Four Gospels – Easter 2016

Transcribed from the sermon preached March 27, 2016

The Reverend Max Lynn, Pastor

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 65:17-21, Acts 10:34-43

What if the Gospel isn’t true? What is at stake? Is the important question of the resurrection a question of what is empirically question of the resurrection a question of what is empirically verifiable? The Gospel is clearly a strange story that cannot be explained in the parameters of rational thought alone. Is that enough to keep us from believing? .
But let’s take a look at the evidence anyway. We have four accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Here is what they have in common in their account of Jesus death. They each tell an account of him sharing a last meal, of him being found guilty of blasphemy and sedition and therefore crucified by Rome, and then rising from the dead… though the earliest versions of Mark, the first Gospel written, ends with a missing body and a remembrance that Jesus said he would meet them in Galilee. The women said nothing, because they were afraid. But clearly they eventually said something, because we know. It is not still a secret.
Now all four Gospels have Mary Magdalene going to the grave in the morning. In John, Mary goes by herself, finds Jesus’ clothes wrapped up and folded, then meets Jesus, but thinks he is the gardener. Barbara Brown Taylor notes there must be a naked gardener running around somewhere. Mary says to Jesus dressed as the gardener, tell me where he is and I will go get him. Then Jesus calls her name and she recognizes him. Mark says it was Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, and Salome. Matthew says it was Mary Magdalene and the other Mary who went to the grave. Luke doesn’t say exactly which women went to the tomb but says it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary mother of James and other women who told the apostles. But the apostles doubted because it seemed like old wives tales. So Luke has the women going to check in and tell the other women first. Then they go wake the men up who promptly respond, No Way! You are all so crazy.
Then there are angels in the story, or angel like dudes. John has two angels in white sitting where Jesus’ body had been, Mark says it was a young man dressed in a white robe and sitting on the right side of the tomb, Luke says it was two men in shining white clothes, and Matthew says it was an angel of the Lord white as lightening that rolled back the stone, and then sat on it. After that hard work of busting Jesus out of the grave, the angel took a coffee break, and parked it on the stone.
Then later in Luke a couple of the guys are walking along and are joined by the risen Jesus. They walk and talk together from Jerusalem to Emmaus, (which is twelve kilometers); at four kilometers an hour that is three hours and they don’t recognize him. But they are strangely drawn to this guy and so they insist that he stay and eat. Then as he breaks bread to share with them, they recognize him.
So here are the facts. Jesus lived, spoke and embodied love, peace and justice. He healed the sick, opened blind eyes, washed feet and broke bread and threatened the state and religious authorities. He was crucified, buried, and after three days the body was missing. Then both women and men disciples began to recognize him as alive, but not in the same physical form he was right before death.
What we get from the accounts of the resurrection is a lot of running around, excitement, panic, fear, dudes dressed in white hanging out here or there, a missing body, women telling stories, people doubting the story, and Jesus showing up in resurrected forms not easily recognizable by those who knew him best. Nevertheless the resurrected Jesus transforms lives, first a few, then hundreds then millions. It is not enough to convince a jury. Or is it? Perhaps it depends who the jury is? And maybe the pivotal question is not is it verifiably true, but what does it mean? Why do we need it to be true? Maybe if there is a God of love, it must be love.
If we weigh the rational evidence, kindness and honesty, love and non-violence will get us killed. In this world it is fight, cheat, lie, steal and kill to survive, or don’t survive. He who dies with the most toys wins. The cross was a weapon of terror and intimidation. The cross was Rome’s way of saying, “Don’t forget. We are more powerful than you. We control your life and death.” And to any rational mind, it was fact. It was empirically verifiable. The cross was evidence. Beaten, battered, bruised, bloody evidence. No God for the poor or oppressed. No hope for the weak. No breath for the truthful. No life for the loving. Here is your evidence, hanging on the cross. But one dude has a vision that sacrificial love is more powerful than torture and death.
Now look. How could it be? It is a miracle. Absolutely a miracle that this symbol which came into being as an instrument of torture and intimidation, of imperial power, violence and death, has now been transformed into a symbol the new life and freedom, a symbol of forgiveness and redemption.
If nobody is willing to risk suffering and death to keep truth and love alive, then when death is a risk, hope and truth will not live. This is why Jesus, the son of God had to be human, incarnate, in the flesh. This is why he went to the cross. This is why he lives. What can he prove if he risks nothing? What good would it do for a God who knows nothing of suffering to tell us to be faithful in suffering? What good would it do for a God who sees and knows everything to tell us to be faithful while we are finite and blind of so much? The resurrection tells us that even in our finite bodies, God’s love is eternal. Resurrection says that what we do with our lives and our bodies now matters. Each act of kindness, each creation of beauty, each word of truth matters even when it appears not to. Love is the most powerful force in the world even and especially when it appears weak.
Cornell West in Democracy Matters writes, “To be Christian is to live dangerously, honestly, freely – to step out in the name of love as if you may land on nothing, and to keep on stepping because the something that sustains you no empire can give you and no empire can take away.”

Jesus Christ is risen. So where is he? How do we recognize him? Well he is not on the cross, not in the grave. No bother looking for the living among the dead. Note how he is spotted and recognized. Mary is grieving and he has compassion and calls her name. Then he is with the disciples and asks them, “Do you have something to eat. Do you have some fish? He kisses them. He is not exactly looking as he did before he died, but he is recognized in the physical connection – in the intimacy of breaking bread and washing feet. So we are not talking about a disembodied Ghost, somebody concerned with evacuating people from this world.
We recognize him hear in the mix of life, amidst the aches and pains, sharing meals, blessing, comforting, forgiving. Rob Bell says of Easter, the big story is not that we all abandon this place. The story is God has not abandoned this place.

So if you come in this morning feeling pressed down, stuck, trapped in a body and mind with wounds, worried about the escalation of violence and hate, hear this: Jesus Christ is risen. Jesus Christ is alive. If you fear you are a lost cause, buried the tomb of your own sin, Jesus says, “No – I forgive you. Get up and come out, there is a new life for you – and together let’s eat and change the world”.