Well, this is the big day - a day for trumpets and timpani, beautiful dresses and colorful hats, and yes, flowers galore. This is the day when even those who love to play golf or read the newspaper on Sunday morning make their way to church. For clergy, it's like the Super Bowl - a full church, a great big choir, and a sea of smiling faces. Unless of course, there's a pandemic.
Nevertheless, we soldier on because this is the day when we lift up Christianity's biggest claim, its deepest truth, its most profound mystery. And it's more important than ever to share this message of hope after such a challenging year - the Easter truth that God broke through the glass ceiling of death to offer the gift of eternal life. Heaven is a reality for those who yoke their lives to Jesus. Not universal salvation, the belief that everyone goes to heaven just for being born, but the belief that those who have accepted Jesus and practice his way of love, respecting the dignity of every human being, will pass through death into a realm of unending love and joy that we call heaven.
Years ago, a young man exiting church on this day turned and said to me, "You've got to love everything about Easter, even if it's just a fairytale." I suspect that some folks will always doubt the Easter truth. For some of them, it will always be fake news or misinformation. They may think of Jesus as a great philosopher, a master teacher, or the founder of a new religion. But resurrection to eternal life? Well, they think that's just wishful thinking. They find it easier to accept a Good Friday world, where marriages break up, addictions are rampant, and folks - even good folks - die of horrible diseases, than to accept the reality of Easter.
I can sympathize with them. There is, after all, so much bad news - stories about violent crime, political divisions, barbarians masquerading as "patriots" storming our Capitol, and millions of people dead from COVID. So, we wonder, "Where is the God of Easter when tsunamis, tornados, or acts of terrorism occur? Sometimes it seems like we inhabit a Good Friday world.
But the Bible speaks of something different. It notes that what happened on that first Easter was utterly shocking. Disorientation, darkness, confusion, fear, and uncertainty arose; Mark tells us that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome came to the tomb to see and anoint the body of Jesus, whom they loved. As they approached the tomb, they looked up and saw that the stone, a huge, round stone, which must have weighed a thousand pounds, set like a coin on its side, had been rolled away.
On the way to the tomb, they must have been asking themselves, "How will we roll away the stone?" Only Mark mentions this worry. Yet, this is 2021, and we still share the women's worry. I suspect that each of you is worried about some immovable stone in your life - a stone that blocks your way and keeps you from living the kind of life you feel called to live. The stone blocks you from reaching your goal.
For some of us it's a weakness. We don't take care of our body the way that we should. We fail to exercise or eat the wrong things, and we know that we shouldn't, but we're weak and we give in. For some, the stone is a moral matter. We're doing something wrong, and we know that we shouldn't be doing it. Our conscience stings. We feel it, think about it, worry about it, but we still haven't stopped doing it.
For others, the stone is something that has already occurred in our life. An irreversible, physical and permanent stone has been rolled across our path. We have had a heart attack or received a bad diagnosis, or our stamina and energy or our memory and thinking are not what they used to be. It's reminded us of our mortality and shapes how we see everything. That stone blocks our way, and it prevents us from leading the kind of life that we want to live.
Well, you may not have a stone like that, and I hope that you don't, but every one of us has something that we can't seem to get rid of or roll away in our life. It's like a tombstone. It blocks us from the kind of life that we dream of living. If you pay attention to the stones in your life, and every one of us has at least one, then you can sympathize with the women who went to visit Jesus' tomb, feeling weak and helpless, and wondering, "Who will roll away that stone?"
Mark says that when they looked up, "They saw that the stone had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. But he said to them, 'Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.'" You see, the tomb was empty. Jesus had been raised up. There in the half-light of that early morning, something incredible and completely unexpected had taken place. And that, my friends, is the power of Easter.
The Swiss theologian Karl Barth said that the Good News of God has one word written on every page - the word "nevertheless." In a world where evil and suffering occur, God says, "nevertheless," because God can bring forth something good from everything evil or bad.
Pharaoh and the Egyptians had oppressed and horrifically mistreated the Hebrew slaves. Nevertheless, God raised up Moses, who helped to set the Hebrews free. Mary was still a virgin, but God said, "Nevertheless, you shall bear my son and his name shall be called Emmanuel - God with us." A crippled man sat for 20 years beside a pool of Siloam famous for its healing waters, but he remained crippled. Nevertheless, Jesus said, "Get up and walk," and he took his first steps and was healed.
A crowd of five thousand gathered to hear Jesus preach. They were terribly hungry and Jesus had only five loaves and two fish. Nevertheless, he multiplied them and everyone was fed. A woman who suffered from a blood flow for three decades nevertheless touched the hem of Jesus' garment and was instantly healed. Lazarus lay in a tomb for three days. His corpse was rotting. Nevertheless, Jesus cried, "Lazarus, come out." The dead man rose, walked out of the tomb and lived. Peter denied Jesus three times before his crucifixion. Nevertheless, Jesus forgave him and invited him to lead the Church. Saul persecuted and killed Christians. Nevertheless, God transformed him into a great leader, renamed him "Paul," and made him a fabulous theologian.
It's happened all through history. Our grandparents thought that polio and the measles would last forever. Nevertheless, vaccines were developed, and these diseases are virtually history. The Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union seemed solid as stone. Nevertheless, they crumbled and fell. A teacher wrote that a certain student wasn't smart. He never applied himself and had no future. Nevertheless, Winston Churchill grew up and went on to change the course of history.
Perhaps, you've had some "nevertheless moments" in your own life. You've had a stone blocking you from having the kind of life that you longed to lead. Then, it was removed. You thought that your only choice was to get a divorce or to live in a lifeless marriage forever. But then your marriage turned around and began to flourish. Your 12-year-old son was diagnosed with a tumor, and you thought that he would die. But the stone was moved, and now your son is 42 and practicing law. You were infertile for over a decade and there was a stone blocking you from the joy of being a parent. Then the stone was rolled away. You got pregnant and had twins. You see, God writes "nevertheless" across the dead-end chapters of our lives.
Climate change now threatens life on our planet. Nevertheless, God's followers are working to turn things around. Gun violence proliferates across our country. Nevertheless, God's ambassadors are working to ensure that our streets will become safer. George Floyd was killed in broad daylight. Nevertheless, God's servants are striving to bring about justice and equality. The gap between the rich and the poor has never been greater. Nevertheless, God's followers are working to bridge the gap. As Christians, we are called to help roll away the stones and bring about God's great "nevertheless" into the lives of those around us.
The Resurrection is an outrageous assault on our shrunken worldviews. It's a full-frontal attack on our Good Friday outlook when God dreams for us to have an Easter reality. If God raised Jesus from the dead, if the tomb was empty, if the angel said that he is not here, and if the disciples saw him alive once again, then surely God can roll away whatever seems immovable in your life. That means that no loss, no illness, no failure or terrible mistake will block your life forever. For God, the great alchemist, can turn the nothingness of death into a victory of eternal life.
God's answer to whatever threatens, imperils, or ails us, is to write "nevertheless" over our lives and to move the immovable stones that are blocking us from living the kind of life that God is calling us to lead. It is written on every page of the Bible and into each chapter of our lives when we invite Jesus into our lives. Easter reminds us that evil never has the final word. The worst things are never the final things. The best is yet to be.
So, watch, wait in half-light of the early morning this Easter Day. Jesus is stirring, reminding us that no matter what dead-ends we face, there is reason to hope, because life is changed, not ended.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.
Let us pray.
O gracious God, you remind us this day that no matter what obstacle stands in our way, however heavy or large, you can roll that away and allow us to move forward into the life that you have called us to lead, as you write "nevertheless" over each chapter of our life and transform our lives into an Easter reality. Amen.