The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

We believe in the resurrection. . .don’t we? Easter sermon 2007

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Mary Magdalene at the tombResurrection of the Lord (Easter Day), April 8, 2007
Luke 24:1-12; Acts 10:34-43; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; Psalm 118:1-2,14-24
[See also I’m not about to let his grace go to waste, the Easter sermon of 2006.]

Christ the Lord is Risen Today
Alleluia, Alleluia
Because He Lives (chorus only)
He Is Lord
Elisabeth Tinnes sings
Luke 24:1-12 [read it from pew Bible]
Daniel Clendennin at The Journey With Jesus:

In her book Practicing Resurrection, [Nora] Gallagher recalls a conversation with [her friend] Harriet who told her about sitting in church at the National Cathedral in Washington. During the course of a boring sermon the priest asked the congregation in unctuous tones, “Now what do you really want for Christmas this year?” “I nearly rose from my pew,” she told Nora. “I was gathering myself up until I looked over at my sister who was giving me That Look, and I sat back down, but what I wanted to do was stand up and call out, ‘I would really like to believe in the resurrection.’

We believe in the resurrection. Don’t we? We want to. But faith is not faith without doubt, and sometimes I worry: Monte, do you really believe this? How come it seems so far away to you sometimes?

I saw some good news in the Bible this week.

We’ve been watching Jesus as he walked the long road toward Jerusalem, and toward his death. We’ve watched as he taught he great lessons: like when he hears of the tower that fell in Siloam, how he teaches that tragedy isn’t God’s judgment. Or when the right-wingers get mad at him for befriending bad folks instead of good ones, and he tells the stories of the lost sheep and lost coin and lost son, describing God as someone who seeks us out. We’ve seen him adored and anointed as Mary pours costly oil on his feet and wipes them with her hair.

[on flip chart? Jesus in red in center, cross out others as story goes on] He reaches the height of his popularity on Palm Sunday, when he’s thronged as he comes into Jerusalem. But then things start going wrong.

He eats the Passover meal with his disciples, like you did last Sunday. In the middle of it, he announces an upcoming betrayal. Judas leaves.

He goes to the garden of Gethsemane to pray, feeling despair, asking his friends to hang on with him; they fall asleep instead. The guards come to arrest him, Judas gives the kiss of betrayal, and most of his disciples run for their lives.

Peter lasts a little longer, but Jesus’ hasty trial runs through the night, and by the time the rooster crows, Peter is swearing that Jesus is a total stranger.

Then come the beatings, the trudge to the hill, the crucifixion. Only a few are left now – John, perhaps, and Mary his mother, and a few other women.

What a distance he’s come since Palm Sunday! At first the crowd, then the disciples, then the disciples asleep with Judas gone while he prays alone, then Peter’s denial, now just a handful of followers watch and weep, and the crowd harangues as he dies.

And he may be even more alone than it seems. Because no one there except Jesus believes what he believes.

He’s been telling them for months now that he was going to Jerusalem, and there he’d be killed, and he’d rise again on the third day, and every time he brings it up they have argued or changed the subject.

Even the most faithful – Mary Magdalene, for instance – why does she come to the tomb on Easter morning? She comes to embalm the dead body of a good friend.

When Jesus died, the evidence was that his mission was a failure. When Jesus died, he died knowing no one on earth had believed what he came to teach. When Jesus died, he died alone.

So alone, in fact, that they don’t even believe it on Easter.

The women find an empty tomb – it doesn’t even occur to them that Jesus has risen from the dead, even when they see angels, until the angels spell it out.

V11, they go tell the disciples, who are hiding out in a locked room: “but they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”

Peter runs to the tomb, sees it empty, but look at the end of 12: “…he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.”

He appears to two of them on the road to Emmaus. They’re walking along, moaning about how sad it is, even though the women have told them about what the angels said.

He appears to them in the locked room, and, rather than rejoicing, they’re scared to death, assuming him to be a ghost.

And so it goes.

Here’s the first part of what I want you to see: You’re not the first follower of Jesus who had trouble believing the resurrection. You and I are in good company.

And here’s the second part, here’s the good news: Jesus has done everything he has done in this world since through those very people. It didn’t matter at all. He gave them just what they needed, and used them to change the world. They were people like us.

They were slow to trust what he’d taught them. We are slow to trust what he’s taught us. But it didn’t prevent Jesus from working through them, and it doesn’t prevent Jesus from working through us.

Diana Butler Bass:

In the early 90s, I lived in Santa Barbara, Calif., and attended a dynamic, renewing, spiritually vital liberal congregation, Trinity Episcopal Church. There, I was fortunate enough to meet the Rt. Rev. Daniel Corrigan, an aged Episcopal bishop who was also the first bishop to ordain women to the priesthood. Dan Corrigan was a unique breed: one of those mid-20th century liberal princes of the pulpit, a Protestant minister whose stirring preaching and passionate commitment to social justice pushed Christians to enact God’s shalom toward the oppressed and the outcast. He was both pastor and prophet. Even at the end of his life, Dan Corrigan wore the Holy Spirit like a mantle around his shoulders, always ready to speak for God.

One year, as Easter approached, I overheard an exchange between this octogenarian liberal lion and a fellow parishioner. “Bishop Corrigan,” the person asked, “Do you believe in the resurrection?” Frankly, I could not wait to hear the answer – like most of his generation, there was no way that Bishop Corrigan believed in a literal resurrection. He looked at the questioner and said firmly, without pause, “Yes. I believe in the resurrection. I’ve seen it too many times not to.”

The disciples had seen resurrections before – they were there when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

But you and I have seen resurrections, too.

Wish I could introduce you to Monte Asbury in 1970, covered with arrogance and pettiness and hardness and insecurity. There’s been a resurrection there. Some of you first came here covered with shame and bound by trouble – and there have been resurrections there.

Lion, Witch, Wardrobe – after victory, Lion flies to Witch’s castle, where her enemies have been turned to stone statues. The lion breathes on them: HAAAAAAAA. Color floods into their faces, their bodies; they spring to life.

So it is still with each of us, for resurrection is not just about resurrection from the dead, nor is it just about beginning a relationship with God, but he continues to find those places in us that bear the stiffness of death. He breathes on them, and we live in ways that we once died.

He breathes on our ability to love. He breathes on our relationships. He breathes on our crushed hopes. He breathes on our despair. He breathes on our unbeliefs. He breathes out the impossibility of life onto the deadest of the dead things in our lives for which we have not had the courage or the wisdom to trust, despite all we’ve seen.

We are like people awakening from a deep sleep, gradually stretching the stiffness of the night from each of our muscles.

He breathes on us. Wonder what he’ll be breathing on next in your life?

1 Corinthians 15.19-26
If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Scripture is from The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.Tags: , , , , , , , , Monte Asbury


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