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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

Easter – Year A

The other day I heard a story that God was looking down on the world one Sunday morning and saw so many people sitting in churches across the globe that he thought everything looked pretty good. There were millions praying and worshipping and that had to be a good thing. But God thought . . . what I’d really like is some statistics. This all looks wonderful . . . but I wonder: “how many of those people are actually good, and how many of those people are actually wicked?” So God sent down a couple of angels to perform a statistical survey. And the angels came back with some very bad news. “95% of humanity is evil, wicked and unhappy, the angels said, but there’s a tiny 5% that’s actually pretty good.”
This is ridiculous, it can’t be that bad, God thought. I’m sending down two more angels to do another poll, (because even God knows if you don’t like the results of one poll, you can always conduct another). Well it wasn’t very long before the second set of angels returned saying, “95% of human beings are indeed wicked. 5% are good, but more troubling still; those 5% are feeling very sad and discouraged. That bothered God greatly, so God decided to reach out to those good people by sending them an encouraging e-mail. And, and do you know what that e-mail to the good 5% said? Oh. I see . . . so you didn’t get one either!
Today is the day for all those folks who don’t get congratulatory emails from God, for all those folks who are imperfect and struggle with sin and sorrow in their lives. Today is the day when folks like us rejoice and sing and celebrate. Because today is the day when God declares to you and me that we are loved so much that God won’t let anything destroy us – not even death. So, Let’s proclaim it again – Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
It’s a crazy thing we proclaim this morning – Jesus risen from the dead. There are a lot of folks who don’t believe it. I imagine there are a fair number of folks here this morning that don’t quite believe it. But you come anyway. You come because you hope it is true, you come because you want it to be true, you come to pray that it is true.
Resurrection is a hard thing for us to wrap our heads around. It goes against what we expect. The world says – when you are dead, you’re dead. It’s sad but that’s the way it goes. Sure, Jesus was a good man who said and did wonderful things but he upset some very powerful people and they caught up with him and they killed him. Not all stories have happy endings; that’s just the way life is. That’s certainly what the disciples thought. They loved Jesus, they followed Jesus, they dedicated their lives to him – but Jesus had been put to death on the cross. They were crushed with grief but they understood that death gets the final word – at least they thought they understood.
No one was more surprised than they were when Mary came running to tell them that the tomb was empty and she had seen the Lord. At first they didn’t believe it; at first they were terrified. But it was true. In the days to come they all saw him for themselves and they testified about what they saw. More importantly, this truth changed them to the point that each was willing to give his/her own life just to proclaim this good news to others. From the very first days of our faith the resurrection was no mere “idea” for the earliest Christians, no metaphorical story – it was a fact, it was the greatest story ever told and one worth living and dying for.
The other day I was listening to NPR as I was driving home and I heard the writer Anne Lamott (whose spoken twice at St. James’s) give an interview about what Easter means to her. You may have heard it. Among other things she said that Christians are – Easter people living in a Good Friday world. That phrase stuck with me all week – Easter people living in a Good Friday world. What does that mean? It means we live in a world that is difficult and tragic, a world where there is a great deal of death and destruction. Thirty seconds of video from tsunami ravaged Japan or photos from war torn Libya are enough to convince us of that. But in spite of these and so many other tragedies, our faith is all about hope. In spite of the disasters that happen in places like Japan, or the wars that devastate lives in the Middle East, or the diseases that lay low the people we love and care about – we believe that God has not given up on the world. We believe that, contrary to appearances, death doesn’t have the final word; God in Christ has the final word.
Being an Easter Christian means holding onto the promise that resurrection changes everything. Resurrection announces that God has not given up on the world because this world matters – this world so full of dirt and danger, strife and struggle. Resurrection announces that what we do with our lives matters, every act of compassion matters, every work that celebrates the good and true matters, every fair and honest undertaking of business and trade, every kind word matters because they all contribute to God’s work of redeeming this Good Friday world. And because death does not have the final say, none of the good we do can ever be lost, or forgotten, or wasted – it all has its place because the tomb is empty, because of resurrection.
Today is a day to celebrate. It’s a day to breathe a sigh of relief, a day to rekindle hope. It is a day to reaffirm our faith that God loves us far too much to ever let us go. As Victor Hugo once wrote, “The tomb is not a blind alley; it’s a thoroughfare. It closes on the twilight; (but) it opens on the dawn.” Mary Magdalene came to the tomb while it was still dark but the darkness did not remain. The dawn broke. God’s Son had risen. Alleluia!

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