By Rev. Heather Blais, Rector
Yesterday morning I went upstairs to pray, and our five year old son, Lucas decided to join me. To my surprise, Lucas lay resting on a prayer mat the entire time, snuggled with his stuffed lovies, and our cat, Juice Box. As we finished our quiet time, I took this small bowl and rock that our older son, Logan had given me. Throughout Lent, they were my visual of the tomb where Jesus was buried, and the large rock rolled against it to ensure his body was not stolen or vandalized.
I said to Lucas, “See this here? This is like the tomb where they buried Jesus after he died, and this rock is like the one that they rolled against the tomb to protect Jesus’ body in the grave. But do you know what happened when some of Jesus friends went to visit his grave?”
Lucas shook his head, and I said, “The rock was rolled back and the tomb was empty.” With big eyes, Lucas looked at me and asked, “Where’s Jesus?” I told him, “He is risen!”
Well, Lucas thought that was pretty great. He took the tomb and the rock, and he kept reenacting it, every time asking me, “Where’s Jesus?” And every time I’d answer “He is risen.” The last time he did it, I said, “I don’t know. Where is Jesus?” hoping he would say, “He is risen.”
But Lucas looked me square in the eye and he said, “He’s at the hospital. No wait, now he’s at Disney World. No wait, now he’s at our house!!!” After a good laugh, I realized, Lucas is absolutely right. Jesus is at the hospital, and at Disney World, and at our house, and in every other conceivable spot on this earth because the risen Lord is in each of us and in every square inch of creation.
We know the Good News of the empty tomb, but imagine what it was like for the women that day. While discovering the empty tomb must have been a jolting and head-spinning moment for the women that followed Jesus, it was nothing compared to the terror they felt a moment later when they encountered two dazzling people who appeared otherworldly. The two mystical looking people assured the women that, “He has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: "The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again” (NIV).
“Then they remembered his words” (NIV). Then they remembered everything. Of course Jesus has risen. How could they have expected anything less? The women immediately returned to the eleven disciples, and shared the good news. But the men thought the women were speaking nonsense, and it was Peter alone who got up and “...ran to the tomb.” He didn’t mozy on over during an afternoon stroll. He “...ran to the tomb.”
Because of all the men in that room, Peter was the one that was the most torn up and broken, the most ashamed of his actions, and the one who needed this good news the most. He had sworn his allegiance to Jesus, even unto his own death. Yet when push came to shove, and Jesus stood trial, Peter had denied even knowing Jesus, let alone admitting he was one of Jesus’ most devout followers. A painful truth that filled Peter with shame and regret. If Jesus was truly risen, there was an opportunity for reconciliation and restoration, forgiveness and new life. There was a chance to try again and again and again. When Peter arrived at the tomb, he stooped to look inside, and discovered the linen shroud laying on the ground by itself. Peter was amazed by what he saw. In an instant he felt whole again.
In that holy moment, Peter discovered that resurrection life is not just for Jesus who has been raised from the dead. He discovered that it is not just something for Jesus’ followers to experience in the afterlife. Peter discovered that resurrection life is for each and every follower of Jesus who recognizes that in Christ we are all restored to new life, each and every time we seek relationship with God. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done, or how low we may have sunk. There is no limit to God’s grace, forgiveness, and love. If you want it, you can have it.
A dear friend of mine back home, preached this day in and day out as young person, as his faith called him to stand in the middle of Longfellow Square in busy downtown Portland, Maine with a giant sign that said, “Free Hugs”. Jon would hug anyone that wanted a hug all day long.
That is the kind of love that Jesus offers. It is so absurd that it seems silly.But that is the joyful, wonderful, life changing good news of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what you’ve done, if you seek new life in a relationship with God, you too can experience resurrection life. And it’s not a one time offer. You can experience resurrection life each and every time you return to God and recommit yourself to a life with God at the center. Again, and again, and again, no matter what.
So this Easter, I wonder, have you experienced resurrection life? If so, how has that resurrection life changed you? If not, what’s holding you back?
Last Easter I shared with you my own story of finding resurrection life. Or at least the first time I found it. Like I said, it is something we may find ourselves returning to again, and again, and again.I was reminded of that this Lent when someone shared with me the story of Horatio Spafford.
Horatio was a prosperous lawyer and devout Presbyterian church elder who lived in Chicago with his wife Anna and their four daughters. In 1873, the family planned to travel to Europe to visit with friends. At the last minute, Horatio was forced to stay behind due to work obligations, but Anna and the four girls went ahead traveling on the ocean line S.S. Ville de Havre.
While traveling across the Atlantic, their ocean liner was rammed by a British iron sailing ship, the Lochearn, and sank within twelve minutes in the middle of ocean. Anna was picked up unconscious on a floating spar, but all four of their children had drowned.
Nine days after the shipwreck, Anna landed in Wales and cabled Horatio, “Saved alone. What shall I do…”After receiving Anna’s telegram, Horatio immediately left Chicago to bring his wife home. On the Atlantic crossing, the captain of his ship called Horatio to his cabin to tell him that they were passing over the spot where his four daughters had perished. He wrote to Rachel, his wife’s half sister, and said, “On Thursday last we passed over the spot where she went down, in mid-ocean, the waters three miles deep. But I do not think of our dear ones there. They are safe, folded, the dear lambs.”
As Horatio was passing over the spot of their watery grave, he wrote a hymn that is still sung today, It is Well with My Soul. The hymn demonstrates Horatio’s deep and abiding faith in God amidst the most unimaginable pain and suffering, a grief beyond understanding.Such a tragedy, could have easily destroyed his faith in God, yet instead, it caused him to go deeper, allowing Horatio to experience resurrection life.
Take a moment, and listen to the hymn.
I hope this hymn will remind us of the transformation available to each of us in Christ.
I want to invite you this Easter season to see the stories of resurrection that are happening all around you. It’s not just stories like Peter in the Bible, or stories like Horatio’s in history, but in our homes, and in our places of work, and within our circles of friends and family, we can find story after story of the resurrection life awaiting us in Christ.
So I ask you again, have you experienced resurrection life? If so, how has that resurrection life changed you? If not, what’s holding you back? Amen.
Read the Gospel of Luke 24:1-12
Learn more about the Spafford Family.
PS: Sermonette for the Online World
Speaking of Resurrection Stories...While in church we sang the version of It is Well with my Soul found in Lift Every Voice and Sing II, but the version in this post is performed by the band Audio Adrenaline and singer, Jennifer Knapp. This particular album, Underdog, is what taught me loving Jesus was not just the pomp and circumstance on Sundays (my somewhat cynical view of the church as a 13 year old), but rather a relationship with Christ. Even better news, it is the album that taught me that no matter how hard things get, Christ is with me, before me, beside me, behind me, and in me. While seminary forced me to rethink some of the theology behind a few of the songs, I will still always love this album because it expanded my understanding of what it means to be in relationship with God. It played an active role in my resurrection story, or at least the first one (because sometimes we experience resurrection again, and again, and again throughout our journey). And if you are still reading, next time I see you, remind me to tell you about Jennifer Knapp's resurrection story...
Happy Easter folks!
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