SERMON for April 29, 2012
Gospel: St. John 16:16-22
Some twelve years ago in April of 2000, there was a car crash somewhere in Japan, and a man died in the accident. The police arrived on the scene and examined the body. Witnesses said they recognized the car and although the body was disfigured claimed they knew the dead man. They said he was a 60 year old local shipbuilder. The man’s family was duly notified and a brother-in-law came to identify the body. “Yes”, he said, “That is him. That is my brother-in-law.” He took this tragic news back to the family. Calls were made. The family quickly gathered at the home of the widow. They were all immersed in mourning, weeping, embracing each other, sharing memories, making funeral plans, when the front door opened and in walked the 60 year old local shipbuilder. The man had come home from a hard day’s work and was wondering why all the relatives were at his house. What had he forgotten?
Now this was not a resurrection but it was a misidentification. The man at the car crash was not the man they thought he was, so the family called the police and told them to start their identification process over again, because the “dead man” had just walked into their living room.
Just for a moment today pretend you are in that living room to see the change that came over that family when they realized that their loved one was not dead; tears changing to smiles, devastation becomes elation, mourning becomes dancing. Death had been defeated. But in reality, death had not been defeated; it had just been misplaced. Their joy meant some other family’s sorrow, and the local shipbuilder will someday succumb to the power of death.
I am sure you remember when the movie, “The Passion of Christ” first aired. Some people commented that the movie was not uplifting, that it was depressing. A little bit like sitting with that family in that living room while they thought the man was dead would have been more depressing than uplifting. The narrow scope of that movie is just Jesus’ brutal, lonely march to death. And if you think that was hard for you to watch, imagine that you were Mary, the mother of Jesus, or one of the disciples. Mary gave birth to this man, the disciples loved this man, they were all convinced that he was the Messiah, the One the prophets had said would come to rescue Israel from the hand of her oppressors and usher in the kingdom of God. He was their righteous king. The one who would not rule with an iron fist, nor with a self-serving hypocrisy. He would shepherd Israel with love, goodness, and the power of God. All the miraculous healings pointed to the healing they were certain he would bring to the entire nation. The amazing truths he proclaimed and taught pointed to the wisdom that he would rule as the next David, the just and powerful king. His hand-picked followers would be generals in his Holy army and advisors in His ruling council.
THEN, death! Maybe a half day after being arrested, without putting up a fight, or speaking in his own defense, he is hanging on a cross, buried in a tomb, this Jesus had failed as the promised Messiah. He had failed his followers, most of them having run away when He needed them most. Here we have Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, dead. HOPE went to the grave with Him. Their future was lost, their courage gone, and they cowered in a locked room by themselves – way beyond mourning, in utter desolation.
WHAT had they forgotten? Jesus’ own words: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born unto the world. And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.”
That movie gave only the briefest glimpse of the resurrection of Jesus, where in the Bible it is the most crucial event. It is the turning point of the lives of those first followers and the event the catapulted faith in Jesus beyond that small circle to the entire world.
Going back for a moment to that shipbuilder and his family, they must have been overjoyed when he walked through that door. So also the disciples when they realized that Jesus was alive. A joy that no one would ever take away from them. When Jesus walked out of that tomb the structure of the world was fundamentally changed. The meaning of life and its ultimate outcome were recalibrated in a way that leaves not only the original disciples, but all of us, with a joy that no person or event can ever take away.
Jesus’ resurrection can be captured in two statements that He made:
- “I am with you always.” In Matthew 28:20 He promised: “I am with you always, even to the very end of the age.” Because He is alive, we are not alone, we have the Son of God as our partner in life, every step of the way.
A man not so long ago went on vacation to the Holy Lands with his wife and her mother. While they were in Israel, the mother-in-law died of a heart attack. So the couple went to the local undertaker, who explained that they could either ship the body back to the U.S. which would cost app. $7,000.00 or they could bury her right there in the Holy Land for about $500.00. The man said, “We’ll ship her home.” Now surprised at this, the undertaker responded, “Are you sure? That’s an awfully big expense, and we could do a very nice burial here.” The man said, “Look, some 2,000 years ago they buried a guy here and three days later He rose from the dead. I just can’t take that chance!”
The moral here: We can all go through life with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as our partner, our companion, our mentor, our daily instructor in how to live. There have been many great spiritual and ethical teachers throughout history: Socrates, Confucius, Buddha, Muhammad, the one thing they all have in common is they are all dead. Their followers can read their ideas and try to implement them, but they cannot actually have these teachers as their companions.
Jesus is alive! He rose from the dead! Which means he can be with us every step of the way. Remember our gospel reading for today?
I also found another story to illustrate this point, written by a retired Episcopal Bishop, William Frey. He tells this: When I was a younger man, I volunteered to read to a student named John, who was blind. One day I asked him, “How did you lose your sight?” He responded, “A chemical explosion, I was thirteen.” I asked him, “How did that make you feel?” “My life was over, I felt helpless, I hated God. For the first six months I did nothing. I ate my meals alone in my room. One day my father came into my room and said: “John, winter is coming and the storm windows need to be put up – that is your job. I want those hung by the time I get home this evening or else!”
He turned, walked out of the room, and slammed the door. I was so angry. “Who does he think I am? I am blind!” I was so very angry, that I decided to do it.. I felt my way to the garage, found the windows, located the tools, found the ladder, all the while muttering under my breath, “I’ll show him. I’ll fall, then they will have a blind, paralyzed son!” He continued, he got the windows up. Later I found out that my father never left my side, he was never more than four or five feet away from me.
So whatever you go through, wherever you are, whatever task God calls us to undertake, whatever trial we have to endure, whatever delights we enjoy, or heartbreaks we suffer, Jesus is alive, he is always at our side. “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
- Also remember this statement: “Because I live, you also will live.” Jesus is our living partner, our friend, our companion. In this statement Jesus is pointing beyond this life to the one that never ends. He is like Captain Kirk. When he rose from the dead to live everlasting, He went where no man had gone before. No one had ever died and then been raised up never to die again. This is Jesus blazing a trail that we all can follow.
If we check history, during the Middle Ages, we find that people speculated about the possibility of a sea route from Europe to India around the southern tip of Africa. This could not be done because of the storms at the point where the Atlantic and Indian oceans met. There existed violent weather conditions at that point and it was so called the Cape of Storms. However, in the sixteenth century, a Portuguese explorer, Vasco De Gama, successfully rounded the Cape of Storms and found beyond those violent waters a great calm sea and beyond that India. No more could people doubt that such a route could be taken and the name of that point was changed to the Cape of Good Hope.
Just as death was sure at the Cape of Storms, the point at which all the hopes of life would be dashed, until Jesus rounded that cape and returned to life. We now see death as the Cape of Good Hope, as the passageway into an infinitely superior life. At His resurrection, Jesus led the way from death to life. If we follow this path, when we round the cape of death, we will come out on the spectacular sea of life everlasting. Jesus rose from the dead to build a heaven for us, a forever home made just right for us. Because He lives, we can live with Him forever in the place of our dreams, designed for us by the one who designed us before the world began.
There is something even more wonderful to this promise of Jesus that we don’t often notice. Remember the words, “Let not your heart be troubled?” This promise of beautiful hope comes right on the heels of His prediction of ugly failure. Remember, “Peter, you are going to fail me miserably. Far from being the brave warrior you envision yourself to be, you will be a coward, intimidated by servant girls into denying that you even know me. BUT do not be troubled. Despite that, I love you and will go make a perfect home that we will share forever. You will disown me, but I will never disown you.”
Like Peter, all of us have failed Jesus. We have all grown fearful of people and lost our nerve, misplaced our priorities. We have all disappointed Jesus. But His promise is not based on our perfection, but His victory. Through His suffering and death, Jesus paid the price for our wrongdoing, defeating sin. Then by rising from the dead, Jesus dealt a death-blow to death. These two great human enemies: sin and the grave. Through the cross and resurrection, Jesus defeated both of them. So now there is nothing to stop us from living forever in His heavenly mansions, for he offers us forgiveness of sin as a gift we did not deserve nor earn, and He leads the way to life beyond the grave.
Winston Churchill planned his own funeral, which took place in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. He included many of the great hymns of the church and used the eloquent Anglican liturgy. At his direction, a bugler, positioned high in the dome of St. Paul’s, after the benediction intoned the haunting melody of Taps. The melancholy air gave the universal signal that Churchill’s day had come to an end. BUT then as soon as Taps had ended, Churchill had instructed another bugler, placed on the other side of the dome, to play Reveille: (It’s time to get up in the morning.) That was Churchill’s testimony that the last note of his time on earth was not Taps, a final end, but Reveille, a new beginning.
Most of us have witnessed Taps being played – the awful hours that led to that final moment in which darkness fell, Jesus died, and Taps moaned for all humanity. That was not, however, the last note. Then came Easter Sunday Morning, the bugle rang out with a new strain, Reveille. Time for Jesus to get up, step out of that tomb, and stride into the morning of eternity.
Surely Taps will sound for us someday. And that same bugler that trumpeted Reveille for Jesus on that resurrection morning will play for us as well. Death will not be the final twilight, but a new and vastly more glorious morning. Will that new morning dawn for us? It becomes ours when we follow Jesus from death to life. SO THE QUESTION IS: HAVE YOU, BY FAITH, PUT YOUR LIFE ON HIS PATH?