Because the same Christ who waited in the garden for the disciples to discover the empty tomb, is the same Christ who is alive and lives today, and waits here for you, not just on Easter Sunday, but everyday. And surely that’s News To Come Back For.