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Early morning, before the sun’s bright rays had peeked over the Mount of Olives. A grieving woman or three faithful women. Disciples trembling in fear behind locked doors. A man or two angels in white. An otherwise empty tomb. A shroud. Doubt and disbelief. Running and more running. More confusion and disbelief. More fear. More hiding. More grief. Weeping. Encounter. Revelation. Joy. Proclamation.
Most of us know this story—at least the surprise element. Some of us know all the various versions and their discordant details. We know this undeniably human, utterly mysterious, and, frankly, kind of hard-to-believe story. And yet still we keep telling it.
Why is that? Why do we make such a big deal of it? Why do we care whether Jesus rose from the dead—and what difference does it make? Why have we come here today to hear this old, old story one more time?
We each have our own reasons, I suppose, as well as some causes we cannot name, some inner longings we may not even recognize. Still, there is no shortage of explanations.
Why do we keep telling this story? Why does it matter?
Because crucifixions are not a thing of the past; they still happen all around us, every day.
Because Parkland—and Sutherland Springs, Las Vegas, Mother Emmanuel, Newtown, and too many more to name.
Because Charlottesville, because Stephon Clark, because Alton Sterling, because 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down we still struggle to prove that black lives matter.
Because every woman of a certain age, and many girls besides, can say #MeToo.
Because closed borders, because detentions, because deportations and family separations. Because Every. Day.
Because bigger storms and rising seas. Because rolled-back regulations.
Because Syria. Because Israel-Palestine. Because North Korea.
Because division, because nastiness, because fake news and hacked data, lying leaders and politicized information streams.
Because sometimes we hardly recognize this country we love. Because other times wonder if it has always been this way.
Because more bad news. Every. Day.
Because evil, without and within.
Because we or someone we love had a close call this past year, and for a while there we weren’t sure if they were going to make it.
Because our dear brother Lucio Perez, his wife, Dora, and their four children—Edvyn, Tony, Jordan, and Lucy—live suspended between life and death, home and deportation, Springfield and a crowded room in a church basement, not knowing what the future will bring or where they will live it out.
Because the world is littered with tombs. Because our lives are full of them, too—the places where we have buried our battered hopes, our shattered dreams, our unfilled longings, and, sometimes, our truest selves.
Because everything happens—often for no reason at all.
Because we are afraid there won’t be enough money.
Because sometimes we lie awake at night worrying about what will become of our lives and our children’s lives.
Because we’re desperate to believe we can make a difference, that right will ultimately prevail.
Because our relationship is strained. Because we don’t have a relationship.
Because we are tired. Because we are scared.
Why do we keep telling this story?
Because, as one preacher has said, there is no greater distance than that between the head and the heart. Because the head sometimes blocks the door to the heart—and the heart is where we really want to be.
And so we tell and re-tell stories. We tell them to people we love, we listen to them with people we love. We tell them a little differently each time, always marveling at their capacity to nurture old love and sow the seeds of new affection.
But why this story?
Because there is a Light no darkness can overcome.
Because the tombs of this world, and the people living in them, need us to show up. Because when we do—when we walk with the left-for-dead and work alongside them, when we share their suffering, when we give of what we have, when we pray, when we march, when we come together, when we love—there is no telling what will happen.
Because God loves us enough to become one of us, to walk with us, to suffer with us, and eve to die as we do.
Because, thanks be to God, new life is possible.
Because we get comfortable in our dead and isolated places, and sometimes need a nudge to move, permission to let go of our skepticism, encouragement to weep for the brokenness of the world, courage to open our hearts, and imagination to consider the unbelievable.
Because we are hungry for hope, thirsty for love, and aching to know we are not traveling this journey alone.
Because we long to be awakened to the wonders of this world, the luminousness of this life, the magic of this moment.
Because as much as we think the faithful life is about following in the Jesus way, as much as we think it’s about being good, Jesus longs to meet us where we are. Jesus loves us as we are.
Because we never know when or where or how the Risen Christ will show up—or what he will look like.
Because the God who created us, the God who has loved us since before we were born, calls each of us by name, and we need to listen for it.
Because even now—in our high-tech, hyper-organized, overly-militarized world—there is nothing more powerful than love.
Because love is stronger even than death.
Because we want to believe.
For all these reasons and more, we keep coming around to hear this story. But why here? Why now?
Because we need each other.
Because as much as we long to come out of our own tombs, to know the fullness of life, we need someone to roll away the stone. We need someone to love us through the tough times.
Because love is what made us and love is what keeps us alive, body and soul. And we need a place, we need a people, who will, in their imperfect ways, love us when we feel unlovable, forgive us with a love that is not their own, and rejoice in us when we come home.
Because in this world of pain and death we need regular access to beauty, to hope, to community, to the best of the human spirit, to shining examples of God’s ongoing life among us.
There is a room below us here, on the first floor of this building. Until one evening last October it was just a room, a meeting place, and it sat empty most of the time. But there was a godly man among us facing the torture of deportation and the crucifixion of permanent separation from his family. So we invited him to live in that humble room while we continued to struggle for his right to stay with his family.
That room was, you might say, a tomb. A refuge, yes, but also a cell. A place apart from family and freedom, work and independence. A life reduced to four walls.
But by God’s grace and our love that room has become, for Lucio and his family, a home. It has been transformed. Where once there were no beds, now there are two. There are family photos and food and clothes, a card table and chairs, a rocking chair where Lucio sits and prays and reads his Spanish-language Bible. And on those evenings when Lucio’s children visit, on the days when Dora is here, laughter and love and family mix with the tears in that place.
Next door to Lucio’s room there is another room, a former office. It is the place where, every hour of every day, someone sits or sleeps, watches and waits with Lucio, for Lucio. Someone who, just a few months ago, did not know Lucio or his family. Some of those who accompany Lucio for a few hours at a time are old; some are young; most of them came to the task worried and scared, not knowing what to do but wanting to help. They come from all over this valley, and they have risen to the challenge; they have been born anew. And almost every day, someone from one of 14 different faith communities walks through the door with food and fellowship.
Because Lucio’s faith has given us courage. Because God’s love is made real in the actions of her people. Because loving and caring for another, showing up at this tomb in our midst, has brought us all to new life.
Because even in the midst of very real suffering and threatened death, there is resurrection. There is love. There is hope. There is a new and beautiful community.
What difference does it make whether Jesus rose from the dead?
Well, that question is yours to answer.
But I will tell you this: On that dark Sunday morning so long ago, the women expected to find Jesus’ body. They fully expected their dead savior to stay dead. They didn’t know from life beyond death, victory after defeat, transforming love.
But we do. We know the wonders God’s love can work. And so we do not give up. We do not let the forces of death deter us. We do not stop singing. We do not stop loving. We do not stop following Jesus. We do not give up on each other. We will stand at the door of the tomb or the gates of hell for as long as it takes.
Because God’s love in us.
Because God’s new life in us.
Because the world will never be the same.