The Triumph of Grace 3/31/13 Easter Sunday

“Why are you looking for the Living One in a cemetery?,” the angels ask the women. The women run to the other disciples, the apostles and tell them what they’ve seen and been told. The apostles didn’t believe a word the women were saying. They thought the women were making it all up. How do you know? Who do you trust? I’m telling you today, “Christ is risen!” I get you to answer, at least for today, “Christ is risen indeed.” Some us just say “Christ is risen!” because we’re supposed to. Some say “Christ is risen!” because it kind of makes sense, and that’s what we were taught. Many of us say, “Christ is risen!” because we’ve experienced it. I want to help you say it more authentically this morning as you realize that you too have experienced Christ’s resurrection.

Luke 24:1-12 Looking for the Living One in a Cemetery
At the crack of dawn on Sunday, the women came to the tomb carrying the burial spices they had prepared. They found the entrance stone rolled back from the tomb, so they walked in. But once inside, they couldn’t find the body of the Master Jesus. 4-8 They were puzzled, wondering what to make of this. Then, out of nowhere it seemed, two men, light cascading over them, stood there. The women were awestruck and bowed down in worship. The men said, “Why are you looking for the Living One in a cemetery? He is not here, but raised up. Remember how he told you when you were still back in Galilee that he had to be handed over to sinners, be killed on a cross, and in three days rise up?” Then they remembered Jesus’ words. 9-11 They left the tomb and broke the news of all this to the Eleven and the rest. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them kept telling these things to the apostles, but the apostles didn’t believe a word of it, thought they were making it all up. 12 But Peter jumped to his feet and ran to the tomb. He stooped to look in and saw a few grave clothes, that’s all. He walked away puzzled, shaking his head.

March 31, Easter, 2013

The Triumph of Grace

In one of our Lenten Bible studies on forgiveness I asked people to think about a time when they have experienced forgiveness. I ask you again today to think about such a time. Think about a time when you messed up, when you felt lousy about yourself because you knew you did not quite do right. Things did not go the way you planned – or worse. they went the way you planned, but your plan was a really bad idea. Maybe you got in trouble. Maybe you got away with it. Maybe you got other people in trouble. Maybe you still have not figured out how to reconcile with yourself or with someone in your life.
In the Bible study, I told a story that I want to tell again this morning, because it was a time of dramatic forgiveness for me.
Eight years ago I took a sabbatical from St. Luke and my wife and I took our 9 year old son with us to Nigeria. We planned to stay for 3 months, which immediately seemed like a long time when we got to the very hot country to spend the summer. I became assistant pastor to Rev. Alexander Sabo at the United Methodist Church in Jos, Nigeria. I started teaching a course at the local seminary. I was welcomed with gifts and graciousness and generosity.
Only 2 weeks after I got there some people were killed in a fight of some kind in another part of the country. The fight was between factions in a United Methodist Church. My hosts asked me to advocate for them with church officials I knew back in the US. I gladly wrote e-mails trying to do everything I could to help my new friends who had been so generous to me. I totally forgot at the moment what I had been told about not getting involved in internal disputes in the country. I totally forgot because I wanted to help. I wanted to be some kind of savior to them in a hard situation.
What to me was trying to be helpful, some people saw as taking sides. My friends back here in the states were very upset with me, and decided my family and I could be in danger if there were more disputes and violence. My family and I could be targeted because of being on a side. They said I would have to leave the country after only one month when I had promised the people at the church and the seminary I would be there three times that long.
I didn’t get to say goodbye to the students or the people in the church, but the pastor of the church came to my house that day and he asked to pray with me. He did not understand why I had to leave, and I couldn’t explain it to him, but he prayed. He cried as he spoke and he cried as he prayed, words of forgiveness, words of grace as powerful as any I’ve ever received. He blessed our trip, my ministry, my family and my life. He lifted my heart with a word of God’s grace.

We all have stories of forgiveness that are just as meaningful. It might be a teacher who gave you a break. It might be a parent or a sibling who loved you through a hard time. We have all experienced forgiveness and a nudge from God to not give up on ourselves, to not give up on our lives.
The most profound grace we experience comes at the times when we are in the most distress. The most profound forgiveness comes to us when we feel most worried that we are unforgivable, that our life is worthless, unredeemable. Sometimes we reach a depth of despair that makes us feel like we are dead, or wish we were dead. Sometimes we don’t notice God’s forgiveness or don’t feel a need for it, and a part of us becomes deadened. We remember a time when we were alive and we become nostalgic for that time, but we have trouble opening our hearts to the present moment and being totally aware, and alive in the present.

When that word of life comes to us, that word of deep forgiveness and grace, that call back to life, we may be as awestruck as the women at the tomb. The stone has been rolled away and they are confronted by these 2 angels who say, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” The women are so terrified that they bow their heads into the dirt. Verse 5: “The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them ‘Why to you look for the living among the dead?’”
We want to skip right past their terror and their bowing down. I think I know this story and skip right past this little detail, this silence of the women with their heads bowed down in awe of and disbelief at what has happened.
God’s grace has this powerful an effect on our lives. I know we don’t want to believe this fact. We would rather seek the living among the dead. We would rather stay with what we are used to and not take the risk of looking past that stone that has been rolled away in front of our eyes. We stay numb, thinking this is all there is, this is all we can be, because we tried so hard. We wanted so much to please and do right and it just didn’t work.
God’s forgiveness, God’s grace brings life back into our numb lives, gives us a future that we did not think we could have. Christ is alive in us today. Christ is alive in every person who has ever experienced God’s forgiveness, however we have experienced that forgiveness. Christ is alive in you when you accept that forgiveness rather than assume it. Christ is alive in you when you accept that forgiveness, knowing that it brings you to life, and makes a claim on your life.
Christ is risen and that means you can live. Christ is risen and that means I can live. Christ is risen and that means this church, this community, this country, this earth lives in God’s love. Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Christ is risen.
This is God’s good news.

Responsive Hymn: 304 Easter People, Raise Your Voices