Pastor Chris Tweitmann
Happy Easter – finally!
Easter Sunday this year is uncommonly late, falling on this date, April 17, for the first time in 62 years – since 1960.
If perhaps we don’t know why the date of Easter keeps moving year to year, centuries ago at what was known as the Council of Nicea, the Church established the tradition of setting the holiday on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after
the vernal equinox, otherwise known as the start of spring.
Given this tradition, the celebration of Easter can fall from year to year anywhere from March 22nd to April 25th.
In case you were wondering, Easter falling on the latest possible date of April 25th is very rare – occurring only 1% of the time in the last 400 years.
The previous one came in 1943, and the next won’t arrive until 2038.
Easter has become the Church’s go-to term for today – especially when we invite people to join us.
But to be honest, I prefer calling today Resurrection Sunday.
Don’t get me wrong.
It’s not that I have anything against chocolate bunnies, jellybeans, or egg hunts.
Not at all. And for the record, I prefer the red, white, or green jellybeans (not the black ones—yuck!), chocolate peanut butter eggs, and the dark chocolate, hollow bunnies.
I prefer “Resurrection Sunday” to “Easter Sunday” because it makes more explicit why we are gathered here today.
It leaves no misunderstanding as to the cornerstone of the Christian faith – the foundation upon which the whole Church is built and continues to stand—is this: that Jesus was raised from the dead.
While this conviction should be the reason we have come together today, in my experience, more people believe in Easter than they do in terms of Resurrection Sunday.
Almost everybody enjoys all the pomp and pageantry of Easter — the new dresses, the stylish hats, the fresh flowers, and honey-baked ham.
And who doesn’t want to celebrate the turning of the cold, dog days of winter into the warm, colorful days of spring?
Most of us, however, are very uncomfortable with any talk of resurrection – let alone celebrating it.
Many find the very notion of a formerly dead Jesus walking out of a sealed tomb to be outlandish.
Illogical. Irrational. Nonsensical.
However, as we turn to the written account of what brings us together today, we might be surprised to learn today’s modern skeptics were not the first to have trouble believing a body could literally rise from the dead. (TEXT)
A little context as to this scene.
Two followers of Jesus, a man named Cleopas and his unnamed companion, have returned to Jerusalem having only just left – headed out on the road to Emmaus.
“Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them…” – Luke 24:13-15
Initially seeking to distance themselves from the perceived tragedy of the last few days, these two men have an unexpected encounter with the once crucified but now very much alive Jesus – talking with him along the road and then briefly sharing a meal together.
“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen…” -Luke 24:30 – 34
This event immediately causes them both to reverse course, retrace their seven-mile journey back to Jerusalem, and seek out the company of disciples they left behind.
As they are in the midst of recounting their experience, Jesus does it again.
“While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” -Luke 24:36
He appears out of nowhere & interrupts them saying: “Peace be with you.”
All of the disciples, including the two followers who previously encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus, can’t believe what they are seeing.
“They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.” – Luke 24:37
Initially, their disbelief is the result of fear as they perceive Jesus to be a ghost.
But even after seeing and touching Jesus’ scarred hands and feet,
“He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet.” -Luke 24:38 – 40
their collective incredulity continues – this time borne of their joy and astonishment.
“And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement,”
– Luke 24:41
Seeing Jesus alive is just too good to be true.
And their initial, lingering disbelief is understandable.
Jesus had died. Like others who had been crucified, Jesus died of asphyxiation.
Jesus was dead.
His lifeless body had been taken down off the cross, properly cleaned up and prepared for burial, and then sealed behind a stone covered tomb.
Jesus was dead and buried. But now, Jesus stood before them very much alive and kicking.
And yet tor those who were there in person, resurrection was hard to swallow.
How much harder must it be for us to accept the resurrection of Jesus since we can only take their word on it?
Honestly, resurrection stretches the bounds of believability.
After all, everyone knows, despite significant advances in medical science, there comes a point for every living being when breathing stops and the heart robbed of the life-giving oxygen it needs to deliver that same wondrous element to the rest of the body, stops beating.
Once this happens – once the heart refuses to beat, death is the result. And there can be no going back. Dead is dead.
Relying on what we know and experience, we’re much more familiar and therefore much more comfortable leaving Jesus in the tomb.
We would rather imagine Jesus at rest, at peace, a good man unfairly killed, like Martin Luther King or Abraham Lincoln or Gandhi.
And if we are to talk of his resurrection, we can be tempted to try and fit the accounts of the risen Christ into the world which we know and inhabit.
We can look to make the resurrection “work” in a way that makes it sensible, plausible to us – reaching for metaphor or analogy.
And so we speak of Jesus as a transcendent example or model who continues to live through how our memory of his words and deeds inspire us.
Jesus is risen in the joy of our hearts.
Jesus is risen in the love we share with each other.
Jesus is risen, indeed….it just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?
The thing is, Luke is unambiguous in what he writes here.
Luke asserts something far different.
If we notice all the physical details he includes
“Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.” -Luke 24:39 – 43
– describing Jesus as being visible, audible, touchable
– and even having Jesus presenting himself as being a little hungry – Luke’s message is clear..
This was no spiritual or metaphorical resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection was real, and it was physical.
But perhaps, like the first disciples, we still find ourselves incredulous.
Literal, physical resurrection doesn’t make sense to us.
Let me ask us something. Does death make any more sense to us?
Does anyone really think death is logical when the potential and promise of any human life is cut short abruptly and without warning?
If death is so rational, why do we lament at the termination of any life?
Well, some of us might argue, one should at least have had a good run or lived a full life so that they are prepared for death.
But how much life lived is enough to make death acceptable?
Why don’t we want someone else deciding this for us, if death is so logical?
Still we push back, “Resurrection isn’t natural to the human experience, whereas death is a part of life.”
Do we really believe we were created to die?
We’ve heard the expression, “Youth is wasted on the young.”
This saying, obviously crafted by those whom we would consider as having lived a long life, tries to communicate to all of us that death makes no sense.
If the wisdom that comes from maturity teaches us, the older we get, the more we realize how much we have to learn, does it make any sense that our life starts to wither and ultimately ceases to be just when we are really getting started living?
What’s natural about that?
Deep down, aren’t we all longing for resurrection?
How many of our loved ones have we had to let go of?
Are we truly content with the idea we will never see them again?
We say we don’t believe in resurrection even as we refuse to settle for death – as we attempt to keep our deceased loved ones alive by insisting they live on in our memories.
But what happens when our memories fail?
When there is no one left who remembers those who have died, then how do the deceased keep on living?
How many of those we cherish have struggled — perhaps labor even now—with disease, with abuse, with rejection or abandonment?
If there is no resurrection, why do we refuse to give up on them?
Why do we refuse to surrender our passionate conviction that they deserve, that they will find victory before whatever trouble or loss they are facing?
Is it just a coincidence that we tend to prefer stories about incredible comebacks?
Or is there something to the fact that the songs we most love to sing and movies we are willing line up to watch are always about second chances and shots at redemption?
When we dream, we don’t dream about failure. When we hope, we don’t hope for nothing.
Our hopes and dreams are built on possibilities — the conviction that anything can happen.
No vision, no inspiration ever was borne from the certainty that life is dead on arrival—the death is our final destination.
But even as I try to point beyond our learned acceptance of death and suggest we are divinely hardwired to yearn for resurrection, my intention is not to prove to you that Jesus is risen.
I feel absolutely no need to try and convince anyone the resurrection “actually happened.”
Because no amount of apologetic calisthenics or dismantling of scientific arguments can bridge the gap of what today is all about – a mystery, a miracle, an act of God that is beyond human possibility, that exceeds both our intellectual and emotional grasp.
We walk through the door that is Easter – out of the tomb that once was sealed by faith, not by proofs or logic.
We walk through the door from this life into the next by faith or we do not walk through it at all.
And this faith of which I speak is not something we muster – it’s not about us generating the power to believe – opening up our door to the risen Christ.
What I offer, what I proclaim today is the gift of faith – the presence and power of the risen Jesus Christ – who comes, much like he does here with the disciples,
“And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement… He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” – Luke 24:41, 44 – 45
through our door – open or closed – through the doorway of our skepticism, our doubt, our fear, and our longing – who enters into the space of our lives and enables us to receive him, who calls us to follow where he leads.
For what we celebrate today isn’t Jesus merely giving us resurrection; it is realizing that Jesus IS the resurrection — that Jesus is what he said, “the resurrection and the life.”
What we celebrate today is Jesus giving us himself – and giving us not life after death – but life BEYOND death.
Another way of expressing this is to clarify the announcement of the first Easter Sunday is not the claim of Jesus’ resuscitation – a reviving of life back to what it was before.
Stories of near death experiences are increasingly familiar to us.
We have stories of resuscitation, heroic efforts that bring a life back from the brink of death (or even the beginning experiences of death) and return that living one to their previous living state.
But Jesus wasn’t mostly dead and therefore slightly alive. Jesus was dead and then he was alive.
In other words, Jesus didn’t come back to life only to be subject to death later.
Coming back from the dead – simply coming back to life as we know it – may buy us more time on this earth but fundamentally doesn’t address the problem of things in this life, in this world, not being the way they’re supposed to be.
Ask anyone and you’ll find universal agreement that this world, that life is not all that it can be, all that it was meant to be – that things – we, us, all of it – are broken and fractured.
Everyone agrees there is a problem. The disagreement comes when we talk about what’s the solution.
The Christian answer – why we assert God came down to us in Jesus Christ in the first place – why Jesus walked and taught us among us and ultimately offered his life for all the world by way of the Cross – the Christian answer to why things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be is SIN.
Sin is a dirty, little word that has fallen out of fashion.
Most people nowadays take great offense at anyone calling anything someone chooses to do that doesn’t affect anyone else as being wrong.
But sin, properly understood, isn’t something we get define for ourselves or even label for others.
Sin is not about our opinion; it’s about the perspective of our Creator — the One who created us, the One designed everything, the One who knows how things are supposed to work.
Sin, if invoked, is often discussed in individual terms – my sins or your sins.
Whereas we like to ignore or dismiss how interconnected our lives are, our Creator repeatedly makes it clear – our choices and actions have consequences – and those consequences often go farther than our individual intentions.
Still, some try to pluralize sin — talking a lot about and counting sins.
The gatekeepers among us work hard to categorize sins — creating hierarchies and degrees of wrongdoing.
But God keeps it simple.
Anytime we live for ourselves at the expense of others, anytime we seek to be self righteous and self justifying rather than solely dependent upon our Creator, our Father — the Author of our life—we are sinners.
Based on that definition, we’re all sinners.
Understood this way, our growing tendency towards polarization – pointing the finger at someone else for all our problems falls flat.
Coming from that perspective, there’s enough blame to go around for everybody.
Contrary to how we live, it’s not “us versus them” — it’s “all are guilty and have fallen short of the glory of God.”
Biblically, death exists because of sin.
For the ultimate, inevitable outcome of living our lives divorced from each other, from our true selves, and most importantly our Creator is death.
If we, as our parents sometimes reminded us, don’t bring ourselves into this world, then we have no way of avoiding our departure one day from this life.
Now Christians often talk about this problem of sin being dealt with on the cross.
We declare Jesus disarms the power of sin in our lives through the greater power of sacrificial love and divine forgiveness.
But in truth, what reveals, what validates the power of God’s love and the promise of divine forgiveness are greater than death is the victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And that victory is not that Jesus comes back from the dead.
But that Jesus conquers death – that Jesus transforms life as we know it – from a life marked by sin, evil, and death to offering us life that is full, abundant, and everlasting.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not about coming back to life, it is about our entire life being changed, all creation being transformed.
The heart of the Resurrection is about change – our need to be changed, for life as we know it, for this world to be changed.
And let’s be clear about something.
The offer, the invitation, the movement towards change is for here and now.
Far too many Easter messages have strangely and falsely reduced the implications of today’s good news as being for later – someday in the future.
The change to be brought about by Jesus’ resurrection is relegated to the afterlife and the gift of faith becomes nothing more than a golden ticket to ride to heaven when we die.
Ironically, this individualistic corruption of the Easter message – of escaping to heaven – contains no vision for the transformation of all creation but instead only can perceive its condemnation and destruction.
But this is not the Gospel. This is not the actual message of Christianity.
Don’t take my word for it. Open up the Bible and read it carefully for yourself.
Read it carefully and you will struggle to find Jesus declaring he defeated death so that you can go to heaven when you die.
While salvation from the finality of physical death is offered by Jesus, his resurrection is extended as both a pointer and an invitation to a new form of life – a life lived beyond the limits of our fears. A life lived beyond death – our fixation even now about living in its shadow.
Read the scriptures carefully and you will be unable to avoid noticing how Jesus frames both his death and his resurrection not in light of any indifference or condemnation towards creation but with aim towards the reclamation and restoration not just of individuals but of nations, not just of nations but of the entire cosmos.
The horizon of Christ’s resurrection is broader, more expansive, more encompassing than the focus of my personal, eternal destiny.
It’s dawning light does not direct us away from this world towards some unknown, unforeseen heavenly or spiritual realm.
No, Christ’s resurrection is an affirmation of our bodily existence in this world and an invitation to explore fresh ways of renewal, restoration, and recreation in our own time and place, in the communities we build and share together.
This is why, even here in this passage, Jesus calls for those who follow him not to sit on their hands, shake their heads, and point their fingers as the world continues to suffer but instead calls us to be witnesses.
He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” – Luke 24:46 – 49
to a new order of things, an alternative way of living, a hopeful rather than a hopeless outlook – hope not only for tomorrow but for today.
Jesus’ invitation is our commission.
Beloved, celebrating Easter must be more than saying, “Jesus is risen!”
Resurrection is meant to be seen.
If there is proof of the resurrection to be found – that evidence, as Jesus indicates here to his first disciples, comes through us – we who profess to follow Christ.
By the grace of God and through the gift of the Word and the Spirit, we are to reflect the risen Christ through the character and content of our lives.
One of the most compelling pieces of evidence of the resurrection is a changed life – not a perfect life – but life being transformed – learning, growing, and maturing in its health, wholeness, and generosity.
Instead of living life on the run – trying to beat the clock as if we’re running out of time living the resurrection is living out of our confidence in Christ that we have all the time in the world and therefore we prioritize living not for what is passing, fleeting, or momentary but rather investing and cultivating in what is timeless and eternal.
But the power of the resurrection, the presence of the risen Christ doesn’t end with us; both the presence and power of the risen Christ are to travel – are to be extended through us.
For the other compelling and most provocative piece of evidence of the resurrection is the witness of transformed communities — gatherings of believers—that reflect this new creation, the transformative possibilities of forgiveness, grace and love.
Such transformed communities are formed as we, instead of living life in fear or denial of death
– spending the bulk of our time, energy, and resources to protect and secure our well-being, live the resurrection life together by being death-defying
– living boldly and courageously
– taking risks and putting our lives on the line for the sake of the well-being
– the health, the security, and the protection of others
– particularly those in need
– those who are right now dying more than they are living.
By God’s power at work within us, let us dwell richly in the dawn of a new day, offering the hope of Christ in the midst of tragedy and troubles rather than adding to the opposition and anxiety of a weary and broken world.
As followers of Christ, let us not resist change.
Instead, as we believe and as we look for Jesus to make all things new – including us – let us expect and anticipate change, looking for how we can participate in God’s redemptive agenda to restore human flourishing and remake all creation.
As followers of Jesus, let us not remain silent in either word or deed in sharing this good news.
For how can we keep quiet once we realize God’s “Yes!” to life is louder than death’s “No”?
Instead of continuing to circulate the stale, tired, and polluted air of pessimism and fatalism that insists this life is all there is this and we ought to plan for the worst rather than anything getting better,
let us deeply inhale and exhale the breath of the Holy Spirit and the sured promise of God’s word that there is more to this life than we can imagine or hope for – that the best is yet to come.
I can’t prove the resurrection of Christ to you.
I may not have been able to convince you to receive the gift of faith that Jesus offers to us all.
But I can and will proclaim the reality of resurrection in Christ that is all around us.
I can testify to its impact upon humanity, upon our lives.
I can be, what all followers of Christ are called to be, a witness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ in everyday life.
I have seen alcoholics and other addicts raised from the dead in Christ when they were able to get clean and the chains of their false dependency were broken.
Set free, I’ve witnessed, those who would called themselves the walking dead become new, transformed persons bursting forth with hopes, dreams and possibilities that they never had before.
I have seen resurrection in Christ happen in relationships — in marriages, among families, through friendships, even between enemies when it would have been easy to give up on those relationships.
According to the advice of the rational and pragmatic, those marriages were already divorced, those families were broken beyond repair, those friendships were long, dead and buried, and those enemies not worth even trying to make peace.
But then much to everyone’s surprise, resurrection happened—resurrection in the form of life change that looks a lot like Jesus – a willingness to listen, an offering of forgiveness, and a commitment to lovingly serve each other.
I can testify those relationships—those marriages, those families, those friendships, didn’t just come back to life; they were radically transformed—with a shared strength, a common vision and a mutual dedication that didn’t exist before.
Beloved, I’m here to tell you, whenever and wherever lives are changed and communities are transformed, Jesus lives and there is resurrection.
There are literally millions of mini-resurrections happening all around us — vibrant and touching examples of life coming out of death, of victory rising out of defeat, of what is old being transformed into something new.
We don’t always see these things.
Even when we do see them, we don’t always connect them to God’s greater plan for us and for all of humanity.
We might not make the connection but that’s why such moments exist in the fabric of creation — as signposts, as markers of the greatest transformation, the most important victory of all — the fulfillment of a promise, an expression of divine love, the declaration of a new Kingdom — the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Christ is present. Jesus is the one who makes it happen whether he gets the credit for it or not.
For resurrection is no isolated incident… no aberration.
Because over 2,000 years ago, God in Christ walked into human history and bore the full weight of human suffering – even onto death.
Yes, death had its day when Jesus was crucified on the Cross.
But death forever lost having the last word when Jesus rose from the grave.
For the God in Christ who first walked into life as we know it, later walked out of the tomb to begin to lead into the kind of life that previously we only dreamed of, the kind of life we long for – a life without fear of the future and thus a life with the freedom to fully live in the present – a life of endless opportunity, everlasting second chances, and eternal purpose.
Today is Resurrection Sunday – and thanks to Jesus, today can be the first day of the rest of our lives. Amen.