Rev. Dr. Scott Herr

Please Read: Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18

Everyone loves a good story. The problem is, there are so many different stories being told! Economists tell different stories about how to reduce the deficit. Politicians tell different stories about why to go to war. Bill Gates and Paul Allen tell different stories about how they founded multi-billion dollar Microsoft. Hiker-turned-Humanitarian Greg Mortenson is having his Three Cups of Tea story spilled by accusations of fraud.[1] Doctors change their stories about what’s healthy to eat and drink... After the earthquakes and tsunami in Japan, scientists are revising their narrative of nuclear energy safety. Even artists tell different stories about what they stand for; most recently Bob Dylan, while on tour in China changed his tune… Indeed, the stories they are a changing, depending on who’s telling…

It’s not surprising, then, that we have various Easter stories. Gospel writers Matthew, Mark, Luke and John have differing accounts about what happened. To me that lends credibility. Surely the church didn’t invent this fantastic resurrection story with such strange details. That would be giving way too much credit. Trust me, we aren’t that creative!

Did you notice that John’s story, the version I just read, really has two stories? The first is about how Peter and the “beloved disciple” raced to the tomb because Mary told them the stone had been removed. When they arrived, they didn’t see the Risen Lord. They didn’t find a body. But they “saw and believed.” Then they “returned to their homes.” 

I wonder if they went home tongue-tied because they saw nothing? Was the emptiness of the tomb an overwhelming mystery? Were they stunned into silence by the powerful absence of Jesus? This is one theological storyline of the Resurrection. It’s called the “demythologized” version. As David Brooks wrote in his article yesterday in the International Herald Tribune, this version works “as long as people take religious teaching metaphorically and not literally; as long as people understand that all religions ultimately preach love and service underneath their superficial particulars; as long as people practice their faiths open-mindedly and are tolerant of different beliefs.”[2]

This first story focuses on Easter Faith and how Jesus later tells doubting Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” This is all well and good, but leads to crossing our fingers when it comes to the bodily resurrection of Jesus. It takes Good Friday sacrifice seriously, but moves the back from the dead story down to the fiction section. And if it is fiction, Paul warns, then “we are of all people most to be pitied!”[3]

The second story, as John tells it, is about Mary Magdalene. After the other disciples have gone home, Mary lingers. Looking in the empty tomb, two angels in white ask her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Remember, her friend and teacher had been betrayed, falsely accused, condemned, stripped, beaten, mocked and finally killed on a cross. In her grief Mary simply wanted to touch his body one last time. She cries, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him…”

Just then, Jesus appears to Mary! She turns around and sees the Risen Lord, but she does not recognize him... Only when Jesus calls her by name does Mary realize that her rabbi who once was dead and gone is now alive and speaking to her! She wants to hold him, but he tells her, No, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.”

Unlike Peter and the other disciple, Mary doesn’t go home, but runs to get her story straight: announcing, “I have seen the Lord.”  The word “announce” John uses here is anggellousa, and was used to declare the approach of a sacred procession.[4] This is one of the unifying themes of the Easter story in all the Biblical accounts: The story of the risen Lord must be told! Because once this story is told, it changes everything

Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension is called The Announcement, the kerygma, the euanggelion, the good news, the gospel. And I ask you to consider the importance of this story for your life. It’s a mystery, to be sure, but a mystery that changes reality if believed. The Easter event, if true, is a story that, as Holmes Rolston III puts it, opens up new possibilities for everyone!

The problem is, we’d prefer to domesticate it. Tame it. Keep it just a story. We soften it up with Easter Bunnies and pastel-painted eggs… John Updike warns us in his poem, Seven Stanzas at Easter. “Let us not mock God with metaphor, analogy, sidestepping transcendence, making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded credulity of earlier ages.”  “Let us not make it less monstrous.” “Let us walk through the door…” [5]

In fact something monstrously unmanageable, something unimaginable which changes everything, occurred that first Easter morning. There was not a body where there was supposed to be a body, then there was a body where there wasn’t supposed to be a body!

Peter, who with fickle faith betrayed his Lord three times and then lost the Easter morning footrace, becomes the champion story teller. He proclaims: “We are witness to all that [Jesus] did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses… He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify… that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Here is the gospel in summary: Jesus died, Jesus rose. And the Risen Christ is on the loose with free grace: forgiveness and redeeming love to everyone who believes in him. And even more, his resurrection from the dead gives us hope of life beyond the grave. There is a reality beyond what we see. Death is not ultimate. There is more. We have hope of eternal life, a sure and certain hope for the future… It’s that simple.

This hope gives strength to live beyond the futility and hopelessness of this world. Peter’s Easter story gives powerful testimony to God’s gracious forgiveness and love. Peter, like men and women through history, give themselves to the story. Indeed, perhaps we Christians need to spend less time talking about the resurrection and more time being the resurrection? Less time analyzing the Easter story and more time incarnating the Easter story?

I’ve am studying Islam at the AUP this semester. Part of my learning has involved visiting the Grande Mosque de Paris. The church Council also visited there earlier this year. It’s a beautiful house of worship. But did you know human images are forbidden in a mosque? What a striking contrast to a Christian place of worship… Look around you! Almost every stained glass window portrays a real person. The men and women depicted here remind us that the story of God’s love is not abstract, but alive. The story lives in and through the complex, confused, chaotic lives of people like Peter and Mary, people like you and me.

The window on your bulletin is of the risen Lord. The words at the bottom read, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” Translated loosely that means tell the story to everyone, everywhere, any way you can. This is the Easter imperative. Jesus told Mary, “Do not hold onto me…but go.” Go and tell the story.

One of my favorite movies this year is The King’s Speech. The protagonist is a man wrestling with his identity and disabled by a crippling stutter. It’s a true story about Britain’s King George VI and Lionel Logue, an Australian speech therapist who through honest friendship and encouragement helps the King deliver the most important speech of his life… And along the way, he discovers his true identity.

There’s a powerful scene in Westminster Abby on the eve before the King is to be crowned. He is angry because he doesn’t want to be king, and he’s been told that Lionel is a fraud. Lionel responds, “It’s true, I’m not a doctor. And yes, I acted a bit. I recited in pubs. I taught elocution in schools. But the Great War came. All our soldiers were returning to Australia from the front. A lot of them were shell-shocked, unable to speak. Somebody said, ‘Lionel, you’re very good at all this speech stuff. Do you think you could possibly help these poor buggers?’ I did muscle therapy, exercises, relaxation, but I knew I had to go deeper.

“Those poor young blokes had cried out in fear and no one was listening to them. My job was to give them faith in their own voice, and let them know that a friend was listening.”

The King argued, “but I vouched for you and you have no credentials… You’ve saddled this nation with a voiceless king. You’ve destroyed the happiness of my family all for the sake of ensnaring a star patient you couldn’t possibly hope to assist. I’ll be like Mad George III. Only Mad George the Stammerer… who let his people down so badly in their hour of need...”

Then the King turns back and sees Lionel sitting in the coronation throne and yells, “What are you doing?  Get up! You can’t sit there. Get up!”

“Why not?” retorts Lionel, “It’s only a chair…You said you didn’t want it. Why should I waste my time listening to you?”

“Because I …have a right… to be heard! Because… I have… a voice!”

And after a long pause, Lionel says, “Yes, you do.” And he gets up out of the chair and squarely faces the King: “You have such perseverance. You’re the bravest Man I know. You’ll make a bloody good King.”[6]

Friends, the Easter story begins with broken and flawed speechless men and women who through the Risen Lord’s power of forgiveness and love find their voice and tell their story. The good news is that this same Risen Lord meets us, and through faith helps us get past our own stuttering and stammering to find our voice and live the Easter story here and now.

Jesus, listening friend of sinners, says to us and teaches us to say, “I forgive you”… “I love you”…“I accept you.” The Compassionate Christ forms in us the courage to say, “I am sorry”…“I will try again”…“I will hope again.” The Living Lord gives us faith to affirm, “I am somebody”…“I can change”…“I have a purpose in life!” The monstrous miracle of Easter morning means getting past our own remonstrance and regret, to live by faith into new life!

While each of us may have our own story, in the end, the Easter story has for us an invitation and imperative to live. We are invited to eat and drink at this table because words are not enough. In the bread broken; in the wine poured out, we taste and see the story of God’s great love for us. We don’t just say it, we sing it and remember how the Spirit of the crucified Risen Lord works the story deep into our lives and life together. Stammerers and stutterers alike, I invite you to hear and believe the Easter story. You too have a voice. You have a great story to tell. May the Easter King make the Easter story come alive in you…

For Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Amen.

[1] Nicholas Kristof, “‘Three Cups of Tea’ Spilled” (International Herald Tribune, April 22, 2011), 6.

[2] David Brooks, “Creed or chaos” (International Herald Tribune, Sat-Sun, April 23-24, 2011), 7.

[3] I Corinthians 15:19b.

[4] Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, abridged, (Grand Rapids : William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1985), 11.

[6] The King’s Speech. iTunes. Directed by Tom Hooper. London, England: See-Saw Films, 2010.