I asked a friend this week, what do you want for Easter?
What would you like Easter to do for you?
She paused and pondered a bit, and then she answered, “I want to know that God is real. If Easter could do that for me, that would be fantastic.”
Now, this friend is a Christian. She is someone with deep belief and conviction, and believing in God is not what she meant. I want to know it, she said, to live like it is true. “I believe that it’s true; I want to trust that it’s true.”
We are all about belief in our rational, scientific modern world. When Easter rolls around we get to this moment which is super central to our Christian faith, and we immediately engage our heads- what does this mean? How does God save us? Why do we need saving? What exactly do we believe?
And I suspect we come to church on Easter and this belief thing is kind of the elephant in the room. We are here because we do believe, very passionately, or we come because we love someone who believes and who wants us to be with them on Easter, so we sit here aware that we don’t really believe but maybe we used to, or we want to, or we feel a little sorry for those who still need to.
Some of us bring decades of church baggage interpreting all of this in helpful, but more often unhelpful ways, so we sit here kind of believing, and filtering out the things we don’t really believe, and it becomes almost entirely an intellectual exercise or a cultural tradition, with things that are fun to sing about, perhaps, but so far away from our real selves and real lives.
In church we remember Jesus and talk about belief in Jesus or being like Jesus, or what his resurrection means. We ask what Jesus would do and try to do that, and study what Jesus said and try to obey that. We like the idea that he was raised from the dead but, to be honest, we often act as though he is still dead.
I saw a church advertise yesterday, “Tomorrow we will gather around the empty tomb…” and I thought, it’s true, isn’t it? All over the world we will gather around the empty tomb and we will commemorate Jesus’ resurrection and we will celebrate that he was no longer dead, and we will talk about what it means and how it defeats death and changes things and try not to think too hard about the things that feel the same, or the ways death seems just as powerful as ever.
But in all the different gospels’ telling of Easter day, not one of them has any people gathering around the empty tomb. In Matthew the angel shows up in cinematic drama and moves the stone aside from the already empty tomb, not for Jesus to get out – that’s already happened, but for the women to look in, just to show them – see? Come closer and look. He’s not here, got it? There’s nothing to see here. Don’t linger here. This isn’t’ the point. He’s already gone. He’s alive, just like he said would be. Now go. Quickly. Go where he will be and find him there.
There is no – “Come venerate the empty tomb, resurrection is where it’s at,” there’s no, “go back to Jerusalem to the center of power and the Temple and we’ll take up the cause of transforming religion.” There is no answering back the rapidly spreading lies that his followers stole the body, no defending what really is happening or avenging his reputation or making sure people are believing the right thing about him.
Instead he shows up briefly and greets them and then says, meet me in Galilee, which, as my insightful friend noted, is like saying, Meet me in Saint Louis Park.
Go to the ordinary place where we first hung out: the diner where we were introduced, Go to the parking lot of the Dairy Queen off the freeway where we exchanged cars that one time, and I’ll be waiting for you there.
If I could hit a button and adjust our English translations of the bible to make them more truly read what they actually mean, I would run a “find and replace” to change every place where it says “Believe” into “Trust”. Believe – as an intellectual agreement – something that happens above the neck, is a Latin idea, not there in the original texts. The Greek word most often used is pistis, faith, which means trust – it’s an action, a gut reality, that actually means “to be persuaded by God.”
You can’t manufacture trust or fill up on it before you act. The only way to trust is to trust. To act as though it is real, so that in acting on it, it can become real. Trust, faith, is a gift from God, grown inside you by God, and replenished by God. It’s not mustered up from fiercely clung to certainty, but born gently and continually from open-hearted, vulnerable risking to step into what you long for.
For Easter, my friend wanted to trust that God is real. My friend wanted to live as one persuaded by the Holy One that Jesus is with us right now.
Jesus didn’t ask the disciples to believe he’d been raised, he asked them to meet him.
I don’t expect any of you to believe in resurrection today. I don’t expect you to believe in God, even. I expect God to meet us.
I expect us to experience resurrection in our own lives.
Can you hear the difference?
In every single resurrection account in all of scripture not one person believed it, even those who saw the empty tomb or talked to him face to face didn’t believe. It was not until they experienced him, until he met them and they met him – in their doubt and disbelief, in their fear and their joy, in the total reality of whatever they were in at the moment – it wasn’t until they went to Galilee, or watched him break bread, or touched his wounded side, or heard him say their name, or felt their hearts burning within them at his words, that they knew, trusted, in that deep, gut reality, life action kind of way, that Jesus was indeed alive. And then resurrection was just a part of the story, it was just the way God did it, the means by which the living Jesus is here with us.
Because resurrection is not an idea or a belief. It’s what comes after death. It’s the new life that comes after we’ve let go. It’s the hope that is born from a place of loss and despair. It’s when tragedy is shot through with overwhelming love and inexplicable peace, when patient grieving abates and washes away and something new and unexpected wakes up and yearns to be born in us. It’s when you find that fear’s hold on you has been broken and you are free. It’s when you find yourself able to love, able to reach out and be with and for another despite all the risks of heartbreak or failure. It’s life, life, life. They believed he was dead. And then he met them, alive, and they too were resurrected.
God came into all of it, completely, everything that defeats us and breaks us and kills us, God came into that, and was defeated and broken, and killed, and buried in a tomb. And it was all over.
Until an angel that looked like lightening shook the earth and terrified the guards into unconsciousness and announced to the grieving followers that Jesus was no longer dead, but out there in the world, alive, looking for us to join him in resurrection life, in enduring, unquenchable, not to be stopped by anything, life.
And with the risen Jesus right there in it with us, the end of the story is decided: and there is no death so great that life is not greater, no evil so powerful that love will not prevail. And Jesus keeps on moving, keeps on calling us to life, alongside God and others, keeps on sending us into the world, into our lives, to find Jesus there.
Even when there is the scary broken relationship, or the internal beckoning we’re hesitant to follow because we know it will change us, or the boring, familiar, ordinary routine. Even when there is the thing we most fear facing and spend our energy avoiding. Jesus, whom death could not contain, the very resurrection and life himself, has already gone there ahead of us to our own Galilees and is waiting to meet us in the place where trust grows.
My friend who wants to know God is real - if she were sitting here today, I would feel pressure perhaps, at first, to convince her with my eloquence or my sound doctrine or my compelling arguments that God is indeed real. To point to the empty tomb and wax eloquent on the meaning of the cross and give her some killer quotes from smart folks and great reasons for belief. But likely that would do nothing for her. It would engage her in an intellectual exercise that might helpfully interpret things, but not really change things.
But if I were brave, what I would say to her, to all of us, is this: There is not a thing I or anybody else can say that can make you know that God is real. God has to do that.
If you really want to know that God is real, invite God to persuade you. Expect to be met, try out trusting. It’s going to feel different than believing – it’s going to happen less inside you and more between you, around you, through you; it will be centered less in your head and more in your hands and your heart, and it will change you.
Don’t be afraid, I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified – but he is not here. He is alive, out there in the world, wreaking resurrection all over the place. So go to your Galilee; and there you will see him.
"If you really want to know that God is real, invite God to persuade you. Expect to be met, try out trusting." -- Ok, will do! This was yet another God-soaked sermon!
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