Sermon Easter Sunday April 10, 2023 Given by Pastor John Redman
UNITED WITH HIM
Today’s Epistle reading says If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. But what does that resurrection look like? How can we possibly know what form it took? Can mere descriptions, written in a limited language some fifty years after the actual event convey with any accuracy what really happened on that first Easter morning? Where were the eyewitnesses? Where were the scribes and historians? Was this resurrection purposely downplayed and hushed up by the Temple authorities and the Romans to keep things calm through the week of Passover observances in a city mobbed by nearly a million people and the constant threat of rebellion throbbed just beneath the surface? The man known as Jesus Barabbas was not just a common thief, he was a rebel, a revolutionary who had fomented rebellion against the Romans. But he is the one the Romans set free, according to Matthew this was a Passover custom where a prisoner is set free. And the crowd, whipped up by Temple authorities and their minions, chooses Barabbas.
But all that is only the death of Jesus, what about uniting with him in his resurrection? And what does that really mean? We know that Jesus was with his Father before the time he became flesh to live among us, so is that how he returns upon resurrection? He tells Mary Magdalene that he will be returning to his Father and to go and tell the disciples. We do have accounts that according to the Gospel were written in order that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and that through your faith in him you may have life.
And here we are, having life through faith in the belief that Jesus has been raised. But raised how? How can it be that this amazing and powerful force of the universe is manifested only in the resuscitation of a corpse? No, the concept and realization of the Resurrection Experience is so much more than having a physical body that came out of a tomb to walk around and grill fish is nothing compared to the bright light of faith and life that surrounds us on this Easter day and every day. Imagine the burst of energy that must have sprung from the walls of that tomb. How else would it have been found empty?
The legendary Shroud of Turin has been studied and discredited as a medieval fake for more than two centuries, but recent spectrographic examinations of the fibers of the shroud show them to be consistent with linen fibers of first century Palestine. And the image of the face and body on that linen to this day cannot be attributed to any technology we have, not to dye, or ink, or paint or heat transfers or irradiation. So, what caused that image not to just to appear on that linen, but be sublimated into its fibers? Mysteries that supersede our feeble understanding are really nothing new when you consider that perhaps a moment in God’s consciousness could be a century in ours.
But what really happens in the resurrection experience? How does this concept of eternal life take us beyond mere physical vessels, as Paul called our bodies?
One explanation of how resurrection can come upon us, indeed each of us, comes from physicist and musician Aaron Freeman, who says you not only want a pastor at your funeral, but you’ll also want a physicist to speak. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.
And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations and galaxies of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.
And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.
And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that it is not just faith; indeed, they should know that they can measure, that scientists have precisely measured the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to that law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly.
So, resurrection, just as aspects of our lives, or even our eternal lives, can take on many manifestations on many levels so far beyond the idea of walking out of a tomb. Yes, the tomb is empty but there is no reason for it NOT to be empty because resurrection, the defeat of death is here with us. And when Jesus has spoken Mary Magdalene’s name and she recognizes him through eyelids swollen from constant weeping, can you imagine her overwhelming desire to rush to him, wrap her arms around him and hold him tight? But Jesus says you cannot cling to me, for I’ve not yet gone to my Father. Jesus knows this business of resurrection and his role within it. It is us who can’t really figure it out, whether it’s the two travelers on the road to Emmaus or when Jesus comes into a locked room to say “peace be with you,” or when he waits for them on the shore in Galilee. How does this happen? What do they see? What do they see as he ascends, even though we aren’t sure it’s in Galilee or Bethany, or Matthew doesn’t actually talk about ascending to heaven?
It’s all very subjective, isn’t it? And that’s how it should be. Not a literal dictum of ‘this is what happened, and you shall believe it or be condemned!’
Since we have such a limited way of expressing this amazing, world-changing, universe ruling event, why should it be tied to a literal story line, but instead be expanded for each of us in our own resurrection experience? The curtain is torn, the stone is rolled back, the tomb is empty, and the bright light of Easter’s resurrection sun shines down on all of us, on this Easter, on all those Easters that came before, and on all those Easter mornings to come, forever. Amen.