Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Imagine what it would be like if the miracle of Easter happened today. Imagine the world waking up to the news – that a well-known faith-teacher and miracle-worker, who died on Friday, was now alive again, according to his followers. Imagine those first witnesses sharing this joyous news on social media.
And imagine the world’s reaction. Imagine the skepticism that would soon follow. Imagine all the “fact-checking” that would take place. The arguments. The demand for proof. The news channels interviewing so-called “experts.” Maybe it’s good that the first Easter happened when it did!
But, then again, think about today’s gospel reading (Luke 24:1-12). Didn’t something similar happen on that first Easter? When the women shared the joyous news of the resurrection on that first Easter morning, their words seemed to the apostles to be “an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11). Easter, it seems, has always been met with skepticism.
It’s hard to know what to believe, sometimes, isn’t it? I think that is especially true in our day and age. We see a video on YouTube and wonder if it really happened. Or a picture on a magazine cover – is that really what the person looks like? We read a story shared by a friend on Facebook and wonder whether it’s true. Or we hear a statistic, offered by a so-called expert, which seems to directly contradict what we just heard from another. And it often seems easier simply to believe neither.
It is hard to know what to believe these days; and it’s tempting not to believe any of it. And then we come to this wonderful day, when we gather to celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord, and the loving, living presence of Jesus among us. We are here today because Christ is risen. But even here, shaped by our world, we can still sometimes wonder: Is the Resurrection really true? And if so, where is Jesus now?
We live in a time when all of us are taught to question, and to doubt, and to suspend belief until we have proof. And so, I think it is natural, even today, to be a little skeptical. And if you find yourself feeling that way, I want to let you know that it is okay. In fact, if that is the case, then look at the reaction of the apostles on that first Easter morning. And find comfort there.
So, let’s go back through this story, and let’s see what we can learn, from those first apostles, about how to embrace the joy of the resurrection, and live in its wonderful light.
An Idle Tale?
When the women came from the empty tomb to share the joyous news of the resurrection, Luke reports that their words seemed to the apostles “an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” Now, when you think about it, if anyone is going to believe this joyous news, it ought to be the apostles, right? After all, they had personally witnessed Jesus perform all of those amazing miracles. They were there when he was transfigured on the mountain. They watched him walk on water, and calm a storm at sea. They even witnessed Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead. And not only that, Jesus had repeatedly told them that he would be raised from the dead on the third day! But here they are, on the third day, being told that it was true, and still responding by thinking these women had lost their minds. Why did the apostles find this so hard to believe? Is it simply human nature to doubt, or is something else going on?
Changing the Rules
I think that one of the reasons the apostles found it so hard to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, was because it forced them to look at everything differently. Feeding the five-thousand is a miracle; but the crowd got hungry again. Raising Lazarus was a miracle; but Lazarus would still face death. But the resurrection of Jesus was different. Jesus wasn’t going to die again. And, in fact, his death and resurrection put an end to death.
The resurrection of Jesus meant that everything had changed. It meant that God no longer plays by the same old rules. When people die, they are supposed to stay dead. Well, if God starts raising people from the dead, in this wondrous way that Jesus was raised from the dead, then anything is possible.
And if anything is possible, then nothing is certain. And accepting this requires not only faith. It requires trust in the one who is rewriting the rules.
Do you remember playing games as a kid? Rules were very important. And if someone was going to start changing the rules, midway through the game, everyone else had to trust that person, or they would simply quit the game. In order to keep playing the game, everyone had to have faith in the rule-changer. When God raised Jesus from the dead, He showed us that he is changing the rules. And that means that if we are going to stay in the game, we are going to have to trust the rule-changer.
That wasn’t easy for the apostles. Even after all they had witnessed. So we shouldn’t expect it to be easy for us, either. In fact, I would go so far as to say that doubting the resurrection is a good sign that you are taking it seriously. Because truly believing that Jesus was raised from the dead means believing that God is capable of doing anything. And it means that nothing is certain anymore, not even death. And this requires great faith and trust in the one who is changing all of the rules.
Accepting the Rules
But what happens when we put our doubt aside, and place our trust in the one who is changing the rules? Think again of those first apostles. Go back to that first Easter, where they are hiding behind locked doors, in the upper room. What happened? How did they go from scared and confused, to courageous and faithful? Easter happened! And it changed everything.
Those apostles were radically changed by Jesus’ resurrection. They left that locked room, and shouted the good news of Easter from the rooftops, even when it endangered their lives. They went on to live fearlessly, filled with joy and hope. Nothing in this world could take away their joy, once they embraced the resurrection. They began to see that anything is possible in the light of Easter. Those first apostles now trusted the great rule-changer. They trusted the one who promised them eternal life.
And their lives show us what can happen when we put aside our doubt, and embrace the good news at the heart of this day, that Christ is risen. Those first apostles show us that embracing Easter can take away all our fear. Because we now know that no matter how bad things may look in this life, the rule-changer can always bring good out of it. Those first apostles teach us what it means to trust the rule-changer; to trust the God who raised Jesus from the dead. To realize that in that first Easter, this God changed the rules, forever. And this changed the way those first apostles lived their lives.
But let’s not stop with the apostles. Think of how many people in these last 2,000 years have placed their faith and trust in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. And think of what difference Easter made to their lives. We all know people whose faith has inspired us; who have faced challenges in this life that would be impossible without trusting in the miracle of Easter. We all know people whose hope and joy and love simply cannot be conquered. Because they know the God of hope and of joy and of love. They know the God of Easter. And they have embraced the good news at the heart of this day.
Easter’s New Rules
Embracing Easter can change like nothing else. But why? Because Easter means that the rules have changed. Let me share with you three of the most important rules that have changed because of Easter. And why embracing Easter changes us, too.
First, and most obviously, Easter means that God has changed the most basic rule of all – that everyone dies – and that means that there is truly nothing to fear in this life.
Second, in God’s newly-revised Easter rules, nothing can now separate us from the love of God: Not doubt. Not sin. Not even denying Jesus. The apostles doubted. They sinned. They denied knowing Jesus. So what did Jesus do? He appeared to them and dispelled their doubts and forgave their sins. These are the new rules. Doubt, denial, sin. These don’t separate us from God’s love. Jesus won’t let them. Nothing can now separate us from the love of God. And that means that embracing Easter means having our hearts filled with God’s love, no matter what we have done in this life.
And the third newly-revised Easter rule? There is now no situation in life that is completely hopeless. Those first apostles thought they had found a completely hopeless situation. Their leader was dead and buried in a tomb. Their hope was, literally, dead and buried. But Easter showed them that you can’t kill hope when you have faith. You can’t bury hope when you trust in the rule-changer. Hope will always be alive, because Jesus will always be alive. And all things now work together for the good for those who love him. There is no tomb that can hide God’s love. There is no tomb that can bury our hope. Nothing in this life. Easter means nothing if it does not mean that. And so, today, we can rejoice. No matter what is happening in our life. Because Christ is risen.
Easter changes the rules forever. We no longer need to fear death. We no longer need to fear tomorrow. And we no longer need to ever give up hope.
In the newly-revised rules of Easter, resurrection takes the place of death; faith takes the place of doubt; courage takes the place of fear; hope takes the place of despair; and a love stronger than death conquers all.
There is no need to doubt or despair, ever again. The Resurrection is true, and it changes the rules forever. Believe it, rejoice in it, and let your life be changed by this miracle. For Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!