That is all I really need to say. But you know I am going to say more . . . . I want to say a few things about resurrection faith.
My first point is also the most obvious. We are here this morning to celebrate an amazing thing that happened nearly two thousand years ago. After dying on a cross and spending three days in a tomb, Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. Just pause with that for a minute.
Over forty days, the resurrected Jesus appeared to lots of people. According to our earliest source, Jesus appeared to Peter, then to the apostles as a group, then to more than five hundred people all at once, then to James, and one last time to the apostles (1 Cor 15:5-7). As the gospels tell the story, Jesus ate with his disciples several times. Jesus let at least one of them touch his wounds.
That is a remarkable story, and even two thousand years later, we may well struggle to wrap our minds around it. So it is no surprise that the first witnesses to Christ’s resurrection had a hard time making sense of it. Our gospel reading for this morning describes the first stage of their struggle to come to terms with the amazing thing that had happened right in front of them.
Luke tells us that the women at the empty tomb were initially perplexed. Then they were terrified. Finally, after angels explain what has happened, they remembered Christ’s own repeated promises. And still Luke does not report that they believed.
The male disciples did not do any better. They first dismissed the women’s story as an idle tale. They did not believe that the tomb was empty. Even after he verified that at least part of the story was true, Peter was amazed and not, it seems, in a particularly faithful way.
Faith, in the full sense of that word, resurrection faith, only came later for any of them. But, over time, the first generation of Christians accepted the fact that he who had been dead was, once again, alive.
We will follow that process of them coming to faith over the next few weeks. For this morning, it is enough to say that the tomb was empty and that even Jesus’ closest disciples struggled for a time to accept what had happened.
We may still sometimes struggle with what happened that day. But resurrection faith, Easter faith, begins with the story of an empty tomb two thousand years ago. Resurrection faith is firmly rooted in our past, in an historical event.
But, and this is important, Easter is not just a story about a remarkable event of ancient history. Resurrection faith is not just about something that happened long, long ago. Resurrection faith, Easter faith, the faith that brings us together this morning, is also about the future, about their future and also our future.
We see that future-oriented faith especially in our reading from The Apostle Paul. Paul proclaims his hope in Christ. Paul tells us that Christ is only the first person to be raised from the dead. Christ, Paul says, is a kind of “first fruits” of the resurrection. Someday, Paul promises, all will be made alive in Christ. Someday Christ will destroy death itself.
That hope for a better day, that hope for a future life, kept Paul going through some really hard times. That hope for a future resurrection has sustained Christian people through the centuries. Particularly when things seem almost hopeless, when senseless violence and tragedy and suffering threaten to beat us down, resurrection faith, Easter faith, can offer us something to hold onto, something to inspire us, something to help us persevere and to work for the better day and the better world that we know is coming.
But resurrection faith, Easter faith, is not limited to the future any more than it is limited to the past. Resurrection faith, the faith that stands at the heart of our service this morning, is significantly about the present, about what is possible right now, about an encounter with the living Christ.
The line in our gospel reading that strikes me most forcefully is the question the angels address to the women at the empty tomb. Why, they ask, do you look for the living among the dead? Why do you treat Jesus as a man of the past, as if he were gone, as if he were no longer relevant to your ongoing lives?
I suspect the angels would ask a similar question to anyone inclined to limit Jesus to a distant future or to a far-off heaven. Why, they might well ask, do you refuse to see the living and active Christ at work all around you? Why do you treat Jesus as a man of the future, as if he were not part of your life right now, as if he were not relevant to your ongoing life in all its modern complexities?
The claim that we make about Jesus Christ is not simply that he was dead and then he was alive again, as if the resurrection were merely a fact of history. The claim that we make about Jesus Christ is not simply that his resurrection will somehow enable us to rise again, as if the resurrection were merely a fact of the distant future.
The claim that we make about Jesus Christ, the real good news of Easter, the heart of resurrection faith, is that Christ is alive right now, that Christ is here with us right now, that Christ watches over us, and cares for us, and empowers us, and helps us, all right now.
I love the prayer with which we began our service this morning. We asked God to help us “live with [Christ] in the joy of his resurrection.” That is a prayer about today.
Resurrection faith, Easter faith, means that we can have an encounter with the living Christ, the Christ whom the tomb could not hold, the Christ who defeats death itself, the Christ who brings us new life, we can have an encounter with the resurrected Christ today, and every day.
We may well refuse to see the resurrected Christ around us and with us. Many is the day when we are too distracted, or too cranky, or too something to open our hearts and minds to Jesus. And yet, the good news of Easter is that Jesus Christ is alive and well, that Christ loves us with a passionate and even desperate love, that Christ continues to call to us and to invite us into new life with him.
Some days it seems like an idle tale. Some days it seems too good to be true. Some days we cannot remember Christ’s own words.
But on other days, we are filled with the sweetness of Christ. We are lifted up when we were down. We experience God with us in some mysterious way.
On this happy morning, we give thanks for those days. We give thanks for what Christ did for us so long ago. We give thanks for what Christ will do for us at some point in the distant future. But mostly we give thanks for what Christ is doing for us and with us right now. We give thanks for the joy of Christ’s resurrection and the chance to know the living God in Christ in our lives on this day and in this place.
Thanks be to God. Alleluia, alleluia! Amen.