April 16, 2017
First Christian Church
I think people have a hard time accepting Easter.
People can get Good Friday. We can get that good people get executed by the State, by religious leaders. We’ve seen social reformers like Martin Luther King and Dietrich Bonhoeffer who challenge the status quo and meet a horrible end.
We know how the world works. People rise up to challenge the system, people who preach peace and equality. The ruling authorities and their backers are scared to death of such change and are ready to find some time someplace, to get rid of this guy.
That was the modus operandi for the movie Meet John Doe, a 1941 movie directed by Frank Capra. A journalist makes up a person called John Doe who talks about what is wrong with contemporary society. When the article is a smash, the publisher and the reporter have to find someone that can be John Doe and they find someone. More articles are written and after a while a nationwide movement is born. John Willowby, the guy that comes to be JOhn Doe comes to realize that the publisher is looking to use the movement to create a new political party and bring him to power. When JOhn Doe finds out, the publisher outs Willowby and he is brought down.
Or maybe it’s like Network, the 1976 movie where an angry newsman about to fired goes on a major rant about what’s wrong in society and becomes a massive ratings hit. He’s not fired and instead becomes a media sensation with his own TV show.. But then he said things that started to make people uncomfortable and his ratings slide. His show is “cancelled” when a terrorist group assassinated him live on air.
So we know this story. People are always coming up and challenging the way things are and the Man or the Empire or what have you cuts the new movement off at the kneecaps.
We’ve become so used to this story that it has filtered into our own understanding of the Christian faith. There are many people who believe what is said about Jesus. They believe he cared for the poor and the least of these. They believe he called out the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. They believe he had no time for the despots who ruled Judea. They can easily believe that these forces came together and were able to persuade a frustrated follower to rat Jesus out and get him arrested. They can believe that Jesus is then given a show trial and is then tortured by the authorities. They can believe he was crucified on a cross, because that’s what happen to people who challenge the system. What they have trouble believing is that Christ rose from the dead. No one comes back from death. So, to make things not a total loss they say the disciples finally got what Jesus was trying to say. This was the resurrection. But that seems a bit hollow to me. It’s making the best out of a bad situation, but it isn’t gospel, it isn’t good news.
The women who were walking to Jesus tomb that morning were not kidding themselves. They were going to the tomb to prepare the body for a proper burial. When they get there, they find the stone rolled away. In some versions of the story, there is a fear that the body has been stolen. That had to be in the minds of the women that morning. What was going on? It was then that two men appear from nowhere. They tell the women straight: “Why in the world are you looking for the living among the dead? He isn’t here; he’s risen! Remember what he told you in Galilee?”
You can see the women looking at each other. They remember Jesus told them this-more than once- but they didn’t pay much attention. They thought Jesus was being overly dramatic, because no one can rise from the dead, can they?
The women leave the tomb and head back to the room where the apostles are. They tell them this wild story and the disciples didn’t believe them. The text says the words of the women seemed like nonsense. Because again, no one comes back from the dead.
Or can they?
Peter started to wonder. What if the words Jesus said were actually true. After a while, he got up and went to the tomb. Everything is there just as the women had said. He is still unsure of what has happened. All he knows is something has happened.
As Christians we believe that Jesus rose from the dead. It’s hard for people to understand that concept. None of the writers of the gospels really could put the event into words. They could tell people that something happened and they believe it did happen, but it was hard to understand.
The resurrection of Jesus, where Jesus come back from the dead and leaves the tomb is hard for people to understand. It goes against the laws of physics. But something happened. In a time when it seemed like hope had died again, something happened that changes the entire world.
Theologian N.T. Wright has a new book out called, The Day the Revolution Began.” In it, he takes on the old belief that Jesus came to die for our sins and appease an angry God. Wright looks at this from the standpoint of the gospel writers and sees a bigger plan. Jesus did come and did forgive our sins, but there is more here that happens. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, God’s power, God’s rule was usurped. Jesus comes to overthrow the powers that had come to rule in the world. Jesus’ death was a trojan horse, a way to make people think God is truly dead and evil has won. But on Easter morning, Jesus rose to show that the battle has been won. Yes, there is still death and evil and sadness. But defeating death by being resurrected means that the evil powers days are numbered. Because Jesus lives, everything has changed and we can live knowing that the victory has been won. That is what gives people hope to change things now. I briefly talked about a story involving Desmond Tutu last week.
During the high point of the anti-apartheid movement in the 80s, Tutu was in a church that was filled to capacity. Tutu knew there were undercover cops present. Tutu playfully calls them out tells them that their side, the regime that divided people by race was destined to lose. They might as well join the winning side. Only someone who believes that Jesus defeated sin, death and the devil can be that bold.
There is a world to describe what happened that Sunday morning. It’s called Eucatastrophe. The word comes from J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of Lord of the Rings. It’s the mixture of the Greek prefix eu which means good, and the word catastrophe. It means the sudden turn of events that ensures the protagonist doesn’t mean a bad end. Tolkien saw this in religious terms seeing the Resurrection as the eucatastrophe of the Incarnation of Jesus. The best example in Tolkien’s words is during the climax of Lord of the Rings. It looks like Sauron, the bad guy is going to win, but then Gollum falls to his doom with the One Ring, bringing down Sauron.
The Resurrection is a eucatastrophe. Just when we think the powers are for certain going to lose, something happens. Jesus is alive and the powers are defeated, the just don’t know it yet.
On Friday, some of you might have read a poem I shared with you and I want to say it here again because it describes this eucatastrophic moment when things turn around or will turn around. It is by a colleague of mine, Kara Root who pastors a church in Minneapolis. This is the poem:
I need the Resurrection
because my sister is sick
and can’t afford insurance,
because I’ve told a weeping Haitian mom,
“No, I can’t take your son home with me.”
because I’ve been rushed off a Jerusalem street
so a robot could blow up a bag that could’ve blown up us.
because I’ve exploded
and watched their tiny faces cloud with hurt.
because evil is pervasive
and I participate.
I need the Resurrection
because it promises
that in the end
all wrongs are made right.
And Life and Love
The resurrection is real. I don’t know how it happened, but it did happen. And it has changed our lives.
The first of many standalone tales in the Star Wars franchise came out last December. Rogue One is the story of how the Rebels got the plans to destroy the death star. It is not a happy movie because this is truly the movie where every main character dies. The mission was a success, but those who gave their lives to get the plans did not live to see the results. But in the midst of sadness, the main character says something profound. Rebellions are built on hope. Hope becomes the theme of this film even though there is so much death. At the end of the movie the plans are given to Princess Leia who of course is the person who has the plans at the beginning of the original Star Wars 40 years ago. A CGI version of the late Carrie Fisher takes the plans as an underling wonders what good could these plans bring. She ends the movie with one word. Hope.
Eucatastrophe is hope. It is believing that death and evil will not win and will never win. It may come at a cost, but the world will be set to right.
So, as we head towards Easter dinners let’s remember what this day is about at the end, what it was for the women and the disciples. Hope. Something that can change the world for the better. Christ is Risen. Amen.