Sermon for the Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Day
April 20, 2014
My family has said the same prayer for generations. It’s not the Lord’s prayer, it’s not, “as I lay me down to sleep.” My family’s prayer is simple: “Lord, grant me patience, and I want it right now!” That describes me perfectly, and it describes us perfectly. It’s amazing to see the impatience that is endemic in our culture. I was driving to work the other day, and the woman in the car next to me was putting on mascara in her rear view mirror. Could you not have taken one minute and done that at home? Or take the drive-thru.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the Starbucks drive-thru, but wow, we can’t even get out of cars to buy a cup of coffee. And this impatience is pervasive. Twitter requires 140 characters or less. Golfers don’t walk anymore, they drive their carts as fast as they can. We’ve got instant oatmeal, instant coffee, instant messaging. We’ve got no time for nothing.
So what always shocks me, is how it seems that all Christians talk about is waiting for heaven. You don’t have enough time to park your car, walk into Whataburger, order a couple of taquitos, and sit down to eat; but we’re cool with waiting until we die to meet the Lord Jesus? Something has gone wrong. A whole industry has now been created to capitalize on the very concept. Books about near death experiences, books about visions of heaven, books about what it all looks like after we die sell by the millions. It seems that the Christian proclamation has all been boiled down to encouraging us to muddle our way through this world so that we can enjoy the world to come.
Sounds like pie-in-they-sky to me, and I don’t buy it for a minute. Because that’s not the gospel. Going to heaven when we die is not the good news of Jesus Christ. Twiddling our thumbs and being patient before we can go meet the Lord is not what Easter is all about. Some claim that we will only see Jesus when we die. But I make another claim. Because I am impatient, and I believe that a life with Jesus is for right here and right now.
The Christian gospel has been maligned into something like, “be patient, we’ll get to see Jesus eventually.” But that’s not what Mary Magdalene said. Mary Magdalene is the first person to ever see the risen Lord. She is the first person to witness the power of God’s loving triumph over death. And what does she say to her fellow apostles? She doesn’t say, “we’re all going to heaven!” She doesn’t say, “be patient, we’ll get to see Jesus eventually!” After seeing the risen Jesus, Mary Magdalene makes the central claim of the Christian gospel: “I have seen the Lord.” She saw him. That very day in the garden. He is not a ghost, or the gardener, he is the resurrected Jesus who tramples down the gates of hell. Mary Magdalene, the other apostles, and Christians ever since do not float off to heaven to meet Jesus, they meet Jesus here and now. Plenty of other religions peddle a pie-in-the-sky theology, but Christianity is not one of them.
What we offer on this morning is God’s glorious defeat over the powers of sin and death. A victory that we can share in, right here and right now. At the resurrection of Jesus, God has launched his project to renew our world. Because God loves this world. The resurrection of our Lord was the first sign, the down payment of what is still being paid in full. God promises us resurrection, God promises us new life, and we don’t have to wait around for it. We don’t have to wait until some distant, abstract future to receive the love of God. We can be loved by God – now. We can experience the risen Jesus – now. Oppression can be addressed and overcome – now. Evil can be vanquished – now. We don’t have to wait in order to confront the child abuse, the torture, the bloodshed, that drenches our world. Easter people, you and I, can stand up to the powers of this world and proclaim the love of the risen Jesus. Here and now, we must work with the loving God on his project of renewal. Just as Jesus was risen from the dead, we pray and look for the resurrection of the dead in spirit, the helpless, the downtrodden and the oppressed. We don’t have to wait around in order to know that we are loved by God – that happens now.
Now, so why is the other story so popular? Why is the story about your soul floating off to heaven when you die so fashionable? Because that story does not threaten the powers of evil and oppression. And those powers want it to stay that way, because heaven does not intimidate them. If it’s all about going to heaven when you die, then we are saying that God has abandoned this world and is just waiting for us heaven. That’s giving the powers of evil and oppression free reign over this world. And they like it that way, and they want us to keep thinking it’s all about the next world. That’s why those books sell by the millions. Because while they fool us into thinking it’s about the next world, they’re making a pile of cash. But it’s about this world. We claim that Jesus was born in this world, he died in this world, and he was risen into this world. We claim that God is renewing this world. Evil and sin and corruption and deceit had better be on the lookout, because God loves this world. If anything, this message is about how deeply and radically God loves you, here and now. God loves you – soul, spirit, heart, mind, and body. Sure, God will love you in the heavenly country, but that’s putting the cart before the horse. God loves you as you are on this world.
I understand that this is probably not the Easter sermon you were expecting, and it’s probably not what is being preached this morning across our country. But I’m fine with that. I’m fine standing in the minority. I’m honored to stand with Mary Magdalene, Saint Paul, Saint Peter, and the myriad of saints who have seen the Lord, here and now. And maybe it’s because I’m an Easter person. Maybe that’s because I’m just as impatient as the rest of us.
Next time you see a woman putting on mascara in the car next to you, think that she is an Easter person. She doesn’t have the patience to wait around. Next time you pull up at the Starbucks drive thru, think of yourself as an Easter person. Because you don’t have the patience to wait around. You can be an Easter person, right here and right now, by cooperating with the risen Lord to help you kick that habit, to overcome that old way of life, to stand up against the powers that would destroy the creatures of God. You can be an Easter person, by accepting the love of God that is so majestic and beautiful and death-defying.
On Easter morning, we see the fullness of God’s promise of love; God’s promise that it’s not us that go to heaven, it’s heaven that comes to us. Rather than praying, “to thy kingdom we go,” we pray, “thy kingdom come.” You don’t have to wait around. Yes, heaven is for real – it’s before your very eyes. Or, as Mary Magdalene proclaims on that glorious Easter morning, “I have seen the Lord!”