“It All Changed in An Instant”
The Sanctuary Sermon for Easter 2020
The Sanctuary Sermon for Easter 2020
“It All Changed in An Instant” Luke 24:1-8
Here, on Sunday’s we like to take a moment and encourage each other to share a ‘good word.’ But this morning it’s about six good words. If you could sum up the most important thing to you in your life, or about your life in six words what would it be? What’s your six-word memoir? Just six. What would they be? Take a minute while we share. Things don’t have to be complicated. You see what I did there? And there?
Let’s look at our text, Luke 24:1-8:
But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. 3 So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes.
5 The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? 6 He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”
8 Then they remembered that he had said this.
So, there’s an engaging website, put together by an online magazine called “Smith” that you can check out by going to smithmag.net. It’s all about a collection of six-word memoirs—people trying to distill their lives down to six words about what is most important, or interesting to them. Everyone’s invited to participate, and there’s an ongoing gallery of the most recent offerings. The moniker on the home page says, “Things Don’t Have To Be Complicated.”
The site has also spawned a few books, which collect the best of the stories; the first was called “Not Quite What I Was Planning,” another is titled “It All Changed in an Instant.” Both of which I thought would be a good title for a sermon.
Some six-word stories are poignant: “I still make coffee for two,” writes someone recovering from a breakup. Some are fortuitous: “One handshake later; no longer homeless.”
And some are tragic. “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
Of course, there is now a page on the site titled, “Life during Coronatime in six words.” Here are a few:
“Prom, sports, school, graduation, life: canceled.”
“World upside down. Birds still singing.”
“Life is too short for quarantine.”
“The Class of 2020 got screwed.”
“There is no toilet paper left.”
“We were not made for isolation.”
“Streaming church online. Harder to focus.”
“Are donut shops considered essential services?”
“Warning: desperate times call for desperadoes.”
“Growth comes from hardship with faith.”
I suppose that ours collectively this morning could be, “Coronavirus can’t keep resurrection people down.”
Summing up a life experience in six short words can make for a powerful statement. In that vein, I recalled a conversation I had with an accomplished man who lived a full life, who experienced the entire scope of life’s emotions. When our discussion turned to spiritual matters, he said in six words, “I’ve always gone on blind faith.” Then he continued, “From Jesus’ entire life, his death, crucifixion and resurrection are a matter of faith. People are always looking for proof, but it’s always been about faith.”
Now, perhaps to all of you Bible scholars and theologians out there this morning, that may not sound like much of a spiritual epiphany but I chewed on what he said for a good part of the day—hey, I’m a simple guy. Six words: I’ve always gone on blind faith. Faith in what? How about these six words, “He’s not here, he is risen!”
We’ll come back to that six-word memoir, but first let’s continue in our worship together…
You know what I missed this morning? That we didn’t gather in Evergreen Cemetery as has been our standing tradition here for years, but a lot of things are different for people just as the world is different for now. Most of you know that I live adjacent to a cemetery and this morning, being Easter there were several people visiting and remembering loved ones. Over a cup of coffee, I looked out my kitchen window to observe a middle-aged woman kneel at a grave and place an Easter lily lovingly against a headstone. You know what? This made me think that, for all the joy and fanfare of Easter, for all the complexity and mystery of our whole sacred life together, and for all of the theological words we use to try and explain it all, as I watched a mother stand up and hold her daughter at a grave, it reminded me that Christianity itself has to be distilled down to this six-word autobiography, and it’s this: Jesus is risen from the dead.
There are 775,000 words in the Bible more or less, and not one of them makes sense without these six words. There are roughly 2 billion Christians in the world, and not one of us has a thing to say without these six words.
These are the words that the breathless women carried from the empty tomb back to the other disciples. These are the words that have been passed from person to person, from community to community, every day since then—in secret, in triumph, in darkness, in celebration. Jesus is risen from the dead.
It is these six words that have taken scattered, broken people who were lost and orphaned to form the largest community in the world. It is these six words that have found countless individuals whose lives were already dead—broken by pain and suffering, by sin and darkness—then given new life because, Jesus is risen from the dead.
These are the words that are whispered at bedsides and shouted from rooftops and shared at dinner tables and workplaces and in neighborhoods. These are the words that have been forbidden by governments both ancient and modern, and yet somehow, they’ve still been spoken, will be spoken and shared.
Jesus is risen from the dead.
These are the words that the apostles died with on their lips. These are the words that the martyrs sang as they were being burned at the stake and fed to the lions. These are the words that Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German martyr who opposed the Nazis and was forced into seclusion, taught his parishioners in the church he managed to hold.
These are the words that missionary Jim Elliot spoke as he and four others were put to the spear by the Auca Indian tribe in Ecuador. These are the words that Martin Luther King Jr. held fast to as he opposed the violent racism of our culture.
These are the words that Christians in Egypt, Syria and Africa are dying for by the thousands today. They are literally giving their very lives as account of the decree that Jesus is risen from the dead.
Are these words true? If they aren’t, Paul says to the Corinthians, “We are of all people most to be pitied.”
If they aren’t, then millions, maybe billions of people have gone to their graves unnecessarily. And millions, maybe billions more continue to live in the tombs of whatever darkness and despair overshadows them. If they are not, then we are doomed to very short and pointless lives, only to be defeated by the suffering that we continue to see all around us. To be defeated by death itself.
Of course, we hear all the time that Jesus’ resurrection cannot be proven, because nobody saw it; that it cannot be true, because people still suffer, they still die; that we cannot believe it, because it seems so utterly unbelievable.
To which we say: Jesus is risen from the dead.
How many lives have been transformed, starting with Mary Magdalene and her companions, falling to the ground in utter shock, upon hearing these six words? How could we possibly count the ways that billions of hearts have been “strangely warmed,” in the words of John Wesley, upon the understanding of these six words?
What could we possibly use to measure the impact that these six words have had upon the world; the ways in which forgiveness, joy, reconciliation, self-giving love have wrought miracles and abundance on the face of this earth in the time since we have first heard that Jesus is risen from the dead?
C.S. Lewis said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else.”
This is the story of our lives, the story of the life of the world, the story of life itself. The Son has risen, and he has shone the light of truth on and in our world. His story is how life is stronger than death, how God’s love for us is stronger than death. It is, in the end, the only story that there is.
And so, on Easter, we say these six words again: Jesus is risen from the dead.
Some questions to ponder.
How have or how will these words change your story?
What six words might they help you proclaim?
Where, in the essence of who you are, do you hear the call to new life—to come out of the tomb you’ve been self-quarantined in, the tomb of fear or the tomb of hopelessness or the tomb of dreams that have been lost or delayed?
Are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive?
How will you receive this news that has been handed from life to life, from heart to heart, from age to age, that is now handed again to you?
And how will these words change the world? What does our story still have to say to a world at war with a virus and perhaps on the brink of economic collapse, a culture at odds in just trying to define what ‘equality’ means. We live in a world full of people in pain—feeling lost and without hope. How will we be sure that they’ll hear our story of hope? To this we say: Jesus is risen from the dead.
Every day when we get up and put our feet on the floor, we need to remind ourselves of this life-changing six-word memoir. I submit that it is no less true today than it was on the first day. It is no less miraculous today than it was on the first day—no less shocking, no less joyful, no less important, no less life-changing and meaningful.
Jesus is risen from the dead.
This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes. Let’s run and tell others what we’ve heard.
Here’s another six for the people of Sanctuary to share today; Jesus is still on the loose. Let those words rise up in hallelujah.
This is the Word of the Lord for the day.