When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.
5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But 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. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
1 Corinthians 15:1-7, 12-26
Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain. 3For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
12Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. 15We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. 19If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. 21For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
The Easter story is the core of the Christian faith. It’s also a little hard to swallow. For many of us the basic story of Jesus makes sense. We grew up hearing stories of Jesus and his teachings. We’ve learned about his commitment to justice, his love and welcome for surprising people. We connect with his call to love others as we love ourselves and treat other people as we want to be treated. Even if we didn’t grow up in a church, our greatest values as a society were shaped by Jesus’ teachings.
We can probably understand Jesus’ conflict with the religious leaders too. He guided people to God directly without getting obsessed with religious rules and traditions and authorities. That made the leaders uncomfortable, like serious change does in any institution. They couldn’t dismiss him, so they found a way to put him to death. We know enough about human selfishness and violence to believe that. It’s tragic and terrible, but it fits with what we know is wrong with the world.
The resurrection is harder to believe. It doesn’t fit with what we know at all. When people die, they don’t come back. We’d like to believe in the resurrection, but it’s awfully hard to accept. We want to believe. We want love to be stronger than death. We long for a reason to hope that the world’s story has a happy ending, but we almost don’t dare.
We’ve been disappointed before. So many things that we’ve hoped for haven’t materialized. The world is hard, and we don’t want to look soft. We don’t want to be suckers. It’s easier not to trust too much, and the resurrection is a huge leap of faith.
We’re in good company when we have trouble believing the resurrection. Thomas couldn’t believe until he’d seen Jesus himself. The women in our story today were not only amazed, but afraid as well when they heard the news. They saw the angel with their own eyes and heard his message in the same tomb in which they had seen Jesus’ body laid. Still, the enormity of the angel’s announcement overwhelmed them, and they couldn’t share the message. If they struggled then, how can we believe now?
I wasn’t there myself, and I can’t prove the resurrection to you. What I come back to every time is the testimony of the disciples. The women who followed Jesus from Galilee saw him alive after his death. The eleven disciples who had spent the last three years with Jesus saw him alive again after his death. Other disciples who had met Jesus along the way saw him alive on the road to Emmaus, or in a locked room or somewhere else in the month after his resurrection. Paul says Jesus appeared to more than 500 believers after his resurrection.
They saw him alive, after they knew he had been killed. And more than just seeing him and telling others about it, which they could have made up if they wanted to, they committed their lives to his message. Many of the apostles died for their faith. Many other early Christians did too. They bet their life on the truth of Christ’s resurrection, the truth of Christ’s victory over death. They wouldn’t have done that if they weren’t really sure.
Beyond that, the apostles and the growing community around them experienced the power of the risen Christ in their lives. People kept meeting Jesus, even those who hadn’t known him during his live. People, like Paul, who had never met Jesus experienced his presence in a transformative way, and gave their lives to the good news of God’s love in Christ. The power of the resurrection went beyond Jesus.
That’s what Paul’s talking about in our passage from First Corinthians. The resurrection we celebrate today starts with Jesus, but it goes beyond him. From Adam and Eve until Jesus, death was the end of the line. Death had the final say. All the money, all the success, all the power in the world couldn’t stop death.
Jesus changes all that. Human power, hatred and jealousy did their worst. The religious leaders and political powers fought against him. They tortured and killed him. But for Jesus death was not the end. In that moment death lost its victory. In Jesus’ resurrection love triumphs over death once and for all, not just for Jesus, but for all of us too.
On the outside, it seems like nothing has changed, but everything has changed. Jesus has been raised and one day we will be raised up too. The power of the resurrection offers us new life. When we read about the early church, we see that the power of the resurrection is true. Those men and women decided to trust the risen Christ. They chose to believe that death wasn’t going to win. They didn’t just believe it in their heads; they bet their lives on it. They spend their lives telling other people about God’s amazing love. They spent their lives building community so strong that people shared everything.
Some traveled across the world to share the message of love. Others dropped everything to host missionaries in their towns. When a deadly plague struck Rome, everyone who could, left the city, except the Christians. The Christians in Rome stayed to care for the ill and dying. They did that because they knew they didn’t need to fear death, because Jesus had already conquered it.
That resurrection power, the faith that God can overcome every evil and deadly force, that hope is stronger than death, that love is stronger than fear runs through the history of the church. It was at work in nameless Christians teaching new believers when they knew the Empire might kill them for it. It was at work in St. Augustine watching barbarians destroy Rome, the center of Christian faith, but still trusting that God could use even that disaster for some good purpose.
The power of the resurrection was at work in St. Francis, serving the poor and restoring a church fallen into cynical isolation. It was there in Martin Luther, facing death for his faith, and in Martin Luther King believing God’s promise that in Jesus Christ all human divisions are overcome.
The power of Christ’s resurrection is still working in the world. It’s working in churches in Africa where there are so many people coming to know Jesus that they can’t fit into the church buildings. It’s working in Egypt, where it’s risky to follow Jesus, but people are following anyway. It’s happening in Chicago where a church of 30 that everyone expected to close rediscovered their neighborhood and the power of Christ in community.
It’s happening right here at Laurelton, where years of declining membership and finances are starting to turn around. A small congregation is opening its doors to the neighborhood and finding new life in the power of Jesus. Neighbors are discovering relationships and community in a simple breakfast. People are learning and growing by talking about the Bible over supper. We’re building community with new people and learning to ask deeper questions about what it means to follow Jesus today.
I’ve found in my own life that the more I trust Jesus, the more I cling to the resurrection, the more I let go of my fear, the better my life gets. Resurrection power isn’t just life after death, it’s also more life now.
Jesus bet his life that God’s calling was real. He faced death on the cross for you and me, and sure enough, love triumphed over death as he rose from the grave. Since then women and men across the centuries and around the globe have been betting on the resurrection, trusting that life conquers death. I’m betting my life on the resurrection now, and I invite you to join in the adventure of following the risen Jesus.
The power of the resurrection doesn’t mean everything is clear or easy. Things still go wrong, we make mistakes, recovery is fragile, people we love still die. But we can trust that death or error or fear or financial trouble will not have the last word. Christ is risen, and one day we will rise with him to see the redemption of all creation. We have nothing to fear because love is stronger than death. Christ is risen indeed.
Thanks be to God.