Alleluia, Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed!
Happy Easter St. James’s. I am so glad so many of you are here this morning on this most joyful of days. Whether you are here every Sunday, only occasionally, or this is your first visit, we are delighted that you have come to share the wonder and promise of the empty tomb.
There is a wonderful story the Rabbi David Wolpe tells in his book, Teaching Your Children About God. It is a Jewish parable about unborn twin baby boys huddled together in their mother’s womb. As they lay side by side they were speculating about what it must be like on the other side of their snug warm home. The first twin believed that there was a world beyond the womb, “where people walk upright, where there are mountains and oceans, a sky filled with stars.” The other twin thought that was ridiculous and he could barely contain his contempt for such foolish ideas. He was positive that outside of their womb there was nothing, only death. Suddenly the first twin was forced through the birth canal leaving behind the only life he had ever known. Outside the womb the parents rejoiced because they had a new son. However, the remaining twin was sad, convinced that a great catastrophe had befallen his brother. What the remaining twin didn’t realize was that he had just witnessed birth and not death. What had happened to his brother was a miracle, not a catastrophe. This, Wolpe reminds us, is a classic view of life beyond the grave—that death is really a birth into a world that we can only try to imagine.
Simply put, the Easter message this morning is that you and I have an older brother who HAS traveled beyond the tomb, down the birth canal of eternity and has returned to assure us that God is love, and that there is a place prepared for all of us beyond the womb of this life. The question is – do we believe it?
You see, I am convinced that Easter is more than a holiday that falls on the first Sunday following the full moon on or after March 21. My faith tells me that Easter is a choice. Easter is the choice between clinging to death or opening our hearts to the God who would never let death have the final word. The world says that when people die, they stay dead. The God of Easter says otherwise. The question of Easter is – which will we listen to – the ways of the world, or the ways of God? Remember, when Mary Magdalene came to the tomb that first Easter morning it was still dark and she thought the ways of the world had won. Jesus was dead, she had come to grieve and anoint her friend’s body. Perhaps you too feel caught by the darkness this Easter – family concerns, problems at work, anxiety about your health and your future, or the loss of someone you love. Mary Magdalene came to the tomb while it was still dark but the darkness did not remain. The dawn broke. Jesus rose from the grave. The promise of Easter is that in the midst of our deepest darkness the Son always rises – the tomb is empty, death does not have the last word.
In a speech given many years ago, the Rev. Dr. John Claypool, one of my favorite preachers, talks about a little known play by Eugene O’Neill entitled, “Lazarus Laughed.” The play opens up where the Biblical story leaves off with Lazarus, brought back from the dead by Jesus, stumbling out of the dark tomb into the sunlight. After embracing Jesus and his family Lazarus makes his way back to his home and the whole village of Bethany is shocked and amazed. Finally somebody gets the courage to ask what was on everybody’s mind. “Lazarus, tell us what it’s like to die. What lies on the other side of this boundary that none of us have crossed?” At that point, Lazarus begins to laugh and laugh. After a while he says, “There is no death, really. There is only life. There is only God. There is only incredible joy.” He continues, “Death is not the way it appears from this side. Death is not an abyss. It is, rather, a portal through which we move into everlasting growth and everlasting life. The One that meets us there is the same generosity that gave us our lives in the beginning, the One who gave us our birth. Not because we deserved it but because that generous One wanted us to be and therefore there is nothing to fear in the next realm. The grave is as empty as a doorway is empty. The grave is a portal through which we move into greater and finer life. Therefore, there is nothing to fear. Our great agenda is to learn to accept, to learn to trust. We are put here to learn to love more fully. There is only life. There is no death.” And with that Lazarus’ laughter began to fill the whole house.
When Jesus emerges from the tomb on Easter Sunday he too proclaims to us that there is only life, there is only laughter. There is only the joy and the mercy of God. Jesus came back from the grave on Easter Sunday and said to us that there is nothing we can do to make God love us any more than God already loves us and nothing we can do to make God stop loving us. If the killing of God’s Son did not destroy the love that God has for us, then we can be sure that God’s goodness and mercy is greater than anything we have done or left undone. The grave is empty like a doorway is empty. Death is just the way to the next part of God’s grand adventure.
So on this Easter morning, regardless of our life’s situation at the moment, let us choose life over death, let us choose the light over the darkness, let us choose hope instead of despair. Because the tomb is empty, the Lord is risen – and there is nothing to fear because God never lets us go.