A sermon by Rev. David M Bryce
The disciples had followed Jesus into Jerusalem. They had apparently believed that he was coming to claim the crown of the kingdom.
He rode into Jerusalem, confronted the religious and secular powers, and then…he was crucified and he died.
No angelic army came swooping out of heaven to place Jesus upon the throne.
No miraculous change of hearts had caused the Pharisees and the Sadducees, or the Romans and the Greeks, to acknowledge him as king.
No Maccabee miracle had restored the independence of the Jewish people.
All that happened was that Jesus, like others before him—and others after him–who claimed to be the messiah, had been arrested, tried and executed. Jesus, like rebels and like a common thief, had been crucified and was dead.
That must have been a shocking time of disappointment and despair.
The Disciples, after all, especially the first twelve, had left their jobs, left their families, and followed Jesus for years. They had believed that the kingdom of heaven was about to break in, that the world was about to change, that prophecy was about to be fulfilled. And all they had was a dead man who, it seemed, had misled them—or maybe he had misled himself.
Dreams shattered, hope shattered, beliefs shattered.
Emotionally they were in their own tomb, almost as much of a tomb as Jesus was.
And then, according to the story, something happened. It was something unexpected and unbelievable.
Jesus rose up and walked out of the tomb.
The eleven Disciples met with him in Galilee. The Revised Standard Version of the Bible says, “When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.”
The Eastern Greek Orthodox New Testament, using a slightly different text of the book of Matthew, translates that sentence as, “When they saw him, they expressed adoration to him, but they doubted.”
The implication there is that it was not merely some who doubted, but all.
And so the disciples, or at least some of them, doubted.
And yet for them the evidence was clear, or so they said in the good news that they shared with the world.
Their message was:
Jesus rose up and walked out of the tomb.
That is the story of Easter.
Jesus rose up and walked out of the tomb.
That is the Christian claim.
Christianity claims that Jesus rose up and walked out of the tomb and in doing so conquered death for us all.
According to the Christian story, death entered into the world with the disobedience of Adam and Eve, who ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge. That disobedience, that act of sin, is what caused us all to suffer death.
But Christians then say that by his death of atonement on the cross, Jesus suffered for our sins and brought redemption, so death no longer rules.
The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, put it this way:
Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.
Jesus rose up and walked out of the tomb and in so doing brought humanity out of the tomb; that is the Christian claim.
Death is one of the great mysteries and great fears. We humans know that someday we are going to die. And generally we do not like the idea.
I don’t. I want to live forever. I want to live healthy and happy, of course; and I want to live forever.
The promise of Christianity is that no one need fear death because death itself has been defeated.
For those here who are Christians–who believe the message of the Easter story–that is a great truth.
What a glorious thing it is. Death is conquered. It has no hold over believers.
There are those who say that without the risen Jesus, Christianity would not exist; that without the risen Jesus, Christianity would have no reason to exist.
I think and feel differently about Christianity.
One of the Christian claims is that, no matter who you are, God–who is a loving God–is with you throughout your life time. God is with you and sustains you. God is with you in your joy and abundance, God is with you in your sorrow and poverty. And if that were all that Christianity offered, just a God who is with you throughout your lifetime, then if I may steal a quote from Judaism, Dayenu, it would have been enough. That loving God who is with you throughout your life is in itself sufficient to justify religion.
Now Unitarian Universalists have different ideas about religion, about God, about the afterlife. And even those among us who profess to be Christians have widely different ideas about those thing and about what it means to be a Christian. But the story has a universal meaning. One does not have to be Christian to hear the message of hope.
We all at times find ourselves going through difficult days. We all have times in this life when, like the disciples after Jesus died, we feel trapped in darkness and despair.
There are times in our lives when it feels as though we are entombed within ourselves or within the worries and problems around us. We are surrounded by the darkness of despair and of life’s burdens.
But for most of us a greater factor is not that we hide within the darkness; the greater factor is that we doubt possibilities.
We doubt that that things can get better, and so we stay trapped in the darkness.
We doubt that problems can or will end, and so we stay trapped in despair.
We doubt ourselves, and doubt that we can do something to better our lives and so we stay caught in hopelessness and helplessness.
We doubt that there is goodness in the world or in the universe and so we stay caught in cynicism.
Doubt is part of human nature. It is perfectly reasonable to doubt.
And in fact doubt can be a good thing. We should question things, question stories and question explanations. That is perfectly fine.
If someone tells me something that I believe is either absolutely impossible immensely unlikely, It is acceptable to doubt them. I am not required to believe them.
So if someone says to me, “David, aliens from Alpha Centauri have landed on earth and they are taking over the bodies of everyone you know”, well it is okay if I doubt them.
And if someone says to me, “Drink this potion because it cures cancer, gout, arthritis, high cholesterol and measles”, it is proper for me to doubt their claim.
And it is acceptable for me to doubt religious claims, whatever their source.
For example, if the disciples who followed him and knew him could doubt that Jesus was resurrected, was once again alive and among them, then it is acceptable for me with my modern rational mind set, to doubt as well.
It is reasonable to doubt such stories and such claims.
But I don’t want my rational and logical doubts to keep me from believing in miracles and possibilities, because these exist all around me.
The story of Easter, like the story of Passover, is the story of the impossible breaking into the world and bringing with it the miracle of change.
Passover is the story of the freedom of a people; originally the Jewish people, but the story applies to other people as well. We have seen that in our lifetime.
People in this room were alive to witness the collapse of colonialism in the post World War II era.
People in this room were alive to witness the end of segregation in theUnited Statesand the improbable election of an African American as President of the Untied States.
People in this room were witnesses to the changing role of women in our nation and in the world as old categories and stereotypes have fallen.
And we in this room are witnessing the dramatic shift in attitudes towards same sex marriage, and towards equality for our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered siblings.
The world is full of miracles and the work of human liberation is advancing all around us.
Easter has a somewhat different focus than Passover, though it is a complementary focus. Although it is about the liberation of humanity from the domination of death, the emphasis is more on the individual.
The story says that I am freed from death, that I am guaranteed rebirth.
That is not just about me, because it is also about my loved ones both present and past. They, too, are among those included in the promise of “life for all”.
And, the story is not just about resurrection in the future, it is also about the miracle of resurrection in the here and now. Resurrection is all around us right now.
You need not take my word for it; walk outside on this beautiful day. The world abounds in miracles if our hearts are open to recognize them.
The warm sun giving life to the earth is merely a scientific fact if I allow it to be merely that. But it is a miracle if I remember how rare it is for a planet to be neither so close to its sun that it is a molten ball of metal, nor so far from its star that it sits in frozen silence.
From the detached view of botany, a rose is just a means by which a bush guarantees that it will be fertilized; a purely functional mechanism for its existence. Yet every aromatic rose that exists is a miracle, if I am open to viewing it with awe and wonder.
My life is a miracle, one that did not have to be.
Because I have life I can sense the world around me. I can know emotions: love, awe, exhilaration; and, yes, sorrow, fear and despair. These are all part of living. They are all part of the miracle of life and of the miracle of my life.
Those who have been through difficult times know what it is to come out the other side of those troubles and feel reborn; reborn because new dreams, new love, new joy are now possibilities. What has happened, of course, is that when we have bad experiences and come out of them we have opened up to those possibilities. So many who have had a near death experience, or who have been through the depths of addiction or depression, know how much even the smallest, most casual, most commonplace experience can elicit great joy.
Just to see another morning.
Just to have a person, any person, happy to see you.
Just to taste, really taste, the food one puts in one’s mouth.
For someone who has been through the deep sadness that can so often fill life, these little moments can be exceptional. That is because that person has awakened to the miracle of these minor moments.
A message of many religious traditions is that we do not need to go through the depths of despair or sorrow to have that joy filled experience. We only need to open our hearts to what is all around us to see real, genuine miracles. We need only to wake up. Wake up!
To wake up is to see the world in a new and different way. To wake up is to experience the world anew. To wake up is to be reborn. It is to be resurrected in this life, now, here, in this moment.
May our eyes always be open to the abundance of life that is around us. May the message of Passover, the message of Easter, the message of this glorious, ever recurring spring time lift our spirits and bring us hope and peace. And may we roll the tone away from our hearts that we may be open to the fullness of life.