<Listen along by clicking here, and then you can experience the Jackson 5 in stereo sound>
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Nothing Was Ever So Great
I, for one, am glad that giraffe was born. Now we can all get back to life. If it hadn’t been born, none of you would be here, we’d all still be glued to our phones. Can you imagine what the history books will say about this period? “And then, during the months of March and April, nothing happened as everyone waited for the giraffe to be born…”
I may not be old, but I am also not-so-young anymore. For instance, I’m old enough to remember when the show Seinfeld wasn’t in reruns. I tuned in every Thursday night with my father and brothers to watch that show; it was our little family religion. My mother opted not to watch, claiming the show made her (and us) dumber.
She may have been right. After all it was a self-proclaimed “show about nothing.”
But, I would contend in Seinfeld’s defense, that nothing has its merits.
In fact, I would contend that Easter is actually “all about nothing,” a commonality that I perhaps share with my atheist friends, though for different reasons.
Here’s the thing: the great miracle about Easter is the nothingness that was found at the tomb that morning. The emptiness. The vacuousness of it all.
If we’re quite honest with ourselves, we don’t really like this Easter story, at least not on the face of it. We don’t like it because it makes absolutely no sense. The logical sequence that our minds enjoy operating under is thrown off with this story because, here’s how it is supposed to go.
“After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And there they found Jesus’ body just as it had been left there three days ago.”
We live in a world of logical sequence. We make meaning out of everything, and point A must lead to point B. In fact, we sing about this, you sing about this. I know you do. I know you do because you cannot hear the songs of St. Michael, St. Jermain, St. Jackie, St. Tito, and St. Marlon without singing it.
Oh, Beloved, it wouldn’t be an Easter sermon if we didn’t do some singing, and you know this one…because we take great joy in singing,
A B C
1 2 3
Do re me
A B C
1 2 3
Baby you and me girl…
This is how our lives operate: logically, in order, A leads to B leads to C. I like to be able to count on a few things in life: The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Warm coffee will cure most any bad mood. And dead people stay dead.
We lead logical lives. Logic makes sense. Logic is wisdom.
At least, that’s what we’d like to believe. But it’s just not true with God. For as much as we pretend our lives are logical, this weird and strange, illogical phenomenon has entered each of our lives in one way or another, and disrupts the whole thing: love. And if the apostle is right, God is love embodied.
Love defies logic. Love defies straight lines and the rules of physics. And love, Beloved, is what led that tomb to lay empty that early morning. God loves us so much, God won’t stay out of our lives, even when we try to bury God.
Love does not belong to the phylum of logic, but rather to the phylum of “alternative wisdom”…which is not like “alternative facts.”
Alternative wisdom is the wisdom that defies logic, bends the conventional, and speaks a truth deeper than A leads to B leads to C. Alternative wisdom is the wisdom that flows from the places of our lives that have been emptied by life: the battle with cancer, the empty side of the bed after a loved one has gone, the empty syringe that used to fill with drugs but which you don’t need anymore, the cracks in a heart broken open again and again so that it is now nimble and still beating and not that rigid stone it used to be.
Alternative wisdom that comes from thinking you’re going to die, and you find yourself still breathing. And it’s a wisdom that, hidden deep in its, promise, assures that even in death there is more to come. If Jesus’ tomb is empty, then so is yours, Beloved.
Alternative wisdom is that wisdom that flows out of a deep truth that dares to suggest in a world addicted to violence and mind-bogglingly big bombs and terrorist attacks and school shootings that in-spite-of-it all, life cannot be stopped by death.
It is a wisdom that stumbles upon the nothingness of the empty tomb and takes great joy because if even death does not have the final say than, indeed, we have nothing to fear in life.
Jesus embodies such wisdom, and we who gather around the story week after week here at Good Shepherd long to embody it, too, and sometimes do when we’re at our best. When we’re at our worst, well, then we just need to hear it again and again because this love has a history of turning lives around, emptying graves, and even doing that rare miracle of turning the cynical heart into a hopeful one.
The church has often messed this story up. We’ve often passed God off as this angry loan-shark who has loaned us life and we better do something good and pay back the times we mess up because, well, it’s all on loan. The church has often peddled the idea that our sin and God’s mercy come in equal parts. That is: our badness is only balanced by God’s mercy.
But that’s not the story of Easter, friends. If Easter tells us anything it is that God has infinitely more mercy than we have sin, and so when we show up at the tombs of our mistakes and our griefs like these poor disciples showing up at Jesus’ tomb probably sad and regretful that they stood by and watched him die, afraid those mistakes will define us in the end, that we’re messed up for good, that we’ll only be known by the worst parts of us, we find that God has already moved on with a love that cannot be stopped, dragging us away from that tomb along with him because he loves us too much to let us stay dead.
Let me say it another way: when you visit those tombs of your lives, the mistakes that you can’t let go of, the hurts and pains and scars others have left on you that don’t lead to wisdom but only lead to fear, Easter is here to tell you that God is in the business of dragging you away from that place, resurrecting you along with Jesus because those things won’t define you in this life.
Part of the reason we’ve lost the alternative wisdom of love is because we’re so full of the residue that comes from our insanely logical living that there’s no room left for love. The residue that has filled our lives with cynicism and busyness and anger and hurt and resentment.
All of those things bind us, Beloved, like burial clothes, and keep us dead.
But if St. Irenaeus is correct, and “the glory of God is a human being fully alive,” then Easter indeed invites us into a different way of being and living and moving in the world. A way that gives testimony to what that pervasive peddler of alternative wisdom William Sloane Coffin says, “powerless love winning over loveless power.”
So, what story does your life give testimony to?
One of the best peddlers of alternative wisdom are children. And I don’t mean that in any romantic or sentimentalized way. Trust me, as a Dad, I know that children are as much pain as they are pleasant. But if you wonder why I’m so open to having them serve up here in worship it is because they teach me, us, about God and God’s wisdom all the time.
For instance, my son Finn, who is 4, on Good Friday as he was going down for a nap said to my wife Rhonda, “Mommy, I’m going to talk to God for a bit.” To which she said, “Ok…” and then he followed up with, “But you can’t see God because God is camouflaged.”
And indeed God is, in that moment camouflaged as a sleep 4 year old boy, spouting alternative wisdom in the face of a world that claims that the only real thing is the thing you can touch, taste, see, hear, and feel. But in that moment he spoke to something that can’t be sensed in that way, something that can’t be held as much as it holds you; something that can’t be seen as much as you know that you are deeply and truly seen; something that can only be tasted in bread and wine; something that can only be heard with the ears of the heart.
Something that points to the nothingness of an empty tomb and says, “That is good news for you and me! God is camouflaged in this nothingness found here!”
Good news because it means that God’s love cannot be killed, and because of that we are free to truly live.
In your bulletins you’ll find at the end a poem by Mary Oliver, it’s the last part of her poem “When Death Comes,” and today I’m going to encourage all of us to choose St. Irenaeus over the Jackson 5 and embrace an alternative wisdom that encourages to truly live in a world addicted to tombs being filled.
Today, we are Easter people, brothers and sisters addicted to the love of a God who encourages us to be married to amazement, to take the world into our arms, not visiting life like a scared tourist, but living because God in Christ lives and nothing was found in that tomb.
Because, on Easter, nothing was ever so great.